Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Brainstorming on Faribault’s future September 29, 2014

NEVER HAVE I BEEN PART of a community’s visioning process.

Until Thursday evening, when eleven of us gathered at the Historic Hutchinson House Bed & Breakfast to discuss Faribault’s strengths, challenges and future under the guidance of hosts Doug and Tami Schluter.

In the distance you can see the clock tower on Shumway Hall at Shattuck-St. Mary's School in Faribault, photographed last fall from City View Park.

A stunning autumn view of Faribault taken at City View Park show the campus of Shattuck-St. Mary’s School. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

For nearly three hours, our baker’s dozen of Baby Boomers focused on our southeastern Minnesota community through this “Meeting in a Box” session. It was a thoughtful process which allowed every single person the opportunity to speak as we rounded the dining room table, one-by-one taking our turns.

To have this grassroots chance to voice one’s opinion, without interruption (mostly) and in an informal setting, will provide invaluable information to the City of Faribault, which has launched this seven-month-long community visioning process tagged as Community Vision—Faribault 2040.

Leaving the show and driving southbound on Central Avenue through historic downtown Faribault.

A recent shot of a section of historic downtown Faribault’s Central Avenue. This scene represents to me Faribault’s past, present and future.

Projecting 25 years into the future allows our community to be proactive, to plan, to build on strengths, to identify weaknesses, to grow a stronger and better Faribault.

I couldn’t help but think, during this brainstorming session, how my second daughter recently reacted to news of a nephew’s upcoming move from Utah to rural Faribault. “It’s Faribault, Mom,” she said, a definite disdain tinging her words. I wondered how many other twenty-somethings share her attitude, how they can’t wait to graduate and move away.

Keeping our young people here popped up as a challenge facing Faribault. But I expect residents of almost every city or small town feel the same about the exit of their youth. I left my native southwestern Minnesota prairie at age seventeen.

A mural, one of several in the downtown area, promotes historic Faribault.

A mural, one of several in the downtown area, promotes historic Faribault. Our community’s rich history and architecture came up repeatedly as strong assets during the “Meeting in a Box” conversation.

Our discussion, among Faribault natives and those of us who relocated here, began with this statement: “My community is great, because……”

The Cheese Cave is housed in a beautifully-restored building in historic downtown Faribault. The interior, with an arched ceiling and sandstone-colored walls, mimics the caves where Faribault Dairy ages its cheeses.

The Cheese Cave is housed in a beautifully-restored building in historic downtown Faribault, site of many old and well-preserved buildings. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

We could jot down three answers before circling the table and sharing. Once all answers were listed, we voted these as the top five reason’s Faribault is great: variety of educational choices, downtown architecture and rich history, efforts to preserve the past, good mix of businesses and people who care about one another.

Then it was on to the next question, which proved much more difficult: When you look 25 years into Faribault’s future, what are the most important community strengths we should build upon as we plan for Faribault’s future?

Note the Faribault Ochs store in this mid-1920s photo from the private collection of Daniel J. Hoisington.

This mid-1920s photo from the private collection of Daniel J. Hoisington was shot in downtown Faribault. Preserving our rich history and architecture ranked high in discussion at the “Meeting in a Box.”

After significant effort to even understand the question, we responded, then voted for our top five most important community strengths: educational opportunities, grow industries, preserve small town feel, tourism opportunities and preserving historical buildings and history.

Finally, the last question asked us to identify Faribault’s most pressing challenges as we plan for the future.

A Somali family waits to cross a street in downtown Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2010.

A Somali family waits to cross a street in downtown Faribault. Diversity-related issues rated high in conversation. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2010.

Those responses flowed fast and easy with the following marked as Faribault’s top challenges: housing code enforcement, crime (specifically domestic violence, drugs and DWIs identified), diversity related issues, city/county/citizen leadership, community planning and poor community pride.

Not much revealed at this “Meeting in a Box” session surprised me.

Yet, it’s good to get our thoughts out there so city leaders are aware of Average Joe or Jane Resident’s concerns. Our long lists of answers—all of them, not just the top five—will be forwarded to city officials. That’s reaffirming, to know that every single response will be passed along.

This week, from 7 – 9 p.m. Thursday, October 2, the Schluters are hosting another “Meeting in a Box.” They’re looking for participants. So, if you want a voice in the conversation about Faribault, contact them.

These sessions are being held through-out the community as the second step in the visioning process. Focus groups and community forums will follow.

For this process to truly reflect Faribault, though, more than just grey-haired Caucasian Baby Boomers will need to provide input. Opinions from all races and ages are needed.

Young people are our future. They will live the longest with the decisions made today. Unless they leave Faribault. Like my two daughters and son.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


23 Responses to “Brainstorming on Faribault’s future”

  1. Dan Traun Says:

    I was involved in a similar process in Red Wing. I was amazed by the volume and quality of ideas that were expressed. I really think we are going to see a reverse migration of sorts; I think it has already started – back to the country from the big cities. I think technology is playing a role in this (telecommuting) to a degree. It may just be the natural ebb and flow of our priorities and preferences as we mature and desire a slower pace.

    • Interesting observations, Dan.

      Secondly, did you feel that the opinions shared by Red Wing residents like yourself were actually used in planning for Red Wing’s future?

      Were any of the concerns we brainstormed at our Meeting in a Box similar/the same as those Red Wing residents brainstormed?

      • I think cities like Faribault and Red Wing will have to understand the impact of changing demographics. From 2010 – 2035, the 65 and older age group will double in MN. On average, their incomes will be one half of pre-retirement income. Their housing needs will change. How will this affect the local economies?

      • That’s a good question. However, we were told at the session that Faribault’s population is not all that old, according to a demographic study.

  2. Beth Ann Says:

    Nice to be a part of a process like this. But yes–input from ALL needs to be considered to come up with the best answer.

  3. What a Great Opportunity To Be Part Of for Your Community – thanks so much for sharing 🙂 I moved away from the farm and small town by 21 and went back to see the farm during a visit in 2006. I have not been back to MN since then though. I serve as a Community Service Chair here in my community and enjoy being of service to the community. I also get involved in local events and support as many local businesses as I can too. Happy Week!

  4. hotlyspiced Says:

    I love the first image of your town. It’s so green and it looks like a very pleasant place to live. I hope you and your Baker’s Dozen are able to come up with some great plans to keep what’s great about your town, great xx

  5. Don Singsaas Says:

    Having grown up in small town Minnesota, lived in West Coast cities and now reside in Alaska I can truly say, “There is no place like a small Minnesota town” . My wife and I agree that you cannot beat a small rural farming area when it comes to quality of life! I believe most rural High School graduates are anxious to get out of the “town nest” and see the world but eventually realize how good the nest truly was. I for one believe the future of rural America is bright as people tire of the big city “rat race” and place life style over money and career as the most important. Of course this wisdom comes after a decade or more out of the nest!

    • I think you are spot on correct. Once youth settle down, start families, maybe tire of the rat race, they begin to appreciate that which they left. I left my native prairie due to the lack of job opportunities. With technology, the opportunities today in rural America are less limited.

      It’s good to get your perspective, from someone who’s lived outside of Minnesota. I’ve lived here my entire life, meaning I have nothing with which to compare our state. Any possibility that you will return to small town Minnesota?

      Thanks for stopping by with your input. I always appreciate insights from the Fellowship of Readers.

  6. Sue Ready Says:

    A thoughtful presentation on the issues/challenges your city and many other small cities face as they examine ways to maintain a vibrant community. Kudos to you Audrey, for making your community aware of this round table discussion.

  7. Don Singsaas Says:

    Audrey in reference to your question, YES my wife and I look forward to the day when we can return to rural living in Minnesota! In all probability we will bring along our 2 kids and their families too!

  8. Don Singsaas Says:

    Grew up in Mountain Lake, just down the road…………..

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