Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The rural influence in my writing & photography, plus a farm tour July 12, 2016

Barn, 117 red barn along US Hwy 71 south of Redwood Falls


BARNS DRAW MY CAMERA lens like moths to a porch light.


Barn, 144 farm site between Olivia and Wilmar


My response is reflexive, this focal allure of barns while traveling through rural Minnesota.


Barn, 112 bluegreen barn along US Hwy 71 south of Redwood Falls


Barns, to me, symbolize rural life. Growing up on a southwestern Minnesota dairy and crop farm, I labored in the barn—scooping silage and ground feed, scraping manure into gutters, carrying milk pails from barn to milkhouse, tossing hay and straw bales from the hayloft, bedding straw…

My hair, my skin, my clothing smelled always of cows and manure. I bathed but once a week. That seems unfathomable now. But it was the reality of then.


Barn, 145 white barn & cow


The barn on our family farm provided more than shelter for the cows. It provided an income, a way of life, a training ground for hard work. No matter what, the cows needed to be tended, fed and milked. Vacations were rare—only two my entire childhood, one to the Black Hills of South Dakota and the other to Duluth. On the occasion when my parents traveled farther, they left my older brother and me home to take care of the farm under our bachelor uncle Mike’s watchful eye.


Barn, 142 farm site between Olivia and Wilmar


I often told my dad I wanted to be a farmer. He discouraged me. He likely knew what I didn’t, that I wasn’t cut out to be a farmer. I am not a risk taker. And to be a farmer, you need to be a bit of a gambler. You gamble on the unpredictability of weather and of prices. Granted, technology has curbed some of the risk. But still, it’s there.


Barn, 132 sheep and barn between Morton & Olivia


Instead, I pursued a degree and career in journalism. And then, eventually, I became a full-time stay-at-home mom, setting aside my writing to raise my three kids. Until I found time again to write.


Barn, 109 east of Wabasso along US 71


In my writing today, unlike my past deliver-the-facts newspaper reporting, I have created a unique voice rooted in rural Minnesota. I may not smell of cow or manure, but those scents linger in my memory, infusing into my writing and photography. I bring a small town rural perspective to my work. I find my joy in writing about and photographing everyday life, everyday places, everyday people, mostly in Greater Minnesota.

The early 1950s barn on the Redwood County dairy farm where I grew up today stands empty of animals.

The early 1950s barn on the Redwood County dairy farm where I grew up today stands empty of animals. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

And it all started in a Redwood County barn.

Fresh eggs and caged chickens attracted lots of interest.

Fresh eggs and caged chickens photographed at an event several years ago at Valley Grove Church, rural Nerstrand. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

YOU, TOO, CAN EXPERIENCE farming this Saturday, July 16, by touring agricultural businesses throughout the region during the annual Eat Local Farm Tour. From Simple Harvest Farm Organics in rural Nerstrand to Mississippi Mushrooms in Minneapolis to Hope Creamery in Hope and 26 other sites, you’ll discover Minnesotans and Wisconsinites passionate about local foods. You’ll meet beekeepers, cheesemakers, berry growers, cattlemen/women, trout farmers and more.

Click here for a listing of sites on the Eat Local Farm Tour, which runs from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Note: With the exception of my home barn, all barns and farm sites featured in this post are located along U.S. Highway 71 in rural Minnesota, from south of Redwood Falls to south of Willmar.



20 Responses to “The rural influence in my writing & photography, plus a farm tour”

  1. Beth Ann Says:

    Your childhood provided you with a rich heritage and the perfect experience to notice the details of the rural life . Your writing and photography share those experiences with so many who have not encountered this kind of life and you do it so eloquently that it may inspire some to get off those main roads in search of these havens. That is a wonderful gift to give to someone–the chance to escape from their own world into one unknown to them. The farm tour sounds like a lot of fun for anyone.

  2. I enjoy mnprairieroots Site!
    I was going to ask have you ever seen The Oliver H. Kelley Farm in your travels ?
    That was part of growing up, for me, in Anoka (school fieldtrips & family picnics & volunteer work)

    • Thank you kindly for appreciating Minnesota Prairie Roots.

      No, I haven’t visited the Oliver H. Kelley Farm. But I would like to some day. How fortunate that you’ve spent a lot of time at this historic working farm.

  3. Beautiful and loving your captures – brings back memories for me 🙂 I learned to work hard and take care of what I have and that is instilled in me today. Happy Day – Enjoy!

  4. Sue Ready Says:

    Your rural roots serve you well on your blogsite to show and remind your readers of a simpler life that is often too forgotten. Thank you for sharing your writing talents and camera lens to bring rural images to the forefront. .

  5. Jackie Says:

    Love your post about farm life and BARNS, we share that common love of Country, barns, small towns etc. So that white barn was actually your family barn???? Is it still standing? I just love that barn!

  6. Kathleen Cassen Mickelson Says:

    That blue barn! It’s so different. Thanks for sharing information about the Eat Local Farm Tour. I didn’t know about that. That line you had about only bathing once a week reminded me that, as a child, that’s how we rolled, too. Bath on Saturday. That changed when I hit puberty!

    • You are welcome re. the Eat Local Farm Tour. I’ve never seen a blue green barn either.

      Fortunately by the time I reached my teen years, my parents had built a new house with a bathroom. No more filling the tin tub placed in the kitchen on Saturday nights or showering outside with a garden hose.

  7. When barns take hold of the photo, it is perhaps because of their relative height and size, in general, set against the vastness of the fertile farmland that surrounds them. God Bless America.

  8. chlost Says:

    Your photos of barns are my favorites. I also love barns, and hope to be able to travel to take photos of them. But the ones that seem most special to me are the barns that are falling down. For some reason, they call out to me to photograph them. The times past, perhaps, to be captured before they disappear? I love to think of how they started, imagining the family who built them, the years of life they sheltered.
    If you go to the Kelley Farm, you will be just a couple of miles from my home. We took our granddaughters there a few years ago. I highly recommend it.

  9. Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

    Love your barn pictures

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