BARNS DRAW MY CAMERA lens like moths to a porch light.
My response is reflexive, this focal allure of barns while traveling through rural Minnesota.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And it all started in a Redwood County barn.
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.