Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Prairie-rooted farm film, Farmer of the Year, comes to Faribault March 18, 2019

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


HER BACKGROUND MIMICS MINE. Grew up doing chores on a southwestern Minnesota dairy farm in a community where everyone knows everyone. Surrounded by a large, extended family. Danced at the American Legion Hall, ate beef commercials and called the noon meal dinner, the evening meal supper.


Filmmakers Kathy Swanson and Vince O’Connell.


Although I’ve never met Kathy Swanson, I feel a sisterhood with her. We are both creatives, decidedly connected to the Minnesota prairie of our roots. The place that shaped us, that remains a part of our identities and our creative work.


Poster promo photo courtesy of YellowHouse Films.


That mutual rural background is the reason I’m so excited about Kathy’s award-winning independent feature film, Farmer of the Year, produced and directed with her life partner, Vince O’Connell. That film by YellowHouse Films (named after the yellow house in Vermont where the couple lives) shows at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 23, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 24, at the Paradise Center for the Arts in historic downtown Faribault. Ticket cost is $10. When Kathy reached out to me asking for help in bringing the film to Faribault, I didn’t hesitate. I’m always happy to assist another creative and especially someone from my home region. My native county of Redwood is a bit farther to the north and east of hers.


Filming in southwestern Minnesota. Photo courtesy of YellowHouse Films.


Kathy, a former Lincoln County Dairy Princess, grew up near Tyler, a farming community of some 1,100 within a half hour drive of the South Dakota border. The Vermont filmmakers took their cast and crew to southwestern Minnesota, shooting scenes on Kathy’s home farm (now owned by her brother and his wife), inside her octogenarian father’s house, at the local Citizens State Bank, on area roads and more. The crew also filmed in places like The Lunch Box Cafe and Hole in the Mountain Park in Lake Benton and in downtown Marshall. The film takes viewers along Interstate 90 in Minnesota and into South Dakota, right up to the famous Corn Palace in Mitchell, S.D. Other shots are of Mesa, Arizona. And, most unique, 1950s farming footage from Kathy’s dad’s 8mm film incorporated into Farmer of the Year. Such documentation can only add to the authenticity of the film.

The mail carrier in the film is the real Tyler mailman. The guy mowing the cemetery is the guy who mows the cemetery. This is real rural life, a life Kathy understands well and tapped into when writing the script.


A scene from the film with main characters Hap and Ashley. Photo courtesy of YellowHouse Films.


The character-driven film tells the story of an 83-year-old widower farmer who has just sold his farm, then gets an invitation to his World War II Army reunion in California. Hap Anderson and his granddaughter take off in a 1973 Winnebago with plans to stop in Nebraska so Hap can reconnect with an old flame.

So much of the promo material about Farmer of the Year resonates with me:

The film aspires to have a sense of real life within the rural Midwest vernacular.

Farmer of the Year blends the comedy and drama of life into a deceptively simple story of aging, transition and resilience.

Life is one long growing season.

Rated between a PG and a PG13 film, Farmer of the Year has already been widely-shown and praised in Minnesota. It stars noted performers like Barry Corbin of Northern Exposure fame, Mackinlee Waddell of Good Christian Belles, Terry Kiser of Weekend at Bernie’s and others with impressive credentials. YellowHouse Films has 20 short films to its production credit.


Just north of Lamberton in southern Redwood County, my home county. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


I look forward to watching this 1-hour, 43-minute film in my community of Faribault, a 2 ½-hour drive from my hometown of Vesta. I value the exposure southwestern Minnesota gets in Farmer of the Year. This rural region seems too often underappreciated, too often considered the middle-of-nowhere. But it’s some place. It’s the place that shaped creatives like Kathy and me. It’s a place we once called home among people we loved in a land we loved. Still love.


© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Photos (unless otherwise noted) courtesy and copyright of YellowHouse Films


21 Responses to “Prairie-rooted farm film, Farmer of the Year, comes to Faribault”

  1. Beth Ann Says:

    How exciting this has to be for you and for the communities you and Kathy represent. I am thrilled for her and for you – what a great thing to help promote a life that you love.

  2. Valerie Says:

    This sounds like a very interesting movie. Thanks for letting us know about it.

  3. Ruth Says:

    i’d like to see this film, too.

  4. Almost Iowa Says:

    Here is the IMDb link. It definitely sounds like the kind of movie Julie and I love to watch. I’ll be telling her about it.

  5. What a Cool Creative Project – thanks so much for sharing! It brings back fond childhood memories of growing up on and around farm life. I went from small farm living of a population around 4,000 to moving to the city with a population of 50,000 to moving out west with a population of 250,000 to now living in a major metro area of 2.8 million population. Funny where the journey will take you and the adventures along the way 🙂 Happy Day – Enjoy

  6. Sounds like a great film, and my kind of movie. I hope it is well attended.

  7. Bella Says:

    thanks for the heads up will look its showing in the Twin Cities this spring.

    • I think Farmer of the Year has already shown in the metro and in much of Minnesota. The focus seems to be more now on New England, where Kathy and Vince live. But I’m sure Kathy would welcome any showing opportunities in Minnesota.

  8. Wonderful! I was going to say that I hope the film comes east, but I hope to catch it on YouTube, etc..

  9. Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

    How very interesting! Sounds like a good show

  10. Marlene l Yonker and Says:

    Uncle Roy and aunt Molly are soooooo proud of kathy and Vince.
    A great tribute to our home land.
    We have seen it twice and can’t get enough of it, just a great story of life in the Midwest, everyone needs to see it.
    Congratulations on your wins.
    Love ya

  11. Kiandra Judge Says:

    Just watched the trailer and this film looks amazing! Even though I grew up in the city, we’ve been living on a dairy farm in Dennison, Mn near Cannon Falls. This movie looks like everything I’ve experienced since living on the farm. Wonderful! Can’t wait to see it!

    • I really enjoyed the movie from the setting to the story line to the messages therein. I highly recommend it. There’s one more showing in Faribault, this Sunday afternoon (March 24) at 2 p.m. Remember, this is not a film that shows in theaters nationwide.

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