Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A photo essay from the Dam Days carnival in Morristown, Minnesota July 17, 2019

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Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

TIS THE SEASON of small town celebrations and county fairs here in Minnesota. We pack a lot of activities and events into the summer months. Carnival rides, games and concession stands pop up on Main Streets and in city parks. Folks flock to fairgrounds, this week locally in Faribault for the Rice County Fair.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

Whether you embrace these events or steer clear of them and the ensuing crowds, they are part of our history, our culture, our communities.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

 

In June I photographed snippets of the annual Dam Days celebration in Morristown to the west of Faribault. And later in the month, I took my camera to the Midway at the Faribault Heritage Days celebration in Central Park.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

Today I invite you to peruse selected photos from my Sunday afternoon walk among the amusement rides, games and food stands in Morristown.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

On this day mostly locals and those come back to their hometown for Dam Days, enjoyed the festivities and each other’s company in the sunshine of a sweet summer day in southern Minnesota.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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“Crochet in Translation”: the art of Malia Wiley July 16, 2019

Malia Wiley’s “Swine in an Afghan.” Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

WE SHARE THE COMMONALITIES of attending the same Christian college, Bethany Lutheran in Mankato, and of being creatives.

 

Malia Wiley with her oil painting, “Stag Luxuriously Robed in Crochet.” Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

I write and photograph. She paints and crochets. She is Malia Wiley, a young southern Minnesota artist who specializes in painting primarily pet portraits. But Malia also crochets and has now combined her two creative passions into an artistic endeavor, Crochet in Translation.

 

Flying geese in crochet and painting by Malia Wiley. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

“Cozy Squirrel” portrait up close by Malia Wiley. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

Love the vivid colors in this rooster portrait by Malia Wiley. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

The result is a signature art form unlike any I’ve seen. Novel. Unique. Memorable. And truly creative with the colors and textures of crocheted afghans inspiring, weaving into and enhancing Malia’s portraits of animals.

 

Malia Wiley, left, chats with guests at her recent Owatonna Arts Center Crochet in Translation gallery opening. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

Recently I attended an opening reception at the Owatonna Arts Center honoring Malia and celebrating her work as an artist. A gallery exhibit of her art continues there until July 28.

 

“Hens on Crochet” by Malia Wiley. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

I chatted briefly with this talented artist and learned that her grandma taught her to crochet. Her “Hens on Crochet” incorporates an afghan crocheted by her grandmother and exhibited with the painting.

 

Malia Wiley crafted this jewel-toned afghan, the inspiration for a peacock painting. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

“Bundled Sheep” by Malia Wiley. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

Afghans from Malia Wiley’s collection stacked in a corner of the gallery. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

Malia also crafted a few of the showcased afghans. But most were found—at thrift stores and garage sales. Crocheting an afghan, Malia says, takes considerably more time than painting an animal portrait. I don’t doubt that when you look at the intricate patterns of crocheted afghans.

 

In addition to originals, Malia Wiley sells prints of her animal portraits. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

That Malia makes her living as an artist delights me. With this Lake Crystal artist’s level of talent and signature style, it’s easy to see how she has become a successful professional artist. On a larger and more public scale, Malia’s work is featured on a mural she painted for the ag-themed Grow-It Gallery at the Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota in Mankato, a museum on my to-see list.

 

“Preparing the Den” by Malia Wiley. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

I love when young people, anyone really, follow their passions and find joy in the talents with which they’ve been blessed. We are all the richer for the creatives who enrich our lives through their art.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Paintings were photographed with Malia’s permission.

 

Connect with farmers, the land, animals & more during co-op farm tour July 11, 2019

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Shepherd’s Way Farms, rural Nerstrand. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

 

FARM-FRESH VEGETABLES. Free-range chickens. Fields of flowers. Hand-crafted butter and cheeses. Organic berries.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

All and much more focus the annual Co-op Farm Tour scheduled for 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. this Saturday, July 13, in the eastern half of southern and central Minnesota into western Wisconsin.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots 2016 file photo from Shepherd’s Way Farm.

 

The event offers the public an opportunity to meet farmers on the land, to tour their farms, to engage in farm activities and learn more about local sources of food (and flowers). The more we know, the better informed to make decisions about food choices. The more we know, the better connection with those who grow, raise, tend, harvest.

 

Approaching Shepherd’s Way Farms, rural Nerstrand. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

 

As someone raised on a 160-acre crop and dairy farm in southwestern Minnesota, I understand and appreciate these farmers. Farming may seem like an idyllic life-style. But I will tell you that it’s hard work being a small-scale farmer. The job is labor and time intensive. Yet, talk to one of these mostly new-generation farmers and you will hear their passion for farming. They are dedicated and market savvy and passionate in a way that inspires.

 

In the window of Ruf Acres Market, cartons promoting eggs from Graise Farm. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I hope you can find time this weekend to visit one or several of the farms on the Co-op Farm Tour. Several are in my area of Minnesota, including Graise Farm, Faribault; T.C. Farm, Dundas; Twin Organics Farm, Northfield; Shepherd’s Way Farms, Nerstrand; Ferndale Farm & Market, Cannon Falls; Hope Creamery, Hope; and Little Big Sky Farm, Henderson.

FYI: Click here for more info on the Co-op Farm Tour.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Dear legislators, Let’s speed things up beyond traffic July 10, 2019

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The words on the tailgate of this pick-up truck photographed several days ago in a Faribault grocery store parking lot illustrate a new Minnesota traffic law taking effect on August 1.

 

COME AUGUST 1, you best not poke along in the left traffic lane on a multi-lane Minnesota highway and hold up traffic. Do so and, if caught, you face a fine under a new law pushed by Senator John Jasinski from Faribault.

When I first heard about efforts to shift slow drivers from the left to the right lane, I thought, we have way more important issues than that to resolve. I still feel that way. I’m more concerned about the high cost of prescription drugs and healthcare and the absurd cost of health insurance ($1,600 in premiums paid by Randy and me every single month with $4,000 individual deductibles).

So there. While moving traffic along may seem of vital importance to legislators, and I do sort of understand the value of the legislation, I fail to understand why something can’t be done about the healthcare cost crisis. Let’s move that issue out of the slowpoke lane into the fast lane of a financially favorable resolution for the consumer.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From southwestern Minnesota, where corn is king July 9, 2019

 

Farm fields stretch as far as the eye can see under an expansive sky in southwestern Minnesota.

 

TRAVEL MY NATIVE RURAL southwestern Minnesota as I did several days ago, and you will see vast fields of corn stretching across the landscape. Here you will find some of Minnesota’s richest and most fertile soil. Here corn and soybeans dominate.

 

A flooded field photographed on July 3 just east of Belview in Redwood County, Minnesota.

 

In a particularly challenging growing season of late spring planting followed now by too much rain, farmers hope still for a bountiful harvest. Even as they view fields resembling lakes. But to be a farmer is to hold optimism.

 

A tractor and digger parked in a field along Minnesota State Highway 19 between Redwood Falls and the Belview corner.

 

Everything in these small communities centers on a farming economy. In years of good yields, businesses benefit. In years of low yields and low prices, small towns suffer. It is the cyclical nature of farm life in rural America.

 

An abandoned farmhouse sits atop a hill along Minnesota State Highway 19 near the Belview corner.

 

There’s much to appreciate about this rural region that roots me and grew me into a writer and photographer. Folks value the land and embrace a strong sense of community and of place.

 

Promotional billboards along U.S. Highway 14 and State Highway 4 in downtown Sleepy Eye.

 

In Sleepy Eye to the west of New Ulm, for example, the community celebrates Buttered Corn Days in August. This small town is home to a Del Monte Food’s corn and pea processing plant. We’re talking sweet corn here, not field corn.

 

Vending sweet corn in downtown Sleepy Eye on July 3.

 

Sweet corn season has just begun in Minnesota with roadside vendors pulling into parking lots and alongside roadways to sell fresh sweet corn from the backs of pick-up trucks. Farm to table at its most basic.

 

In a public visiting space at Parkview Home…

 

In the small town of Belview even farther to the west in my home county of Redwood, a single stalk of DeKalb field corn stands in a five-gallon bucket inside Parkview Home where my mom lives. I laughed when I saw the corn stalk with the notation of planted on May 13. Back in the day, corn growth was measured by “knee high by the Fourth of July.” Corn, in a typical year, now far surpasses that height by July 4. Not this year.

 

Silos and grain elevators are the highest architectural points on the prairie.

 

I can only imagine how many conversations that single corn stalk prompted at Parkview where most residents grew up on and/or operated farms. It’s details like this which define the rural character of a place and its people.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

My prairie place of peace in Faribault July 8, 2019

 

I’VE FOUND MY PARK in Faribault. The place of wildflowers and waving grasses, of songbirds and waterfowl, of gravel trails that curve around bodies of water.

 

 

Faribault Energy Park reminds me of southwestern Minnesota, the prairie place of my roots. Located on the city’s northwest side and visible from Interstate 35, this Minnesota Municipal Power Agency park invites visitors to walk paths in an ever-changing natural landscape.

 

 

Even with the steady drone of I-35 traffic in the background, birdsong breaks through the noise. The memorable voice of the red-winged blackbird, especially, sounds a sensory delight.

 

 

I’ve visited the park mostly in the evening, when the golden light of sunset falls upon ponds, angles through grasses and flowers, and slices between tree branches.

 

 

Daisies, milkweed, clover, Iris and other flowers familiar but not identifiable to me by name populate the landscape in clusters of white, clumps of purple, flashes of yellow. Focusing my camera causes me to slow down, to notice blossoms I might otherwise miss while following the winding dirt paths.

 

 

But visitors can’t miss the wind turbine towering above the park next to a hillside block of solar panels. Informational signage explains how wind energy converts into electricity. Faribault Energy Park, though, is a dual fuel (natural gas and fuel oil) facility, not primairly wind-powered, and runs during periods of high demand for electricity.

 

 

This park serves also to educate, welcoming students to tour the plant each May, to view the control room, the steam turbine and then to walk those wetland area trails. Tours are also available by appointment.

 

 

For folks like me simply seeking a place to escape into and photograph nature, Faribault Energy Park wetlands park offers a respite of natural beauty. Some also come here to fish, although I’ve yet to see an angler pull in a catch.

 

 

But I’ve observed geese and ducks claim this property and swim these ponds. I’ve glimpsed, too, an otter gliding through the water.

 

 

And I’ve rested in the gazebo.

 

 

 

In the chaos and busyness of life, reinforced here by the sights and sounds of adjacent I-35 traffic, I still find peace in this place reminiscent of my native southwestern Minnesota prairie.

 

 

FYI: Faribault Energy Park is located at 4100 Park Avenue. The wetlands park is open daily from sunrise to sunset.

Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

North Morristown on the Fourth, the place to be in southern Minnesota July 2, 2019

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A glimpse of the North Morristown celebration grounds. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

 

NORTH MORRISTOWN, MINNESOTA, on the Fourth of July is grassroots Americana.

 

Buy your pie early for the best selection. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

From the country setting to the popular parade featuring the Candy House to a medallion hunt and flag-raising ceremony and concerts and offerings of homemade pies and much more, this celebration reflects rural America at its best.

 

 

If you haven’t experienced July 4 at North Morristown, I suggest you travel to this southern Minnesota holiday destination this week.

 

The BINGO callers of North Morristown. I won first place for this photo in a contest sponsored by National Mutual Benefit. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

My husband enjoys his cheeseburger at the North Morristown Fourth of July celebration in 2016. This is one of my favorite close-up images and among those published in Fleur-de-lis. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

 

Craig and Kathy enjoying the Fourth at North Morristown. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Here you’ll find BINGO and bands, burgers and beer, and, at day’s end, fireworks bursting over farm fields.

 

The popular bluegrass band, Monroe Crossing, performs twice at North Morristown, at 1:30 and 4 p.m. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

For many, this event represents an annual reunion with family and friends. Even with no roots to this place, I embrace this celebration, delighting in some really good food, visiting with friendly people and enjoying the music of crowd favorite Monroe Crossings, which returns year after year to perform at North Morristown on the Fourth.

 

One of several vintage kiddie carnival rides at North Morristown. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

If you appreciate the company of good folks who value country, community, family and hard work, then North Morristown will appeal to you. Bring your lawn chair. Bring your appetite. Bring your kids and/or grandkids. And be sure to express your gratitude to the volunteers who make this event happen. Thank them. And buy a $2 celebration button to show your financial support.

 

This food stand served tasty BBQ pork and beef sandwiches and other food during a past celebration.  Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

 

Billed as the longest-running Fourth of July celebration in Minnesota at 127 years, this is a must-attend for anyone interested in an authentic, down-to-earth way to commemorate our nation’s birthday.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling