Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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


18 Responses to “From southwestern Minnesota, where corn is king”

  1. Yum! Sweet corn fresh from the garden or road side stand then cooked and served hot with tons of butter. Makes my mouth water. I sure miss it!

  2. BERNADETTE Thomasy Says:

    Thanks for the visit to SW Minnesota. Those iconic corn and soybean vistas with the blue skies and puffy clouds bring back such good memories. Loved the cornstalk growing in a pail at the senior care facility.

    • Those towering clouds make for some powerful images as they really show the immensity of the prairie sky. The vastness of southwestern Minnesota, in land and sky, impresses me every single time I return to the my home region.

      I, too, love the cornstalk in the bucket. What a great idea.

  3. The corn certainly has got a slow start this year hasn’t it. I noticed in some fields up north that it did not meet the standard “knee high by the 4th of July”. Hopefully this weather will settle down soon….more rain predicted for today in Rochester.

    • Typically corn would be shoulder high by now as that knee high by the Fourth standard has long fallen. But this year crops are way behind with the late planting and now too much rain flooding out and destroying crops.

  4. That stalk of corn was a topic of discussion I am sure! The flooding has just been unreal this year. Thank you to the farmers that put food on my table 🙂 Happy Day – Enjoy

    • More rain predicted for Minnesota today. We were at Morehouse Park in Owatonna on Sunday and the Straight River was wild and powerful. No way should anyone canoe, kayak or otherwise engage in recreational activities on Minnesota rivers right now. Way too dangerous.

    • Stay out of the water is GREAT ADVICE! Currents, high water, who knows what has been swept into that can injury or make a person sick.

  5. mary redding Says:

    My Mom had great care at the Belview Nursing Home.

  6. valeriebollinger Says:

    I love the cornstalk growing in the pail. What a clever idea for the nursing home to display in “corn country”.

  7. Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

    Love the bucket with a corn stalk. Probably the first corn planted this year. Too many bare fields this year.

  8. It’s been an awful year for farmers, for sure. And the economy is beginning to show it.

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