Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Gardening: Passing along my rural heritage & much more May 2, 2023

Seeds for sale at Seed Savers Exchange, Decorah, Iowa. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2018)

SEVERAL DAYS AGO, my 4-year-old grandson excitedly shared that his broccoli was growing. His mom, my eldest, clarified. Sixteen broccoli seeds and one carrot seed had sprouted, popping through potting soil in three days. That surprised even me, who grew up in a gardening family with most of our food from farm to table, long before that became a thing.

Annuals that are easy to grow from seed. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

A year ago, I gifted my grandchildren with several packets of seeds. Flowers only. Zinnias and bachelor buttons, easy-to-grow-from-seed annuals that blossom throughout the summer. Isaac and his mom planted the seeds in flower pots. And then watched seeds emerge into tender plants that grew and bloomed in a jolt of color.

Old-fashioned zinnias grown by my friend Al and sold at the Faribault Farmers’ Market. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2019)

That was enough for the preschooler to get the gardening bug. This year, in selecting seeds for Isaac and his older sister, I added vegetables to the mix of flowers. Spinach because I knew it would grow quickly and flourish in Minnesota’s still cool weather. And carrots, because Isaac wanted to plant them. Later, he told his mom he also wanted to plant broccoli because he likes broccoli. I’m not sure that’s true. But Amber bought broccoli seeds for her son, whom she’s dubbed Farmer Isaac.

“Summer in a Jar,” sold at the Faribault Farmers’ Market. This photo published in the book “The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Frontier Landscapes that Inspired The Little House Books” by Marta McDowell. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2015)

I can’t think of a better way to encourage kids to try vegetables. And to teach them about plants and that veggies don’t just come from the grocery store. With most families now a generation or two or three removed from the land, it’s more important than ever to initiate or maintain a connection rooted in the soil.

Several types of tomatoes grow in the garden outside Buckham Memorial Library, Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Soil was the gardening starting point for my grandchildren. Once when they stayed overnight, I got out the gardening shovels and directed them toward a corner flowerbed and a patch of dirt. The dirt flew as they dug and uncovered earthworms and half a walnut shell and bugs. I didn’t care if their hands got dirty. I simply wanted them to have fun, to feel the cold, damp earth, to appreciate the soil beneath and between their fingers.

My great niece waters plants inside her family’s mini greenhouse. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2018)

I was a bit surprised when my eldest embraced gardening with her kids. But then again, she was the daughter who always watered flowers and observed that “the flowers are opening their mouths” (translation, “the tulips are blooming”) as a preschooler. I never had much of a garden due to lack of a sunny spot in my yard. But I usually grew tomatoes in pots and always had pots overflowing with flowers and flowers in beds. So Isaac and Isabelle’s mom did have a sort of gardening background.

Heirloom tomato at the Faribault Farmers’ Market. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2019)

As a farmer’s daughter and a grandma, passing along something like gardening is like passing along part of my rural heritage. My Grandma Ida always had a big garden, an essential with a family of 10 kids. She continued to garden throughout her life, long after her kids were gone and she moved to town. Likewise, my mom planted a massive garden to feed her six kids. My siblings and I helped with the gardening—pulling weeds, picking vegetables… And shelling peas. Of all the garden-related tasks, the rhythmic act of running my thumb along an open pod to pop pearls of peas into a pan proved particularly satisfying. Plus, I loved the taste of fresh peas from the garden. There’s nothing like it except perhaps the juicy goodness of a sun-ripened tomato or leaf lettuce or a just-pulled carrot with dirt clinging to the root.

My friend Al vends flowers and vegetables at the Faribault Farmers’ Market. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2019)

I don’t expect my grandchildren will garden like their great great grandma or great grandma. But that’s OK. They’ve been introduced to gardening. They see now how seeds sprout and develop into plants that yield beauty or food. Hopefully they will gain an appreciation for garden-fresh, whether fresh from the pots on their patio or deck, or from a farmers’ market.

Purple beans grow in the library garden. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Even though they live in a south metro suburb, my grandkids remain close to the land with farm fields within view, not yet replaced by massive housing developments. It’s important to me that Isabelle and Isaac always feel connected to their rural heritage, that they value the land, that they grow up to remember the feel of cold, damp dirt on their hands. That they understand their food is not sourced from grocery stores, but rather from the earth.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


24 Responses to “Gardening: Passing along my rural heritage & much more”

  1. Ida Fetterer Says:

    Amen Audrey, loved your last comment, I teach my grand daughters the same thing. They are both following in this Grandma Ida’s footsteps as well. Coming from a long line of farmers in our family, I am blessed to know the love of being close to the earth on my prayer bones as my Mother Iva use to say. Thank you as always for sharing Audrey, we may not always comment on everything you write, but know we walk with you in your footsteps, because after all, we are on this journey, too. Bless your heart. Your prednisone and lack of sleep rang home to this girl…..I could have wrote that same story except for my medical situation is different, the lack of rest was so true.

    • Ida, I adore that phrase of “being close to the earth on my prayer bones.” Thank you for sharing that imagery from your mother, Iva.

      I’m sorry you, too, have had to take Prednisone and deal with its insomnia side effect.

  2. beth Says:

    This post brings me such joy to read. What an amazing gift you have passed on. This has to make your heart swell

  3. Love gardens! I wish I was better at it. So many memories of my parents’ garden and Mom canning and freezing veggies.

  4. John Kellen Says:

    Great article Audrey- nothing like fresh produce right out of the garden. You’ve got quite a legacy growing, quite literally. Fun fact. My grandmother was also named Ida and grew up on a farm north of Ghent MN. My sister and I also have green thumbs although it skipped a generation. My mother loved flowers and appreciated fresh produce, yet never much had an inclination to dig in the dirt.

    Hope all is well in your world. Love to meet in person some day. I’ve joined the staff at SMAC (Southwest Minnestota Arts Council) part time as a communications assistant in part to support my artistic inclinations. I understand that there may be some events in your neighborhood that I may come down for. It would be nice to put a face with a name.

    Kind Regards,

    John Kellen
    Kellen Studios

    • John, thank you for sharing your gardening heritage and that your grandma was also named Ida. I like that you have a green thumb. Kids take that term literally. When my daughter told my grandson last year that he had a green thumb, he looked at his thumb.

      Congrats on the new job in communications with SMAC! They are lucky to have you. Yes, please reach out to me should you be in my area. Right now I’m dealing with health issues (vestibular neuronitis) so am out of circulation. Not even taking photos currently.

      • John Kellen Says:

        My pleasure. So sorry to hear of your health issues. I do hope you are ok and that you get the help you need. Thoughts, Prayers and Intentions coming your way.I haven’t been out as much as I would like either. I’ve been preoccupied with work duties and working to finish up a stained glass piece. I also committed to do a series of art fairs this summer, so I’ll need to focus on producing enough inventory to make it worthwhile.

      • I’m in vestibular rehab therapy, trying to retrain my brain. Anyway…it sounds like you have a lot going. Good for you to embrace stained glass and commit to doing several art fairs this summer.

  5. Valerie Says:

    It was great to hear Issac talking about growing broccoli the other night. I agree, we do need to make sure our kids know where our food comes from.

  6. Rose Says:

    Loved this post, especially your last paragraph! Thank-you for passing this important part of life and growth forward to your grandchildren. I try so very hard to do the same for mine.

  7. Farmer Isaac may be starting early but what seeds you are planting with giving him a head start on learning all about the great things that can grow from the land. I love it.

    • The seeds were planted indoors in small starter “boxes.” I can’t think of the right term. Once the danger of frost has passed, the young plants will be transplanted and moved outdoors. Then it’s the battle with the bunnies, one of which hopped all the way up a flight of steps onto the deck.

  8. You know my love of nature. We finally had a bunch of bananas make an appearance. The limes are going to be booming sooner than later. The garden is growing with peppers, tomatoes, squash, etc. The birds, bees, dragonflies are happy too. Love that you are sharing your love of gardening with your grand kids – oh so special! Great way to bond, connect, socialize, etc. in having kids involved in gardening. Happy Day – Enjoy 🙂

    • Bananas and limes direct from the tree sounds delicious. My sister-in-law made a lemon pie with ONE lemon from their tree in Arizona. She brought it for dessert at our house last Saturday when we had her and her husband here for supper. That was one mighty fine pie.

  9. This was a fabulous blog post!

  10. Norma Says:

    I loved to read about your gardening experiences. It reminded me of my dad. He always had a garden. He grew some of the best tomatoes ever grown, I have some pictures of him on a ladder picking some of his glorious tomatoes. He had every kind of tomato that you could imagine. We lived in a small town, but he could grow anything that was grown on a farm. (Except animals) We also had pens with chickens, and a pen with turkeys. I got stuck in a pen with the turkeys one time!! NEVER again. I found out quickly that they weren’t as gentle as the chickens. So happy that you are teaching the kids about farming.

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