Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Small town Minnesota: Pretty in pink butcher shop July 24, 2019

 

WHEN I’M OUT AND ABOUT in small town Minnesota, I look for the unique, the interesting, the whatever that makes a rural community memorable.

 

 

A month ago we stopped in Wanamingo to kill some time while waiting for friends to arrive at nearby Aspelund Winery and Peony Gardens. Along the main route through downtown, I spotted a local butcher shop, Wanamingo Meats & Catering, aka Blondies Butcher Shop. You can’t miss it.

 

 

Bright pink shutters class up an otherwise non-descript brick building also accented by a pink Holstein cow, pink signage and pots of primarily pink petals.

 

 

And then there’s the message out front: Its (sic) better to have grilled and burned than to never have grilled at all. As a mega fan of grilled foods—thank you, Randy, for grilling every weekend year-round—I agree.

 

 

Blondies Butcher Shop certainly focuses visual attention, exactly the point to draw customers inside this female-owned business. I’ll remember this small town shop next to the grain bins long after I’ve exited Wanamingo.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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From Faribault: Connecting community through music July 18, 2019

The 8th Street Band performs in the Central Park bandshell during Faribault Heritage Days. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2019.

 

MY INABILITY TO READ a single musical note doesn’t diminish my appreciation for music. Rather I value all those vocalists and instrumentalists who enhance my life with the music they create.

 

A crowd gathers to hear The 8th Street Band. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2019.

 

Here in Faribault, gifted musicians bring music to Central Park on Thursday summer evenings beginning at 7 p.m. as part of the free Concerts in the Park series. This has been ongoing now for 132 years. That’s a lot of music in a long string of concerts.

Tonight’s performance features the horn band Little Chicago with hits from the 60s and 70s. Songs from bands like Chicago, The Grass Roots and Blood, Sweat & Tears. My kind of music from my era.

 

Visiting, connecting during a performance by The 8th Street Band. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2019.

 

I love the informality of these concerts where folks tote lawn chairs to the park and then settle in to listen to the music and to chat with other concert-goers. There’s a strong sense of community, a connectedness that comes from the universal language of music bringing people together.

 

A stuffed animal rests on a park bench (next to grandpa) during the Faribault Heritage Days celebration band concert. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2019.

 

Together. We need more of that in today’s chaotic world where too many individuals fail to think before they speak or post on social media. A world where differences split peoples and anger spews and too many harsh words erupt.

 

The sun sets behind the bandshell as barbershoppers sing tunes ranging from “Sweet Caroline” to “God Bless America.” Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

We need the language of music to envelope us, to take us away for an evening, to unite us in the commonality of something beautiful and lovely and freeing. We need the distraction of voices and of instruments as the sun shifts around the bandshell and slants across the grass, closing the day with song.

FYI: The July 18 concert also includes Free Art in the Park from 6:30 – 7:30 p.m. Local artist Kate Langlais will teach the basics of painting. Pre-register with the Faribault Parks & Recreation Department.

© Copyright 2019 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

 

“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