Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Stats & humor from America’s Dairyland November 8, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
A dairy farm along Highway 14/61 south of La Crosse.

A dairy farm along Highway 14/61 south of La Crosse. It appears, though, that this barn no longer houses cows.

I’VE LEARNED A LOT about Wisconsin in the five years since my second daughter moved to Appleton on the eastern side of the state.

I’ve learned that Wisconsinites are crazy about the Green Bay Packers. If you want to travel with minimal traffic through Wisconsin, drive while a Packers game is on. Most everybody will be holed up at home/a friend’s house or gathered in a bar watching the football game in their Packers’ green and gold.

I’ve also learned that Wisconsin residents love their beer and brats as noted by all the bars and signs advertising Brat Fries. Grocery stores even sell brat buns dyed Packers’ green and gold.

And then there’s the cheese. Oh, yes. Wisconsinites love their cheese. Big time. You can even find football and cow shaped cheeses.


A memorable barn due to the humorous signage.


This state is known as America’s Dairyland. According to the Wisconsin Dairy Producers Milk Marketing Board’s 2014 data, Wisconsin produces 13.5 percent of the country’s milk and 25.4 percent of the cheese. That comes from 1,271,000 cows housed on 10,290 licensed dairy farms.

Apparently New York dairy farmers who resettled in southern Wisconsin in the 1840s and 1850s propelled this region into cheese-making. New York was, at the time, the leading dairy producer. Today this East Coast state remains the third top dairy state behind California and Wisconsin.

As someone who grew up on a family dairy farm—in southwestern Minnesota—I value the dairy industry. Pass the cheese, please.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


What color is this Green Bay Packers barn? October 7, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:35 PM
Tags: , , , , , , ,

TRAVELING HOME from northeastern Wisconsin this afternoon while the Green Bay Packers were playing the Indianapolis Colts, I spotted this barn along Wisconsin Highway 10 near the New London exit.

The barn owner was paying homage to Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers with the message of “#12 is #1.” My husband told me that since I am clueless as to nearly anything regarding football except that Wisconsinites are crazy about their Packers.

Now, how crazy are they? I’ll let you decide. One of these barn photos shows the actual color of the barn. Which is it? You decide by casting your vote via a comment.


CHOICE #1: Is the barn painted Green Bay Packers green?

CHOICE #2: Is the barn painted Green Bay Packers gold?

CHOICE #3: Is the barn painted barn red?

Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Appreciating the little things at a barn dance & in life September 20, 2011

COUNTLESS TIMES my husband and I have driven into John and Debbie Becker’s rural Dundas yard for bible study and not given their barn a second thought. Maybe we’ve glanced toward it, noticed the 1915 date on the cupola or the cow art on the exterior milkhouse wall. But beyond that and John’s occasional comment that he’d like to have a barn dance, we really haven’t focused too much on that building which centers the farm (although I did photograph the exterior one evening this past summer).

Notice the cow art on the milkhouse in this image taken several months ago.

That all changed Saturday when the Beckers hosted their first-ever Harvest Time Barn Dance. I was there with camera in tow trying to capture the essence of the event via my photography.

That involved not only taking the general overall photos you would expect, but zooming in on the details. It is the details, like chapters in a book, that combined tell the complete story.

So today, in this post, I want you to see the “little things” I noticed. And I want to encourage you, as you go about your daily, busy lives, to pause and see the details. They make life interesting and fun and joyful and memorable.

All too often we hurry here and there, filling our minutes and hours and days and weeks—and then months and years—with activities and work and busyness. We miss out on so much of life by living that way.

We all need a barn dance to appreciate the sweet details of life.

There's something about this "boy in bibs looking out the barn door" that is sweet and endearing.

Herb Becker painted this on the west end of the barn interior in 1958. Family members are uncertain what it means, but John Becker thinks it may have something to do with his mom being pregnant with him then.

Most of the kids dressed in western attire, right down to the tips of their cowgirl/cowboy boots and hats.

A hammer high on a screen has hung there for 40 - 50 years and is used to close the barn window, John Becker says.

A vintage fanning mill was displayed along the pathway into the barn.

Among the signage decorating the barn interior: the Beckers' seed corn sign

Farm humor: "De-CALF coffee

Kids played in the farmyard...just using their imaginations. No electronics, toys, etc., necessary.

Kids weren't the only ones carrying cap guns. I managed to pull the pistols from this deputy sheriff's holsters twice before he pulled out his handcuffs and threatened to cuff me.

When I composed this frame, I considered the barn dances held here in the 1930s and how bands have changed with computers and high tech instruments. The contrast between old and new was not lost on me in this setting.

In one of my favorite images, I captured this sweet interaction, the bending down to the child's level, the care, the love and concern shown in this simple act. I saw that repeatedly at the barn dance, in the clasp of a child's hand, in a child atop her dad's shoulders, in hands joining on the dance floor...

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Harvest barn dance celebrates family, friends and yesteryear September 19, 2011

A father and son were among the hundreds of guests attending a dance in this 96-year-old barn.

IN THE 1930s, at the height of The Great Depression, a young Herb Becker attended dances in the sprawling red barn along Rice County Road 1 several miles west of Dundas.

Herb didn’t know it then, but in 1948 he and his wife Dorothy would buy the “Faber farm” site with the 36-foot by 100-foot barn.

Today his youngest son John and wife Debbie own the farm, purchased in 1988. Saturday they hosted their first-ever Harvest Time Barn Dance.

John and Debbie Becker have reshingled and done other work to their barn to keep it from deteriorating.

“It’s a dream come true,” John said several times through-out the event which brought the barn back full circle to his father Herb—who died in 2009—and those long-ago barn dances.

I bet Herb would have been pleased with the party that drew family, friends and neighbors of the Beckers together on a cool autumn evening to visit, eat and dance the night away in the old hay mow. My husband Randy and I were among our friends’ invited guests.

Everything about the celebration in this 1915 barn spoke to the kind of down-home neighborliness and love of family that define the Beckers and the Malechas (Debbie’s family). These are good, honest, hard-working people of faith with their roots planted deep in the earth. I doubt I stopped smiling all evening.

And there was plenty to smile about—from the country-style decorated barn complete with red-and-white checked tablecloths, zinnias/sedum/golden rod in fruit jars, pitchforks, bushel baskets, seed corn signage, wooden barrels, cream separator, horse harness and lots more to the kids and adults sporting cowboy hats, cowboy boots and other western attire to the welcoming, sometimes boot-stomping, music of The Revivals band.

Battery-operated tea light candles and flowers in quart jars decorated tables covered with red and/or red-and-white checked cloths. This photo looks toward the west end of the hay mow.

Everywhere collectibles and antiques were on display, creating a setting of simple country charm.

Guests indulged in tasty roast beef sandwiches, calico beans, an array of salads and bars.

The Beckers created a coffee corner, where guests could grab some "De-Calf" or "Real Calf," visit, maybe even pull a deck of cards from the shelf for a game of Euchre.

Fall and vintage decorations lined the pathway leading into the barn.

It was the type of evening reminiscent of the old-fashioned gatherings of yesteryear, when adults could visit while the kids played with carefree abandon. And they did on Saturday. Tag and hide-and-seek. Pick-up football in the dusty farm yard. Make-believe, chasing each other with cap guns blazing.

Kids ran and played and ran and played--all night.

Heading out the barn door...

The kids, and a few adults, brought cap guns.

Probably my favorite image of the evening...no words necessary to describe these happy boys.

Inside, the adults admired the architectural bones of the barn, cranking necks upward toward the skeletal rafters, toward the conveyor that once carried hay bales across this dairy barn hay mow. And before that, the hay fork, on display outside the barn. They imagined climbing the ladder on the east end of the barn, like daring trapeze artists, to a platform above.

Looking toward the east end of the hay mow.

The east end of the hay mow with the ladder and platform and highlighting the barn's framework.

Looking toward the west end of the hay barn.

Pulling popcorn duty at the barn dance.

And later, when The Revivals from New Prague rocked the rafters with music that spanned polkas and waltzes to country and 1950s-1970s hits, adults and kids alike slid their feet across the corn meal-slicked plywood covering the maple floor that was too unsalvageable for refinishing. They twirled and shook and twisted.

And they danced like Herb would have wanted them to dance, celebrating life.

The Revivals from New Prague played a mix of music from old-time to rock.

Leaving the barn dance. Vehicles packed the farm yard.

CHECK BACK FOR MORE barn dance images. I won’t have photos of the dancing; once I had my band shot, I put away the camera.

HAVE YOU EVER attended a barn dance? If you haven’t, you might want to become friends with the Beckers. I bet they’ll have plenty of requests for a repeat harvest dance next fall. Thanks, John and Debbie, for an absolutely memorable and fun evening.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Oh, blessed summer eve on a Minnesota farm June 30, 2011

If you look closely, you will see the farm dog in front of the 1915 farmhouse to which a machine shed was added.

WIDE SWATHS OF SHADOWS sliced across the farmyard as the sun edged toward the horizon on a whisper of a summer night.

The old farm dog, tethered to a chain next to the 1915 farmhouse-turned-granary-turned storage shed, rose from his resting place on a paw-worn patch of grass. Water and food bowls rested on the single cement step nearby, within his reach.

The dog didn’t bark, didn’t lunge, just let me be as I moved into his territory. He stood, paced and then eased onto his haunches, acknowledging my non-threatening presence as I dropped to one knee to view the world from his perspective.

I wanted only to photograph this guardian of the farm on a summer evening as absolutely picture-perfect as any day you’ll get in Minnesota. Still. Serene. Colors sharp like new crayons. Sunlight, eye-blinding bright to the west, on the other side of the barn, outside the dogs’ reach.

This June evening, for these few hours, this watchdog could not roam the farmyard. He could only eye the visitors seated across the gravel drive at a picnic table. Friends gathered for pizza and lemonade sweetened with fresh strawberries and then more berries atop angel food cake and ice cream topped off with whipped cream.

Laughter punctuated conversation. Then bibles flipped open to words written upon pages thin as butterfly wings. The shrill call of a cardinal pierced the silence between ideas shared and scripture read.

Then, as the farm dog watched, the friends bowed their heads in a prayer of thanksgiving—gratitude to God for protecting the owners of this farm from serious injury in a motor vehicle accident the previous day. A rear-end collision. Truck spinning, tipping onto its side along a Minnesota highway. Glass in teeth and waistbands and hair.

None of this the guard dog knew on this most blessed of summer evenings on a Minnesota farm.

TODAY, JUNE 30, has been designated as “Maroon Day” in Minnesota, historically the deadliest day on our state’s roadways. Since 2000, more fatal crashes have occurred on this final day of June, leading into the July Fourth holiday, than on any other day of the year. Statistics show 30 fatal crashes resulting in 35 deaths.

All of Minnesota’s nearly 600 state troopers, in their signature maroon vehicles, will be patrolling today.

Buckle up. Drive carefully and be safe.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


An almost-summer evening on the farm June 1, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:47 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

The sun sets on the farm site where I grew up in southwestern Minnesota.

OH, SWEET EVENING of almost-summer on my childhood farm. Daylight fades, washing the sky in the palest of prairie rose pink. Shadows sharpen before the last lingering rays of sunlight retire for the night.

Underneath the branches of the sturdy old tree, which once sheltered a long-gone farmhouse and a tractor-tire sandbox, the cousins and siblings, ranging in age from 11 to 25, one-by-one grab double ropes, straddle a car tire and ask for a push.

My 11-year-old nephew and a tire swing...

And then they are swinging through the air, spinning nearly out of control, dodging danger in a tree trunk, wisps of hair flying, smiles as wide as the prairie sky, until, finally, they plead for someone, anyone, to stop the dizzy-inducing carnival ride.

My oldest daughter...

...discovers joy on a tire swing...

...far from her big city home, in the place she calls "the middle of nowhere..."

...and sometimes "nowhere" can be as much fun as Minneapolis on an almost-summer evening.

Oh, sweet evening of almost-summer on the farm, when I grip my camera, dodge the swaying tire to capture the moments, to vicariously relive the exuberance of tipping my head back, catching the wind as I ride the tire swing. I feel the twirling, dizzy oblivion through the lens of my camera, wishing I could grasp the ropes, straddle the tire, stretch my toes heavenward and tickle the belly of the sky.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling