Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Back at the Rice County Fairgrounds April 21, 2021

Looking toward food stands and the Midway. To the right, is the outdoor entertainment center. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

VACATED. That word best describes my assessment of the Rice County Fairgrounds in Faribault during a recent walk there.

Many local groups have food stands at the fair. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.
Picnic tables near the pork food stand. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.
The presence of 4-Hers at the fair is strong. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

In the absence of people, the absence of animals, the absence of a carnival, the absence of exhibits, the place feels empty. No pulsating lights on the Midway. No smell of grilling burgers. No taste of sugary mini donuts. No shouts of kids. No feel of a prize stuffed animal clutched in arms.

The entertainment space to the left with the St. Luke’s food stand on the right. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

If everything works out COVID-wise, this fairgrounds will teem with people come late July. Animals will fill barns. Ribbons will mark prize-winning 4-H entries. Greasy cheese curds will satisfy those who crave fair food. The sounds of music and clustered conversations and happy kids will create a steady buzz of noise. Little hands will grasp adult hands and teenage hands will lock in fair love. People will reconnect. Celebrate. Experience that which was lost last summer, during the height of the pandemic.

Love this signage. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.
The commercial exhibit building. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.
Garden decor stored until the fair. The garden is next to the conservation building. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

This is the fair I imagine as I walk past shuttered buildings, as I pause to photograph buildings and signs and expanses of open space.

Just a snippet of the 32 barn swallow nests on Curtis Hall. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

And then I pause outside the 4-H building, Curtis Hall, to photograph the row of barn swallow nests mudded under the eaves. So many. Thirty-two. Too many. If there’s one bird I dislike, it’s the barn swallow. We have a history. As a child, I endured barn swallows swooping over me as I did farm chores. The swallows built their nests on beams above the barn aisle, my direct work route. I felt threatened by them as I shoveled manure into gutters, pushed a wheelbarrow full of ground feed down the aisle. My feelings for the swallow have not changed. Even though they eat mosquitoes, I still don’t like this bird.

Just another view of those swallow nests. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

That’s my sidebar from the fairgrounds, perhaps one you can relate to if you did farm chores like me.

The sheep arena is named after a Rice County deputy killed in the line of duty. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo 2021.
A view of the sheep barn. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.
Each of the livestock buildings is numbered. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

Fairs are rooted in agriculture. Prize animals. Prize vegetables. A once-a-year opportunity to showcase the best of barns and of gardens. But today’s fair is much more. Entertainment. Creativity. And, above all, a place for communities to come together once a year in one place. To celebrate. To connect.

The Rice County Fair office with the grandstand in the background. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

FYI: The Rice County Fair is tentatively set for July 21-25 in Faribault. Whether it happens depends on all of us. See my previous post.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Fair thoughts September 2, 2016

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Isabelle's first official Minnesota State Fair photo, taken here with her daddy (my son-in-law), Marc. Photo by Amber.

Isabelle’s first official Minnesota State Fair photo, taken here with her daddy (my son-in-law), Marc. Photo by Amber.

LAST WEEK MY NEARLY five-month-old granddaughter attended her first Minnesota State Fair with her parents. The proof is in the image of Isabelle snugged in her daddy’s arms and posing next to a Gopher sculpture. She seems oblivious. Some day Izzy will care about the Great Minnesota Together. Just like her parents. But not like her grandma. I haven’t been to the State Fair since my college days.

 

Food vendor wagon

 

The nearest I came to a fair this summer was during a walk around my granddaughter’s neighborhood in a north metro ring suburb. About a month ago as her grandpa and I wheeled Izzy in her stroller, we happened upon a shuttered food vendor wagon parked in a driveway next to a boat.

This vendor pedals a range of fair foods. But not my favorite, mini doughnuts. I love the sweetness of that warm, sugary treat. Mini doughnuts link to childhood memories of small town carnivals and the county fair back in my native Redwood County. That rural rooted fair appealed to me. The oppressive crowds of the Minnesota State Fair do not.

TELL ME: Do you attend a county or state fair each summer? What is your favorite fair food? What do you most enjoy about the fair?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Deciding the future of the historic Blue Earth County fairgrounds January 8, 2014

The beef barn, shaded by an oak tree.

The beef and other barns are circled by aged oaks.

IN THE SHADE OF AGED OAKS sprawling along the banks of the Watonwan River in Garden City, agricultural buildings stretched long and lean as my husband and I drove through the Blue Earth County Fairgrounds on a July morning.

I was enamored with this charming and historic place, where buildings are labeled BEEF, SHEEP, POULTRY, FFA, 4-H EXHIBITS…

Just inside the entry to the Blue Earth County Fairgrounds.

Just inside the entry to the Blue Earth County Fairgrounds.

For 154 years, folks have come here each summer to celebrate the area’s agricultural roots.

But now this bucolic spot, which so charmed me during that brief drive-through this past July, may no longer serve as the site for Blue Earth County’s fair. The fair board is looking to move the fair within a two-mile radius of nearby Mankato, according to information on the fair website.

 A posting of fair sponsors just inside the front gate.

A posting of fair sponsors just inside the front gate.

Thursday evening, Blue Earth County Fair Association shareholders meet at Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato to discuss the future of the fair, supported in the past by rural sponsors like Crystal Valley Coop, Watonwan Farm Service and the Blue Earth County Farm Bureau.

Shareholders will vote, beginning at 6:20 p.m., on whether to sell the Garden City fairgrounds. I’m not privy to financial details but, according to a story in the Mankato Free Press, the fair has consistently lost money in recent years. The thought is that moving the fair nearer the county’s center of population (Mankato) and adding amenities will increase attendance and better tell the story of agriculture. Click here to read the document, BLUE EARTH COUNTY FAIR: GROUNDS FOR GROWTH.

I expect this membership meeting may be a heated one pitting historians and preservationists against those favoring change, and country folks against city residents. I might be wrong.

If you buy a $5 share, you can vote. Once. There’s no buying multiple shares for multiple votes. Shares are available for purchase yet today (from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. and from 5-7 p.m.) at Busters on Madison Avenue in Mankato. And shares will be sold before the meeting, from 4:45-5:45 p.m. Thursday.

The open class exhibit buildings.

Open class exhibit buildings.

I’m not fully-informed on all sides of the issue. Yet I do know this: When my husband and I wove our way through the fairgrounds in Garden City, I was impressed by the historic character, the nostalgic charm, the quaint old buildings in the beautiful natural setting and the fact that a place like this still exists. There is something to be said for that, for the time-honored tradition of this fair and the pastoral appeal of this land. It is, undeniably, a picturesque place along the Watonwan River, a lovely gathering spot for the generations who have come here each summer to celebrate rural life.

LET’S HEAR YOUR THOUGHTS on the future of the Blue Earth County Fairgrounds. How would you vote? Move the fair to a site closer to Mankato or keep it here, in Garden City?

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Stepping into yesteryear at the Blue Earth County fairgrounds August 1, 2013

Just inside the entry to the Blue Earth County Fairgrounds.

Just inside the entry to the Blue Earth County Fairgrounds.

PRIOR TO LAST FRIDAY, I’d never been to the Blue Earth County Fairgrounds, nor even to Garden City, the unincorporated community in which the fairgrounds is located. That would be south of Mankato, along the banks of the Watonwan River.

Log cabins on the fairgrounds include this one from 1860 and a replica of an 1839 cabin.

Log cabins on the fairgrounds include this one from 1860 and a replica of an 1839 cabin.

What a delightful place—like a step back in time.

The beef barn, shaded by an oak tree.

The beef barn, shaded by an oak tree.

Space for chickens and ducks and geese and such poultry.

Space for chickens and ducks and geese and such poultry.

Always a fair favorite, the sheep.

Always a fair favorite, the sheep.

Just look at these old-fashioned buildings and imagine the cattle, pigs, poultry and sheep trucked into this scenic spot for the annual showing of the best of the best.

I expect (hope) the 4-H food stand will be repaired before the fair.

I expect (hope) the 4-H food stand was repaired before the fair.

Imagine 4-Hers clutching coveted ribbons.

The open class exhibit buildings.

The open class exhibit buildings. Look at the splendid old doors on these structures.

Imagine the families and old folks, the neighbors and strangers mingling here to celebrate life in rural Minnesota.

Imagine the young lovers strolling the grounds.

My Aunt Marilyn remembers, more than 50 years ago, attending this fair on a weekday afternoon along with other Blue Earth County employees. “I suppose they don’t do that anymore,” she said.

I expect not, Marilyn.

 A posting of fair sponsors just inside the front gate.

A posting of fair sponsors just inside the front gate.

Today, August 1, through Saturday, August 3, you can experience this grassroots fair when gates open at the Blue Earth County Fairgrounds/Shady Oaks Campground in Garden City just off U.S. Highway 169.

CLICK HERE for detailed fair information and click here for info about the campground.

BONUS PHOTOS:

It seems every fairgrounds has an old school or church like this one.

It seems every fairgrounds has an old school or church like this one.

An on-site beverage stand.

An on-site beverage stand.

The Future Farmers of America building.

The Future Farmers of America building.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling