Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Touring Simple Harvest Organic Farm, rural Nerstrand July 25, 2016

The Zemans' farmhouse and yard.

The Zemans’ farmhouse and yard, this view looking toward the driveway.

SIBLINGS KATHY AND NICK ZEMAN farm the old-fashioned way.

Visitors park along the county road by Simple Harvest Organic Farm for the Eat Local Tour.

Visitors park along the county road by Simple Harvest Organic Farm on 155th Street East, rural Nerstand, for the recent Eat Local Farm Tour.

Simple Harvest Organic Farm, 17 geese close-up

 

Simple Harvest Organic Farm, 79 beehives

 

Simple Harvest Organic Farm, 69 pigs

 

Their 20-acre rural Nerstrand acreage is home to an assortment of animals typical of farms of yesteryear. Chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, pigs, goats, cows and rabbits along with two dogs and bees comprise the collection of critters I spotted on a recent visit.

 

Simple Harvest Organic Farm, 15 back ends of goats

 

Livestock graze in pastures and are fed a vegetarian diet. These animals see sunlight and sky on this organic farm.

 

Simple Harvest Organic Farm, 8 Simple H sign

 

Simple Harvest Organic Farm was among sites featured on the recent 2016 Eat Local Farm Tour. As I hiked up the driveway toward the farm yard, I noticed the absence of a barn. I didn’t ask Kathy about that. I was distracted by the goats and then the chickens peering from behind chicken wire in the weathered chicken house.

 

Simple Harvest Organic Farm, 43 bunnies

 

Simple Harvest Organic Farm, 39 goat close-up

 

Then it was on to the rabbits and the sweet bunnies and a single milk goat that preferred chomping on dry leaves over fresh leaves.

 

Simple Harvest Organic Farm, 18 geese walking

 

As I circled the property, I noticed plenty of weeds and droppings from wandering geese. This isn’t a pristine picture perfect farm. But it’s lovely in the sort of way that this is a way of life for Kathy and her brother. Not only do they raise food for themselves, but also for others through their Community Supported Agriculture business.

 

This weathered building houses the chickens, who roam inside and out.

This weathered building houses the chickens, who roam inside and out.

This pair peered through chicken wire in a chicken coop window.

This pair peered through chicken wire in a chicken coop window opening.

The farm store is located in a closed corner of the pole shed which also houses pigs and fowl.

The farm store is located in a an enclosed corner room of the pole shed which also houses pigs and fowl.

On the second Saturday of every month, from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., the Zemans open their farm store—housed in a room in a pole shed—to CSA and other customers who stop by to pick up frozen whole chickens, eggs and more. The farm is also open by appointment.

 

Simple Harvest Organic Farm, 81 bikes

 

As I chatted with Kathy, whom I met 30-plus years ago when I was a newspaper reporter and she the Steele County dairy princess, she paused to greet new arrivals. “The neighbors are here,” she enthused. And they really were her neighbors, their bikes leaning against a fence near the end of the farm driveway.

 

Simple Harvest raw honey available for purchase at the farm.

Simple Harvest raw honey available for purchase at the farm.

Friendliness and old-fashioned neighborliness prevail here on Simple Harvest Organic Farm.

BONUS PHOTOS:

On the day I visited, these items were available for purchase from Simple Harvest.

On the day I visited, these items were available for purchase from Simple Harvest.

I photographed this sunflower by the chicken coop.

I photographed this sunflower by the chicken coop.

Customers could also purchase Wildflower Honey from Schoolhouse Apiary during the farm tour.

Customers could also purchase Wildflower Honey from Schoolhouse Apiary, Northfield, during the farm tour.

 

Simple Harvest Organic Farm, 7 Eat Local sign

 

FYI: Check back as I take you several miles away to Shepherd’s Way Farms, also on the 2016 Eat Local Farm Tour.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The rural influence in my writing & photography, plus a farm tour July 12, 2016

Barn, 117 red barn along US Hwy 71 south of Redwood Falls

 

BARNS DRAW MY CAMERA lens like moths to a porch light.

 

Barn, 144 farm site between Olivia and Wilmar

 

My response is reflexive, this focal allure of barns while traveling through rural Minnesota.

 

Barn, 112 bluegreen barn along US Hwy 71 south of Redwood Falls

 

Barns, to me, symbolize rural life. Growing up on a southwestern Minnesota dairy and crop farm, I labored in the barn—scooping silage and ground feed, scraping manure into gutters, carrying milk pails from barn to milkhouse, tossing hay and straw bales from the hayloft, bedding straw…

My hair, my skin, my clothing smelled always of cows and manure. I bathed but once a week. That seems unfathomable now. But it was the reality of then.

 

Barn, 145 white barn & cow

 

The barn on our family farm provided more than shelter for the cows. It provided an income, a way of life, a training ground for hard work. No matter what, the cows needed to be tended, fed and milked. Vacations were rare—only two my entire childhood, one to the Black Hills of South Dakota and the other to Duluth. On the occasion when my parents traveled farther, they left my older brother and me home to take care of the farm under our bachelor uncle Mike’s watchful eye.

 

Barn, 142 farm site between Olivia and Wilmar

 

I often told my dad I wanted to be a farmer. He discouraged me. He likely knew what I didn’t, that I wasn’t cut out to be a farmer. I am not a risk taker. And to be a farmer, you need to be a bit of a gambler. You gamble on the unpredictability of weather and of prices. Granted, technology has curbed some of the risk. But still, it’s there.

 

Barn, 132 sheep and barn between Morton & Olivia

 

Instead, I pursued a degree and career in journalism. And then, eventually, I became a full-time stay-at-home mom, setting aside my writing to raise my three kids. Until I found time again to write.

 

Barn, 109 east of Wabasso along US 71

 

In my writing today, unlike my past deliver-the-facts newspaper reporting, I have created a unique voice rooted in rural Minnesota. I may not smell of cow or manure, but those scents linger in my memory, infusing into my writing and photography. I bring a small town rural perspective to my work. I find my joy in writing about and photographing everyday life, everyday places, everyday people, mostly in Greater Minnesota.

The early 1950s barn on the Redwood County dairy farm where I grew up today stands empty of animals.

The early 1950s barn on the Redwood County dairy farm where I grew up today stands empty of animals. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

And it all started in a Redwood County barn.

Fresh eggs and caged chickens attracted lots of interest.

Fresh eggs and caged chickens photographed at an event several years ago at Valley Grove Church, rural Nerstrand. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

YOU, TOO, CAN EXPERIENCE farming this Saturday, July 16, by touring agricultural businesses throughout the region during the annual Eat Local Farm Tour. From Simple Harvest Farm Organics in rural Nerstrand to Mississippi Mushrooms in Minneapolis to Hope Creamery in Hope and 26 other sites, you’ll discover Minnesotans and Wisconsinites passionate about local foods. You’ll meet beekeepers, cheesemakers, berry growers, cattlemen/women, trout farmers and more.

Click here for a listing of sites on the Eat Local Farm Tour, which runs from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Note: With the exception of my home barn, all barns and farm sites featured in this post are located along U.S. Highway 71 in rural Minnesota, from south of Redwood Falls to south of Willmar.