Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Into eastern Rice County to view fall colors October 4, 2022

A stunning treeline along Cannon City Boulevard just outside Faribault city limits. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

ANOTHER DAY OF SUNSHINE and unseasonably warm temps here in southern Minnesota prompted Randy and me to once again hit the road in search of fall colors. This time we headed into eastern Rice County, following backroads in the Cannon City and Nerstrand areas with a lengthy stop at Valley Grove Churches.

The historic Valley Grove churches, rural Nerstrand, photographed from the prairie. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Immersed in the Valley Grove prairie, I viewed the Big Woods. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

A spectacular view from the Valley Grove Cemetery right next to the churches. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

At those historic hilltop churches, we followed prairie trails until we reached the highest point. There we stood, impressed by the distant Big Woods treeline colored in the hues of autumn. Valley Grove is one of our favorite spots in any season, but especially when the leaves are morphing color.

Driving through Nerstrand Big Woods. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Our drive also took us on the road slicing through Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. We didn’t stop, simply enjoyed driving under a canopy of trees evolving in color. They have not yet reached their prime.

Driving through the woods on Farmer Trail. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

As always, Farmer Trail (off Falk Avenue) drew us in. This secluded road twists and turns among the maples and seems a well-kept secret. Thick woods edge the gravel road on both sides. I feel sheltered here, as if I’ve briefly entered some magical place.

The rolling hills around Valley Grove are especially colorful. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

This time of year in southern Minnesota truly feels magical given the remarkable beauty found in trees shifting from green to yellows, reds, oranges and browns.

The view from City View Park is breath-taking. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

My community of Faribault is ablaze and still erupting with color. City View Park on the east side overlooks the city, offering a vista view. The Shattuck-St. Mary’s clock tower always focuses my eye when taking in the city below and beyond.

Crossing the viaduct from Faribault’s east side, fall colors splash into the city landscape. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Even traveling down the viaduct into downtown impresses in the autumn. There’s so much to see locally in autumn colors whether along a city street, an area lake, a back country road.

Deep in eastern Rice County, a gravel road curves near Shepherd’s Way Farms, rural Nerstrand. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

If there’s anything I want to impress, it’s that all of this—this autumn color spreading across the landscape—is right here in Faribault, in Rice County, in our backyard. I don’t know if everyone realizes that. I also want to impress that the days of autumn are fleeting. A cold front is moving in along with wind. Now is the time to get out there and view the fall colors, at least locally.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The poetry of seasons as we welcome Autumn to Minnesota September 29, 2022

A wave of cattails signal Autumn’s entrance. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

IN THIS SEASON OF EARLY AUTUMN, the landscape of Minnesota transitions to subdued, muted, softer tones flashed with vivid orange, yellow and red in tree lines or a solitary tree. This time of year truly marks a change as we ease toward Winter, a season devoid of color.

Goldenrods. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

A hillside of drying grass contrasts with the looming grey sky. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Grasses tower high above me. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

A month ago, before Summer exited, I already observed Autumn’s entrance at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault. Stands of cattails. Groups of goldenrod. Seas of drying prairie grass. All signaled the shift to September days.

I’m sure this scene has changed in the month since I photographed it. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

I love this time of year. Sunny days give way to cool evenings to brisk mornings. I’ve pulled the flannel from the closet. I embrace the feeling, the glory, of each day, recognizing such days are fleeting.

Rustic signs, which I love, mark the trails at River Bend. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

But weeks before this end of September, I delighted in the final days of August with that short walk through the woods at River Bend, then along a grass-lined trail to the hilltop Prairie Loop before I retraced my steps.

A stem of grass bends in the wind. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Prairie grasses, looming well above my head, bent in the wind. I noted the gracefulness of the stems’ movement, the details on a single stalk. If you’ve ever paused to study a stalk, it’s almost like reading a poem. Grain after grain after grain ladders a slim line. In poetry, each word ladders into a line, into a verse, into a poem.

In the light of an August afternoon, a Monarch butterfly feeds upon the flower of a thistle. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

In the flashlight of the afternoon at River Bend, I spotted a lone Monarch flitting among thistles, black-outlined orange wings contrasting with the soft purple of the bloom. A metaphor. Or perhaps a simile when penned poetically. Poem upon poem upon poem.

Lush leaves veined by the August sun. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Autumn edits out Summer, eliminating the excess wordage of a season that is lush and full and busy. Now the lines of the season shorten, every word carefully chosen, a harbinger of what lies ahead. Winter. Sparse. Barren. Cold.

I followed this path from the woods, across the low lands to a hilltop overlooking the prairie. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

But until then, Autumn settles in with the familiarity of a worn buffalo plaid flannel shirt. With the familiarity of cattails and milkweed bursting. Goldenrods. Tall prairie grasses drying, moving toward dormancy. I’ve seen this shift every September for past sixty years now. Yet I never tire of the shift, the change in seasons here in southern Minnesota.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Connecting with community, history & art at Fall Flea Market September 17, 2022

Shoppers peruse the RCHS Fall Flea Market. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

SATURDAY MORNING FOUND ME wandering among vendors at the Rice County Historical Society Fall Flea Market in Faribault. It was, as always, an enjoyable event, marked by conversations with friends I haven’t seen in awhile, conversations with vendors and reflecting on the past.

A handwritten sign along Second Avenue points to the flea market in the parking lot and on the grounds of the RCHS. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
A RCHS Faribault sign provides the backdrop for a vendor’s book display themed primarily to Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

One vendor was giving away these plastic bags from the now closed Farmer Seed & Nursery in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Really, this is what local gatherings are all about for me. They’re about community and connecting, about embracing and appreciating this place I call home.

Beautiful bouquets from Erin’s Acre. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I was especially delighted to find, among all the vendors of miscellaneous merchandise, several artists. That includes Erin Sellner Honken of Erin’s Acre at Honken Farms. Erin creates with flowers she grows, tends, harvests and arranges into stunning bouquets for CSA subscriptions and special events. With an abundance of flowers right now, she decided to do a pop-up sale at the flea market featuring $10 dahlia mixed bouquets.

The stunning “river” table by JS Woodcrafts. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Just down the way by the historic schoolhouse, I discovered Jeremy of JS Woodcrafts. It was his “river” table which drew my attention and admiration. If I could afford the $500 price tag, this maple top table with stones and pebbles epoxied in the middle like a river, would be mine. Love, love, love this work of art.

Spanky’s Woodshed art made from pallets. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

John “Spanky” St. Clair of Spanky’s Woodshed also specializes in woodcrafting. I learned that he uses pallets and aged barn wood to create. Anyone who recycles to create earns my praise.

A flower created by recycling spoons and forks. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

An eye-catching Louie Armstrong. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I almost bought the pheasant paint-by-number, one of a trio of paintings. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I found more art in spoon flowers, in a Louie Armstrong figure, in paint-by-number paintings, in an endless array of merchandise.

Playing a woodwind in A Fun Lil’ Band. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
Propped against the barn near the band (seemingly listening), cut-outs of Ed and Frank, spokesmen for Bartles & Jaymes winecoolers. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
The band that loves to make music. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

And while I walked I heard music rising from A Fun Lil’ Band in Rice County with a sign declaring WE JUST LOVE TO PLAY MUSIC!! Their music added an extra touch of joy to the morning market.

The RCHS was selling collector limited edition bottles of Fleck’s grape soda. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

A view through a vendor’s booth featuring old toys. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
A vintage toy tractor reminded me of the farm toys I played with as a child. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

This event is a fundraiser for the Rice County Historical Society. But history is also very much a part of the market in aged and vintage merchandise vended. I reminisced over old farm toys, a baby stroller, a yellow Pyrex mixing bowl. I picked up a few items, pondering whether I should buy, but, in the end, held steady in my determination not to acquire more stuff. I’m at that age…

This colorful character caught my attention. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Parked along Second Avenue at the RCHS Fall Flea Market. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
I was pushed in a stroller like this, except the stroller was blue. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Instead, I collect with my camera, gathering images to tell a story, to share this market, to showcase the works of creatives, to express my appreciation for my community, this place I’ve called home for 40 years.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

So much to do this weekend in the Faribault area September 16, 2022

Performers at the 2019 Hispanic Heritage Celebration in Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2019)

IF EVER THERE WAS A WEEKEND packed with community activities, especially in Faribault, this is the weekend. Here’s a summary list of events, most of which I’ve attended through the years.

Let’s start with Friday, September 16:

The artsy front of a Ford Torino at a past car show. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

The final Faribault Car Cruise Night of the season takes place from 6 – 9 pm in the parking lot of Faribault Harley-Davidson. Besides vintage vehicles, there will also be food vendors and music.

Moving to Saturday, September 17:

Goats were a popular draw at Family Day in 2019. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2019)

Start out early by shopping the Faribault Farmers’ Market, which opens at 7 am in Central Park and closes at noon. But this isn’t any ordinary market day. This is Family Day with farm animals, a bounce house and more for kids. That starts at 9 am and continues til noon.

Flea market vendors set up shop on the grounds of the Rice County Historical Society during a past market. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Blocks away to the north, the Rice County Historical Society hosts its popular Fall Flea Market from 8 am – 2 pm in the parking lot and on the grounds.

At 11 am, until 2 pm, Harry Brown’s is hosting a Car Show at the fairgrounds.

Riding her Harley during a June 2020 Car Cruise Night. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo June 2020)

Meanwhile, way across town, Faribault Harley-Davidson celebrates an Anniversary Bash from 9 am – 10 pm as the motorcycle dealer marks 45 years in business. There will be a bike show and ride, music and food vendors.

At Divine Mercy Catholic Church on the south edge of Faribault, folks will gather from 4 – 9 pm for the annual Spirit Fest. That features food, music, an auction, bake sale, hay maze, drive-in movie, fireworks and much more.

Out-of-town events on Saturday, September 17:

The Montgomery Arts & Heritage Center, 206 First Street North on the north end of downtown. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo August 2020)

The Arts & Heritage Center of Montgomery has a morning full of activities that include a book-signing by Barbara Marshak of New Prague, author of Painted Skies, beginning at 10 am. Sister Anita Smisek presents on “Minnesota’s Big Woods Musicians” at 11 am. Guests can also view the work of wildlife artist Tom Miller, current exhibitor, and see the Czech dancer topiaries created by Meghan Petricka. The arts center opens at 9 am and closes at noon.

Dancers perform at the 2019 Hispanic Heritage Celebration. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2019)

From 11 am – 6 pm at Central Park in Northfield, Hispanic Heritage Celebration 2022 is happening. That event features food vendors, arts and crafts activities, dance and art, all themed to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month.

One more nearby event, on Sunday, September 18:

Wagon rides are part of the country social. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

The Valley Grove Preservation Society hosts the Valley Grove Country Social from 1 – 4 pm at its hilltop location near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. This is the site of two historic churches. The event includes an organ recital at 2 pm, Scandinavian music performed outdoors, prairie and cemetery walks, horse-drawn wagon rides, rope-making and more.

There you go. Rain, unfortunately, or fortunately since we need moisture, is in the forecast for Friday and Saturday…

For detailed information on all of these events, please search online.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From the 70s to today, caring about Earth September 12, 2022

A massive wind turbine at Faribault Energy Park dwarfs my husband, Randy, walking near it. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

COMING OF AGE in the early 1970s, I held a general awareness of environmental concerns. A respect for the earth and the environment was beginning to emerge as young people and others raised their voices.

Cattails flourish in the park wetlands. Restoration, rather than draining, of wetlands is the norm today. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

I remember the anti-littering campaigns. The concerns about water and air pollution. The efforts to limit billboards. I recall, too, Earth Shoes, although I’m uncertain what that footwear had to do with anything environmental.

This trail leads to the wind turbine, a teaching tool inside Faribault Energy Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Perhaps previous generations cared, too, but it seems the young people of the 70s started a new environmental movement that pushed personal and societal responsibilities in caring for our planet. Those efforts continue today, but with additional focuses: climate change, alternative energy, electric-powered vehicles and more. Today’s young adults are among those leading the way in discussions and effective change.

I grow milkweeds in my Faribault yard. I photographed this milkweed flower with an unknown insect atop at the energy park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

I feel such hope. Within my own family circle, my eldest daughter and son-in-law compost food and bio-degradable paper products. My son owns an e-bike, not a car, his primary mode of transportation between his Indiana apartment and Purdue University. We recycle, donate or give away items we no longer need. Every little bit helps. My young granddaughter wears hand-me-downs from her cousins. Just like her mother before her, whom I outfitted primarily via rummage sale purchases.

Unlike this dead frog flattened on a road at the energy park, thrifting/recycling/upcycling is very much alive. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Thrifting is in vogue. I recently spoke with a shop owner in Northfield who said local college students flock to her antiques and collectibles store to buy vintage clothing from one particular vendor.

Solar panels inside the park focus on alternative energy. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Across the Minnesota countryside, solar fields are replacing crop fields. Wind turbines are popping up, too, adding to those that have been around for decades.

Bold red berries burst color into the park’s landscape. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

It makes a difference—these seemingly small and big changes. A shift in attitudes with a new-found appreciation for our natural world can preserve, and hopefully, improve this place we call home.

A sign posted inside Faribault Energy Park lays out the rules. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Faribault Energy Park, owned and managed by the Minnesota Municipal Power Agency, aims to model environmental responsibility and innovation, according to its website. The power plant is a dual-fuel (natural gas and fuel oil) facility which runs only during periods of high demand for electricity.

Dirt roads wind around two ponds. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Although I’ve never been inside this power plant (tours are offered, primarily to schools), I’ve walked the grounds many times. The MMPA created a public park here on its 35 acres of wetlands. I love following the dirt roads that wind around ponds. And while it’s not the most peaceful place given the location along busy Interstate 35, the park still holds an appeal for me.

Beauty even in a thistle growing along pond’s edge. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

On this particular visit, I didn’t see any waterfowl, unusual, but perhaps not due to avian influenza. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

One of many birds observed inside the park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

That enjoyment comes in vegetation—cattails, flowers, trees, grasses—and in the birds, including waterfowl.

Anglers fish this pond next to the Faribault Energy Park power plant. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Other visitors fish here, in the large pond next to the power plant. This is also an educational grounds with a massive wind turbine and a stand of solar panels in place.

I especially like walking this park around sunset. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Combined, these elements remind me that I cannot take the natural world for granted, that I need to be environmentally-aware, that I need to do my part to protect and preserve Earth. I continue to learn, some 50 years after an awareness sparked within me that I really ought to care about this planet on a personal level.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Learning about the Wahpekute in Faribault September 2, 2022

Signage marks an entry to Wapacuta Park near my Faribault home. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

FOR 38 YEARS I’VE LIVED in the same house, “the Swanson house,” along Willow Street in Faribault. Just below Wapacuta Park, blocks from the home of town founder Alexander Faribault. Wednesday evening I learned information about the park up the hill, about my neighborhood, which left me feeling unsettled and troubled, but newly-informed.

This shows just a small section of Wapacuta Park, shelter in the distance. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

The park atop the hill, according to Susan Garwood, executive director of the Rice County Historical Society, was used by the Wahpekute, one of the seven “Council Fires” of the Dakota Nation, for honoring their dead. Not for final burial of their loved ones in this place which now houses a picnic shelter, playground, disc golf course and basketball courts, but rather for the construction of scaffolding to temporarily hold the deceased. Letters and other documents verify the placement of the scaffolding in Wapacuta (incorrectly spelled) Park.

I had no idea. No idea at all that this hilltop land held such importance in the lives, and deaths, of these Indigenous Peoples who called Rice County home long before French Canadians and others settled here.

Peace Park, where Wahpekute were buried, is located near Buckham Memorial Library in the background. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

The monument in Peace Park honors those who served in WW II. There is no mention that this slice of land is a Wahpekute burial site. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
The WW II monument at Peace Park. That’s Willow Street running aside the park. The area across the road is being cleared for apartments and senior housing. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

But Garwood shared even more unknown-to-me information. After a year, the bodies of the Wahpekute were removed from the scaffolding to a nearby burial spot. That’s the current day Peace Park, located near the intersection of Minnesota State Highway 60, Division Street and Willow Street by Buckham Memorial Library. The site, she said, is considered a cemetery, confirmed many decades ago by the discovery of bones wrapped in bark and hide. There were 14 burial mounds and sacred sites in the county, according to Garwood, who said this is closely-guarded information known to historians.

To learn all of this proved enlightening and left me wondering how many others are unaware. And what can be done to raise awareness and respect? Garwood asked the same question during her public presentation on “The Indigenous History of the land that is now Rice County, Minnesota.” She was the first presenter in a new endeavor, the Faribault Diversity Coalition Speaker Series, which will introduce those who call/called Faribault home through these monthly speaking events at the Paradise Center for the Arts.

This was part of an outdoor art installment at Bridge Square during Northfield’s Earth Day celebration. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2022)

Near the end of her hour-plus-long talk followed by questions and comments, Garwood encouraged attendees to remember and acknowledge the Wahpekute, who are still here. She referenced a Land Acknowledgment Statement and “Eagle Relatives” sculpture now in place in neighboring Northfield. She also mentioned efforts underway to honor the culture, history and places of the Wahpekute in Faribault. She encouraged all of us to become informed, to educate ourselves, to listen to the stories of Indigenous Peoples.

These first peoples lived in harmony with nature, with the land, Garwood noted. Life changed when fur traders came to the area and a dependency grew as the Wahpekute traded for goods that would make their lives easier. The US-Dakota War of 1862, centered to the west in Redwood, Renville and Brown counties, brought more change, including the loss of life, land and relocation for Indigenous Peoples. That aspect of Garwood’s talk was familiar to me given I grew up in Redwood County.

This sculpture of Alexander Faribault with a Dakota trading partner stands in Faribault’s Heritage Park near the Straight River. Faribault artist Ivan Whillock created this artwork gracing the Bea Duncan Memorial Fountain. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

She talked, too, about Alexander Faribault and Bishop Henry Whipple and how they befriended and helped the Dakota. Faribault, after the 1862 war, offered land he owned (today River Bend Nature Center and the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind) as an “Indian Camp,” Garwood said. Sixty-five Wahpekute from 12 families lived there.

Peace Park is located at a major Faribault intersection. The Alexander Faribault house can be seen in the background, just to the right of the red-roofed gas canopies at the local co-op and behind the hedge row. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Garwood focused primarily on the Wahpekute, the first people of Rice County, the “Shooters Among the Leaves.” They were, she said, hunters and gatherers who did not work the land but rather moved from place to place to find food, to sustain themselves. Every lake in the county was home to a Wahpekute village, she said. Rivers, too. Teepee Tonka Park along the banks of the Straight River in Faribault was among their riverside homes. Not far from Peace Park. Not far from Wapacuta Park. Near my home.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

New Minnesota State Fair food features duck eggs from Graise Farm August 26, 2022

All Quacked Up! open-faced sandwich. (Photo source: The Hideaway Speakeasy Facebook page/Minnesota State Fair)

WHEN MY FAIR-THEMED FOOD POST published yesterday, I had no idea that duck eggs from a rural Faribault farm are the focus of a new Minnesota State Fair food.

But then a newsletter from Graise Farm landed in my email Thursday morning and I knew immediately I needed to share this fair food update. Duck eggs from the farm owned by Tiffany Tripp and Andy Olson are featured in All Quacked Up!, a new open-faced sandwich created by The Hideaway Speakeasy. This is kind of a big deal for co-owners of this farm north of Cannon City, which is northeast of Faribault.

Graise Farm eggs, photographed at the Cannon Valley Farmers’ Market. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2021)

On Tuesday, Andy delivered 2,600 duck eggs to the Hideway fair location in the upper grandstand veranda area. Graise Farm has committed to providing 5,000 eggs.

Besides my excitement for Tiffany and Andy, who truly are deserving of this sale and the resulting exposure this will give their business, I love the name. All Quacked Up! is memorable and just plain fun. And even if I’m not a fried egg foodie, the sandwich sounds tasty. Here’s its description:

Fried, farm-fresh duck egg from Graise Farm in Faribault atop shaved smoked ham, aged cheddar cheese, tomato and spinach, served open-face on toasted sourdough bread with paprika aioli.

When I consider a fried egg sandwich, I think of my dairy and crop farmer father who often ate fried eggs for breakfast. Chicken, not duck, eggs. Plain, not fancy. Fried in lard, seasoned with salt and pepper. I can picture him now in his striped bib overalls, forking mouthfuls of egg, the yolk running across his dinner plate. And then, when the egg was mostly gone, he sopped up the remaining yolk with a slice of toasted homemade bread.

I expect many other farm kids share that fried egg memory. Perhaps even Tiffany, who left the family farm after earning degrees in agricultural economics and Spanish to work and travel the world, then returned to the family farmstead in 2012. Andy isn’t a farm kid. But, together he and Tiffany embrace rural life, sharing their passions of “raising animals humanely and eating healthy, delicious food grown locally.” Their animals are pasture-raised and/or organic-fed, including those free-range ducks.

You’ll find Graise Farm eggs at this food co-op in Northfield, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

The pair raises ducks, chickens, pigs and goats. They sell eggs, pork, and stew chickens and ducks. For more information, visit the Graise Farm website, which lists locations to buy those typically jumbo-sized duck eggs. And, yes, that includes in the Twin Cities metro.

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FYI: Tiffany was instrumental in establishing the Cannon Valley Farmers’ Market with food and products from small-scale farmers and producers in the Cannon River Valley. In the warm weather months, that market is open from 4 – 7pm Thursdays at the Rice County Fairgrounds in Faribault. Cold weather moves the market indoors to the Faribo West Mall.

Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Minnesota: A virtual taste of fair food August 25, 2022

A dessert specialty at the Farmer’s Delights food stand at the Rice County Fairgrounds in Faribault. The fair was held in late July. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

IF I WAS ATTENDING the Minnesota State Fair, which opens today and runs through Labor Day, I’d try these three new foods: Pickle Pizza, Sweet Potato Poutine and Minneblueberry Pie. Those were my quick picks while scrolling through the 39 new food offerings listed on the fair website. The fair, has, after all, become seemingly food-focused.

Food booths near the Rice County Fair grandstand. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

But I’m not going to the Great Minnesota Get Together. I haven’t been there in decades. I find nothing appealing about the massive crowds, the pressing together of fair-goers, the congestion, the waiting in lines, the dealing with metro traffic. Nope. Not my thing.

Homemade signage tops the Farmer’s Delights food vendor building. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Yet, many Minnesotans love the State Fair and there are many reasons to appreciate it from the Seed Art to the entertainment to all that vended food.

A sign marks the St. Luke’s food booth at the Rice County Fair. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

My youthful fair memories—I attended a few times—are of the giant slide, Machinery Hill (no longer there), an overly-crowded conservation building stocked with fish and dining at a church diner.

The Rice County Fair office near the grandstand. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

That brings me to the Rice County Fair, done and over for this summer, but set for July 19-23, 2023. I didn’t attend this year and haven’t for several. But I should return, check out the food stands, see what I’ve missed.

I passed the Bingo shed in the heart of the Rice County Fairgrounds. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)
On the east end of the fairgrounds, I paused to photograph this sunflower in the Rice County Master Gardeners Teaching Garden. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Even this sign on a utility box drew by eye. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Recently, I walked through a section of the vacated fairgrounds, camera in hand, with no worries about bumping into fair-goers. My primary focus was on signage, on food service buildings, some of them aged, some new. I never made it to the animal barns.

A line-up of permanent food booths at the Rice County Fair. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

The Rice County Fair does a good job of drawing local food vendors, many mainstays of the fair. Like the St. Luke’s booth, stationed here for nearly 80 years.

A sign marks the cafe run by Bethlehem Academy, a Catholic High School in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

And the Cardinal Cafe which, according to the Bethlehem Academy website, has been a decades-long fair tradition serving burgers, brats, “Lunch Lady cookies,” and other refreshing treats to fair-goers. Their sign says the cafe has been here since the 1950s.

The Pork Booth sits near the grandstand. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Likewise, the Rice County Pork Producers have been around for some 50 years serving pulled pork, sandwiches, pork burgers and pork chops on-a-stick.

The 4-H building is named after radio personality Dean Curtis. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)
Propped against a building post fair. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

On the door to the 4-H building. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

And 4-Hers (along with their parents), I expect, have served food for decades at the 4-H Food Stand.

Most food vendors have mobile units while others are housed in buildings. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

The gastronomical offerings far exceed what I’m showing you from my brief post-fair visit. Many locally-based concession stands are mobile, without on-site buildings like that of Farmer’s Delights. That needs to be noted here. I expect Rice County fair-goers find plenty to please their palates.

The Rice County Fair grandstand ticket booth. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Just like the Minnesota State Fair, food rates highly in the overall county fair experience. Whether at a rural Minnesota fair or the biggest fair in the state, options abound to eat traditional—roasted corn-on-the-cob, mini-donuts, cheese curds—to that which expands our Minnesota taste buds well beyond Ole and Lena’s Tator Tot Hot Dish on-a-stick with cream of mushroom dipping sauce.

TELL ME: What’s your favorite fair food? County or State Fair, doesn’t matter, although please specify.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A tale from Buckman, not of Billygoats but of a ballpark August 24, 2022

Outside Bell Field in Faribault, two oversized baseballs flank the ballpark entry. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

AH, SUMMER IN MINNESOTA. It is, unequivocally, a season packed with outdoor activities. Like baseball. I’m not a fan. But many are.

Beautiful and historic Bell Field in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

A banner welcomes baseball fans. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

A section of the stands at Bell Field. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

My community of Faribault, along with neighboring Dundas and Miesville, is currently hosting the Minnesota Baseball Association State Amateur Tournament in Classes B and C. That means lots of teams and fans are in town on the weekend to watch baseball at Faribault’s Bell Field.

Brackets posted at Bell Field. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

My husband, Randy, was among the spectators Saturday evening when his hometown team, the Buckman Billygoats, faced the Cannon Falls Bears. In the end, the Billygoats defeated the Bears 7-1. They will be back at Bell Field at 4:30 p.m. Saturday to play the Luverne Redbirds.

Downtown Buckman, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2020)

Even though 48 years have passed since Randy left the family farm southeast of Buckman, he remains forever rooted to this small town in Morrison County in central Minnesota. He is connected to the baseball field there, just south of St. Michael’s Catholic Church. Not because he played ball. No, not that. There’s a story, though…

The playing field at Bell Field. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

In the summer of 1972, Randy joined a team of teenagers in painting a new outfield fence. When I write fence, I mean 4 x 8-foot plywood panels pieced together. The six teens went through lots of barn red paint, purchased in 5-gallon buckets.

Businesses advertise at Bell Field. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Local businesses could pay to advertise. Randy and his co-workers, employed through a summer community action program for low income families, stenciled, then painted the business names onto the fence panels. Cindy and Marge traced the stencils, then they all (including Randy’s older sister Vivian) brushed the letters in with white paint.

Rules posted in a Bell Field dug-out. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

But as Randy tells the story, the owner of the local grocery store deviated from the plan and decided to craft his own bold advertisement. He removed the two centerfield panels, painted them green and stenciled his business name thereon. And, remembers Randy, those fence sections stuck out like… Exactly as intended.

Bell Field has its own version of Bottle Cap Stadium in its BEER CAVE. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Randy holds other memories from that summer of working at the ballpark in Buckman. He remembers a homemade sign labeling the field as Bottle Cap Stadium. Somebody (he has his suspicions) picked up beer and bottle caps from the grounds, formed the identifying words from the caps and then nailed them onto plywood.

Bell Field is home to The Lakers, who just missed making this year’s tournament. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

He also recalls a sign tagging the ball field as “The Home of the Buckman Saints.” Whether the ball team was ever called the Saints is uncertain. But it makes sense given St. Michael’s Catholic Church and School just to the north.

On rainy days when the team of teens couldn’t work at the ballpark, they painted classrooms. Randy recalls the day he and the rest prepared to paint Mrs. Weber’s classroom. Rose Weber, mother of Minnesota author and forensic psychologist Frank Weber, was Randy’s fifth grade teacher and is likely related to current Billygoats player Aaron Weber. She chose pink and blue for her classroom. “Who picked these colors?” Reuben at the hardware store asked. Mrs. Weber was later called in to assess a section of newly-painted wall in her chosen color combo.

“She looked at it, didn’t like it and picked green and yellow, John Deere green and yellow,” Randy said. I can only imagine how those farm kids viewed the tractor colors chosen for the fifth grade classroom.

A baseball lodged in overhead netting at Bell Field. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Circling back to the beginning…, if not for Randy’s attendance at the Buckman Billygoats’ baseball game last Saturday evening in Faribault, I never would have heard these stories from the Summer of 1972. Nor would I have learned this about my husband of 40 years: “You wonder why I don’t like to paint,” he said. “I was sick of painting that summer.”

Point taken.

More stories will be written at the state tournaments. Here’s hoping the Buckman Billygoats win on Saturday. If anyone knows where Randy can get a Billygoats t-shirt, please comment. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

But, my sister-in-law Vivian noted, “We sure had a lot of fun!” Some Buckman ballpark-related stories shall remain unwritten…

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

When you’re reading a book and… August 23, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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Book cover source: Goodreads

MY APOLOGIES TO ANYONE who checks out When We Were Young by Richard Roper from Buckham Memorial Library. I’m sorry about the smears at the top of page 309 in chapter forty-eight, the chapter wherein main characters Joel and Theo get some really good news. I did not intentionally smear the page with an unknown-to-the-next-reader substance.

Near shore, a seagull wings across Mille Lacs Lake in central Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2017)

Here’s my story, summarized in a family text I sent Sunday evening:

I just had the most disgusting thing happen. I’m sitting on the patio reading & I feel something wet hit the side of my face. A bird pooped on my face, my glasses & my book! Yuck! Dad looked up to see a bunch of gulls flying around. This is NOT Duluth or anywhere near water.

It should be noted here that, before texting anyone, I wiped the bird poop from below my eye and from the book and that Randy washed my glasses. A bit later I also splashed water into my eye, which was feeling a tad odd.

A gull landed by Randy and me as we ate a picnic lunch near Serpent Lake in Crosby earlier this summer. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

I should have anticipated that my family would have a bit of fun with this unfortunate incident. The granddaughter hoped for a photo. Randy said he could have taken one. He observed that the gulls had a pretty good aim for being 200 feet high. Gee, thanks, dear husband. He also wondered whether our actuary son-in-law could determine the chances of this happening again. That’s OK. I don’t need to know those odds.

But the other son-in-law shared that being pooped on by a bird means good luck in England, where he lived as a child and was also pooped upon once. I confirmed that in an online search—the poop-luck correlation. Now luck I’ll take, even though I didn’t feel one bit lucky when I felt a splat upon my face and then realized what had happened.

Yet, the poop did land on that page in a fictional book when two friends get double good news. Now what are the odds of that?

TELL ME: Do you have a similar story to share?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling