Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

An Old MacDonald style park in Mankato August 18, 2015

One of two barn style buildings at Sibley Park in Mankato, Minnesota.

The barn style stable at Sibley Farm in Mankato, Minnesota.

GROWING UP, MY DAUGHTERS had a Fisher Price barn that, when the doors opened, “mooed.” For hours they would play with this toy farm. Being a rather unwise mom who determined that everything from their childhood could not be kept, I gave the barn, silo, Little People, tractor and animals to friends with little ones. My eldest once reminded me that was a mistake. I agree.

A fenced pond is in the foreground and a second barn type pole shed in the background.

A fenced pond is in the foreground and the farm’s barn in the background.

But now she, and other twenty-somethings who hold fond memories of the Fischer Price barn, can see a similar real-life barn at Sibley Farm in Mankato’s sprawling Sibley Park.

Kids love the tractors, this one located next to the bridge spanning the pond stocked with fish and dotted with water lilies.

Kids love the tractors, this one located next to the bridge spanning the pond stocked with koi and dotted with water lilies.

Friendly sheep are a favorite.

Friendly sheep are a favorite.

The fabulous farm-themed playground.

The fabulous farm-themed playground. There’s also a traditional playground, shown in the background.

I explored the farm on a recent Sunday afternoon, delighting in the animals, the pond, and the agricultural-themed playground. What a brilliant idea, to create this educational and engaging tribute to the region’s rural roots in the heart of southern Minnesota farm country. The farm park opened in 2008 and was partially funded by a $200,000 gift from the Al and Erla Fallenstein fund through the Mankato Area Foundation.

A young family checks out the alpacas.

A young family checks out the alpacas.

When I got to the pygmy goats, a young boy was feeding them grass.

When I got to the pygmy goats, a young boy was feeding them grass.

The farm animal sculptures provide perfect photo opportunities.

The farm animal sculptures provide perfect photo opportunities.

This agricultural-themed park makes my farm girl heart happy—to see kids petting farm critters, posing with farm animal statues, racing to tractors, and clamoring onto barn, silo, straw bale and even cornstalk playground equipment. This is a place for families, for anyone who grew up on a farm, and for those who didn’t.

The farm features Ayrshire cattle like this one seeking shelter in the heat of a summer afternoon.

The farm features Ayrshire cattle like this one seeking shelter in the heat of a summer afternoon.

We need to hold onto our rural heritage. And one way to do that is through parks like Sibley Farm.

Your guide to Sibley Farm in Mankato.

Sibley Farm’s lay-out.

FYI: Sibley Farm is located at 900 Mound Avenue and is open daily from 6:30 a.m. – 10:30 p.m. mid-spring, summer and early fall. Admission is free. Click here to read a 2011 post I wrote about a goat-napping caper at this very park.

BONUS PHOTOS:

A sign at the playground.

A sign at the playground.

And the chickens.

The playground chickens.

I absolutely love the creativity of the playground cornstalks.

I absolutely love the creativity of the climbing apparatus designed to look like cornstalks.

Love the signage at the farm-themed playground. There's also traditional playground equipment, background.

Love the signage at the farm-themed playground. There’s also traditional playground equipment, background.

Playground pig sculptures.

Playground pig sculptures.

A musical detail on the playground.

A musical detail on the playground.

The miniature ponies are kid-sized friendly.

The miniature horses are kid-sized friendly.

Bring coins so kids can feed the animals.

Bring coins so kids can feed the animals.

Daily instructions posted inside the barn for employees.

Daily instructions posted inside the barn.

Found feathers displayed in the barn.

Found feathers displayed in the barn.

Appropriately printed lockers.

Appropriately printed lockers.

CHECK BACK TOMORROW for a similar, but much smaller, project proposed for the Redwood Falls Public Library.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Country meets city in northeastern Wisconsin November 8, 2013

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A farm just off Northland Avenue in Appleton, Wisconsin.

A farm, left, just off Northland Avenue.

ON THE NORTHERN EDGE of Appleton or maybe its the southern edge of Grand Chute, Wisconsin (I examined maps and cannot determine which), lies a farm place with two vintage silos, a barn, a collection of aging outbuildings and even an old windmill.

The place, a rural oasis separated from busy commercial Northland Avenue by a cornfield, has intrigued me since I first spotted it three years ago.

What I hadn’t noticed, though, until my last trip to Appleton, were the cows grazing in a pasture just across the street from a residential area.

This is the thing I love about Wisconsin. This state appreciates rural. You’ll find barns and silos, corn and cows seamlessly blending into urban settings. And the mix doesn’t feel awkward or patronizing or out of place.

It feels, oh, so right in this state tagged America’s Dairyland.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Quilt art celebrates rural Faribault woman’s passion for quilting July 3, 2013

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The sun sets as I approach Barb and Bob's farm east of Faribault.

The sun sets as I approach Barb and Bob’s farm east of Faribault.

ON A RECENT RURAL OUTING to forage rhubarb from my friend Barb’s abundant patch, I noticed a work of art I hadn’t previously seen displayed on her farm east of Faribault.

A a display of Americana art.

A display of Americana art.

Attached to weathered tin on the end of a pole shed hangs a red, white and blue “Star Shadow” quilt block painted on an eight-foot square of plywood.

The barn quilt is tied to Barb’s passion for quilting, something she’d do all day if only she didn’t have to cook or clean or…

"Star Shadow."

“Star Shadow.”

She’d seen similar painted quilts on barns, always wanted one and a few years ago, along with husband Bob, chose the Star Shadow design for their quilt art. No particular reason for the design—just one they both liked, although they knew the paint hues would be in the trio of patriotic colors.

Barb’s a long-time seamstress who once sewed her own clothes, embroidered and then began making simple block quilts before attempting a tulip quilt. She struggled with the tulip quilt, finishing it in the early 1990s, some 40 years after beginning the project.

Since that quilting success, Barb’s emerged as an avid quilter, stitching countless bed-sized quilts, wall hangings, placemats, table runners and more. She keeps her work or gives it away, including to charities. As a member of the Blue Chicks, a local quilting group that meets monthly, Barb has sewn quilts for the Ronald McDonald House. She also quilts with her sisters once a month and recently joined the quilting circle at her church, Trinity Lutheran in Faribault. That church group donates most of its quilts to charity.

“I’m infected with the pox,” Barb says of her quilting passion. She collects fabric, goes on fabric-shopping road trips with fellow quilters…

Although my friend doesn’t design her own quilt patterns, she enjoys the creative aspect that comes in selecting designs and colors, pulling it all together in a work of art—whether stitched or painted.

BONUS FARM PHOTOS:

The beautiful barn on Barb and Bob's 100-year-old plus family farm.

The beautiful barn on Barb and Bob’s 100-year-old plus family farm.

Rhubarb grows by the old smokehouse, which now houses garden tools.

Rhubarb nudges the old smokehouse, which now houses garden tools.

This farm is typical old style farmplace with lots of outbuildings, including the granery on the left, one of the oldest buildings on the farm.

This farm is typical old style farm place with lots of outbuildings, including the updated granery on the left, one of the oldest structures on the farm.

The message on the granery door reflects Barb's attitude: "The sheds are full of stuff and it's all good."

The message on the granery door reflects Barb’s attitude: “The sheds are full of stuff and it’s all good.”

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reconnecting with my rural roots at “A Day on the Farm” June 23, 2013

NEARLY FORTY YEARS AGO I left the family farm in southwestern Minnesota bound for college in Mankato.

All these decades later I still miss the farm, yearn for those days of country quiet, the soothing pulse of the milking machine, the bellow of a cow, the nudge of a calf, the unmistakable scent of freshly-baled alfalfa.

Walking toward the Wegners' farm south of Faribault.

My first glimpse of the Wegners’ farm south of Faribault.

Saturday afternoon I reconnected with my rural roots at “A Day on the Farm” hosted by Ron and Diane Wegner and their daughters, Brianna and Kaylee, and sponsored by the Rice County American Dairy Association and the Minnesota Beef Council.

Vehicles lined both sides of Appleton Avenue near the Wegners' farm.

Vehicles lined both sides of Appleton Avenue near the Wegners’ farm.

The free meal was provided by the Minnesota Beef Council, the Rice County American Dairy Association and Hastings Co-op Creamery (to which the Wegners sell their milk).

The free meal was provided by the Minnesota Beef Council, the Rice County American Dairy Association and Hastings Co-op Creamery (to which the Wegners sell their milk).

Vehicles lined the gravel road leading to the Wegners’ dairy and crop farm south of Faribault as skies cleared and almost 600 visitors lined up for free cheeseburgers, malts and milk and then wandered the farm site.

Visitors toured the barn to see the cows and calves.

Visitors toured the barn to see the cows and calves.

It was a near perfect day—albeit a bit sultry—to check out this dairy operation, which, with 50 registered Holstein milk cows, 50 head of young stock and 15 springing heifers, still fits the definition of a family farm.

Rice County Dairy Princess Tracie Korbel takes photos while Dairy Princess Kaylee Wegner tends the calf.

Rice County Dairy Princess Tracie Korbel takes photos while Dairy Princess Kaylee Wegner tends the calf.

Turning the calf/kid photos into buttons.

Turning the calf/kid photos into buttons.

I felt comfortably at home here, remembering my years of feeding calves as I watched Rice County Dairy Princess Kaylee Wegner tend a calf while Princess Tracie Korbel photographed youngsters with the baby animal. The photos were then adhered to buttons.

Two-year-old Benjamin points out his "Got milk?" tattoo.

Two-year-old Benjamin points out his “Got milk?” tattoo.

Simple country pleasures: swinging and playing cow bean bag toss.

Simple country pleasures: swinging and playing cow bean bag toss.

The hay bale maze between the barn and the house. The scent of freshly baled alfalfa caused me to linger here for awhile.

The hay bale maze between the barn and the house. The scent of freshly baled alfalfa caused me to linger here for awhile.

Other kids’ activities included a hay bale maze, cow bean bag toss, temporary tattoo applications and a ride on a swing tied to a tree. Fun stuff on a rare stunning summer afternoon.

Ava, 2 1/2, lives in the Twin Cities. Her grandparents, who live near Dundas, brought her to the farm because she loves animals.

Ava, 2 1/2, lives in the Twin Cities. Her grandparents, who live near Dundas, brought her to the farm because she loves animals. My husband and I dined with Ava and her grandparents.

Familiarizing kids with a farm seemed a common thread among many for coming to the farm, according to host Ron Wegner. He heard on Saturday from many grandparents who grew up on farms and brought their grandkids because “they don’t know what a cow is.”

Inside the Wegners' barn, where dairy products come from.

Inside the Wegners’ dairy barn.

But Ron was hoping to educate more than the younger generation. When I asked why he agreed to open his farm to strangers for three hours, he explained that he wanted “the town people to come to a dairy farm and see where milk products come from.”

Benjamin, 2, lives on a buffalo farm near Lonsdale. His mom brought him to see a dairy farm. She was posing him for a photo on the tractor when I happened by.

Benjamin, 2, lives on a buffalo farm near Lonsdale. His mom brought him to see a dairy farm. She was posing him for a photo on the tractor when I happened by.

And that seemed as good a reason as any to someone like me, who grew up on a Minnesota dairy farm.

Several calves inside the barn were a hit among visitors.

Several calves inside the barn were a hit among visitors.

CHECK BACK for more photos from “A Day on the Farm” in rural Faribault.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Guess the pig’s weight and other farm stories from New Richland July 29, 2011

VENTURE INTO RURAL MINNESOTA—and we’re talking the small farming communities here, not what metro folks call “Greater Minnesota” or “outstate Minnesota”—and you’ll connect to our state’s agrarian roots in some interesting ways.

Take New Richland, for example, a town of 1,200 in southeastern Waseca County. Drive into town and you’ll see the usual grain bins and elevator and other farm-related businesses you would expect in an agricultural community.

A cluster of grain bins in the heart of New Richland.

But then explore a little more and you’ll discover just how much this town values its agricultural heritage. Take the post office. Peek around the corner…

A corner of the New Richland Post Office. Note the grain bins a few blocks away.

Around the post office corner you'll find this mural which reflects the connection between city and country.

A snippet of the country portion of the mural. I wonder how the artist decided what type of tractor to feature?

Country connects to city in this detailed mural.

and you’ll find a mural depicting farm and city.

Now I’ve seen many a mural in my day, and I’d rate this as among the best. I wish I knew who to credit for this detailed artwork that draws the eye along the winding country road, down the train tracks to the grain elevator or along city streets to downtown. But I couldn’t find any information about the mural in a quick online search.

However, I did learn more about New Richland and the pride this community takes in its agricultural roots. Just a few weeks ago the town celebrated its 28th annual Farm & City Days. Events included the usual parade, street dance, bingo, antique car show, medallion hunt and such.

But I found a few activities that definitely say country through and through.

Teams of two competed in the  second annual Chore Boy Race. (Just for the record, girls can participate, too; the winners were Molly Flor and Brandon Mullenbach). Anyway, it’s a contest that involves eggs, milk, hay, grain and wheelbarrows. You can learn more about the competition by clicking here and reading this story in the local newspaper, The Star Eagle.

I found a Chore Boy Race contestant application online and one Farm & City Days Facebook page photo and these rules (some in boldface):  “You must wear all your chore clothes at all times. This includes but is not limited to Boots, Hat, Bibs & Gloves.”

OK then, got that?

If you’d rather use your brain than your brawn, Farm & City Days offers a “Guess the weight of the pig” contest at $1 a guess. The person with the closest guess wins the pig and processing at Morgan’s Meat Market. This year two entrants correctly guessed the exact weight of 208 pounds and agreed to split the hog, according to the Farm & City Days Facebook page.

If you didn’t win the pig, you could still eat pork by buying a pork sandwich meal from the Waseca County Pork Producers at the city park.

Two other agricultural-themed activities included a kids’ tractor pull and a Farm vs. City 3-person Scramble at a golf course.

I’m disappointed I missed Farm & City Days because it sounds like one heckuva good time, as small-town celebrations typically are. But I wouldn’t even have known about this annual farm-city event if I hadn’t been poking around New Richland last Sunday, spotted that mural on the side of the post office and then gone online to learn more about it, which I didn’t, but I did.

This John Deere tractor was parked outside the funeral home in New Richland on Sunday afternoon.

My husband and I stopped in New Richland while on a recent Sunday afternoon drive. Check out my July 24 blog post from this community and watch for future stories and photos from New Richland.

© 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

 

Discovering the beauty of winter in Minnesota December 28, 2010

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WHEN I LOOKED through the patio doors of my middle brother’s rural Redwood County home on Christmas morning, I saw this picture-perfect postcard scene.

 

A farm place near Lamberton on Christmas Day morning.

The quaint farm place sits along Redwood County Road 6 near Lamberton, just north of the county park I call the “gypsy park” because my paternal grandma told me gypsies once camped there.

From the park, the farm site lies only a short distance from an electrical substation which, during my growing up years, my siblings and I dubbed “the chicken pox factory.” It was a name we gave to all such substations, I suspect around the time chicken pox plagued the area. Ironically, the brother who now lives near the chicken pox factory never had the disease.

But I am getting sidetracked here. I wanted to share this photo with you for several reasons. First, this winter in Minnesota is quickly becoming long and wearisome with all of the snow we’ve gotten recently.

That’s why it’s more important than ever to search for the positive (which I have not been too good at lately) in winter. For me, that means viewing the landscape as a photo opportunity. Photography forces you to really see, not simply look at, the details in your environment.

While composing this image, I noticed the contrast of the red buildings against the pristine white snow, the defined fencelines, the old farmhouse that surely has many stories to tell, the slight rise of the land, the shelter belt of trees protecting the farm from the fierce prairie winds. With a gentle snow falling, the scene possessed a dreamy, peaceful, surreal quality.

So, yes, when you make a conscious effort, you truly will find beauty in this winter of overwhelming snow.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling