Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

It takes a strong man or woman to farm August 2, 2011

Bins on a farm place somewhere along the back roads between New Ulm and Morgan.

“I COULD NEVER BE MARRIED to a farmer or be a farmer,” I told my cousin Kevin as we stood outside the Vesta Community Hall Friday evening discussing the July 1 windstorms and tornadoes that ravaged my native southwestern Minnesota.

Kevin farms south of Echo, where he lost three grain bins, trees, and, if I remember correctly, an auger, to high winds. He’s looking at replacement and upgrade costs of more than $140,000. And a good chunk of that will not be covered by insurance. Investing so much money in his farm now, at near 60 years old, doesn’t come easily for him, he claims. But he doesn’t have an option if he is to continue farming.

As he was sharing his story, he said, “I told the wife I need to…” Kevin, 56, got married late in life (six years ago), so I still have to remember sometimes that he’s with Kris, a wonderful woman.

It takes a strong man or woman to live a life of farming. As much as I love the farm, I couldn’t farm. I couldn’t handle the financial stress, the “I told the wife I need to” replace the grain bins or I need to borrow money for a new tractor or the beans were hailed out…

I’d stress over borrowing all that money and over the financial risks inherent in farming.  Will commodity prices be up or down when I want to sell the corn and beans? Should I sign a contract now or wait? Should I buy that piece of equipment, build that machine shed? Will I get a decent crop? I’m not a gambler or a risk taker, even though I grew up on a crop and dairy farm.

Soybean and corn fields stretch into forever in southwestern Minnesota. I shot this image on Friday between New Ulm and Morgan.

For many Minnesota farmers, this year has been especially challenging. Crops were planted late due to wet field conditions. Then the heavy rains fell, drowning out entire sections of fields. Next, strong winds and hail devastated beans and corn.

For the first time that I can ever recall, I saw black fields near my hometown of Vesta. My cousin told me the fields had been replanted and then the storms came when it was too late to replant again.

Three days this week, beginning today, farmers, agri-business reps and others will gather at the historic Gilfillan Farm between Morgan and Redwood Falls for Farmfest. There, in the heart of Minnesota’s farm country, I bet if you eavesdropped on a conversation or two or ten, you’d hear some farmer say, “I told the wife I need to…”

I spotted this damage to a building on a farm just north of Belview, which was hit by a July 1 tornado.

I took this shot traveling Minnesota Highway 67 west toward Morgan Friday afternoon. Follow this road and you'll end up at Farmfest. You can see Morgan's water tower and grain elevator complex in the distance.

Farmfest at the historic Gilfillan Farm runs today through Thursday.

When I drove by the Farmfest grounds Friday afternoon, tents were already in place for the event.

A barn, outbuildings and a corn field between New Ulm and Morgan.

Bins on a farm site along the back road between New Ulm and Morgan.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Fredrickson’s book presents field work, past and present August 3, 2010

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ONCE UPON A TIME, I told my farmer-dad I wanted to be a farmer when I grew up. Clearly, I became a writer instead of a tender of the land or of animals. But my heart remains rooted in the southwestern Minnesota prairie, my childhood home, the place where I worked in the barns, worked in the fields and became the person I am today.

For those reasons I particularly appreciate children’s picture books like those written by Lakeville author Gordon W. Fredrickson who specializes in writing about country life and farming.

His second, If I Were a Farmer book, Field Work, recently released from Beaver’s Pond Press, just in time for Minnesota’s annual celebration of agriculture, Farmfest. Fredrickson and his wife, Nancy, will be in the Craft/toy/home and garden pavilion during Farmfest’s three-day run this week at the Gilfillan Estate between Morgan and Redwood Falls. The event opens at 8 a.m. today.

That pitch aside, let me tell you a bit about Fredrickson. He grew up on a Scott County dairy farm, did his share of farm chores and working the land, farmed for awhile as an adult and taught high school English. He possesses the experience, knowledge, skills and passion to write about agriculture in an interesting, informative and, sometimes, humorous fashion.

Fredrickson’s subtle humor shines in Field Work as page by opposite page, he compares past farming practices and farm equipment to modern-day farming practices and equipment.

His book reconnects me to the past, to those years on the farm. So for that reason, Fredrickson’s story also appeals to adults, particularly former farm kids.

For those unfamiliar with agriculture through the years, Fredrickson’s story provides a history lesson. He even includes a glossary (per my suggestion after publication of an earlier book) to further aid readers in understanding the equipment and other terminology used in his story.

From working the soil through planting and harvesting, this former farmer details the growing season via would-be farmers. Little Nancy imagines herself as a modern-day farmer while Tommy prefers older equipment and practices from about the 1950s. Children, especially those ages 6 – 8, will enjoy the storyline and the educational content woven into it.

I don’t want to spoil the ending for you, but the humorous clincher last page clearly shows me that Fredrickson, even though an award-winning writer now, is a true mustard-pulling, rock-picking, scoop-shoveling farm boy at heart.


IN ADDITION TO FIELD WORK, Fredrickson has also published If I Were a Farmer: Nancy’s Adventure and three books in the Farm Country Tales series–Christmas Eve, Halloween and Thanksgiving.


FIELD WORK ILLUSTRATOR David H. Jewell of Minneapolis died on July 15 after being hospitalized for pneumonia. He suffered from diabetes and related complications.


JUST FOR FUN, I asked Redwood County historian and Redwood Falls Mayor Gary Revier if he had any old farm photos he could share for publication on this post. He obliged and here are just three of the many he e-mailed. These hearken back to the days of horse-drawn machinery, even earlier than the time period covered in Fredrickson’s Field Work.

This threshing scene is near my hometown of Vesta in southwestern Minnesota, in Redwood County, home to Farmfest. Given the label, I assume this was at the George Alexander farm.

Another threshing scene, this one from the Whittet place in Redwood County.

A field scene from Sundown Township.

© Text Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Photos courtesy of Gary Revier

Book cover image courtesy of Gordon W. Fredrickson