THE 2022 PLANTING SEASON has proven exceedingly challenging for Minnesota farmers. A late spring with unseasonably cold temps, coupled with too much rain, has delayed seeding of corn and soybeans.
Some areas of our state have experienced widespread flooding, creating muddy conditions and lakes. Not exactly what farmers need in May. To add to that, destructive storms damaged or destroyed farm buildings and equipment, especially in the western region of Minnesota.
Corn planting data from the United States Department of Agriculture (updated every Monday) shows below average planting progress throughout the Midwest, West and in some states east of Illinois. In Minnesota, only 60 percent of the corn was planted as of May 23. That compares to 98 percent last year and a 5-year average of 86 percent. That puts into perspective the 2022 planting delays.
Yet, if you farm, you realize a stretch of good weather can quickly change everything for the good. Time will tell how this all plays out.
I find it interesting that, nearly 50 years removed from the farm, I still pay attention to spring planting, and, later, harvest. I have friends who farm. But, more than that, farming is part of my history, part of who I am, even as an adult decades distanced from living on the land. I am proud of my rural heritage. It shaped me. It grew me. I see that rural influence in my writing, my photography, in the places I value and, I suppose, even in the way I live my life.
I am, and always shall be, honored to call myself a farm girl.
HOW ABOUT YOU? Did place shape you? I’d like to hear.
NOTE: I took these photos on May 14 in Goodhue, Olmsted, Rice and Wabasha counties in southeastern Minnesota.All images were taken through the passenger side windshield or side window while traveling on the roadway.
IN RECENT YEARS, I’VE TAKEN to reading obituaries printed in my local newspaper, the Faribault Daily News, and also online. That includes checking the obit listing on KLGR radio in Redwood Falls, the county seat of my hometown county. Extended family and many other people to whom I’m connected live in southwestern Minnesota.
I am of that age when the generation just ahead of me is passing at a rapid rate. That includes my mom, who died in January, and my father-in-law a year earlier. But young people also die, usually unexpectedly. That includes my cousin Randy, who died suddenly at the age of 50 just two days after my mom. And then a cousin’s 48-year-old stepson shortly thereafter.
It’s a lot, this death. And while death is difficult, it’s part of life and we will all some day face our earthly mortality. That’s reality.
Obituaries not only publicly inform us of deaths and funeral/burial details, but they also reveal information about the deceased. Most are written in a straightforward manner of factual life basics. Birth, marriage, education, occupation, interests, family. That sort of stuff.
But once in awhile I find a stand-out obit unlike any other. That would be the obituary of Martha Ann Schewe, 74, of Danube, who died March 4. “Marcy/Tractor Mimi/Pizza Grandma/Murphy” was, according to the record of her life, welcomed into heaven with a flyswatter and a hot plate of pierogi. And, yes, I had to Google pierogi, which is a Polish staple dumpling—dough wrapped around a savory or sweet filling and cooked in boiling water. That flyswatter and pierogi hook hooked me into reading the story of Marcy’s life.
And what a life it was. Pennsylvania-born, she eventually landed on a Minnesota farm with her native-born husband. Marcy met Jim at a dance in DC and they corresponded daily for 16 months while he was stationed overseas during the Vietnam War. He even mailed an engagement ring to her. That arrived on Friday the 13th. She waited a day to open the package.
Love and life had a way with Marcy, who would grow to embrace farm life in southwestern Minnesota.
Details reveal a woman who loved family and life. But she disliked squirrels, even grumbled about them. There’s a whole lot more packed into her obituary. Please read it. Yes, I’m repeating that because you really need to read Marcy’s story (and the comments in her guestbook).
Marcy’s obit ends with this loving, humorous conclusion: Her fierce and vibrant spirit is carried on by her soulmate, her 5 children, 9 grandchildren, 5 great grandchildren, 7 siblings, a handful of hated squirrels, a menagerie of farm animals, and a whole wide world full of longtime friends, some of whom she hadn’t gotten around to meeting yet.
Welke’s mixed media art is unlike any I’ve ever seen. It resonates with me, reconnecting me to my southwestern Minnesota prairie roots. To the farm. To the land. The place that shaped me as a person, writer and photographer.
Understanding that background explains how this urban resident came to create “Field and Farmland,” a project funded by a 2020 Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant. She also did her homework—visiting, researching and documenting the prairie and meeting with farmers. The result is art reflecting the prairie, prescribed burns and farmland restoration.
The incorporation of organic materials like soil, corn roots and leaves, other crop residue and more drew me into Welke’s art. I felt as if I was back on the farm, watching my dad turn the rich black soil toward the sun for spring planting. I felt, too, like I was walking the rows of a harvested corn field, the scent of autumn lingering in the prairie wind.
Welke’s art is layered. Textured. It holds not only a visual depth, but a depth of connection to the land, to farming.
This is what I love about art. The ability to relate. To stand in a gallery and contemplate. Remember. Appreciate. And, with Welke’s work, especially, to feel rooted in the land.
NOTE: Please check back for more posts on other exhibits currently at the Paradise Centerfor the Arts.Artists Mary Welke, Kate Langlais, Michael Stoecklein and Summer Heselton will participate in a Visual Artists Talk at 6:30 pm on Thursday, March 10. See the Paradise Center for the Arts Facebook page for more info. The art of all four will be on display at the Paradise through March 19.
AT THE END of the growing season a few weeks back, I walked into Buckham Memorial Library and spotted a stash of green tomatoes free for the taking. To say that I reacted with joy might be an understatement.
I felt practically giddy at the thought of preparing green fries, a coveted food I haven’t eaten in years because…I don’t have a garden.
But, back in the day, my mom planted a sprawling garden, growing vegetables to feed our farm family of eight. Green fries were a summer-time to harvest staple as were the tomatoes left to ripen on the vine.
Earlier this summer and fall, when I stopped at The Friends Organic Learning Garden on the library’s east side to look for produce, I noticed choice green tomatoes. I was tempted to pick a few. Who would miss the green orbs? But my conscience prevailed and I walked away empty-handed.
So when those green tomatoes appeared inside the library, I quickly took four, reining in my greedy impulse to grab more.
The next day, I sliced two of those beautiful green tomatoes, dipped both sides in all-purpose white flour and laid the slices into a hefty cast iron skillet sizzling with butter. Lots of butter. I ground on fresh black pepper, sprinkled on salt and then waited for the slices to brown, flipping and seasoning and adding butter as needed.
The result: golden circles of green-fried tomatoes that tasted of sun and sky and earth. And of yesterday’s garden.
As I forked into the savory rounds, I thought of Mom and how she spaced tomato plants evenly in the tilled soil and ringed each with a rusty tin can opened on both ends. The cans protected the tender plants from the prairie wind and cold. I remember pouring water into those cylinder reservoirs, overflow sometimes flooding the surrounding ground. When the plants edged over the cans, Mom removed the weather shields.
To me, green fries rate as much more than a food I enjoy. They are part of my culinary family history. A connection to my now 89-year-old mom who, though no master chef, did her best to feed her family with food sourced from our farm.
TELL ME: Do you have a favorite food tracing to your childhood and that you crave today? I’d like to hear. And, have you ever eaten, or made, green fried tomatoes?
WHITE ROCK. Belle Creek. Hader. They are among the 60-plus ghost towns of Goodhue County. Places that once thrived, marked now only by signs along a road, a cluster of homes, perhaps a church or abandoned buildings.
Yet, acknowledging their existence, as the Goodhue County Historical Society does with roadside signs, matters. Because these towns mattered to previous generations and still matter to those with connections to the likes of Aspelund, Burr Oak Springs, Crystal Springs, Eidsvold, Skyberg and so many more with names that hint at heritage and sound poetically beautiful.
On a road trip to Goodhue County a month ago, Randy and I followed County Road 8 east and then south of Cannon Falls back toward Faribault.
Our route took us past clusters of woods, some tinged in autumn hues.
Soon the road curved and swept into the valley, rows of corn rolling across the landscape. Only groves of trees surrounding farm sites broke the vista of endless unharvested fields.
Sometimes those farmyards hugged the paved road and I caught a close-up glimpse of farms, some with aged weathered barns and outbuildings, others updated with modern equipment and structures.
In Belle Creek, Randy and I noticed a white building, likely a former creamery. Creameries often graced these small settlements, a necessity for farmers who sold cream for butter-making.
Another building in Belle Creek left us guessing at its past life. Perhaps a general store. Then a dance hall. We could be way off…
Occasionally, we spotted cattle, cows, calves. Growing up on a dairy farm, I delight in seeing bovines, especially Holsteins. But rare are the small family farms today that still raise animals. Corporate and mega farms have mostly replaced that self-sufficient lifestyle. That’s reality.
Just like ghost towns, many farms have become, in some ways, ghost farms. They are but ghosts of the past. Ghosts of their former selves and purposes. I see that in decaying, empty buildings, especially barns. I see that in the absence of livestock. I see that in families who can no longer support themselves solely via the farm.
All of this is unsettling. But with time comes change. And with change must come acceptance and perhaps also an added historical appreciation for the past.
MINNESOTA’S DIVERSE LANDSCAPE inspires. From the vast prairie to the northwoods. From lakes to rivers. From hills to valleys. My home state, minus mountain ranges and ocean, is truly a beautiful place. We are so much more than cold and snow, as many non-residents equate with Minnesota.
Autumn, especially, showcases Minnesota’s natural beauty. This fall, Randy and I took many rural drives to immerse ourselves in the countryside and the season. We chose road trips over staying home and doing chores on the weekends. Our priorities change as we age. The work can wait. We recognize, too, the approach of winter. We felt an urgency, a need, to hit the road before the snow flies.
Often we choose a destination, this time Cannon Falls. But sometimes we simply head in a general direction, oversized Minnesota Atlas & Gazetteer available to guide us. We prefer paper maps to GPS. This trip, we aimed east toward Goodhue County, driving through the picturesque Sogn Valley.
I love this rural region defined by farms and fields and winding gravel roads. Hills and river valleys and prairie intermingle and it’s all like poetry writing upon the land.
As a farmer’s daughter, I hold a fondness for aged barns, at one time the anchor of an agrarian life. I labored for years on my southwestern Minnesota childhood family dairy and crop farm, most of that time inside the barn. Or the silo.
Now, when I pass by barns weathering in abandonment, I feel overcome by sadness. I recognize that a way of life is vanishing. I understand and appreciate advances in agriculture while simultaneously grieving the loss of farm life as I knew it.
I worry about all the barns we are losing. They hold history. Stories. Memories. And they are falling in heaps of rotted wood.
But, on this drive through the Sogn Valley, we happened upon a small country church that uplifted my spirits. Country churches and adjoining cemeteries rate as another draw for me deep into rural Minnesota. They are historically, poetically, spiritually and artistically relevant.
Along 70th Street in Goodhue County, on a small plot of land ringed by a row of trees and set among cornfields, Eidsvold Norwegian Methodist Church rises. The last service was held here in 1949. Yet, the aged clapboard structure remains. Important to someone. And on this Friday morning in mid-October, appreciated by me.
PLEASE CHECK BACK tomorrow as I take you on a tour around, but not inside (it was locked), Eidsvold church.
FROM 7 am – 6 pm DAILY, Louise tends a tiny produce stand along a paved road in the unincorporated northwestern Steele County settlement of Meriden.
That’s where I met her on a recent mid-October Sunday afternoon—outside a shed the size of an outhouse. Louise lives right next door to Teb’s Food Stand, a seasonal business owned by her friend, Teborah Kath. Teb, she noted, was likely, in that moment, busy canning vegetables at her nearby country home.
Garden-fresh and canned vegetables define the bulk of inventory tucked inside this hand-built shed constructed of salvaged wood, galvanized metal and a modern front door.
Here quart and pint jars edge shelves. Green beans pack tightly inside jars labeled Dilly Beans. Rich red tomato sauce colors Teb’s salsa. Oranges and reds and yellows mix inside jars of Cherry Tomato Mix and Peppers, splashing vibrant autumn hues. For pickle lovers, Teb crafts dill and bread & butter pickles.
She also sells baked goods—I spotted a singular package of bread. Next to the face masks, accessories and scrubbies.
Seasonal fresh produce is sold here, too, and artfully staged. Piles of assorted squash fill metal tubs. Pumpkins hug a corner near the door. Decorative corn and gourds rest on shelves. And outside more pumpkins and a collection of mum plants define this as a seasonal mini marketplace.
Chatting with Louise, who stepped aside when I started taking photos, proved a delight. Considering her 11-hour days at this less-than-busy location, I asked how she passes the time. Reading? She’s not much of a reader, she said, referencing her farm upbringing and the need to stay physically active. Sometimes she leaves temporarily to do chores at home—like mowing her lawn. Or sometimes she simply has other things going on that take her away from the roadside stand.
A handwritten sign next to a locked honor system box directs customers to go next door or call Louise with questions. But don’t count on her having change. She doesn’t. I purchased two squash for $4, almost $5.
In addition to this small town produce stand, Teb also sells her garden and craft and baked goods at the Owatonna Farmers’ Market. Sales are good, even at the remote Meriden location, Louise noted.
Meriden is one of those rural places perhaps unknown to many. Driving into town, I noticed a former creamery, the brick building in remarkable condition.
But it is the cluster of mammoth grain bins which landmark Meriden. Homes line the road past the elevator to a dead end, an unwelcome warning sign marking the end of the street.
Back at Teb’s Food Stand, conversation halted when a train car and locomotive rolled into town, horn blaring. Soon it reversed course, crossing the tracks again, horn blaring.
By then I’d gathered enough photos and information to craft a story. To write about Lousie and Teb and this tiny produce stand edging a paved road next to a harvested bean field in Meriden, Minnesota.
NOTE: Teb’s Food Stand will close soon for the season, if it’s not already closed.
Polka music pulsed through the van in a rhythmic beat. It was an unusual station choice given I listen primarily to contemporary Christian music on KTIS and Randy enjoys talk radio. But, occasionally on his 22-minute drive home from work, Randy tunes in to KCHK to listen to late afternoon featured 50s-70s music.
In the heart of Czech country, though, the radio station is known for its day-time polka programming.
As we drove along back country gravel roads—past farm sites and harvested fields and farmers working in the fields—the rhythm of polkas, of accordions pushed in and pulled out to create music, set a joyful tone. The music fit the scenes unfolding before us.
The music reminded me, too, of wedding dances back home decades ago in southwestern Minnesota. Of couples twirling across a well-worn wooden dance floor. Of booze bottles wrapped in brown paper bags. Of extended families gathered in a simple town hall to celebrate a marriage. Of The Bunny Hop and The Butterfly and all those dances that brought people together for an evening of fun.
Those memories lingered as polkas played on KCHK. As just-harvested corn flowed into a grain truck. As we passed a mailbox with the name Skluzacek posted thereon. We were deep in the heart of Czech country near New Prague/Lonsdale/Montgomery.
There is something incredibly comforting about the mix of memory and music and meandering in rural Minnesota. Moments like this impress upon me the need to simply be. To recognize the value in an afternoon drive in the country. No destination. No haste. No agenda.
Time to just appreciate. The hard work of the farmer during harvest. The farm sites. Gravel roads.
And the unexpected sighting of horseshoe art where horses graze.
I treasure the memories shared and made with my husband of nearly 40 years as we followed rural routes, polka music thrumming in the background.
DUST RISES FROM FIELDS, clouding the air as combines rake through rows of dry soybeans.
Combines comb corn rows, too, in this season of harvest in southern Minnesota.
Take a drive in the countryside these days and you will observe farmers hard at work, bringing in the crops.
As October moves to mid-month, a sense of urgency presses into long days in the field. By 7 pm, darkness envelopes the land and farm machinery still moves, like a mammoth beast lumbering across acres of corn and soybeans, eyes aglow.
It is in this season of harvest that I feel a bit melancholy, missing my once close connection to the land. The scent of earth. The view of acres and acres and acres of crops drying to muted hues, visual evidence of a farmer’s work. The sound of combines roaring. The taste of dust and dirt. Golden orbs of soybeans sifting between fingers spread wide.
While I once experienced all those first-hand on my childhood farm in southwestern Minnesota, today I feel an outsider looking in. Watching. Remembering. Feeling grateful for the years I lived on a farm, never realizing then just how much those days would mean to me later in life.
Each autumn I yield to the call of harvest. I reconnect to the land. Observing. Recalling. Missing my farmer dad and my Uncle Mike, a bachelor farmer who lived the next farm place over to the east. They are decades gone now, their final harvests long-finished.
These emotions rush like a blustery October wind into my thoughts as winter approaches. As harvest continues, as seasons pass and life goes on.
TELL ME: Do you go for country drives to view the harvest? Or, if you live in a city, how do you celebrate autumn? I’d like to hear, wherever you live. I welcome harvest memories also.
THE MUTED AND VIBRANT HUES of autumn mix in the rural Rice County landscape, creating stunning seasonal scenes. If you crave color and harvest, this is your moment to get out for an afternoon country drive.
Randy and I consider our county a best-kept-secret-place to view fall colors. Last weekend we traveled mostly gravel and county roads from Faribault to the Nerstrand area and back and then west to Kelly Lake. In between, we stopped for a hike at Caron Park, a picnic lunch at the hilltop Valley Grove churches and then for apples at Apple Creek Orchard.
As farm-raised kids—me in southwestern Minnesota and Randy in central Minnesota—we find ourselves drawn to the countryside, especially during spring planting and then again during fall harvest. Our weekend drives updated us on harvest progress as we passed fields of corn and soybeans. Some picked. Some still drying under the intermittent autumn sun.
Across an expanse of cornfield on County Road 84/Falk Avenue (just off County Road 20 between Cannon City and Northfield), we paused to admire a treeline in the distance. We return here each year to simply stop and appreciate the hillside aflame with the hues of autumn.
Likewise, we also follow nearby Farmers Trail, a remote gravel road (off Falk Avenue) which winds through woods. Primarily maples as evidenced by the colors and by the blue maple syrup tube collection system that weaves through the trees.
Caron Park, too, draws us to stop and hike into the woods. It’s a less-crowded option than the nearby popular Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. The treeline at Caron Park, behind an open field of muted, dried grasses, is particularly stunning.
We walked into the woods, following a leaf-covered, eroded dirt trail that made me uncomfortable and unsure of my footing. Tree roots presented potential tripping obstacles. I focused more on staying upright than anything. Yet, despite that, I enjoyed the quiet and beauty of the woods. As did others, mostly young families.
As we continued to follow country gravel roads, we sometimes drove in clouds of dust trailing pick-up trucks. That, too, reminds me of my agrarian upbringing. Yes, nostalgia often seeps into our view and our conversations. Once a farm girl/boy, always a farm girl/boy. Even if we’re decades removed from the farm.
I love how the rural countryside of Rice County often sweeps in valleys and hills, providing incredible vistas. Of farmland. Of wooded and open hillsides. Of land and sky connecting. All connected by gravel roads. This rural setting rates as particularly stunning in autumn.
We ended our drive at another favorite fall destination, the public boat landing at Kelly Lake northwest of Faribault. The view of the treeline across the water—which was unusually clear—always looks particularly lovely, although the colors were not at their peak yet during out stop. Soon.
Heading back into Faribault toward home, I admired, too, how beautiful the trees in my community. Seventh Street. Second Avenue. There’s much to be said for looking in your own backyard for autumn’s glory. And I’ve found it. Right here, in Rice County.
FYI: Please check back for more photos from our country drive and for separate posts on Valley Grove churches and Apple Creek Orchard.