Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A flavor of the Minnesota northwoods at Bean Hole Days July 26, 2021

The Bean Hole crew guides a kettle of beans from an underground cooking pit at Bean Hole Days in Pequot Lakes. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

LONG LINES FORMED an hour before the event in makeshift narrow aisles crafted from stakes and ribbon. Folks waited not for Paul Bunyan, although he was there, working the crowd. And not for Elvis, although he performed. Rather, they waited for a serving of baked beans.

Thousands line up for a bowl of baked beans. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
My bowl of baked beans. The beans are fee with donations accepted. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
Lifting the kettles from the pit requires machinery and manpower. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

This scene unfolded on Wednesday, July 14, during Bean Hole Days in Pequot Lakes, a small town in the central Minnesota lakes region. Randy and I, staying at a family member’s guest lake cabin south of nearby Crosslake, attended for the first time. And it was quite the experience. I mean that in a truly positive way. While I don’t like waiting, waiting for a generous serving of bacon-laced navy beans baked in a wood-fired pit proved well worth my time. I’ve never tasted better homemade baked beans.

The bean crew waits near the pit where the beans bake. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

The process of crafting these beans is impressive. I missed the prep and lowering of massive cast iron kettles into the ground Tuesday. But in chatting with a bean crew member on Wednesday, I learned that the 350 pounds of navy beans were soaked and partially cooked with propane before lowering the cauldrons into the pit of wood coals for overnight baking. And yes, it takes a knowledgeable team and machinery for this operation.

Almost ready to serve beans. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

My bean crew source wasn’t sharing details about ingredients, with the exception of 126 pounds of bacon mixed into the beans. The special “sauce,” which definitely tastes of molasses, is a guarded secret. And that’s all right. It adds to the mystery, the intrigue.

Lining up for beans under the direction of a volunteer. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

From my observations, volunteers have this bean-baking down to a science. And they should. Bean Hole Days began in 1938 as a way for local businessmen to thank farmers for their business. Today, the focus seems more on drawing vacationers into town—to the local shops and restaurants. While waiting in line for 45 minutes, I chatted with couples from Baxter and the Twin Cities.

We arrived early with plenty of time to check out the arts and crafts. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
Bean Hole Days royalty. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
An old-fashioned barrel train weaves through the festival grounds. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

This event at Trailside Park is about much more than beans. It also features an arts and craft fair, a small kiddie carnival, food vendors and crowning of Bean Hole royalty. And this year free COVID-19 vaccinations.

These friendly vendors sold art (Shea J. Maze) and naturally-dyed goods (Diaspora Textiles). Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

I enjoyed chatting with vendors, mingling, watching. And photographing.

Paul Bunyan greets Bean Hole Days attendees. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

Bean Hole Days, because of its location in Pequot Lakes among lakes and pines in cabin country, reflects the Minnesota northwoods and all that entails. Fishing. The town water tower is shaped like a bobber. Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. Paul shook hands, posed for photos and generally welcomed guests. Babe and bobber sculptures provided photo ops.

The kettles of beans are given Scandinavian names. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

Even the kettles of beans, sponsored by area businesses, feature names connecting to the region’s heritage. Lena. Sven. Ole. And more.

Elvis entertains the waiting crowd. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
This mug allows you to go in the fast/first serving line. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
Buy a mug and enter the fast lane. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

As I waited in line for beans, I danced to the music of Elvis performing live. That garnered a compliment from a volunteer guiding guests to the right serving kettles. Those who purchased a 2021 Bean Hole Days mug advanced through the FAST PASS FOR GAS line. I appreciated the humor. While Randy and I didn’t buy mugs, we left a donation.

Volunteers ladle generous portions of baked beans. Some people brought their mugs from past years. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

And we left full of beans and appreciative of all the people who put together this unique small town Minnesota northwoods experience.

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Please check back for more photos from Bean Hole Days as I couldn’t possibly fit everything into a single post.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Celebrating Faribault’s diversity at international fest July 10 July 8, 2021

Flags representing the many countries from which Faribault residents came are displayed at a past International Festival Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

DECADES AGO, in high school and then in college, I studied the German language. I grew fluent in the native tongue of my forefathers. I felt a sense of accomplishment as my skills advanced. I decided I would major in German in college, until I determined journalism would be a better path. I’ve never regretted that decision because I love words, no matter the language.

My second daughter, though, pursued a foreign language major, earning her college degree in Spanish (much more practical than German) and then becoming a Spanish medical interpreter. Until the pandemic ended that career.

Friends, Nimo Abdi, a sophomore at Faribault High School, left, and Nasteho Farah, a senior when I photographed them in 2012 at the International Festival. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I share this to lay the foundation for my personal appreciation of other cultures. I’ve never traveled internationally and not all that much domestically, so I welcome the opportunity to experience other countries and cultures locally. From 10 am – 4 pm this Saturday, July 10, diverse cultures focus the 16th annual International Festival Faribault in Central Park.

Pupusas served at the 2011 International Festival. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.
Cambodian art at the 2015 fest. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.
Attendees marked a world map with their countries of origin during a previous festival. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

The fest is promoted as “a global bazaar-style event featuring food, music, dance, presentations and goods from around the world.” I’ve attended several times, although not recently, and always enjoyed this Neighbor Meeting Neighbor celebration. Many of those participating in the fest are local residents, shopkeepers and vendors.

This sculpture of Alexander Faribault trading with a Dakota trading partner stands in Faribault’s Heritage Park near the Straight River and site of Faribault’s trading post. Faribault artist Ivan Whillock created this sculpture which sits atop a fountain known as the Bea Duncan Memorial Fountain. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Faribault truly is an ethnically diverse community with a size-able immigrant population and with long-time residents rooted in many countries. Founding father Alexander Faribault, for example, was of French-Canadian and Dakota heritage. Our newest residents come from places like war torn Somalia.

A recently-completed mural in downtown Faribault, LOVE FOR ALL, celebrates our city’s diversity. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2021.

While we’ve struggled in the past to accept one another, I feel like things are settling, that we are beginning to celebrate our differences and recognize the value of those differences.

Downtown Faribault during a Car Cruise Night in 2015 reflects our diversity. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Newcomers to Faribault are here to stay. They live, work and play here. Attend school. Own businesses. And that’s reason to celebrate. We are a stronger community because of our diversity.

Cambodian dancers. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.
A young girl’s henna stained foot, photographed at the 2011 fest. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.
A little girl stands on the opposite side of the group of children waiting to swing at the pinata. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I encourage locals and people from out of town to attend Saturday’s International Festival Faribault. International dancers, music, a flag ceremony, arts and crafts, kids’ activities (including the popular pinata breaking), henna and food from around the world will be among the offerings. Perhaps someone will represent the German heritage by serving sauerkraut and brats or pumping out polkas on an accordion…

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

An American treasure: North Morristown on the Fourth of July July 5, 2021

The Pie Stand at North Morristown. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

WHEN RANDY AND I ARRIVED at the North Morristown Fourth of July celebration late Sunday afternoon, we headed directly to the Pie Stand. I hoped the homemade pies wouldn’t be sold out. They weren’t.

Tasty homemade strawberry pie. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

Although the selection was limited by this time in the day-long event, we still found tasty pies. I chose fresh strawberry while Randy opted for rhubarb, both parceled in generous portions.

The crowd had thinned by Monroe Crossing’s 4 pm concert. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

While we forked our pies, the ever-popular bluegrass band, Monroe Crossing, performed to an appreciative audience on the nearby Main Stage. The crowd settled onto bleachers, folding chairs inside the gazebo and onto plank benches, and also spilled onto the grassy area in lawn chairs and on blankets.

Inside the shed housing games and vintage kiddie rides. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

Several musical groups performed throughout a day packed with family-friendly events: A parade, patriotic program, BINGO, kiddie rides and games, and so much more.

Proceeds go to this small Christian school in the country. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

Once we finished our pie, we roamed the festival grounds, a grassy space shaded by towering trees (including aged oaks) and next to farm sites and fields. Across the street sits Trinity Lutheran Church and School, the school benefiting from funds raised at this long-running July Fourth celebration.

This shed houses the games and rides, which are unchanged. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

I love everything about this event. The timeless quality. The step back in time. The connecting with friends (and for many, with family). The music. The food.

Old Glory flies in the middle of the festival grounds. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

To be in North Morristown on the Fourth of July is to experience a sense of community, to feel comforted by the sameness of this celebration, to understand that this is about more than Independence Day. This is about rural America and how family and community and tradition are valued and cherished here.

The homemade kiddie train crafted from barrels. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.
Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.
I loved watching the kids ride the barrel train. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

As I watched the engineer of the barrel train steer his lawn tractor, I thought, what wonderful memories these kids will have of riding that homemade train. The same goes for the other kiddie rides and carnival games which remain unchanged. I need to bring my grandchildren here to experience this.

The next generation vends tees. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.
Try to hit a vintage “doll” in this game. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.
The fish pond. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

Generations of families run the rides and booths, stitching stories into their family histories. The kids will always remember going to North Morristown on the Fourth—to pluck a yellow rubber duck from a pond, to throw a ball toward a hoop or toward spinning “dolls,” to drop a line into the fish pond…all for some prize that is more treasure than trinket on July 4.

Food is served from vintage stands. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

North Morristown on the Fourth truly rates as an American treasure.

Will Bauermeister performs as a hot and humid day eases toward evening. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

Although Randy and I did not grow up here, we have lived in neighboring Faribault for 40 years and know a lot of people. So we saw many there—Mel, Carl, Leroy, Shirley, Virgil, Jane, Jen, Mike…and a college friend, Annette, whom I haven’t seen in decades. We made new friends, too, Kevin and Brenda from Elysian and another couple from Monticello. That’s the thing about this celebration. Sit at a picnic table and you’ll find yourself engaging in conversation with strangers.

The burger stand. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

After we completed our tour of the festival grounds and enjoyed the music by Monroe Crossing, Randy and I ordered sandwiches. I got barbecued pork. He chose a burger. The food, served from vintage stands, is always, always delicious. And, yes, we ate our dessert before our main meal because we weren’t willing to risk the pie running out.

We passed by this picturesque farm building on the drive home. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

Several hours after arriving in the less-busy, less-crowded late afternoon, we left, taking the scenic route home along gravel roads winding past farm sites. I felt so appreciative of this rural setting, of North Morristown on the Fourth of July and of the people who make this event happen. What an exceptional example of a holiday celebration which, at its core, remains unchanged and rooted in community and family.

FYI: Please check back for a second post with more photos from North Morristown on July Fourth.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Grassroots Americana on July Fourth in North Morristown, Minnesota July 2, 2021

Kids’ activities are to the left, food and beverage stands to the right and the entertainment stage straight ahead at the North Morristown July 4 festival grounds. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

NORTH MORRISTOWN OFFERS a July Fourth celebration unlike any other in Minnesota. It’s grassroots Americana, billed as the longest-running Independence Day celebration in the state. Since 1892 (with the exception of 2020 due to COVID-19), folks have gathered on a plot of land across from Trinity Lutheran Church and School in western Rice County for this rural-rooted community event.

Craig, whom I know from Faribault Car Cruise Nights, showed up (with his wife Kathy) dressed as Uncle Sam. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I’ve attended many times (click here to view past blog posts), even though I hold no familial connection to this place. Yet, I always feel welcome. I’ve lived in nearby Faribault for 39 years and know a lot of people in the area. The Fourth of July in North Morristown is, at its core, about reconnecting with family and friends. Or, if you’re new to the event, meeting new people and experiencing an old-fashioned, down-to-earth Independence Day celebration.

One of several vintage carnival rides at North Morristown. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

While some activities, such as a Remote Control Demolition Derby and Bean Bag Competition, have been added to the event, most activities are long-standing. A Patriotic Program, 10 AM parade complete with Candy House, silent auction, BINGO, Medallion Hunt, games, vintage kiddie rides and more endure. There’s something incredibly comforting and charming about keeping things the same.

My husband enjoys his cheeseburger at the North Morristown Fourth of July celebration. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

From the Pie Stand to the Hamburger Stand, the food offerings are basic and delicious. I’d advise purchasing a slice of pie early on given the popularity of the pies. Vintage buildings house the food stands where volunteers prepare and serve food and beverages. Onion rings, pork sandwiches, ice cream, cold beer…

The popular bluegrass band, Monroe Crossing, performs on the Fourth of July in North Morristown. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

The music also draws many, especially the popular Monroe Crossing, set to play at 1:30 PM and 4 PM on July 4 at the Main Stage. Believe me, it’s worth coming just to hear this bluegrass band. Other musical performers include Potluck String Band, Red Dirt Road and more.

Fireworks cap the day of celebration.

Among the homemade pie offerings at the Pie Stand. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Words really cannot fully describe North Morristown on the Fourth of July. It’s something you have to experience. I’d encourage you to attend. Bring your lawn chairs or blankets (seating is limited for the concerts), your money, and a joyful attitude. Then celebrate America’s birthday in the middle of the countryside—among soybean and corn fields—with people who love this land and each other.

FYI: Click here for more detailed information about the July Fourth celebration in North Morristown.

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TO YOU, MY DEAR READERS: Have a safe and wonderful Independence Day celebration whether you are at home or traveling, among lots of people or simply with family. Or even just relaxing alone. Please take time on July Fourth to reflect on the blessings of living in a free country. I, for one, feel grateful.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Happy moments at Happy Chef July 1, 2021

Happy Chef reinvented at A-Z Restaurant Equipment. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

OH, THE YEASTY SCENT of bread, of a warm mini loaf dripping with powdered sugar icing. Such are my memories of college day visits to the Happy Chef restaurant in Mankato.

Back in 1974 through 1976, I would walk with friends from the Bethany Lutheran College campus to the hometown restaurant along US Highway 14. There we would talk and laugh and savor a treat that was more sweet rolls than bread loaf.

I don’t recall the cost of our indulgence. But, as a poor college student, the price had to be affordable.

Details elude me decades later. Yet I recall the deliciousness of that bread and the iconic Happy Chef statue that stood outside the restaurant. He sported a white chef’s hat and attire and waved a wooden spoon.

Today, only one Happy Chef restaurant remains, this one along US Highway 169 near the interchange with US Highway 14 in Mankato. It was the first Happy Chef to open in a family restaurant business founded in 1963 by the Frederick brothers—Sal, Bob, Bill and Tom. The Happy Chef statue still stands there. And now the owners of that restaurant are soliciting some G-rated one-liners to add to their Chef’s voice. Yes, he “talks.” Click here to submit suggestions via Facebook.

A Happy Chef statue also poses along US Highway 169 north of Princeton at A-Z Restaurant Equipment Company. That repurposed roadside art, spotted on a mid-May drive north to a central Minnesota lake cabin, prompted my college day memories of sharing warm mini bread loaves with friends at Happy Chef. Oh, such happy moments…

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Appreciating treasures, farm-sourced & local May 19, 2021

Shopping at the flea market by the Rice County Historical Society’s historic church and school. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

YOU DON’T NEED THAT, I remind myself as I covet the vintage mixing bowls, the floral apron, the whatever. I’m at that point in life when I feel the need to declutter, to downsize, to let go. Not acquire more stuff.

So many treasures… Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

But that doesn’t stop me from looking. And look I did on Saturday at the Rice County Historical Society’s Spring Flea Market. For anyone who loves antiques, collectibles and waiting-to-be-discovered treasures, this proved the place to shop. An estimated 75 vendors peddled their goods to a large crowd gathered at the fairgrounds for the flea market and also the Cannon Valley Farmers’ Market and Fair Food Truck Days.

Loved the vintage City of Faribault signage on this vendor’s vintage truck. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
These flea market vintage lawn chairs almost called for sitting down to visit, except for the rust. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
The Rice County Steam & Gas Engine folks were selling raffle tickets for this tractor. The organization hosts its annual swap meet/flea market on Saturday, May 29, and Sunday, May 30, just south of Northfield, in rural Dundas. Click here for details. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

While I wandered among tables, pausing to chat with friends I haven’t seen in more than a year, I delighted in the beautiful spring day and the opportunity to be out and about among others.

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

With camera in hand, I documented some of the merchandise. I recognize that memories and personal interest draw me to certain items. Like the bag of Red Owl charcoal, a reminder of my brief cashier’s job at that grocery chain. Red Owl was also the “go to” grocery store when I was growing up.

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

An autograph book from the 1890s also drew me to flip through the pages, to read the messages written to Mary. I have an autograph book stashed in a closet somewhere. I ought to find it.

I especially like the art in this “Reddy, the Proud Rooster” story. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
This reminds me of my grandma’s garden. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
Some people find clowns to be creepy. I don’t. Found at the flea market. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

Print items and art and oddities focused my interest, too.

Hanging baskets, tomatoes and other plants were available for purchase at the Cannon Valley Farmers’ Market. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

There was so much to take in at the flea market, before I moved on to the farmers’ market.

On display (and for sale), farm fresh eggs from Graise Farm. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

Given my farming roots, I admire and appreciate those who gather eggs, spin yarn, grow plants, harvest honey, cook jams and jellies, bake sweet treats and more for sale at farmers’ markets. Theirs is a labor of love. To share the bounty, the works of their hands, truly is a gift.

Blackberry jam. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
Offerings from Medford Creek Natural Apiaries. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

When I peruse market offerings, I also view products from a photographic, artistic and poetic perspective. The dark jewel tone of blackberry jam. The golden hue of honey. Both are beautiful to behold.

The Local Plate serves up meals created from local food sources. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

My final stop took me to the food vendors and the decision to purchase The Buffaloed Turkey Plate to share with Randy. Other food offerings were standard fair food. I appreciated the opportunity to order more creative, locally-sourced food from The Local Plate.

Saturday’s event drew a large crowd. Here is a small portion of the flea market in the RCHS museum parking lot. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

I love local events like this. They build community. And this year, more than ever, I appreciate local. And I appreciate community.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reconnecting at the flea market, farmers’ market & food fair May 18, 2021

The scene in the Rice County Historical Society parking lot Saturday morning as vendors sold wares at the spring flea market. The market extended behind the building and onto the fairgrounds with an estimated 75 sellers. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

MORE THAN A YEAR into the pandemic and we all needed this—an outdoor event to bring us together, to reclaim our collective sense of community, to reconnect with friends we haven’t seen in way too long.

One of my favorite discoveries at the flea market was the chicken art created by J & M Crafted Creations of Prior Lake. That would be wood artist Jim and painter Mary Jo. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
At the market, cheese from Shepherd’s Way Farms, rural Nerstrand. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
The Local Plate proved a popular dining option. The truck sources locally to create its menu offerings. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

The combo Rice County Historical Society’s Spring Flea Market, Cannon Valley Farmers’ Market and Fair Food Truck Days accomplished all of those objectives in one place, the Rice County Fairgrounds, on one day, Saturday.

Vendors spread across the museum grounds/fairgrounds, including outside the historic school and church. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
This dad’s smile says it all. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
The event drew a diverse crowd. People seemed happy just to be out. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

This event marked our re-entry into community life, now that Randy and I are fully vaccine-protected. It felt good, oh, so good, to experience a sense of normalcy again. And even though crowds were large and most attendees were unmasked, we felt comfortable given our vaccination status and the outdoor setting.

Among the flea market treasures, Pyrex. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
After photographing this yarn, I asked for a business card. Noting the name, Dresow Family Farm, I inquired. Turns out the husband half of this farm team hails from my home area and graduated from Wabasso High School, my alma mater. Even though I’ve never met Kevin “Silo” Dresow, we reminisced and even broke into the school song, “On Wabasso…” To meet a fellow Rabbit (our school mascot) made my day. I graduated with Silo’s brother Keith. Small world. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
Fair food aplenty… Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

For a May day in Minnesota, the weather couldn’t have been more perfect. Sunshine. Blue skies. Warmth. Absolutely ideal for outdoor vending of treasures, selling of locally-grown/raised/made goods and indulging in fair food.

Even this vendor’s dog looks happy. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
A pick-up bed of treasures. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
From First Draft Farms, what happy hues. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

What made this gathering unique, though, was the overwhelming feeling of optimism. I sensed it. Felt it. Experienced it. An undercurrent of joyfulness.

Parking was at a premium. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

I know events like this don’t happen without a lot of behind-the-scenes effort and hard work. So to all the volunteers, vendors, farmers and others who planned, showed up, set up, sold, engaged in conversation, welcomed us back to experience community, thank you. I needed this day. We needed this day. Saturday’s event reaffirmed for me just how much I value interacting with others. And just how much I’ve missed those connections.

Please check back for more photos from this event.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Faribault: Food, fair food & flea market finds May 13, 2021

Vintage fans and a thermos for sale at a past flea market. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2018.

FROM A FLEA MARKET to food trucks to a farmers’ market, the Rice County Fairgrounds in Faribault will be abuzz with activity on Saturday. And I can’t wait. After a year of mostly social isolation, Randy and I are finally vaccine-protected and ready to enjoy local events.

A scene from the May 2018 RCHS Spring Flea Market. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2018,

The May 15 trio of activities begins at 8 a.m. with the Rice County Historical Society’s Spring Flea Market. Rain or shine, the outdoor market runs until 2 p.m. in the RCHS museum parking lot and grounds. I’ve attended this event in the past. It’s fun to look through the assortment of merchandise from antiques and collectibles to crafts and much more. One person’s “junk” truly is another person’s treasure.

Tiffany Tripp of Graise Farm co-coordinates the Cannon Valley Farmers’ Market and sells her farm fresh eggs and more at the market. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

In the heart of the fairgrounds, farmers, producers, bakers, crafters and others will vend their products at the Cannon Valley Farmers’ Market from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. The locally-grown, homemade goods come from small-scale farmers and producers in Minnesota’s Cannon River Valley. The Cannon River runs just across the road from the fairgrounds. Twenty-plus vendors will sell everything from beef to eggs to chocolate treats, bread, jelly, honey, cheese, homemade soap, plants and much more.

Photographed on August 29 in the Ace Hardware store parking lot, Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2020.

Also starting at 10 a.m. is Fair Food Truck Days with eight trucks open for food sales: Cavemen Grilling, Delicious Potatoes, El Rey Del Taco, Lopez Concessions, Pretzel Wiz, Schroder Concessions, Temple Concessions and The Local Plate. Food sales will run until 4 p.m. and then repeat on Sunday at the same time. This will jumpstart the season of community festivals and fairs after a year without.

That said, we are still in a pandemic. If you attend, please follow all COVID safety guidelines (ie. wearing face masks and social distancing) as set by the state and hosting parties. We owe it to our friends, neighbors and strangers, especially unvaccinated kids, to keep them safe.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Back at the Rice County Fairgrounds April 21, 2021

Looking toward food stands and the Midway. To the right, is the outdoor entertainment center. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

VACATED. That word best describes my assessment of the Rice County Fairgrounds in Faribault during a recent walk there.

Many local groups have food stands at the fair. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.
Picnic tables near the pork food stand. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.
The presence of 4-Hers at the fair is strong. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

In the absence of people, the absence of animals, the absence of a carnival, the absence of exhibits, the place feels empty. No pulsating lights on the Midway. No smell of grilling burgers. No taste of sugary mini donuts. No shouts of kids. No feel of a prize stuffed animal clutched in arms.

The entertainment space to the left with the St. Luke’s food stand on the right. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

If everything works out COVID-wise, this fairgrounds will teem with people come late July. Animals will fill barns. Ribbons will mark prize-winning 4-H entries. Greasy cheese curds will satisfy those who crave fair food. The sounds of music and clustered conversations and happy kids will create a steady buzz of noise. Little hands will grasp adult hands and teenage hands will lock in fair love. People will reconnect. Celebrate. Experience that which was lost last summer, during the height of the pandemic.

Love this signage. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.
The commercial exhibit building. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.
Garden decor stored until the fair. The garden is next to the conservation building. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

This is the fair I imagine as I walk past shuttered buildings, as I pause to photograph buildings and signs and expanses of open space.

Just a snippet of the 32 barn swallow nests on Curtis Hall. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

And then I pause outside the 4-H building, Curtis Hall, to photograph the row of barn swallow nests mudded under the eaves. So many. Thirty-two. Too many. If there’s one bird I dislike, it’s the barn swallow. We have a history. As a child, I endured barn swallows swooping over me as I did farm chores. The swallows built their nests on beams above the barn aisle, my direct work route. I felt threatened by them as I shoveled manure into gutters, pushed a wheelbarrow full of ground feed down the aisle. My feelings for the swallow have not changed. Even though they eat mosquitoes, I still don’t like this bird.

Just another view of those swallow nests. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

That’s my sidebar from the fairgrounds, perhaps one you can relate to if you did farm chores like me.

The sheep arena is named after a Rice County deputy killed in the line of duty. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo 2021.
A view of the sheep barn. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.
Each of the livestock buildings is numbered. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

Fairs are rooted in agriculture. Prize animals. Prize vegetables. A once-a-year opportunity to showcase the best of barns and of gardens. But today’s fair is much more. Entertainment. Creativity. And, above all, a place for communities to come together once a year in one place. To celebrate. To connect.

The Rice County Fair office with the grandstand in the background. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

FYI: The Rice County Fair is tentatively set for July 21-25 in Faribault. Whether it happens depends on all of us. See my previous post.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Tapping into local at Sleepy Eye Brewing & Coffee, Part II March 10, 2021

Housed in the former PIX Theatre, Sleepy Eye Brewing & Coffee Company, along US Highway 14 in downtown Sleepy Eye. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2020.

WHEN I WAS GROWING UP on the southwestern Minnesota prairie in the 60s and 70s, locally sourced meant harvesting vegetables from the garden, dipping milk from the bulk tank and pulling our own farm-raised beef from the freezer. Our farm family of eight was basically food self-sufficient, with the exception of fresh fruit (a rare treat) and staples like flour and sugar.

Information on tables informs customers of locally sourced food. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2020.
Spent grains from the beer making process go to Fischer’s Sleepy Bison Acres as supplemental food for the bison. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2020.
More info on the interaction and reliance on the community. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2020.

With that background, you’ll understand why I appreciate the efforts of businesses like Sleepy Eye Brewing and Sleepy Eye Coffee Company, which work with local farmers to source products. Bison meat. Milk. Honey. Eggs. It’s a win-win for everyone, including customers who value fresh, local and direct farm-to-table.

This is a stunningly beautiful space. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2020.

The brewery and coffee/bakery/sandwich/salad shop are housed in the historic former PIX Theatre in the heart of downtown Sleepy Eye. My first and only visit happened a year ago, just before COVID-19 changed everything, including my interest in dining out or imbibing at a craft brewery.

A flight served in a movie reel. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2020.
Some of the beer choices at Sleepy Eye Brewing. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2020.
Glasses advertise the brewery. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2020.

But I’ll be back once life returns to normal because I appreciate the former movie house setting, the beer and the small town friendliness. I intend also to sample a homemade sweet treat from the bakery. Or maybe a sandwich or salad.

A view from the balcony window looking over US Highway 14 and Sleepy Eye’s main business district. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2020.

I love how some small towns are seeing a revival of sorts via businesses like craft breweries. Hometown bakeries also add to the draw.

The restored marquee now advertises “fuel” rather than movies. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2020.

For someone like me who grew up with home-grown/home-raised food on premises, the current trend of locally sourced brings me full circle back to my roots. That’s 45 miles to the northwest of Sleepy Eye in rural Vesta.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling