Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Even in rural Minnesota, ag knowledge sometimes lacking October 25, 2018

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Shepherd’s Way Farms, rural Nerstrand. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo. Shown here for illustration only.

 

ARE WE A GENERATION away from losing the farm? Not in the literal sense. But in the sense of understanding agriculture.

Do you know, do your children know, do your grandchildren know the sources of ingredients in food and other products?

A recent test shows me that, even here in rural Minnesota some 50 miles south of Minneapolis, people are not particularly knowledgeable. Granted, this was no scientific study. And it was limited in scope. But results were enough to make me realize that we could do a better job of educating our young people about agriculture. Even those who live in a city like Faribault surrounded by corn and soybean fields.

 

A fest-goer attempts to match animals and plants to products I set out.

 

How did I reach this conclusion? Well, I pulled together several farm-themed matching and other games for a recent kids’ fall fest at my church. One of those required players to match farm animals and plants to five products. Only one boy successfully completed the task as did some, but not all, adults.

 

Registered Holsteins photographed at a Faribault area farm. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I laid pictures of the following on a table: cows, sheep, pigs, corn and soybeans.

Then I set out a can of cranberry sauce, a box of Velveeta cheese, a brush, a bottle of Thousand Island salad dressing and a wool blanket.

The goal was to match the image and product.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo from Shepherd’s Way Farms.

 

As you might guess, the sheep and blanket, cows and cheese proved easy matches.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo of a cornfield.

 

But not the other three. Can you figure it out? I’ll help. The first ingredient on the dressing label is soybean oil. The second ingredient on the cranberry label is high fructose corn syrup. That leaves the brush. Some brush bristles are made from pig hair.

I expected the game might challenge little kids too young to understand what comes from where or what ingredients are in our food. But I was surprised by mid to upper elementary kids and adults who got the matches wrong.

Does it matter? I believe so. Our kids and grandkids, even us adults, need to be knowledgeable about food and product sources. We need to understand that our food and more doesn’t just come from the store or some online source. It comes from the land, directly or indirectly, grown or raised by farmers. When we realize that, we begin to value and appreciate rather than simply consume.

 

In the window of Ruf Acres Market in historic downtown Faribault, egg cartons promoting eggs from Graise Farm. The eggs are sold at this market and elsewhere in the area. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

ASIDE FROM THIS EXPERIENCE, I’ve seen strong efforts locally to educate consumers about agriculture. Leading the way in my community is Tiffany Tripp of Graise Farm. She and her husband raise grass-fed animals in a sustainable environment, according to their farm website. I’ve seen Tiffany out and about selling and promoting locally-grown/raised. She is currently co-coordinating efforts to market locally-grown/raised/sourced products under a Cannon Valley Grown label. What a great idea. I love her enthusiasm and that of others who recognize the value of what is grown and raised right here in southeastern Minnesota.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Lots to do in the Faribault area this autumn weekend October 12, 2018

“Grandview Farm Cat” by Faribault animal portrait artist Julie M. Fakler. Julie is among artists participating in this weekend’s South Central Minnesota Studio ARTour. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

ART. FOOD. FUN. Those and so much more are part of multiple events scheduled in and around Faribault during a jam-packed autumn weekend. Here’s a list of area happenings. For more information, click on the highlighted links within each event mini snapshot.

 

Kelly Lake, rural Faribault, photographed last October. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2017.

 

We’re only an hour south of Minneapolis along Interstate 35, making this a perfect day trip destination. While you’re here, check out our historic downtown and even take a drive in the country to see the fall colors. The rural areas, especially around Rice County’s many lakes, present some of the best colors in this region of Minnesota, in my opinion. (Click here for a view of last year’s fall colors.)

 

Art supplies photographed during a previous Studio ARTour. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

2018 Studio ARTour of South Central Minnesota

Meet 38 artists at 19 sites (many of them studios) during this weekend arts event that covers the Faribault, Northfield, Nerstrand and Farmington areas. This presents a great opportunity to talk to and view and buy art from artists who work with everything from wood to ceramics to paint and much more. Some studios open on Friday already with others open Saturday and Sunday. Click here for details.

 

Well-kept and well-traveled paths take hikers deep into Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Big Woods Run

Rise early Saturday to take in this annual marathon and more hosted by St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township east of Faribault. Start time is 9 a.m. with later starts for the kids’ K. The route takes participants into Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, known for its remarkable autumn beauty. Click here and here for registration, schedule and more.

 

Buckham Memorial Library, Faribault, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Athens of the West Free Walking Tour

Local historian and artist Jeff Jarvis hosts two free walking tours through downtown Faribault, beginning at Buckham Memorial Library on Saturday, the first tour at 11:30 a.m., the second at 2 p.m. Jarvis will explain via this tour how Faribault became known as “The Athens of the West.” Tour groups are limited to 15. Click here for details.

 

Costumed kids parade through historic downtown Faribault during a previous fall fest. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Faribault Main Street Fall Festival

Historic downtown Faribault is the setting for this annual October celebration that features a costume parade for kids, a chili cook-off, Faribault Foods Fall Frolic 5K Walk/Run and lots more. Come hungry as you can sample the chilis for $5. Click here for everything you need to know about this event set for Saturday.

 

Perusing merchandise at the Faribault Woolen Mill retail store. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

The Legendary Warehouse Sale, Faribault Woolen Mill

From 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. Saturday, the historic woolen mill offers selected products at sale prices. This event always draws a crowd to the mill store along the banks of the Cannon River on Faribault’s north side. Click here for additional info.

 

Attendees at a past A Night at the Museum fill the one-room school for classes. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Night at the Museum

The Rice County Historical Society hosts its annual Night at the Museum, a living history type event from 4 – 7 p.m. Saturday at the county museum followed by music and stories around the campfire from 7 – 8 p.m. Click here for details.

 

You’ll get this food and more at the Trinity North Morristown church dinner. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Harvest Dinner & Fall Festival, Trinity Lutheran Church, North Morristown

If you crave great homemade food prepared by church people, this dinner is for you. From 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. on Sunday, the good folks of this country church will serve a turkey and ham dinner with all the fixings. I’ve attended this dinner multiple times and it is, by far, my favorite church dinner. Also browse the crafts, canned goods and treats for sale. Find more info by clicking here.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

About those elephant ears September 4, 2018

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MY THREE ADULT CHILDREN MAY SEE each other only once a year. But their love for one another remains. Strong. Unaltered by time and distance. Bound by shared memories.

 

At the Minnesota State Fair. Photo by Miranda.

 

Take the photo my second daughter, Miranda, texted from the Minnesota State Fair on Saturday afternoon to her brother in Boston. The photo of concession stands is meaningless to most. But not to our family.

You see, back when Caleb was much younger and took words literally, he could not understand the serving of elephant ears at the fair. He considered those poor elephants with the missing ears and how awful the thought…until his dad and sisters explained. (I was smart enough to stay home and avoid the masses of fair-goers.) These elephant ears, they clarified, are sugar and cinnamon loaded pastries that, well, resemble elephant ears.

This fair story remains entrenched in our family’s collective memory. So I was not surprised that Miranda, back in Minnesota for the long weekend to visit and attend the State Fair with her sister, photographed the elephant ears concession stand. (I was smart enough to babysit my granddaughter and avoid the masses of fair-goers).

Caleb took his sister’s teasing in stride, now all these years later laughing with the rest of us at the elephant ears story. It is these types of family memories that bring joy. I have five siblings and, believe me, not all resurrected memories bring joy, especially when versions vary and some stories are best left untold.

This story is not one of those hurtful remembrances, but rather one that connects us and takes us back to a time when we were a family of five living under the same roof. We were not separated by nearly 1,500 miles or several hundred miles or 50 miles. I miss those days of togetherness. I know that life goes on. But that doesn’t mean I don’t miss my kids. I do. Every day.

So when my second daughter drove to Minnesota this weekend to visit her sister and niece for the first time in more than a year, I was over-the-moon happy. The sisters needed this time together. And I love that they thought of their brother while at the State Fair. They thought of me, too, returning with a bag of sugar-laden mini donuts. They remembered just how much I love that fair treat, a memory pulled from their childhood of attending the Rice County Fair.

This is the stuff of family love. Elephant ears and mini donuts. Sweet memories that endure time and distance.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

I’ve never been so happy to make mac & cheese August 3, 2018

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The mac and cheese I make from scratch. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I PREPARED HOMEMADE macaroni and cheese for supper Wednesday evening.

That’s a big deal for me as I recover from a broken left wrist with a currently unusable hand. I managed one-handed, without assistance, to boil and strain the macaroni, make a cheese sauce, combine both and then slide the glass casserole into the oven.

When Randy arrived home from work, the dish needed an additional 15 minutes of baking time. I should have started prep earlier given the slowed pace of cooking with only one hand.

Even something as simple as choosing kettles required thought. I couldn’t use the usual two-handled pot for boiling the macaroni. And when I opened the package of cheddar cheese, I cut it with a scissor. I can’t separate the sides of a ziploc bag. Thankfully I could punch the top of the evaporated milk can and pour the liquid through that hole.

Eventually I got the mac and cheese ready and in the oven.

I’ve learned much since the June 16 fall resulting in a broken left wrist followed by surgery to implant a plate held in place by 10 screws. I’ve learned the value of patience, the importance of two hands and that I really don’t dislike cooking as much as I’ve always claimed. Now I wish I could cook regularly. But my cooking has been sparse given so much done in the kitchen requires the use of two hands. I dislike constantly asking Randy to help when he already has enough on his plate (pun intended). Can you open this can? Can you open this jar? Can you open this bag? Can you, can you, can you? My frustration grows.

So far he’s been patient and helpful and does nearly all of the cooking after a long, hard day of physical labor at his job. But I haven’t asked him yet to deal with an aging head of cauliflower, hoping he will notice the vegetable on the top shelf of the fridge…

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Sweet love June 24, 2018

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HE TOLD ME TO EXPECT a package. Next week. But the priority mail box arrived from Massachusetts on Saturday. I was almost certain the techie son had shipped a one-handed keyboard, even though I told him I didn’t need one. I don’t as I can manage with one-handed typing until I recover from my broken left arm.

 

 

But I was wrong. Inside I found a surprise so sweet that I cried. I cried at the thoughtfulness of Caleb and his girlfriend, who had baked chocolate chunk cookies for me. Thick cookies with dark chocolate, my favorite chocolate. The best chocolate (chip) cookies I have ever eaten.

Turns out Caleb messaged his oldest sister earlier in the week for my cookie recipe. She didn’t have it and sent another recipe instead. I love these cookies.

Even more, I love that Caleb and Sunny thought of me and took the time to bake this gift. It was perfect. Such love and care cannot be bought, only given in an act of love.

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TO MY MANY FAITHFUL READERS (friends), thank you for your prayers, encouragement and well wishes as I deal with this injury and pending surgery. Your words are a gift. I am grateful.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Jell-O memories May 10, 2018

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A WEEK BEFORE MOTHER’S DAY, my sister-in-law showed up with a bowl of Jell-O at her granddaughter’s third birthday party. But this wasn’t just any Jell-O. This was Seven Layer Jell-O Salad, multi layers of gelatin in a fancy glass bowl.

Years have passed since I ate Jell-O. It was a staple of extended family gatherings during my growing up years in rural Minnesota. Every “little lunch” served at midnight included red banana-filled Jell-O. In addition to summer sausage sandwiches, homemade dill pickles and pans and pans of bars.

 

Peach Jell-O. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Sometime through the years, I stopped liking Jell-O. Especially if celery, carrots or marshmallows were added to enhance the basic recipe. I came to associate Jell-O with illness. And in recent years, prep for a colonoscopy (although not red or purple Jell-O).

Still, I admit that I ate a lot of Jell-O as a kid. And I liked it. I was willing to dip my spoon into the bowl of memories and eat a serving of Seven Layer Jell-O Salad prepared by my sister-in-law. She spent a lot of time making those seven layers and I could show some appreciation for her efforts.

But another reason existed for my decision to eat the Jell-O salad, which really is more dessert than salad given its sweetness. Seven Layer Jell-O Salad was a specialty of my mother-in-law, who died in 1993 at the age of 59. I think everyone in the family would agree that Betty wasn’t a particularly good cook. But she made the best homemade caramel rolls, chicken and cottage cheese pie (if you like cottage cheese pie, and I don’t). She also had perfected Seven Layer Jell-O Salad.

 

My in-laws, Tom and Betty. From the family photo archives of 25-plus years ago.

It’s interesting how food triggers memories. I suppose because so many memories are made over food. On this Sunday in April, I remembered my dear mother-in-law who died just months before my son was born. She wanted a grandson after a long string of granddaughters. If only she’d lived to see her oldest son’s son.

I’m certain, if Betty was living, that she’d still be making Seven Layer Jell-O Salad for family gatherings. It was one of her signature dishes. As in days past, I’d admire the jewel-colored layers, not because the salad is particularly delicious. But because it is layered in family memories.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

How two Faribault businesses made me smile with great customer service May 2, 2018

In the small town of Ellendale, kids bike to Lerberg’s Foods for groceries and the occasional slushie. Here two sisters and a friend slurp their slushies while sitting on bags of water softener pellets next to the pop machine. This is one of my favorite images of a small town local business. I took this photo in August 2011. Lerberg’s Foods is still in business.

 

I VALUE GREAT CUSTOMER service. It can be the deciding factor in whether I patronize a business. If I have a bad experience, I’ll think twice about returning. If I have a great experience, you bet I’ll give that business my business.

Now more than ever, customer service holds significant value along our main streets. It is one way local businesses can compete with online shopping. Not that that is a personal concern for me; I seldom shop online. But most people do. So our local shopkeepers need to go that extra mile to create a welcoming experience that meets customers’ needs.

What comprises great customer service? For me, it starts with a smile. The minute I walk in the door, I should be greeted, valued. I don’t need a clerk or store owner who hovers, but I appreciate someone who is subtly attentive. Help me if I appear overwhelmed, uncertain or can’t seem to find whatever. Listen. Offer choices. Answer questions. And then listen some more. Or leave me alone if I’m sending body language signals that I’d rather be left to browse.

I expect it’s not always easy to determine how to best serve a customer. But a shopkeeper can’t go wrong by simply being nice. And helpful.

 

 

I cite two recent examples from my community of Faribault where two grocery store employees showed exceptional customer service. Both on the same day. While at Hy-Vee, I was approached by an employee who apparently noticed me filtering for too long through clamshells of strawberries special-priced at $1.28/pound. I couldn’t find any berries that weren’t over-ripe and/or rotting. Even at a bargain, I won’t pay for bad produce and dislike when a grocer tries to sell food that should be tossed.

But this employee decided he wanted a satisfied customer. He offered to go to the back storeroom and find a pack of acceptable berries. Two if I wanted two, although I pointed out the “Limit one to a customer” sign. He would bring two, he said. I waited until he returned. With only one pack. But that was OK. He also promised to have those over-ripe berries cleared from the shelves.

At my next grocery store stop, I experienced exceptional customer service in the bakery department of Fareway Meat & Grocery. I was on a mission to find a smiley face cookie for my two-year-old granddaughter. Typically those cookies are sold at Hy-Vee. But on this Saturday they weren’t immediately available. I didn’t have time to wait an hour so headed to Fareway hoping for the coveted cookie.

 

 

I found smiley face cookies, six to a package. But I didn’t want six. I wanted one. Perhaps, I thought, I could buy a single cookie from the pick-your-own selections. Turns out the cookies aren’t sold individually. I explained my dilemma to the baker, how I had hoped to buy one cookie for Izzy for her second birthday because her mama loved smiley face cookies when she was a little girl. The baker smiled, then told me to pull a package from the shelves. I could have one, she said. At no charge.

You can bet my mouth curved as wide as the blue smile on that cookie. My joy in that simple gesture of kindness shone as bright as the yellow frosting. Granted, giving away that cookie didn’t cost Fareway much money. But it was priceless in terms of exceptional customer service.

That’s what I’m talking about as we celebrate Small Business Month in Minnesota during May and National Small Business Week from now until May 5. Hy-Vee and Fareway may not classify as small businesses. But two employees at their Faribault stores exemplified outstanding customer service to me. And that, my friends, is how Main Street can compete in today’s global online marketplace.

TELL ME: What’s your definition of great customer service? Give me an example. Do you shop local or mostly online?

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling