Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A first in Minnesota, a meat vending machine in Ellendale October 19, 2017

Steve’s Meat Market in Ellendale is co-owned by Donnavon Eaker and her daughter, Rachael Lee. Steve, married to Donnavon, died in 2006. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

 

YOU CAN BUY candy, snacks, sandwiches, pop and more from a vending machine. Ditto for renting movies and getting cash. Now a small southeastern Minnesota meat market is offering its award-winning smoked and cured meat products to customers via a vending machine.

 

The Ellendale Centennial Mural along Main Street. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

 

I couldn’t quite believe this when I heard a radio spot promoting the newly-installed meat vending machine outside Steve’s Meat Market in Ellendale just off Interstate 35 south of Owatonna. But there it was, documented on Steve’s Facebook page and promoted as the first of its kind in Minnesota and second in the U.S. The machine comes from Germany.

 

Smokey Acres is the in-house label for Steve’s meats. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

 

Smokey Acres…Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

 

An artsy window display at Steve’s promotes its fresh cut meat. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

 

Installed last week, the vending machine seems like a smart move on the part of the Ellendale market, a family run business for more than 40 years. The shop can’t be open all the time, frustrating consumers who today seemingly want 24/7 access to Steve’s products. Now happy customers can come anytime day or night for beef sticks, cheese curds and more, yes, even bacon. Just bring your debit or credit card; the machine doesn’t accept cash or Ebt cards.

 

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. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2011.

 

This meat vending machine is creating quite the buzz in this community of nearly 700 where you’ll also find an old-fashioned grocery store—Lerberg’s Foods—worth visiting.

 

Steve’s is one of those small town meat markets that draws customers both far and wide for its quality products. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

 

While Steve’s claims their refrigerated meat vending machine as the first in Minnesota, some 100 miles away to the north in Hudson, Wisconsin, RJ’s Meats installed one earlier this year.

 

TELL ME: What do you think of this idea?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Beyond the Big Woods on Nerstrand’s Main Street July 28, 2016

Driving westbound into Nerstrand, Minnesota.

Driving westbound into Nerstrand, Minnesota.

WITH A POPULATION of only 253, you might expect Nerstrand to be a quiet small town with, as some could surmise, not a lot going for it. But that would be an inaccurate assessment.

A farm site just east of Nerstrand.

A farm site just east of Nerstrand.

Just north of Nerstand, country gravel roads run through the hilly terrain.

North of Nerstand, country gravel roads run through hilly terrain.

I photographed this truck in a field drive west of Nerstrand.

I photographed this parked truck just outside of Nerstrand to the west.

This farming community in eastern Rice County is known for many things including the local ag equipment dealer, Isaacson Implement; the highly-touted Nerstrand Elementary School; nearby Nerstrand Big Woods State Park; and Nerstrand Meats and Catering.

Nerstrand Meats.

Nerstrand Meats is a popular stop in this small southeastern Minnesota community.

This sign marks the meat market.

This sign marks the meat market.

In business for 125 years...

In business for 125 years…

On a recent Saturday, while on the 2016 Eat Local Farm Tour, my husband and I stopped in Nerstrand to purchase meat at the family-owned meat market open since 1890. While Randy ducked into the shop, I snapped a few exterior photos before joining him in the small storefront space that smells of smoked meats, the market’s specialty.

A small section of the fresh meat counter.

A small section of the fresh meat counter.

Randy chose smoked chops, Nerstrand weiners and a half pound of dried beef. He’s the big meat eater in our house. I could live on fruits and vegetables.

Notices in a storefront window half a block from the meat market. So typical of a small town.

Notices in a storefront window half a block from the meat market. So typical of a small town.

While the clerk packaged his purchases, I headed out the door to see the rest of this several-block downtown. That tour didn’t take long.

Another view of Nerstrand Meats.

Another view of Nerstrand Meats. How convenient and necessary the ice machine.

Yet, I left this small town knowing Nerstrand is a destination for many—whether in need of farm equipment, in need of an education, in need of a get-away or in need of fresh smoked meats.

The fire hall and city hall sit next to Nerstrand Meats.

The fire hall and city hall sit next to Nerstrand Meats.

TELL ME: What small town have you discovered that offers unexpected reasons to visit?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

“The Jerky Stop” in Clear Lake July 10, 2016

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McDonald's Meats in Clearwater, MN. 13

 

IF NOT FOR THE THREATENING SKYLINE, our exhaustion and a two-hour drive home, I expect my husband would have turned into the parking lot of McDonald’s Meats in Clear Lake on a recent Saturday afternoon. He likes meat, especially quality meat from a respected meat market.

That’s McDonald’s Meats, a fourth-generation family business around since 1914. I didn’t grow up in central Minnesota (like Randy), but even I’ve heard of this meat market.

 

McDonald's Meats in Clearwater, MN., 14 close-up

 

McDonald’s plays on those strengths, promoting longevity, family and quality products on eye-catching signage. What meat lover, especially someone who loves jerky, wouldn’t want to stop for a free sample at this self-proclaimed Jerky Stop?

We even had room in the cooler…

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Hastings: The comfortable familiarity of an old-fashioned grocery store November 1, 2012

Reissner’s Meats & Grocery in historic downtown Hastings, Minnesota.

YOU KNOW HOW SOMETIMES, when you step into a place, you feel like you’ve been there before, but you haven’t.

That would be Reissner’s Meats and Grocery in historic downtown Hastings.

Third-generation owner Dick Reissner.

Entering this narrow two-aisle store with a mustachioed, gray-haired shopkeeper in a butcher’s apron leaning on the front counter, I experienced a sense of familiarity tracing back to my childhood. Reissner’s reminds me of the corner grocery in my hometown of Vesta where I purchased my favorite Tootsie Pop suckers, Bazooka bubble gum and yellow packs of Juicy Fruit gum from the candy counter on many a trip to town with Mom.

Honestly, I cannot remember much else about Rasmussen’s Grocery except the candy and the wood floors and the big old screen door that banged shut behind me.

Aisle one with the candy counter to the left.

Reissner’s in Hastings possesses that same nostalgic feel, even a vintage look in the red-and-white tile floors, the mishmash of merchandise, the hulking and energy-sucking open cooler that holds pop, and the price stickers adhered to canned foods and more.

Dick Reissner reads at the front counter while I explore his store.

Richard (Dick) Otto Reissner was preoccupied with reading when I walked in on a recent Saturday afternoon and didn’t seem to want to be bothered. So I didn’t query him with the list of questions formulating in my mind as I perused the aisles.

Vintage photos which clued me in as to the history of this place.

Therefore I have no stories to share with you about this third-generation family business. Only photos.

The exterior sign, which dates the business to 1902.

I totally forgot to search for the lefse or ask about  Grandma Ruth.

The vintage toys, etc., are not for sale.

An old, old cooler…

How often do you see price stickers on food anymore?

I have no clue, none, why there’s a saddle, right, in the grocery store.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thanks for the laughs, Wisconsin September 25, 2011

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WISCONSINITES, YOU MAKE me laugh. A cow mooing in the produce department of a grocery store? Honestly. Seriously. How funny is that?

So here’s how this bovine encounter played out. About two months ago my husband, son and I stopped at the StoneRidge Piggly Wiggly in Wautoma in east central Wisconsin to pick up deli meat for a picnic lunch.

This was right after we stopped at The Milty Wilty drive-in for an ice cream treat. But that’s another story for another day.

I walked into the Piggly Wiggly and dawdled in the produce department while my husband headed to the deli counter. Then I heard a cow mooing.

What the heck? I was not in a barn.

But, I was in Wisconsin.

Because I am nearly deaf in one ear, I cannot distinguish the source of sound. So I just stood there for awhile among the apples and lettuce and array of other fruits and vegetables attempting to decipher the source of that bellowing cow.

Then I walked over to the deli counter and told my husband, “I just heard a cow mooing.”

The woman standing next to him started laughing and then explained: “Whenever water sprays onto the vegetables, the cow moos. Makes me laugh every time.” I didn’t even ask her to tell me how that rigged up system works.

But I did think to myself, since this is a Piggly Wiggly store, perhaps a squealing pig would be more appropriate. But then again, maybe not; I was in the Dairyland State, after all.

A few other things you should know about Wautoma’s Piggly Wiggly. The grocery store, which also includes StoneRidge Meat, smells like smoked meat. Some folks might like that smell; I don’t happen to be one of them.

If you need to drop off a deer for processing, follow the signage at the back of the store for deer deposit.

I took this picture of StoneRidge Piggly Wiggly, with that deer out front, last winter.

Signage for deer drop off at the back of the Piggly Wiggly complex.

And just in case you would like a brat, which seems to be another of those Wisconsin “things,” you can stop at Uncle Butch’s Brat Barn right outside the Piggly Wiggly. It wasn’t open when we were there, but I bet my husband wished it had been. He loves brats. Me, not so much.

The brat barn, not to be confused with a dairy or pig barn. You can purchase StoneRidge meats here.

But I sure enjoyed my experience at the Piggly Wiggly, right down to the “Pig Point$” sign I read when I walked out the door.

Thanks for the laughs, Wisconsin neighbors.

Please, may I have some Pig Points? I don't know what they are, but I think I'd like some.

IF YOU ARE A WISCONSIN resident and would like to share some other unique quirks about your state, I’d like to hear. Ditto if you are a traveler and have discovered some interesting finds in the Dairyland State. Oh, and if you are a non-Minnesotan and have found quirks in my home state, share those, too. I’d like to hear how others view Minnesota. Submit a comment.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling