Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

How a drive along a back road prompts thoughts about farming today February 12, 2020

 

I CALL IT THE BACK ROAD to Morristown, Rice County Road 15 south of Faribault and running west to Morristown. The more-traveled main route follows Minnesota State Highway 60.

 

 

But, I prefer the back way, which takes me past farm sites hugging the county road.

 

Looking across a snowy field along Rice County Road 15 near CR 45.

 

Here I feel immersed in the rural setting with less traffic, open land spreading wide under an equally wide sky.

 

 

I know some of the people who live along this road. They are salt-of-the-earth folks, hardworking, caring… Dairy farmers. Retired pig and crop farmer. A farmer who balances crop farming with a full-time job in town. Families raised on the land, with only one son among those I know along CR 15 continuing in farming. One son’s moved to Nashville, where he’s finding success as a professional oboist. I’m working on a story about him for a regional arts and entertainment magazine.

The times they are a changin’.

 

 

But then agriculture has always been evolving. I think back to my great grandparents and my grandparents who broke the land and farmed with horses in an especially labor-intensive way of life. And then machinery replaced horse power for my dad and his farmer brothers. And my middle brother, who no longer farms, saw even more advances in mechanization and technology. I barely recognize the farms of today.

 

 

I’d like to think, though, that those who still work the land do so because they love and value the land. In recent years I’ve observed a shift in attitudes toward a deepening respect of the soil, of using less chemicals (or even none), of adapting innovative erosion control practices, of protecting waterways…

 

 

I recognize the challenges of balancing the need to earn a living from the land, getting the highest yields possible, with decisions about farming practices. It’s not easy. Public perception and government regulations and weather and fluctuating markets add to the stress. It’s not easy being a farmer today. This is not our grandparents’ farm. Nor even our parents.

 

 

To those who choose to live on and work the land, I admire your stamina and determination. While I miss the peace and solitude of living in the country on land where the nearest neighbor lives more than a driveway width away, I realize I never would have made it as a farmer. I don’t have the guts or the fortitude or adaptability necessary to farm.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A photo essay from the Dam Days carnival in Morristown, Minnesota July 17, 2019

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Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

TIS THE SEASON of small town celebrations and county fairs here in Minnesota. We pack a lot of activities and events into the summer months. Carnival rides, games and concession stands pop up on Main Streets and in city parks. Folks flock to fairgrounds, this week locally in Faribault for the Rice County Fair.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

Whether you embrace these events or steer clear of them and the ensuing crowds, they are part of our history, our culture, our communities.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

 

In June I photographed snippets of the annual Dam Days celebration in Morristown to the west of Faribault. And later in the month, I took my camera to the Midway at the Faribault Heritage Days celebration in Central Park.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

Today I invite you to peruse selected photos from my Sunday afternoon walk among the amusement rides, games and food stands in Morristown.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

On this day mostly locals and those come back to their hometown for Dam Days, enjoyed the festivities and each other’s company in the sunshine of a sweet summer day in southern Minnesota.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Rice County still needs volunteers to help with storm clean-up October 17, 2018

Several days ago I photographed this home destroyed September 20 by an EF-2 tornado in Morristown. This small town was the hardest hit in a massive storm system that spawned 16 tornadoes and straight line winds in southern Minnesota. An EF-2 has wind speeds of 120 – 130 mph.

 

FOUR WEEKS AFTER MULTIPLE TORNADOES and severe storms ravaged Rice County, folks in my area still need assistance.

 

In the same Morristown neighborhood.

 

So, for the third time, Rice County Emergency Management is coordinating volunteer clean-up efforts. We need your help. This Saturday, October 20, exactly a month after those storms.

 

More damage in the same block in Morristown.

 

Although I’ve not joined these organized efforts, I assisted a friend after three trees fell in her yard, one landing on her house. Randy and I also checked on and helped an elderly neighbor. And then we got around to removing two limbs from our yard, with the help of a friend and his chainsaw.

 

More tornado damage in Morristown.

 

Do you see a word repeating in this post? That would be help. After a devastating storm like this, help is essential.

 

In a nearby neighborhood in Morristown, roof damage.

 

If you can help, register beginning at 7:30 a.m. Saturday for a two or four-hour shift at volunteer headquarters, the 4-H building at the Rice County Fairgrounds on the north side of Faribault. It seems fitting that the 4-H building serves as the coordination center. Part of the 4-H motto includes pledging hands to larger service.

 

Twisted trees, the telltale signs of a tornado, these near the water tower in Morristown.

 

Lots of hands are needed to remove trees and brush, pick up debris from farm fields and more.

 

This damaged Camaro is parked in the Morristown neighborhood hard hit by a September 20 tornado.

 

We’re only an hour from Minneapolis along Interstate 35. We’d welcome you from the metro to help us, your neighbors to the south. We’d welcome you from Iowa to help your neighbors to the north. We’d welcome anyone with the ability to help.

 

In the countryside near Morristown.

 

As I’ve been out and about the county during the weeks since the storms, I’ve noted the destruction and all of the work yet to be done. It’s heartbreaking really to see homes destroyed, farm buildings demolished, chunks of metal strewn across fields, and endless uprooted and damaged trees (including in my neighborhood).

Help is definitely needed. But so is the hope that help brings.

I have friends waiting for claims adjusters, contractor estimates and insurance payments. They’re waiting for contractors to replace roofs, siding, rafters, a garage door, fences… It’s stressful and, sometimes, overwhelming. They, and so many others, need to know someone, anyone, cares. And care comes in two ways, via help and hope.

FYI: Click here to read more detailed information about this Saturday’s volunteer clean-up efforts.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Tornado count rises in southern Minnesota October 1, 2018

Ten days after an EF2 tornado hit the Faribault Airport, a man surveys the damage just before sunset.

 

MAKE THAT SIXTEEN. The National Weather Service updated from 10 to 16 the number of tornadoes which touched down in southern Minnesota and western Wisconsin on September 20.

 

A half block from my home trees fell onto two vehicles. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

The unprecedented massive storm system hit my area hardest with five confirmed tornadoes in Rice County, the strongest an EF2 with wind speeds of 120 – 130 mph, according to the NWS report. That tornado damaged homes in Morristown and along Roberds Lake and destroyed the Faribault airport. Within the city of Faribault, apparent straight line winds felled hundreds of trees, including in my neighborhood, and also damaged houses and other structures. The tornadoes continued north and east of Faribault into Wisconsin causing additional damage.

 

The tornado at the Faribault Municipal Airport, Liz Wall Strohfus Field flipped airplanes and destroyed buildings.

 

The Weather Service states in its report that assessments continue and the final tornado count could change.

 

The single photo I shot along Roberds Lake Boulevard on Sunday evening, 10 days after the tornado. Damage to homes and loss of trees along this section of Roberds Lake is extensive.

 

Sunday evening, 10 days after the storm, Randy and I drove through the countryside, past the airport and along a short section of Roberds Lake Boulevard. Up until then, we chose to stay away as advised by local authorities. Gawkers early on hampered the work of emergency personnel, utility workers and clean-up crews. After seeing too many gawkers in our neighborhood (including the evening of the storm), I decided to wait until things calmed to view the destruction. No need to get in the way.

 

Debris landed on and along Minnesota State Highway 21 by the Faribault Airport. This is right off Interstate 35. I expect the scene was much worse right after the tornado. I shot this 10 days after the storm and shortly before sunset.

 

Ten days out, plenty of people are still working hard to remove trees, clear properties and repair storm-damaged buildings. Many roofs remain partially covered with tarps. I didn’t take many photos, except of the airport damage, and that as we drove past the airport. Mostly metal debris still lines road ditches and the median along Minnesota State Highway 21. I can only imagine how bad this area looked right after the tornado because it still looks bad.

 

Look closely and you will see aircraft under the debris.

 

Yet, in all of this we find reason to remain thankful. Not a single person was killed, which is remarkable given the 16 tornadoes and straight line winds. The NWS credits a Wireless Emergency Alert notification of the approaching tornadoes for saving lives. I agree. I got that alert on my cell phone. But I’d also seen an alert on TV and heard an alert on the local radio station to seek immediate shelter. I take these warnings seriously. There was a reason alerts sounded and emergency sirens blared, here in Faribault off and on for 40 minutes. They save lives. To ignore those warnings is a risk I will never take. Ever.

FYI: Click here to read the updated National Weather Service report released on Friday.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Hardy Minnesota anglers November 27, 2017

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AHEAD OF US while entering Morristown, orange flashed as three boys dashed across a county road to the side of a bridge.

 

 

Their presence here impressed me on a late November Sunday afternoon of temps hovering around 35 degrees. I wouldn’t be out in these brutal elements angling for fish in the Cannon River. But I suppose when you’re dressed in insulated pants and snow pants and warm coats and boots and other cold weather gear, the temp is tolerable.

 

 

And I suppose there’s something to be said, too, for the endurance and exuberance of youth. While I thought the boys a bit too dedicated to fish on a frigid day like this in southern Minnesota, I respected their decision. Here they were, outdoors, and not sitting in front of a screen. In today’s tech-focused age, that’s something.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesota Faces: Rural community volunteers March 6, 2015

Portrait #10: Helen Newman and Cindy Packard

Helen Newman, left, and Cindy Packard work on a Morristown sesquicentennial scrapbook in June 2013.

Helen Newman, left, and Cindy Packard work on a Morristown sesquicentennial scrapbook in June 2013.

When I photographed life-long Morristown resident Helen Newman nearly two years ago clipping newspaper stories and taping them into her community’s sesquicentennial scrapbook, I knew I’d met a cherished volunteer.

She was settled behind a teacher’s desk with Cindy Packard, visiting her hometown from Colorado Springs, on the June afternoon I walked into the District #54 Schoolhouse Museum with my notebook and camera. My presence didn’t stop Helen from focusing on the task at hand. She understood the importance of saving documents.

But there was more than dedicated volunteerism that drew me to the then 87-year-old. Her friendliness and gentleness of spirit reminded me of my mom. I think, had they lived in the same rural area, they would have been friends.

Helen died on Monday. She was all I assessed her to be, and more.

Her obituary is a beautiful tribute to a woman who led a joyful life. She clearly worked hard, loved deeply and lived out her faith in God.

Her four surviving children wrote an especially heartfelt obit that includes this descriptive paragraph:

Our Mom was a kind and generous person who believed the best in all people. She was a wonderful friend. She believed in us and was our biggest cheerleader. Some of our favorite memories of our Mom are: Her wonderful smile that would light up a room; her love of dancing; her awesome full-body hugs; her boundless energy; her green thumb; and her canned beef and pork chop dinners.

What a wonderful way to be remembered—for believing in others, for kindness, for dancing…and for canned beef and pork chop dinners.

FYI: To read Helen’s full obituary, click here.

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This is part of a series, Minnesota Faces, featured every Friday on Minnesota Prairie Roots.

 

Kommen Sie for a taste of Deutschland in Faribault November 2, 2013

Arroz con pollo tastes much better than it looks.

Arroz con pollo, a Latin American dish of chicken and rice seasoned with fresh garlic, onions, red peppers and cilantro. The perfect comfort food as Minnesota transitions into winter.

EVERY YEAR ABOUT THIS TIME, I find myself craving comfort foods. Homemade mac and cheese. Beef roast and mashed potatoes. Steaming bowls of soup laced with thick chunks of vegetables. Fiery chili. Even hotdish.

Sliced strawberries, cucumbers and Amablu Gorgonzola cheese added to Romaine lettuce made a perfect salad. I topped the salad with lemon poppyseed dressing.

Sliced strawberries, cucumbers and Amablu Gorgonzola cheese added to Romaine lettuce make a delicious salad, often a meal for me during the summer months.

I eat fewer salads, place less fresh produce in my shopping cart, fight the urge to bake cookies.

The cycling of the seasons, transitioning into the long, dark and cold days of winter in Minnesota, imprints upon my body and psyche. Call of comfort foods. Snuggling on the sofa under a fleece throw, book in hand. Limited trips outside the house once the curtain of cold and darkness falls upon the land.

The German meal: sauerbraten and spaetzle on the left, German potato salad, sweet and sour cabbage, dinner roll and sauerkraut and brats.

The German meal: sauerbraten and spaetzle on the left, German potato salad, sweet and sour cabbage, dinner roll and sauerkraut and brats. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

And so this seems the perfect time to partake of the food of my forefathers at Cannon Valley Lutheran High School’s annual German Fest: Sauerbraten mit spaetzle, Deutsche potato salad, sweet & sour red cabbage, bratwurst mit sauerkraut and the, oh, so delectable bread pudding.

Diners enjoy the ethnic meal at the second annual CVLHS German Fest in 2011.

Diners enjoy the ethnic meal at the second annual CVLHS German Fest in 2011.

Tickets are now on sale for the Sunday, November 10, German Fest Supper, served from 5 p.m. – 5:45 p.m. in the Trinity Lutheran Church gym, 530 Fourth St. N.W., Faribault. Cost is $13 for ages 11 – adult; $7 for ages 5 – 10; and free for preschoolers with a paid adult. Call (507) 685-2636 for tickets. You may also purchase tickets at the door.

If you appreciate German food, you will enjoy this ethnic meal served after the free German Fest of Thanks & Praise, which begins at 4 p.m. in the Trinity sanctuary. From songs and prayers in German to the music of an accordion trio, a harmonica player and a 12-piece band, the program offers an opportunity to reflect on our blessings.

The German Fest presents a perfect prelude to Thanksgiving and to this season when Minnesotans crave comfort foods.

FYI: The German Fest Supper is a fundraiser for Morristown-based Cannon Valley Lutheran High School, which serves students in grades 9 – 12 from around the region. Classes were suspended this school year, among other reasons, to pay off the school’s operating debt with plans to reopen in the fall of 2014.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling