Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Faribault area welcomes you to bike, run, eat, drink, learn about history & more this weekend October 6, 2016

 

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FARIBAULT CELEBRATES FALL this Saturday with a day jammed full of activities for all ages.

If you’ve never been to my southeastern Minnesota community, please join us. If you live here, appreciate what Faribault offers. Here’s a round-up of events slated for Saturday, most in our historic downtown:

Faribault’s Fall Festival begins at noon with the Children’s Costume Parade starting at Community Co-op and continuing north along Central Avenue to Fifth Street. Afterwards, kids, accompanied by adults, can trick-or-treat at downtown businesses until 3 p.m.

Additionally, there will be pumpkin painting, yard games and unicycle shows to keep families and other folks busy and entertained.

 

Participants in last year's Chili Contest dish up chili at a business along Central Avenue during the Fall Festival.

Sampling chili during a Fall Festival in downtown Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

From 12:20 – 2:30 p.m., chili lovers, for a $5 fee, can sample chili from stands set up along historic Central Avenue.

 

The Adam Weyer Wagon Shop, built of limestone in 1874, is among historic buildings on the tour.

The Adam Weyer Wagon Shop, constructed of limestone in 1874, is among historic buildings on the tour. Weyer built buggies, carriages, wagons and bobsleds here from 1874 in to the early 1900s. He then opened a blacksmith shop. Today the building houses Carriage House Liquors.

 

Even before the costume parade, a free guided Old Town walking and biking tour of historical sites in downtown Faribault is scheduled from 10 – 11:30 a.m. Participants should meet at Buckham Center, 11 East Division Street.

 

And the volunteer firemen were on duty.

Firefighters return from a call in Marine on St. Croix, on the eastern side of Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo used for illustration purposes only.

 

Also at 10 a.m., until 2 p.m., the Faribault Fire Department hosts its annual open house. Kids can meet fire fighters and Sparky The Fire Dog. There will be free demos, free fire hats and free smoke detectors.

 

We wanted to sample all of the beers on tap, so we ordered a flight.

A sampler of F-Town beers. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Half a block off Central Avenue, F-Town Brewing kicks off its F-Oktoberfest at 11 a.m. with Gravel Grinder, a 50-mile charity bike race.

Brewery fun continues for 12 more hours with food trucks, live music and plenty of F-Town beer.

 

"Shoe Stories" opened Friday at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault.

The Paradise Center for the Arts is housed in a beautifully restored theater. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

At the Paradise Center for the Arts, 321 Central Avenue North, the arts center hosts the Paradise Haunted Basement Tour from 1 – 3 p.m.

And for music fans, the Paradise presents A Tribute to “The Boss” Bruce Springsteen at 7 p.m. Admission price is $15 for members and $20 for non-members.

 

Math class is underway inside the one-room Pleasant Valley School.

Math class is underway inside the one-room Pleasant Valley School during a past “A Night at the Museum.” Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

On the north side of town by the Rice County Fairgrounds, the Rice County Historical Society opens its doors and grounds for the fourth annual “A Night at the Museum.” The event, with a $2 admission price for adults and $1 for kids, runs from 4 – 7 p.m. It’s a great opportunity to observe and participate in living history.

 

hope-in-harmony

 

At River Valley Church, 722 Ravine St., the Lakelanders Acapella Chorus will present a 7 p.m. concert benefiting three local organizations that help women dealing with issues like domestic violence, homelessness, addiction, etc. Admission is a free will offering.

There you go. Lots to do in Faribault on Saturday. Come, join the fun, eat (and drink) local, shop local and appreciate all this community offers.

 

BONUS:

Well-kept and well-traveled paths take hikers deep into the Big Woods.

Well-kept and well-traveled paths take hikers deep into the Big Woods at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. The park is known for its incredible fall foliage. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Just to the east of Faribault, St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, hosts its annual Big Woods Run half marathon/10K/5K/kids K through Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. The events begins at 9 a.m. New this year is a guided prairie walk and nature talk.

 

Delicious home-cooked food fills roasters at Trinity's annual fall harvest dinner on Sunday.

Delicious home-cooked food fills roasters at Trinity’s annual fall harvest dinner in the church basement. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

 

On Sunday, to the west of Faribault at Trinity Lutheran Church, North Morristown, the church will host its annual fall dinner and craft/bake sale. For $12 (ages 13 and up; $5 for those 6 – 12)) you can enjoy a homemade meal of turkey, ham and all the fixings. I’ve eaten here many times and this is an incredibly delicious meal cooked by folks who know how to cook. The food is delicious, the portions ample and the company welcoming and friendly. Serving is from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Logo from Faribault Main Street, key organizer of the Faribault Fall Festival.

 

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

 

In rural Nerstrand: Of sheep & cheesemaking July 26, 2016

 

Approaching Shepherd's Way Farms, rural Nerstrand.

Approaching Shepherd’s Way Farms, rural Nerstrand.

I WAS SMITTEN, simply smitten by the two-day-old lambs at Shepherd’s Way Farms. I wanted to snatch one of the babies from an outdoor pen, tuck it under my arm and scamper to the van.

 

Shepherd's Way Farms, 111 white lamb

 

Lucky for the owners of Shepherd’s Way, I am not the rustling type. And lucky for Shepherd’s Way that a hawk, eagle or other predator did not discover these unexpected pasture-born lambs—born out of the regular lambing season.

 

Shepherd's Way Farms, 151 penned lambs

 

The lambs, penned under the shade of sprawling oaks, proved a popular attraction during a recent 2106 Eat Local Farm Tour at Steven Read and Jodi Ohlsen Read’s dairy sheep farm near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park.

 

Shepherd's Way Farms, 143 Burr Oak cheese

 

Shepherd's Way Farms, 173 sheep in pasture

 

Shepherd's Way Farms, 145 Big Woods Blue Cheese

 

Here sheep graze pastureland, fueling up to produce milk for award-winning handcrafted artisan cheeses. Farm tour visitors sampled those cheeses which range from creamy Shepherd’s Hope to the denser, firmer Burr Oak to a blue cheese appropriately named Big Woods Blue. I found the cheeses especially flavorful and the softer cheeses exquisitely creamy, traits attributed to the higher fat content of sheep’s milk.

Farm co-owner and cheesemaker Jodi Ohlsen Read talks about Shepherd's Way Farms.

Farm co-owner and cheesemaker Jodi Ohlsen Read talks about Shepherd’s Way Farms.

The tour group heads toward the barn.

The tour group heads toward the barn.

Looking through a window, visitors get a look at the area where the sheep are secured and fed during milking.

Looking through a window, visitors see the area where the sheep are secured and fed during milking.

Again, through a window, visitors view aging cheese wheels.

Through an interior window, visitors can view the cheese.

Jodi led visitors on a tour past the milking barn and cheesemaking and aging rooms. As we followed her along a hallway separating us from the operational area, we learned about cheesemaking from start to finish. She’s the cheesemaker. Oversized windows allowed for viewing. Here, some 240 sheep are milked in a process that takes about four hours from set-up to milking to clean-up. Jodi noted that if you don’t like to clean, then sheep dairy farming/cheesemaking is not for you.

Jodi answers questions once the barn tour is finished.

Jodi answers questions following the barn tour.

It is clear from Jodi’s tour that she loves this rural way of life, this place where she’s raised four sons. Although grown, those young men still occasionally help, this day at the tour and also with marketing the family’s cheeses. Shepherd’s Way cheese sells primarily in the Twin Cities—at farmers’ markets and select grocery stores—but also as distant as Chicago and the East Coast. The farm also has a Community Supported Agriculture program.

Promotional art showcased inside the on-site store.

Promotional art showcased inside the on-site store.

Classes, tastings and tours are also offered at the farm by the well-spoken and knowledgeable cheesemaker who comes from a pre-dairy professional background in writing and editing.

 

Shepherd's Way Farms, 127 sheep by barn

 

Listening to Jodi affirms the farm’s mission statement published on its website:

At Shepherd’s Way Farms, we believe there is a way to live that combines hard work, creativity, respect for the land and animals, and a focus on family and friends. We believe the small family-based farm still has a place in our society. Everything we do, everything we make, is in pursuit of this goal.

Shepherd's Way Farms, 150 bottle feeding lamb

 

I left Shepherd’s Way understanding this family’s passion, appreciative of their hard work and savory cheeses, and still wishing I could snatch a lamb.

BONUS PHOTOS:

 

Shepherd's Way Farms, 106 silos & barn

This 1940s former dairy barn and the attached lower building have been converted in to a milking parlor, a cheese production room and a cheese aging room.

This is a beautiful old barn. I especially like the character of the entry.

This is a beautiful old barn. I especially like the character of the entry.

Incredible aged oaks tower near the old barn.

Incredible aged oaks tower near the old barn.

There's a second barn on the property, this one moved several miles from Nerstrand Big Woods State Park.

There’s a second barn on the property, this one moved several miles from Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. The 120-foot long barn replaces the lamb nursery destroyed in a 2005 arson fire.

This farm cat hides in a wooden box outside the farm shop/tasting room.

This farm cat hides in a wooden box outside the farm shop/tasting room.

Outside the tasting room/store.

Outside the tasting room/store.

FYI: Click here to read my previous post about Simple Harvest Organic Farm, another Nerstrand area farm I visited during the 2016 Eat Local Farm Tour.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Autumn beauty in Nerstrand Big Woods State Park October 3, 2013

A baby's sock lost along a path at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park in rural rice County Minnesota.

A baby’s sock lost along a path at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park in rural Rice County, Minnesota.

A single sock.

When I paused to photograph this oak leaf, my husband dubbed the trail Acorn Trail.

When I paused to photograph this oak leaf, my husband dubbed the trail Acorn Trail.

A single oak leaf.

Countless bees and butterflies flitted among the wildflowers.

One of the many bees and butterflies swarming the wildflowers.

A single bee.

The solo head of an unidentified plant in the afternoon sunlight.

The solo head of an unidentified plant in the afternoon sunlight.

Solitude.

In the quiet of the woods, beautiful berries discovered.

In the quiet of the woods, beautiful berries discovered.

Beauty.

Clusters of wildflowers edge the woods.

Clusters of wildflowers edge the woods.

Wind bending wildflowers and weeds, the sun beating upon our backs as we curve into the shaded woods.

My husband, Randy, pauses to look over the ravine.

My husband, Randy, pauses to look over the ravine.

Pause at the rust-hued railing, glimpse to the ravine below where water once flowed when rain was plentiful.

Couples and families hiked the trails through the park.

Couples and families hike the trails through the park.

Lost in thoughts. Savoring the solace which embraces us even as groups of hikers pass us by.

A tree line in the park shows leaves beginning to change color.

A tree line in the park shows leaves beginning to change color.

We have come here to Nerstrand Big Woods State Park on a Sunday afternoon to see the fall colors, only beginning to show.

The sign welcoming visitors to Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, known for its beautiful fall colors.

The sign welcoming visitors to Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, known for its beautiful fall colors.

But we have come here, too, my husband and I, to walk together, to hold hands, to embrace this afternoon in a place not far from home, yet so far away.

BONUS PHOTOS:

The road running east and west past the park.

The road running east and west past the park.

Berries pop with color near the entry into the park.

Berries pop with color near the park entry.

Leaves of purple and green along a path in the woods.

Along a path in the woods.

The park features an abundance of wildflowers.

The park features an abundance of wildflowers.

The sumac has already turned color.

The sumac has already turned color.

FYI: Nerstrand Big Woods State Park offers numerous organized activities to engage visitors in the season.

For example, from now until October 19, the park is hosting a Fall Photo Quest scavenger hunt. Bring your digital camera or borrow one at the Visitor Center where you will get instructions. Collect fall photos while learning why and how leaves change color.

On Saturday, October 5, from 1 p.m. – 4 p.m., gather native seeds for planting in park restorations. Sign up at the Visitor Center.

The following Saturday, October 12, from noon – 4 p.m., join the Autumn Trees Scavenger Hunt, collecting clues along trails as you discover which leaf belongs to which tree. Stop at the Visitor Center to start your adventure.

Click here for details on the above listed programming at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park.

Also on Saturday, October 12, St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, sponsors its 17th annual Big Woods Run beginning at the country church near the park. Registration deadlines are October 7 and 8. After the race, enjoy a luncheon featuring homemade soups and more, an awards ceremony and a bake sale. For more info, click here.

This Saturday, October 5, from 10:30 a.m. – 1 p.m., Nerstrand United Methodist Church, 12 Maple Street in Nerstrand hosts its annual Fall Festival. The event features gift baskets, a silent auction, a bake and produce sale, and lunch. Hot beef sandwiches, chili, chicken wild rice soup and homemade pies with ice cream will be served.

Nerstrand Big Woods State Park is located just west of Nerstrand or northeast of Faribault.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Inside the colorful Big Woods of Minnesota October 5, 2011

EVERY TIME I HEAR the words “Big Woods,” author Laura Ingalls Wilder and her book, Little House in the Big Woods, pop into my mind. It’s a natural reflex given my deep love for the Little House books. Think grade school teacher reading the series to her students after lunch and me growing up about 20 miles from Walnut Grove, Wilder’s brief childhood home on the southwestern Minnesota prairie.

That all said, Laura was born in 1867 in a log cabin in the Big Woods of Wisconsin some seven miles from Pepin.

I visited the Ingalls’ home site many years ago with my family, when my girls were elementary age and we were deep into reading the Little House series. The Big Woods and cabin are long gone, replaced now by open prairie and a replica cabin.

Yet, only a short drive east of my Faribault home, I can experience the Big Woods at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. I have no idea if these woods are anything like those in Wisconsin in the late 1800s. But I like to think they are.

An informational sign along a trail in Nerstrand Big Woods State Park.

Check out the history section of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website and you’ll find this information about the Nerstrand woods:

“When the first settlers arrived in 1854, they discovered an island of woods in the vast oak savanna prairie which now makes up Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. Sugar maple, basswood, oak, hickory, aspen, elm, ash, and ironwood trees shade the land.”

I spent half my time in the Big Woods looking, and aiming, my camera skyward.

The park boasts a lovely picnic grounds sheltered by trees like this one.

A close-up look at oak leaves changing color.

This time of year those trees flame in fiery hues, making Nerstrand a popular destination for viewing fall colors in Minnesota.

Sunday afternoon, following a fall color drive to the Sogn Valley area in northwestern Goodhue County, my husband and I stopped briefly at this state park just west of Nerstrand. We managed to find a space in a parking lot packed to overflowing in this park teeming with visitors.

If you’re seeking a quiet, people-free escape, you won’t find it here on a weekend.

But you will find a perfect fall experience complete with the earthy scent of decaying leaves; brilliant reds and yellows painted on the cobalt palette of sky; drifts of leaves to plow through; the crisp crunch of leaves beneath feet; a spirit of friendliness among visitors hiking into the Big Woods; a respite from the busyness of life; and an opportunity to savor the fleeting days of autumn in Minnesota.

Everywhere trees provided a colorful canopy of color.

Well-kept and well-traveled paths take hikers deep into the Big Woods.

Along the path, a bursting milkweed pod.

Follow this gravel road west of the park entrance for three miles to Caron Park.

BEYOND THE STATE PARK, there’s more to see at places probably known mostly to the locals:

Follow the gravel road (Rice County Road 88) west of the state park three miles to Caron Park, a 60-acre county park that is a remnant of the Big Woods. You’ll find 1.5 miles of hiking trails here, a lovely waterfall and few people. Late Sunday afternoon we saw a single truck parked in the parking lot.

Nerstrand Meats & Catering, a family-owned business since 1890.

To the east of the park lies the small town of Nerstrand, worth a stop to check out Nerstrand Meats (open 8 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. Monday – Friday and from 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. Saturdays), the International Peace Garden at the local charter school, Nerstrand Elementary, and Main Street small-town Minnesota. (Watch for a future post on interesting signage in Nerstrand. Click here to read a previous post about the Peace Garden.)

A snippet of Nerstrand Elementary School and its International Peace Garden.

North of Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, along Rice County Road 30, sit the historic and picturesque 1862 and 1894 Valley Grove churches surrounded by 50 acres of rolling prairie grasses and trees. From high atop this hillside location, you’ll get a spectacular view of the fall colors. You can also hike a prairie path here. (Click here to read a previous post I wrote about Valley Grove’s annual fall country social.)

A view of the Valley Grove churches from the prairie that edges the churchyard.

To assure that you don’t miss out on these color viewing opportunities, I’d highly recommend hopping in your vehicle sooner than later. Leaves are changing and falling as I write and we all know these splendid days won’t last forever in Minnesota.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling