Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

When you can’t get rid of a mattress & box spring because… May 27, 2023

A full-size mattress and box spring fill the back of our van. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2023)

MONDAY EVENING RANDY AND I crammed a full-size used mattress and box spring into the back of our van. It was not an easy task, but we squeezed both inside. We intended to drop the worn out set off at the Rice County Landfill the next day upon our return from a medical appointment in Northfield. Sometimes, though, plans go awry.

En route to Northfield early Tuesday morning, we noticed smoke billowing in the distance. Randy said he’d seen the same smoke on Monday, but much thicker, blacker. Burning tires type of smoke. The closer we got to Northfield, the denser the smoke, enough to warrant turning on the headlights. Smoke settled like fog upon the landscape. The air smelled putrid.

Before we left Northfield, we learned the fire was at the county landfill, a blaze which began Monday evening among all that trash. Still, we were hopeful we could drop off the mattress and box spring. What were we thinking? Randy turned the van off Minnesota State Highway 3 onto the road leading to the landfill. There a portable electronic sign flashed that the landfill was closed to the public and open to licensed haulers only.

So here we are, many days later, driving around with an old mattress and box spring filling the bulk of our van. The latest update from the county states that the landfill will remain closed to non-licensed haulers at least through Monday. There are health and environmental concerns related to the still smoldering (maybe still burning) garbage. I appreciate that local and state officials are monitoring, testing, protecting.

For county residents like us who need to get rid of household items, county officials have now provided a list of local licensed garbage haulers who are accepting things like mattresses and box springs. I called two haulers. One quoted me a price of $65, the other $70 for each piece. So we’re talking $130-$140, a price we don’t want to pay.

I then checked the county landfill website for disposal pricing. There are three options: $25 for each piece if they’re recyclable. What makes a mattress and box spring recyclable? I have no idea. Next, $35/each with prior permission. Finally $55/each without prior permission. Permission from whom? And why is prior permission needed? I appreciate clarity. (And I thought to myself, no wonder people dump mattresses and box springs in ditches if disposals costs range from $50-$110.)

What also remains unclear are how long the fire will burn/smolder, how the environment and air quality have been impacted, and how the health of anyone who’s breathed in that smoke has been affected. Randy and I traveled through that smoke, breathed it in on our drive to and from and during our time in Northfield.

And we live only eight miles from the landfill, which was near enough for that smoke to drift…and we did close the windows in our house Thursday evening because of a putrid odor. Was the smell from the landfill fire? I don’t know. As for that bed set, it’s still stuffed in the back of the van.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


No lions or tigers, but bears, oh, my May 26, 2023

A fox climbs the wooded hillside behind our garage in January 2018. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo January 2018)

YEARS AGO, A VARIETY OF WILDLIFE frequented the wooded hillside behind our garage and spilled over into our and our next-door neighbors’ yards. Raccoons, woodchucks, opossums, skunks, even a fox once, and evidence of deer in tracks left behind. Such sightings were not unusual, even though we live in the heart of Faribault along an arterial street. But the Straight River runs only a few blocks away and our property edges Wapacuta Park atop the hill. Both make for inviting wildlife habitat. That doesn’t explain, though, why we no longer see an assortment of animals.

Deer in their natural habitat at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2022)

Now only squirrels and rabbits scamper through the woods and yard, along with voles and the mice I never see but which occasionally find a route into the basement of our aged house. (Within the past week, though, I’ve found two dead mice in our backyard. What’s with that?) Feral cats sometimes wander our corner lot, too. I expect other animals may roam my neighborhood in the cover of dark. I’ve heard coyotes howling while attending an evening concert at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault and while visiting friends just outside of town.

The only bears I’ve seen in southern Minnesota are dead ones, including this one for sale at a seasonal sale in rural Medford several years back. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

One wild animal I haven’t seen yet is a black bear. Typically, they don’t venture this far south from their northern Minnesota habitat. But that has changed in recent years. In late April, bear sightings were reported twice in my county of Rice. The first report came at 2:30 pm on April 26 and the second on April 28 at 9:33 pm, according to a bear sighting map published by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Around that time Northfield police issued an alert about a bear and warned residents to keep their trash and bird feeders inside. I haven’t heard anything official about that bear since then.

Earlier, a bear and three cubs were spotted in Steele County, the county just to the south of Rice. That was at 2:12 am on March 7. A solo bear doesn’t seem nearly as frightening as a mama with babies. Just like human moms, the instinct is strong to protect one’s young.

As I studied the DNR bear reporting map, I was surprised to see so many sightings in the Twin Cities area, primarily in the north metro. Admittedly a higher density population may lead to more reports. Still. Olmsted, Mower and Winona counties to the southeast of Rice County also had numerous bear sightings. Winona County, especially, with many wooded areas and along the Mississippi River, seems a place where bears would feel right at home.

Up North at the cabin, surrounded by woods and water, a natural environment for bears. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021)

When we stay at an extended family member’s lake cabin in the Brainerd lakes area of central Minnesota during the summer, we are bear aware. No leaving garbage outside, no doing anything that will draw bears in from the surrounding woods. We understand we are in their habitat.

But here in southern Minnesota, primarily among corn and soybean fields, I don’t expect bears. Yet, I suppose they didn’t expect humans to wander into their homeland either, among the lakes and forests of central and northern Minnesota.

TELL ME: What wild animals have you spotted in and around your home? I’d like to hear, whether you live in Rice County or elsewhere.

CLICK HERE to see photos of a bear that wandered onto an Up North Minnesota blogger’s porch recently.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Randy is retiring after a long career as an automotive machinist April 26, 2023

My husband at work in the Parts Department, Northfield, machine shop. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2010)

NEARLY A YEAR AGO, RANDY received the devastating news that he would be losing his job of almost 39 years. Boom! Just like that, with no warning of the impending sale of Parts Department, Inc., Northfield, where he worked as the sole automotive machinist. He went to a store meeting one evening and came home with news that the business was sold and the new out-of-state owners were closing the busy and profitable machine shop. A life-long of hard work and dedication unappreciated. That event nearly broke us emotionally, mentally. Stress pressed upon us in those initial months of uncertainty. Randy was not yet full retirement age. How do you even begin to deal with job loss in your mid-sixties?

Here we are, a year later, in a much better place. It took awhile to get there. After marking his final day at NAPA on July 29, 2022, Randy was unemployed for nearly three months. It was a period of adjustment, a time of uncertainty, a time of waiting.

One of several truck loads of shop equipment moved from Northfield to rural Randolph in August 2022. (Photo credit: Randy Helbling)


Then, in mid-October, my husband started working as the automotive machinist at newly-opened Nate’s Machine Shop & Diesel Repair, rural Randolph. Nate bought the equipment from NAPA Northfield. A wise decision given so few people work as automotive machinists and there’s a high demand for the specialized, skilled service. There were a lot of really angry customers when the NAPA shop closed and Randy lost his job. That added to the stress. Randy has always been dedicated to taking care of his customers.


He won’t be doing that much longer, though. He’s transitioning into retirement. And from 4-7 pm this Friday, April 28, Nate’s Garage will host a retirement party for Randy and a grand opening of the machine shop. Randy has been training an apprentice. It takes time, patience and effort to teach someone what you’ve been doing for 43 years. But the reality is that Randy doesn’t want to work forever, even if customers think he should. They will have to trust the new shop guy, Tyler.

Those three months without work caused something to shift inside Randy. He realized that life is about much more than work. And that is the good that came from losing his job. He’s full retirement age now, too, which makes the decision to ease out of his job easier. He no longer feels obligated to be there for his customers.

And it helps that he’s now leaving on his terms, in his time, rather than being shoved out the door.

Before and after cylinder head cleaning process. (Photo credit: Randy Helbling)


It’s time to be done with long work weeks of physically demanding labor that have taken a toll on his body. He’s been working full-time since graduating from the auto mechanics, auto parts and auto parts management programs at Brainerd Vocational Technical School in 1976. He started in auto parts, at a store in Rochester, eventually relocating to Faribault. There he learned automotive machining. After a short stint in Owatonna, Randy accepted a job with NAPA Northfield, growing a customer base that stretches across the country. He grew to become one of the best in his field in southern Minnesota.

If you do the math, that’s 47 years of working full-time in the automotive field, plus the time he worked while at Brainerd Vo-Tech. So let’s just round the number to 50.

I am incredibly proud of my talented and hardworking husband. He possesses a strong work ethic and is devoted to great customer service. He’s old school that way. I’ve witnessed him solve problems that others can’t. He’s really good at what he does and he deserves to be celebrated. And thanked.

The service door entry to the machine shop at Parts Department, Northfield. Randy really wanted that machine shop sign, given he worked there for nearly 40 years. He asked, but… (Photo credit: Randy Helbling)


I welcome your presence at his retirement party (note, he won’t arrive until around 5 pm). I welcome your congratulatory messages in the comments section here. And I invite you to send him a congratulatory card the old-fashioned way, via snail mail. I want Randy to be recognized, honored, celebrated for 50 years of selfless service to others. He deserves the accolades. I want him to feel the gratitude, the love. He’s worked hard all of his life. And now it’s time for Randy to rest, to do what he wants, when he wants.

Randy’s NAPA automotive machine shop toolbox. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2010)

FYI: Nate’s Garage is located at 1471 310th Street Way, Cannon Falls. The shop is two miles south of Randolph along State Highway 56. Food and beverages will be provided by the R-Bar. The celebration is from 4-7 pm. Again, Randy won’t arrive until @ 5pm and I’ll be there if I’m feeling well enough to attend.

PLEASE CLICK HERE to read a previous post about Randy’s work as an automotive machinist, which is different from machining.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Reflecting on Earth Day April 21, 2023

A retro tray I purchased at a second-hand shop. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

I AM OF THAT AGE, not quite old enough to have once considered myself a hippie, an anti-war activist or a rebellious, anti-establishment young person coming of age. But I did embrace the peace symbol and embroider flowers on my home-sewn gauzy shirts accenting lime green bell bottoms. I wore a prisoner of war bracelet and Earth Shoes, a marketing gimmick more than anything.

Golden light slices across the sky above Mother Earth at King Mill Dam in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2018)

I was on the edge of a generation that no longer accepted the status quo. The generation that latched onto causes, the generation weary of war and wanting to effect change. That applied also to the early 1970s growing awareness of environmental issues and an earth which needed, still needs, protecting, nurturing, care.

A banner marks the 2022 Earth Day Celebration at Bridge Square in Northfield. This year’s event has been moved indoors to First United Church of Christ. For a complete listing of 2023 events, click here. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2022)

In 1970, the first celebration of Earth Day happened. Now here we are 53 years later and still trying to deal with issues affecting our planet. A lot of good has happened in those five decades, especially in creating awareness. Sometimes that has led to action. But a lot has also deteriorated.

I thought about that, specifically, “What do I do in my everyday life that reflects care for the world in which I live?”

Topping my list is buying used rather than new. It helps that I really don’t like to shop and that I don’t even care about stuff all that much. No one will ever view me as fashion conscious. I simply don’t care.

This peace-themed art painted on burlap by Jose Maria de Servin, is one of my favorite artworks. I purchased it at a recycled art sale at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Nearly all of the furniture in my house has come from family, garage sales or thrift shops. The same for art. I love art. It is admittedly my one indulgence. But the art I own—and it’s a lot, enough so that I rotate it off and on my walls—has come from second-hand sources. The dishes in my cupboard were my mom’s. Drinking glasses are vintage. Serving pieces and bowls were passed down or purchased second-hand.

Hanging laundry on the line has been around forever. I photographed this clothespin bag in an exhibit, “Making Lyon County Home,” at the Lyon County Historical Society Museum in Marshall. And, yes, I have a clothespin bag. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2022)

Then there’s laundry. For decades I’ve dried laundry outside on a clothesline. I love the task of rhythmically clipping clothing to line. It’s therapeutic in connecting me with nature. I feel the sun, if it’s shining. Or I feel the nip of frosty weather numbing my fingers. I feel the wind, hear the birds, notice the shift of seasons. I am attune to Earth.

In the winter, I layer laundry over a drying rack. Seldom do I use my electric dryer. I’m trying to conserve energy, do my part.

A reminder at last year’s Northfield Earth Day to stop using plastic bags. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2022)

I also use cloth bags. But only sometimes. I take my boomer-rang cloth bag to bag books at the library. At least I’m consistent with that. But I need to use cloth all the time at all the grocery stores I shop, not just the one that requires bringing your own bags.

I recycle wrapping paper, tissue paper, ribbon, bows and gift bags to the point that my extended family ridicules me for that behavior. I learned this from my mom, who did the same, but for economic reasons. I don’t care if my siblings laugh. I’m doing what’s environmentally right.

Admittedly, I can do more. But it’s a start. Every single effort, big or small, matters. We only have one Earth and we all need to care, and do our part.

Chalked onto the sidewalk at Northfield’s Bridge Square during the 2022 Earth Day Celebration. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2022)

TELL ME: What are you doing in an effort to protect and care for our planet?

FYI: Saturday, April 22, is Earth Day. Celebrations are planned locally in Northfield and also at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Still missing: Daryl “Dice” Budenski of Northfield November 29, 2022

I photographed this missing person sign along a Northfield city street in August. Daryl “Dice” Budenski remains missing. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

IF YOU’VE EVER EXPERIENCED the panic of a loved one temporarily gone missing, then you hold insight into a loss that extends beyond minutes to hours to days, then weeks, months, years. That is reality for too many families across this country, including right here in Minnesota and right here in my county of Rice.

Slightly over a year ago, 71-year-old Daryl “Dice” Budenski vanished, last seen around 3:30 pm October 1, 2021, near Koester Apartments in Northfield. His baseball cap and money clip were found during subsequent searches, according to media reports. But nothing else. Dice, who has brown hair and brown eyes, stands 5-feet 9-inches tall and weighs 145 pounds, remains missing.

Photographed in the window of a downtown Northfield business several months after Daryl Budenski disappeared. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo February 2022)

Entering year two now of his disappearance, those who know and love Dice are resolute in their desire to bring him home. A Search for Daryl Budenski Facebook page centers those efforts. Missing persons signs are still posted in Northfield.

In a recent Facebook post, childhood friend David Johnson wrote the following poignant memory about Dice:

He was my first friend in 1955. Along with his brother Steve, we did everything together. Collected baseball cards, stamps and coins, rode bikes, attended church school, built snowforts…we ruled Division and Woodley Sts. He gave his best effort in High School sports and was a teammate of my first tournament softball win. A Northfield lifer, he loved his sports.

From David’s description, I can almost picture the two young boys racing their bikes through the neighborhood, rolling and hoisting gigantic snowballs into snow forts, huddling together over coveted baseball cards pulled from bubblegum packs. Because of David’s stories, I now feel an emotional connection to Dice (whom I don’t know). Dice is a friend. Dice is someone who loves sports. Dice is a part of the fabric of Northfield. He is rooted there. He is not just another missing person in Minnesota. He has a community of family. He is loved.

I read urgency, frustration, concern and more in the Facebook posts and comments all aimed at finding Dice. Those feelings are justified. Recently, $2,000 was raised through GoFundMe to place a memorial bench honoring Daryl “Dice” Budenski in downtown Northfield. That is telling. The initial hopeful mindset of finding Dice alive leans into bringing him home. What hasn’t changed is the depth of love and care so many hold for him.

IF YOU HAVE ANY INFORMATION on the disappearance of Daryl “Dice” Budenski or his where-abouts, contact the Northfield Police Department, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension or the nearest law enforcement agency.

I photographed this missing person bulletin posted in a Redwood Falls convenience store in 2018. Mato Dow was last seen on October 13, 2017, in Redwood Falls. If you know of his whereabouts or have any information related to his disappearance, contact the Redwood Falls Police Department. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2018)

CURRENTLY, 101 INDIVIDUALS are listed as missing on the Minnesota Missing and Unidentified Persons Clearinghouse website. That includes nine missing in southeastern Minnesota, from the communities of Owatonna, Janesville, Rochester, Wabasha, Winona, Hastings and Mankato. Daryl Budenski is not on that list. John Deeny has been missing the longest, disappearing from Janesville in March 1973. His current age is 69. The most recently listed in my area is Wendy Khan, gone missing from Mankato in June 2018. She is now 51. If you have any information on any of the 101 missing, please contact law enforcement.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Music, memories & a heartwarming moment November 17, 2022

This shows a portion of the recital program cover. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted & edited photo November 2022)

RECENTLY I ATTENDED a senior voice recital for a vocal music education major whom I cared for as a preschooler. His mom, my friend Jane, invited me. I was delighted to join the family in celebrating Nick’s musical accomplishments and those of another music student, Josie.

I didn’t know quite what to expect. I’ve never been to a senior voice recital at a college. And I haven’t seen Nick in a really long time. He and his family moved from southern Minnesota to Duluth when he was about four. Sure, I’ve seen the yearly Christmas photos. But that’s not the same as seeing someone in person after a significant time span.

When Nick walked onto the performance stage in that beautiful recital hall at St. Olaf College in Northfield, my jaw nearly dropped. The preschooler I remembered had stretched lean and tall. Yet the Nick I recalled was still there, just a grown-up version of himself.

Then, when Nick opened his mouth and a deep bass-baritone boomed, I experienced another jaw-dropping moment. There was no resemblance to the voice of the four-year-old who loved to sing pa-rum pum pum pum, repeating the refrain from “Little Drummer Boy” as he played on my living floor all those years ago. Yet, the same love of singing remained, now refined and flowing with ease from the depths of a young man clearly gifted in and passionate about music.

From my side seat, I had a good view of Nick and his mom, who never stopped smiling. It was such a joy to watch both of them and to hear “my” little boy, all grown up, performing with such skill, such talent, such grace and, occasionally, drama.

Afterwards, I approached Nick, realizing he wouldn’t recognize me. But, since he knew I was coming, he was prepared and wrapped me in a hug. It was a heartwarming moment, this embrace from the little boy who once held, and always will hold, a piece of my heart.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Why I thrift & some thrifting finds November 2, 2022

Vintage glasses found in a Northfield thrift store, Used-A-Bit Shoppe. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

VIA UPBRINGING AND FINANCIAL NECESSITY, I am a thrifter. I believe in recycling, reusing, repurposing, upcycling, whatever term you peg to using that which has already been used.

Thrifting is a great way to find affordable art. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

As a child, I occasionally wore clothes stitched from feed sacks. Or maybe they were flour sacks. Doesn’t matter. The point is that farm women like my mom were innovative in crafting clothing for their children. Clothes were passed down from oldest to youngest (ask my sister how much she “hated” my hand-me-downs), from cousins to cousins. Store-bought clothes were always selected from the sales rack.

Furniture crams a space at Used-A-Bit Shoppe in Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Throughout my entire life I’ve held that perspective of passing along, of not needing new. My first furniture—a worn green arm chair and sofa from the 1950s—in my first apartment came from my parents’ living room. My waterfall desk and kitchen table and chairs came from my maternal Grandpa, chest of drawers from my childhood bedroom. My coffee table was a wooden crate that once held newsprint or some print-related part from Crow River Press, the Hutchinson press that printed The Gaylord Hub, my first place of employment out of college.

These colorful plates caught my eye. Dinnerware is always in stock at thrift shops and garage sales. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Into marriage and child-rearing, I purchased used. Baby equipment and kids’ clothes came from garage sales. Likewise I’ve amassed a vast collection of original art from thrift shops, rummage sales and recycled art sales. Furniture passed down from family or acquired at garage sales or auctions defines most of the furniture in my house. Even today. My dishes are the indestructible Spring Blossom Green Corelle dinnerware, once my mom’s company dishes, now my everyday dinnerware.

An overview of used merchandise in the households section of Used-A-Bit Shoppe, Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I’m pleased that items made decades ago continue to function in my home. I feel no need to update. Old is often constructed better than new. Old often holds memories, too. That matters.

A sandwich board outside Used-A-Bit Shoppe, River Park Mall, Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Even though I’m at that age when I no longer want more stuff, that doesn’t keep me from occasional thrift shopping. That differs from thrift purchasing. If I notice a garage sale while out and about, I’ll stop. The same goes for thrift stores like Used-A-Bit Shoppe in Northfield. Recently I popped into the shoppe in the River Park Mall. Housed in two separate spaces, one area features furniture and the other a mix of glassware, dinnerware, home décor, collectibles, puzzles, books, linens, toys and much much more. Proceeds from the volunteer-run nonprofit benefit FiftyNorth, a gathering place for older adults (and a whole lot more).

Smiley faces were popular when I was a teen in the 1970s. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Each time I meander through a thrift store, I find goods that draw me close. Something will trigger a memory, evoke a feeling, catch my eye. On this visit, a smiley face bowl took me back to the 1970s when sunny yellow smiling faces were everywhere. I even had a smiley face bulletin board in my lime green bedroom.

One of several quilt blocks, some finished, others not. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2022)

I delight, too, in art and vintage glassware. When a Used-A-Bit volunteer showed me a stash of finished and unfinished quilt blocks, I paused to appreciate the handiwork and consider the woman who stitched them. I wondered why anyone would give up this connection to a loved one. We all have our reasons for letting go.

A colorful beverage cart from Costa Rica. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

The furniture side of the shoppe, where I last purchased a framed vintage print of University Hall at Purdue for my son, a graduate student there, presented the most unusual finds of the day. A colorful ox cart/beverage cart from Costa Rica is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I could envision this reused in some utilitarian, fun way. On a patio. At a restaurant. In another shop.

This image shows the size of the 1968 world wall map. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

But the show-stopper of my Northfield thrift shopping was a pull-down 1968 world map. That massive map took me straight back to Vesta Elementary School, to the maps teachers unfurled to open our minds to places beyond the farm fields of southwestern Minnesota. Priced at only $75, I considered the vintage map a work of art, a piece of history, a memory-keeper.

Interesting artsy vessels at Used-A-Bit Shoppe. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Colorful kids’ chairs just waiting for the right buyer at Used-A-Bit. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

An artsy vase… (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

There’s so much to be found when thrifting. Art. History. Enough to furnish a home. Entertainment. Memories. And in the all of it, this recycling of goods benefits our planet by keeping stuff out of landfills.

The 1968 world wall map up close. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

TELL ME: Are you a thrifter? If yes, where do you thrift and what are some of your most treasured finds?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


About recycling, a hard truth & what we can do October 27, 2022

A graphic on a recycling dumpster in Northfield inspires. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

JUST INSIDE OUR GARAGE, a green plastic tote rests on a shelf. It’s located a few quick steps from the kitchen door, providing easy access to our temporary recycling box. Once the box fills, Randy dumps the contents into the official hideous dark-blue-with-bright-yellow-lid plastic recycling bin. Every other week the refuse hauler picks up our recyclables for delivery to the Rice County Recycling Center.

The City of Northfield “Youth Live Green Recycling Team” program aims to get youth involved in recycling corrugated cardboard. Participating groups get monetary funds for monitoring the public recycling containers, keeping the area clean and informing the public about cardboard recycling. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Now I should feel mostly good about that, right? I’m placing milk jugs and other plastics, cans, newspapers, envelopes, an excessive amount of campaign mailings, other paper products and more into recycling. I’m doing my part to keep stuff out of the landfill, to protect the environment.

Rules on a recycling container in Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

But when it comes to plastic, most of my efforts may be for naught, according to a recent report by the environmental education and awareness group Greenpeace. The nonprofit shared that less than five percent of recycled plastics are made into new products. Why? Simply put, it’s costly to collect and sort the plastics. I’m not surprised by that explanation. Money factors into most business decisions.

Youth and adults painted a mural on Just Food Co-op, Northfield. Among the themes, Mother Earth. Rice County Neighbors United led the grant-funded project. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Yet, I’ll continue to recycle and hope for an environmentally-friendly shift in attitudes on both consumer and corporate levels. We as consumers need to consciously choose non-plastics. I’m as guilty as anyone else in not thinking often enough about what I personally can do to reduce my use of plastics, focusing on reduce before I focus on recycle.

Mother Earth in progress on the Just Food Co-op mural. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

What am I doing right? This has nothing to do with plastic, but rather with reducing energy use. I either line dry my laundry outdoors or indoors on drying racks, with the exception of sheets and towels in the brutal cold of winter. Come a 40-degree sunny January day, though, and you will find my laundry on the line, snow layering the ground.

Mother Earth a month later. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I also buy used. And I donate or give away—rather than toss—items I no longer need. The boulevard along our busy street has proven an ideal location to give away a swing set, bookcase, headboard, recliner and much more. Recently Randy and I hauled several purple dove tail drawers from a vintage school art table to a downtown shop, Lily of the Valley. The owner sells repurposed furniture, gifts, clothing and more in her boutique and I figured she could use the drawers to display merchandise or come up with some other creative use. We kept the maple top to possibly reuse ourselves.

Then there’s our yard. We live in a city with a compost center, a place to haul leaves and plants that are composted, basically recycled back into a nutrient-rich natural fertilizer for flowerbeds and gardens. This time of year we make multiple trips to the compost site to dump off mulched leaves fallen from the single tree on our property and from neighborhood trees. I feel good that we are keeping yard waste out of the landfill. I use some of the leaves as winter mulch for my flowerbeds.

A shopper rolls out her cart of purchases in reusable bags. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Sometimes I use cloth tote bags while grocery shopping, but sometimes I don’t. I could do better.

Northfield’s recycling containers are outside two grocery stores. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

My efforts may not seem like much in the all of the environment. Yet, I know the recycling, the reusing, the things I do matter. What you do matters. Together we can make a difference by our choices.

TELL ME: Do you recycle? I’d like to hear more about your efforts to protect the environment.

FYI: To read the Greenpeace report on plastic recycling, click here.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Shifting seasons October 18, 2022

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Trees were ablaze at the end of September in Northfield’s Bridge Square. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

FRIDAY MORNING BROUGHT the first snow flurries of the season to southern Minnesota. Not enough snow to stick to the ground here in Faribault, but in other parts of the state flakes accumulated.

Seasonal displays drew my eye to this floral shop on a corner in downtown Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

We are in the time of transition, shifting from autumn toward winter. One day the sun shines bright on trees still ablaze in color and temps feel comfortable. Other days, grey clouds blanket the sky, blocking the sun, with winter attire needed outdoors.

Inside Used-A-Bit Shoppe, glassware in a seasonal hue. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

In these waning days of autumn, I am reminded of how much I love this season—for the colors, the mostly moderate temps, the scent, the feel, the gathering in. It’s as if we Minnesotans recognize that every single gloriously sunny day needs to be celebrated, to be photographed in our memories, to be pulled out when winter days draw us in.

Biking across a bridge over the Cannon by Bridge Square. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

A few weeks ago I was in neighboring Northfield, about a 20-minute drive away. This art-strong historic college town along the Cannon River presented scenes that hold the essence of the season. From colorful trees to blooming flowers to seasonal displays, the visuals of autumn unfolded before me.

Outside Just Food Co-op. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

People were out and about. Dipping into Just Food Co-op. Shopping at the thrift store. Sitting on a park bench waiting to share a faith message. Walking a dog. Biking across a bridge spanning the river.

Fallen leaves add interest to the Arb creek. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I felt no hurry, only an appreciation for the day, time to meander while waiting for Randy to complete an appointment. Afterwards we headed to Cowling Arboretum for a short walk and an engaging conversation with another hiker. It was one of those chance encounters that left me feeling uplifted, encouraged, blessed.

Coneflowers flourish at Cowling Arboretum. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Wild grapes. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Wildflowers thrive in the sunshine along the Cannon River at Cowling Arboretum. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

As I immersed myself in nature on that final day of September, I noticed wildflowers in bloom, leaves floating in the creek, the curve of grapevines, the hint of color in a few trees. If I was to revisit the Arb today, I would surely view a different scene. Each day moves us nearer, oh, so much closer, to winter.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Reflections on harvest from fields to art October 13, 2022

Harvesting, left, in a field along a gravel road near Dundas. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

DUST HANGS OVER THE LANDSCAPE like smoke. Hazy. The air dirty with debris kicked up by combines sweeping across corn and soybean fields in southern Minnesota. Harvest is well underway here as farmers bring in the season’s crops.

Trucks haul harvested crops from fields to bins and/or grain elevators. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

From back country gravel roads to the interstate, I’ve witnessed this scene unfolding before me in recent weeks. Combines chomping. Harvested corn and beans spilling into grain trucks.

Harvesting beans. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2022)

Farmers work all hours of the day and night in the rush to finish gathering crops before winter arrives. In the dark of night, bright headlights spotlight fields. In daylight, sunlight filters through clouds of dust.

A grain truck pulls into a farmer’s grain drying and storage complex. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Harvest is part of my DNA by having been raised on a southwestern Minnesota crop and dairy farm. Decades removed from the land, I still take notice of the harvest. The smell. The hues. The hurry. I understand this season in rural Minnesota.

“Harvest” by Raymond Jacobson. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

In nearby Northfield, I recently happened upon a bronze sculpture, “Harvest,” which had gone unnoticed by me. It’s been there since 2008 at Sesquicentennial Legacy Plaza along the Cannon River, near the post office, near Bridge Square. In all my visits to Northfield, to the Riverwalk area, I missed this public art created by Raymond Jacobson.

Close-up details of the wheat incorporated into “Harvest.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

The historic Ames Mill along the Cannon River. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

An interpretation of a stone grist mill for grinding wheat into flour is included in the sculpture. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

It’s beautiful, fitting for a community rooted in agriculture. The 3,000-pound sculpture symbolizes Northfield’s heritage of wheat farming and milling. Just across the river sits the Ames Mill, where the gristmill in the late 1860s produced 150 barrels of wheat daily.

Malt-O-Meal was a major funder for the sculpture. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

In 1927, John Campbell of the Campbell Cereal Company took over the mill and began producing Malt-O-Meal hot cereal. Today Post Consumer Brands owns the mill and still makes that hot cereal. Dry cereal is manufactured at a nearby production facility. Many days the scent of cereal wafts over Northfield.

Harvested wheat and a plowed field cast into bronze. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

All of this—the smell of cereal, the “Harvest” sculpture, the historic Ames Mill—reminds me of the importance of agriculture in our region. It reminds me, too, of my rural roots. I am grateful for my farm upbringing. I am grateful, too, for those who today plant, tend and harvest crops. They are essential to our economy, feeding the world, providing raw product.

Wheat stalk details on an informational plaque which is nearly impossible to read due to weathering of the writing. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

That this season of harvest is honored in a “Harvest” sculpture shows a deep appreciation for history, heritage and agriculture in Northfield. The public art gives me pause to reflect on inspiration in creativity. Today I celebrate the artistic interpretation of harvest displayed along the banks of the Cannon River.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling