Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Reconnecting at the flea market, farmers’ market & food fair May 18, 2021

The scene in the Rice County Historical Society parking lot Saturday morning as vendors sold wares at the spring flea market. The market extended behind the building and onto the fairgrounds with an estimated 75 sellers. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

MORE THAN A YEAR into the pandemic and we all needed this—an outdoor event to bring us together, to reclaim our collective sense of community, to reconnect with friends we haven’t seen in way too long.

One of my favorite discoveries at the flea market was the chicken art created by J & M Crafted Creations of Prior Lake. That would be wood artist Jim and painter Mary Jo. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
At the market, cheese from Shepherd’s Way Farms, rural Nerstrand. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
The Local Plate proved a popular dining option. The truck sources locally to create its menu offerings. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

The combo Rice County Historical Society’s Spring Flea Market, Cannon Valley Farmers’ Market and Fair Food Truck Days accomplished all of those objectives in one place, the Rice County Fairgrounds, on one day, Saturday.

Vendors spread across the museum grounds/fairgrounds, including outside the historic school and church. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
This dad’s smile says it all. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
The event drew a diverse crowd. People seemed happy just to be out. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

This event marked our re-entry into community life, now that Randy and I are fully vaccine-protected. It felt good, oh, so good, to experience a sense of normalcy again. And even though crowds were large and most attendees were unmasked, we felt comfortable given our vaccination status and the outdoor setting.

Among the flea market treasures, Pyrex. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
After photographing this yarn, I asked for a business card. Noting the name, Dresow Family Farm, I inquired. Turns out the husband half of this farm team hails from my home area and graduated from Wabasso High School, my alma mater. Even though I’ve never met Kevin “Silo” Dresow, we reminisced and even broke into the school song, “On Wabasso…” To meet a fellow Rabbit (our school mascot) made my day. I graduated with Silo’s brother Keith. Small world. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
Fair food aplenty… Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

For a May day in Minnesota, the weather couldn’t have been more perfect. Sunshine. Blue skies. Warmth. Absolutely ideal for outdoor vending of treasures, selling of locally-grown/raised/made goods and indulging in fair food.

Even this vendor’s dog looks happy. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
A pick-up bed of treasures. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
From First Draft Farms, what happy hues. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

What made this gathering unique, though, was the overwhelming feeling of optimism. I sensed it. Felt it. Experienced it. An undercurrent of joyfulness.

Parking was at a premium. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

I know events like this don’t happen without a lot of behind-the-scenes effort and hard work. So to all the volunteers, vendors, farmers and others who planned, showed up, set up, sold, engaged in conversation, welcomed us back to experience community, thank you. I needed this day. We needed this day. Saturday’s event reaffirmed for me just how much I value interacting with others. And just how much I’ve missed those connections.

Please check back for more photos from this event.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Faribault: Food, fair food & flea market finds May 13, 2021

Vintage fans and a thermos for sale at a past flea market. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2018.

FROM A FLEA MARKET to food trucks to a farmers’ market, the Rice County Fairgrounds in Faribault will be abuzz with activity on Saturday. And I can’t wait. After a year of mostly social isolation, Randy and I are finally vaccine-protected and ready to enjoy local events.

A scene from the May 2018 RCHS Spring Flea Market. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2018,

The May 15 trio of activities begins at 8 a.m. with the Rice County Historical Society’s Spring Flea Market. Rain or shine, the outdoor market runs until 2 p.m. in the RCHS museum parking lot and grounds. I’ve attended this event in the past. It’s fun to look through the assortment of merchandise from antiques and collectibles to crafts and much more. One person’s “junk” truly is another person’s treasure.

Tiffany Tripp of Graise Farm co-coordinates the Cannon Valley Farmers’ Market and sells her farm fresh eggs and more at the market. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

In the heart of the fairgrounds, farmers, producers, bakers, crafters and others will vend their products at the Cannon Valley Farmers’ Market from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. The locally-grown, homemade goods come from small-scale farmers and producers in Minnesota’s Cannon River Valley. The Cannon River runs just across the road from the fairgrounds. Twenty-plus vendors will sell everything from beef to eggs to chocolate treats, bread, jelly, honey, cheese, homemade soap, plants and much more.

Photographed on August 29 in the Ace Hardware store parking lot, Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2020.

Also starting at 10 a.m. is Fair Food Truck Days with eight trucks open for food sales: Cavemen Grilling, Delicious Potatoes, El Rey Del Taco, Lopez Concessions, Pretzel Wiz, Schroder Concessions, Temple Concessions and The Local Plate. Food sales will run until 4 p.m. and then repeat on Sunday at the same time. This will jumpstart the season of community festivals and fairs after a year without.

That said, we are still in a pandemic. If you attend, please follow all COVID safety guidelines (ie. wearing face masks and social distancing) as set by the state and hosting parties. We owe it to our friends, neighbors and strangers, especially unvaccinated kids, to keep them safe.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

On this May Day: Pigs, horses, bikes & baskets May 1, 2021

Two May Day baskets were dropped on my front steps in 2015. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

HAPPY MAY DAY, dear readers!

Do you hold sweet childhood memories of May Day like me? I remember elementary school days of weaving baskets from strips of colored paper and crafting paper flowers to arrange inside. And then gifting the basket to Mom.

Four homemade chocolate chip cookies were tucked inside a May Day basket. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

And then, a few years back, hearing my doorbell ring on May 1 to find bags and baskets crafted by the children of friends. Homemade chocolate chip cookies and Puppy Chow were tucked inside. Candy centered flowers on another. Their thoughtfulness brought me such joy.

The sweet May Day surprise friends dropped onto my front steps in 2012. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

The gifts of May Day had come full circle. Perhaps today you can drop a May Day basket on a front stoop, ring the doorbell and run away before being spotted. Or walk if you can’t run.

An interior view of the swine barn, building #7, set for demolition today.

Or you can give the gift of time, if you live in my area. The Rice County Fair Board is seeking volunteers to dismantle the aged swine barn today. Just show up with your gloves and hammer (and other demo tools) at 9 a.m. at the Rice County Fairgrounds in Faribault. Many hands make light work. The building will eventually be replaced with a new barn.

Fans watch The Kentucky Derby at the Paradise Center for the Arts in 2015.

At the end of the day, you can kick back and enjoy The Kentucky Derby. Typically, the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault holds a watch party, Big Hats & Big Hearts. But, because of the pandemic, that won’t happen this year.

My friend Beth Ann gifted me with official Kentucky Derby from 1986 and 1991 some years ago. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

But in my mom’s southwestern Minnesota care center, they’ll host a Derby party for residents, including hats crafted especially for the ladies. I’m thrilled. My mom has always loved The Kentucky Derby. The big hats and finery. Watching the race. If this party sparks memories, brings happiness into her day, then I am grateful. It’s been a difficult past year-plus for our seniors, their families and those who care for them. They need this escape to Kentucky, to watch horses with names like Known Agenda, Midnight Bourbon, and Soup and Sandwich (what kind of name is that?) compete.

It’s motorcycle season in Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2020.

One more interesting event in the region rounds out the weekend, this one beginning at 10 a.m. Sunday in Owatonna. It’s the 25th annual Owatonna Bike Blessing at the Steele County Fairgrounds. Motorcycle riders and others will gather for music (by the Roadside Redemption Band), a guest speaker, food (available from 10 vendors) and blessings.

A May Day basket I received in 2015. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

To you, my dear readers, whatever you do this weekend, may you be blessed. Happy May Day!

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Back at the Rice County Fairgrounds April 21, 2021

Looking toward food stands and the Midway. To the right, is the outdoor entertainment center. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

VACATED. That word best describes my assessment of the Rice County Fairgrounds in Faribault during a recent walk there.

Many local groups have food stands at the fair. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.
Picnic tables near the pork food stand. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.
The presence of 4-Hers at the fair is strong. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

In the absence of people, the absence of animals, the absence of a carnival, the absence of exhibits, the place feels empty. No pulsating lights on the Midway. No smell of grilling burgers. No taste of sugary mini donuts. No shouts of kids. No feel of a prize stuffed animal clutched in arms.

The entertainment space to the left with the St. Luke’s food stand on the right. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

If everything works out COVID-wise, this fairgrounds will teem with people come late July. Animals will fill barns. Ribbons will mark prize-winning 4-H entries. Greasy cheese curds will satisfy those who crave fair food. The sounds of music and clustered conversations and happy kids will create a steady buzz of noise. Little hands will grasp adult hands and teenage hands will lock in fair love. People will reconnect. Celebrate. Experience that which was lost last summer, during the height of the pandemic.

Love this signage. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.
The commercial exhibit building. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.
Garden decor stored until the fair. The garden is next to the conservation building. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

This is the fair I imagine as I walk past shuttered buildings, as I pause to photograph buildings and signs and expanses of open space.

Just a snippet of the 32 barn swallow nests on Curtis Hall. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

And then I pause outside the 4-H building, Curtis Hall, to photograph the row of barn swallow nests mudded under the eaves. So many. Thirty-two. Too many. If there’s one bird I dislike, it’s the barn swallow. We have a history. As a child, I endured barn swallows swooping over me as I did farm chores. The swallows built their nests on beams above the barn aisle, my direct work route. I felt threatened by them as I shoveled manure into gutters, pushed a wheelbarrow full of ground feed down the aisle. My feelings for the swallow have not changed. Even though they eat mosquitoes, I still don’t like this bird.

Just another view of those swallow nests. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

That’s my sidebar from the fairgrounds, perhaps one you can relate to if you did farm chores like me.

The sheep arena is named after a Rice County deputy killed in the line of duty. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo 2021.
A view of the sheep barn. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.
Each of the livestock buildings is numbered. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

Fairs are rooted in agriculture. Prize animals. Prize vegetables. A once-a-year opportunity to showcase the best of barns and of gardens. But today’s fair is much more. Entertainment. Creativity. And, above all, a place for communities to come together once a year in one place. To celebrate. To connect.

The Rice County Fair office with the grandstand in the background. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

FYI: The Rice County Fair is tentatively set for July 21-25 in Faribault. Whether it happens depends on all of us. See my previous post.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Rice County: Fair or not? April 20, 2021

The Rice County Fair office, Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

DECADES AGO, AS A YOUNG newspaper reporter, I covered county fairs. I’d grab my notebook and my camera and head to the fairgrounds. One particular summer, I was assigned to photograph 4-H kids and their animals at the Brown County Free Fair in New Ulm while working for The Sleepy Eye Herald-Dispatch. I spent days tracking down youth and photographing them with their prize livestock. Pigs. Cows. Sheep. Horses. Chickens. Try getting animals to cooperate for a photo shoot. Not easy. The experience left me so exhausted and fair-weary that I lost all interest in county fairs.

Among the many popular local food booths. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.
Rice County 4-H is an integral part of the fair. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.
Next to a livestock building sits this carnival ride, originating in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

Ever since, I’ve seldom attended a county fair. But I recognize most people love fairs, including the Rice County Fair here in Faribault. They enjoy the food, the carnival rides, the entertainment, the exhibits and, yes, even all those penned animals hauled to town by 4-H families.

Livestock buildings at the Rice County Fairgrounds. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

Last summer, COVID-19 canceled our fair. And most other fairs, including The Minnesota State Fair, aka The Great Minnesota Get-Together. This summer, from small town Minnesota to the metro, officials hope to host fairs. In Rice County, the fair board tentatively plans for a July 21-25 fair. Whether that happens will depend on the pandemic and state restrictions on gatherings.

The open air BINGO shed at the Rice County Fairgrounds. Minnesota Prairie Root photo March 2021.
Just across the way from the BINGO shed sits the Beer Garden. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.
One of the newer fair buildings houses open class exhibits. Minnesota Prairie Roots file March 2021.

I’m all for putting health and safety first. This pandemic is far from over with cases of the virus surging. I recognize the weariness folks are feeling, but don’t accept that as an excuse for behavior that is increasing the spread. If people want to enjoy BINGO and beer, cheese curds and carnival rides, art and animals, and so much more at the fair, then they need to intentionally choose to help stop the spread of COVID. Mask up. Properly. Social distance. Stay home when feeling unwell. Get vaccinated.

An example of needed touch-ups. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

On a recent afternoon, Randy and I walked the Rice County Fairgrounds, just to have a different place to explore away from people. The emptiness of the space, without distracting crowds, exposes much. I observed that many of the aging buildings need upkeep, especially paint.

The new public restrooms at the Rice County Fairgrounds. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

I’m sure fair-goers will appreciate one new addition—the construction of public restrooms.

A view of the grandstand underside. This was rebuilt following an arson fire many years ago. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

I often wonder why the fairgrounds aren’t used more, especially the grandstand. That said, the Cannon Valley Farmers’ Market sets up occasionally at the fairgrounds in Faribault. Car shows and food trucks have also used the grounds. In a year when spread of the virus remains an ongoing concern, this vast outdoor space offers options to indoor gatherings.

Photographed on the side of the Rice County Fair office in March. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

Whether the Rice County Fair happens in July remains unknown. It’s really up to us to follow public health and safety mandates/guidelines and to choose vaccination. We’re not powerless. We have the ability to control our behavior, to think beyond ourselves to the public good. To make the fair happen in 2021.

FYI: Rice County is lagging in vaccinations. According to Rice County Public Health April 16 data, 41.7 percent of county residents ages 16 and above have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine. That compares to 52 percent statewide. We can do better.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Please check back for more Rice County Fairgrounds photos.

 

A preview of the Traveling Vietnam Memorial opening today in Faribault September 1, 2016

These electronic signs are stationed by the Rice County Highway Department building along Minnesota State Highway 3 across from the fairgrounds. They welcomed Vietnam veterans during Wednesday's processional.

These electronic signs are stationed by the Rice County Highway Department building along Minnesota State Highway 3 across from the fairgrounds. They welcomed Vietnam veterans during Wednesday’s processional into Faribault from Owatonna.

IN THE STILL OF THE EVENING, as the sun drenched the last day of August in golden light, a handful of volunteers wrapped up a long day. For a year they’d been planning for this date—the arrival of the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall in Faribault. Late Wednesday afternoon, the pick-up truck and trailer carrying memorial wall panels drove into this southeastern Minnesota city with an honorary escort of bikes, cars, military vehicles and more.

The back of the trailer carrying the wall.

The back of the trailer carrying the wall.

And now, as dusk descended, that trailer rested on a grassy expanse at the Rice County Fairgrounds. Thursday morning volunteers began erecting the 360-foot long by 8-foot high replica wall which officially opens this evening for public viewing at a 6:30 p.m ceremony. There’s a soft opening this afternoon. The wall will remain open 24/7 through the closing ceremony at 1 p.m. on Labor Day.

Signs await posting.

Signs await posting.

But before the crowds arrive—up to 20,000 are expected throughout the wall’s duration in Faribault—I got a preview of what visitors can expect. And what I saw touched me deeply. I can only imagine how the wall, still boxed in the trailer during my pre-unveiling perusal, will impact me.

A close-up of an image on the back of the wall trailer.

A close-up of an image on the back of the wall trailer reveals the number who served.

I could see the emotion in Douglas, a life-long Faribault resident and Vietnam vet I met Wednesday evening while at the fairgrounds. I thanked him for his service. He grew quiet when I mentioned the horrors of war he experienced. But his mood shifted when I talked to him about the earlier processional into town. He appreciated the long overdue public show of respect and welcome home.

Peter Van Sluis, along with his wife, Virginia, and veteran Kirk Mansfield, led efforts to bring the wall to Faribault.

Peter Van Sluis, along with his wife, Virginia, and veteran Kirk Mansfield, led efforts to bring the wall to Faribault.

Inside the information center tent, key organizer Peter Van Sluis bent over his laptop working on last-minute details. We chatted for awhile, Van Sluis pointing me toward the temporary lounge for veterans who likely will need a place to gather their thoughts, to grieve, to cope, to lean on one another.

Signage welcomes veterans only to the veterans' lounge.

Signage welcomes veterans to the veterans’ only lounge.

Locals brought in their personal furniture to furnish the lounge.

Locals brought in their personal furniture to furnish the lounge.

Inside I discovered couches and easy chairs circled into comfy coves, like a family living room. Members of the community pulled the furniture from their homes for the event.

Flags line a wall.

Flags line a wall.

A map posted in the veterans' lounge.

A map posted in the veterans’ lounge.

One of many photos displayed.

One of many Vietnam War photos displayed.

Signs of support, flags, even a map of Vietnam, transform this space from fairgrounds beer garden to veterans’ lounge. In an adjoining room, photos from the Vietnam War are staged on tables and along walls.

 

Vietnam wall preview, #19 Langhorst cross

 

Vietnam wall preview, #18 stacked crosses

 

Vietnam wall preview, #21 two soldiers' crosses

 

Outside, a cluster of white crosses drew me to view images of soldiers, all Minnesotans who have died in wars since 9/11. I imagined the grief of PFC Moises A Langhorst’s family as I studied the freckled face of this 19-year-old killed in Iraq in 2004.

Visitors can view items, like this jeep, part of a military exhibit.

Visitors can view items, like this jeep, part of a military exhibit.

Several military tents have been set up at the fairgrounds.

Several military tents have been set up at the fairgrounds.

A separate field of crosses will honor those from a several county area who died in Vietnam. Such a display personalizes war. And for many of those who visit the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall and the accompanying displays, including items from a military museum, the impact will feel deeply personal.

Used during the Vietnam War, this 1968 boat is pocked with bullet holes. A viewing stairway will give visitors access to an interior view.

Used during the Vietnam War, this 1968 boat is pocked with bullet holes. A viewing stairway will allow visitors to see the interior.

I noticed this sticker on the end of the boat.

I noticed this sticker on the end of the boat.

I listened as a Vietnam vet, standing next to a military boat used in Vietnam, mentioned the expected arrival of another boat in which soldiers were blown apart. As the daughter of a Korean War veteran, I cringed inwardly, remembering similar stories shared by my combat soldier father. None of this is easy.

The area set aside for protesters on the northwest side of the fairgrounds.

The area set aside for protesters, and posted as such, on the northwest side of the fairgrounds.

Organizer Van Sluis expects some veterans to struggle. And he also expects protesters of the Vietnam War. A special area has been set aside for them. I’d never thought of that possibility. And, as I considered likely protests, I thought, yes, this too is part of living in a free country.

The front of the wall trailer delivers a message of honor and respect.

The front of the wall trailer delivers a message of honor and respect.

It is because of the sacrifices of our military men and women that we are free, and remain free.

FYI: Click here to see a full schedule of events, for directions to the Rice County Fairgrounds and more.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Iowegians bring their barbecuing passion to Minnesota May 22, 2011

Bubba'Q's logo and slogan on the side of their BBQ trailer.

MEET BUBBA AND SABRINA.

They’re from Ottumwa, Iowa. That’s “A-ttum-wa (short “a”), not “Oh-ttum-wa (Minnesota long “o”).

They’re about as cheerful and friendly a couple as I’ve met. Talkative with a definite accent that I would have placed as more southern Missouri than southeastern Iowa. They set me straight, in a kindly way, on the pronunciation of Ottumwa, a community of 25,000 along the Des Moines River.

Big smiles accompanied their language lesson and an intro to barbecuing at the Minnesota in May BBQ Contest in Faribault Saturday. Nearly 60 teams competed for about $10,000 in prizes in the two-day Kansas City Barbeque Society-sanctioned event.

While Bubba and Sabrina didn’t win a prize this time—they have taken grand champion honors in other competitions—they seem content simply to barbecue, win or not. Clearly, this is their passion.

They own Bubba-Q’s, a restaurant and catering business in Ottumwa that features traditional pit style barbecued meats. The dessert menu of scratch made pies, triple chocolate fudge espresso brownies, banana delight pudding and more sounds mighty tasty too.

I wasn’t able to sample any of Bubba-Q’s meats, but Bubba tells me their style is “a little sweet, a little heat.”

I’ll take his word for it.

The ribs they prepare for competitions differ, they say, from the ribs prepared in their restaurant, where customers prefer them falling-off-the-bone tender. The judges, want tender, but chewable, still on the bone ribs.

The two agree that no matter how often and where they compete, and they’ve traveled to many competitions as far away as New Mexico and Las Vegas, they never quite know what will please the judges. Bubba says that’s OK. Then he smiles. Again. He’s just that kind of guy—with a face that shows he’s happy to be barbecuing, whether in Iowa or Minn-e-soooooo-ta.

Bubba and Sabrina's home on wheels and traveling BBQ central.

Even their pick-up truck advertises their barbecuing passion.

WATCH FOR MORE photos from the Minnesota in May BBQ Contest in future blog posts.

For the first time ever, Faribault hosted the Minnesota in May BBQ Contest at the Rice County Fairgrounds.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The Cannon River today and six months ago March 25, 2011

A view of the Cannon River from Father Slevin Park, looking toward the former Faribault Woolen Mill factory on the right and Faribault Foods on the left.

SIX MONTHS AGO I would not have been standing on this wedge of park land photographing the rising Cannon River by the Faribault Woolen Mill dam.

Here, by this dam, most locals judge the river level. And Wednesday evening, only the slightest hint of the dam showed beneath the roiling river. I kept a safe distance as I photographed scenes I had shot in September when a flash flood sent the Cannon spilling over its banks.

A statue in Father Slevin Park (I believe she is the Virgin Mary) next to the Cannon River.

Back then, this park, Father Slevin Park, was engulfed in water that had risen all the way to the roadway into the Rice County Fairgrounds and North Alexander Park in Faribault.

Father Slevin Park splits the Cannon. This is the other side of the river, looking toward the fairgrounds. The river was nearly out of its banks Wednesday evening.

The situation was not the crisis of six months ago, not at all. Just being here, beside the river, eased my fears about flooding in my community.

My husband, who travels by the Cannon daily on his way to and from work in nearby Northfield, tells me the river level dropped since I took these photos. That is good news for my town, for residents like me who had wondered and worried as the Cannon and Straight Rivers rose.

The former Faribault Woolen Mill building along the banks of the Cannon River.

A view of the Cannon River and the Faribault Woolen Mill from Father Slevin Park.

CLICK HERE to see images of the Cannon taken during the late September 2010 flash flood.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling