Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Put your money in the can August 2, 2017

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THIS TIME OF YEAR in Minnesota, roadside stands pop up with a bounty of fresh garden produce. Some are staffed. Some are not.

 

 

On Sunday evening, Randy and I stopped at an unmanned stand along U.S. Highway 14 as we passed through Courtland (between New Ulm and Mankato) after a weekend in southwestern Minnesota. We needed potatoes and always appreciate newly-dug spuds.

 

 

Pickings were slim at that time of day. But we found a bag of potatoes for $2 that fit our needs. Randy pulled two bills from his wallet and deposited the money in a mammoth coffee can labeled PUT MONEY HERE.

I love this trustworthiness that exists in rural Minnesota.

 

 

But apparently the gardener doesn’t trust Mother Nature. Inside the coffee can, an over-sized stone weighted the container against the wind.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Rural roadside surveillance May 18, 2016

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Roadside stand, 93 side view

 

ALONG U.S. HIGHWAY 14 at its intersection with the road to Wanda, just east of Lamberton, I spotted a roadside stand advertising rhubarb and asparagus. I had rhubarb back home in my refrigerator. But I didn’t have asparagus and I love that spring-time vegetable.

So Randy pulled our van off the highway, turning onto a farm driveway next to a green trailer. I asked if he had $3. He did. I had only larger bills. I grabbed the money and my camera, bracing myself against a fierce prairie wind to snap a few photos.

 

Roadside stand, 95 close-up of coolers

 

Then I headed for the trailer. I lifted the lid on a red cooler, noting the instructions to “Please close tightly.” I did after finding that cooler empty. Then I opened a blue cooler with the same results. Empty. No asparagus for me.

 

Roadside stand, 97 camera

 

Discouraged, I took a few more photos and headed back to the van. Randy was already backing up, which I found odd. “Is that a wildlife camera?” he asked, indicating a camera inside a wooden box mounted to the trailer. Could be.

 

Roadside stand, 94 trailer next to driveway

 

I slammed the van door, handed the money back to Randy and buckled up as he resumed backing toward the highway. About that time, a white vehicle started heading down the driveway. “We’re being watched,” I observed, which should have been obvious to me given the camera and sign noting “Protected by security system.”

Soon the vehicle curved back onto the farm site.

 

Roadside stand, 96 close-up of sign

 

I left not only without the asparagus I craved, but also a bit disillusioned. I’d like to think unattended roadside stands don’t need security systems or chains or locks. But who am I kidding? Apparently myself.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesota Faces: The Sweetcorn Salesman July 31, 2015

Portrait #33: Bill Edelbach

Bill of Edelbach Produce

Bill of Edelbach Produce

It’s sweetcorn season here in Minnesota, which reminds me of veggie vendor Bill Edelbach.

I met Bill two summers ago selling peppers, zucchini, cucumbers and sweetcorn from the back of his pick-up truck parked on a street corner in downtown Kenyon.

The Kellogg area farmer has been tending and vending vegetables for more than 50 years. That hard work shows in his salesmanship skills, in his lean frame and in his face. Oh, that face. Sun, sky and wind have furrowed lines deep into his weathered skin. His face tells the story of a man who works hard and loves the land.

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

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Meet Bill, the sweetcorn salesman August 21, 2013

Bill Edelback sells sweetcorn, a green pepper, three cucumbers and a zucchini to my husband, Randy.

Bill Edelbach sells fresh vegetables to my husband, Randy.

I TOTALLY UNDERSTAND why Bill Edelbach sold an entire pick-up full of sweetcorn and other farm fresh vegetables while parked along a busy street corner in Kenyon this past Sunday.

Cucumbers and peppers, three for $1.

Cucumbers and peppers, three for $1.

He’s quite the salesman, pointing me to the peppers and cucumbers and zucchini when my husband and I had stopped only for sweetcorn.

Even a few heads of cabbage for sale.

Even a few heads of cabbage for sale. Tomatoes are slow in ripening this year, Bill says.

For more than 50 years, Bill has vended veggies grown on his Kellogg area farm. You can see those years chiseled in lines across his forehead, around his eyes, through his cheekbones.

Years of work etched in Bill's face.

Years of work etched in Bill’s face.

Bill has the kind of weathered face that I love to photograph, a face that distinguishes him as a long-time farmer. One who loves the land and the food he grows. He’s a hard worker; you can see that in his thin frame, in his hands.

Gotta appreciate the handcrafted signage as much as Bill.

Gotta appreciate the handcrafted signage.

There’s another thing you should know about Bill.  Something like 30 years ago, he says, Tombstone Pizza folks were traveling around to small towns for a marketing campaign. They came upon Bill and his veggie vehicle parked in Cannon Falls, bought the whole truckload of sweetcorn, and moved him and his truck this way and that while photographing the scene.

Bagging our sweetcorn late Sunday afternoon.

Bagging our sweetcorn late Sunday afternoon.

That’s Bill’s claim to fame. Plus 50 years of selling his field fresh vegetables in small-town Minnesota.

For less than $5, we purchased half a dozen ears of sweetcorn, three cucumbers, a green pepper and a zucchini.

For less than $5, we purchased half a dozen ears of sweetcorn, three cucumbers, a green pepper and a zucchini.

In less than two hours, we were feasting on Bill's sweetcorn; garden fresh potatoes purchased last week from another roadside vendor; and smoked pork chops bought fresh at a local grocery store meat counter.

Two hours later we were feasting on Bill’s sweetcorn; garden fresh potatoes purchased last week from another roadside vendor; and smoked pork chops bought fresh at a local grocery store meat counter.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Tis the season… August 9, 2013

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Kandy corn for sale in Slayton

…in Slayton and elsewhere in Minnesota.

 

These Minnesota Girl Scouts are tough cookies March 6, 2011

I’VE HAD GIRL SCOUTS knock on my door to sell Girl Scout cookies.

I’ve had Girl Scouts approach me at church to sell cookies.

I’ve seen Girl Scouts selling cookies at the grocery store and at the mall.

But…, until this weekend I’d never seen Girl Scouts bundled in caps, coats, snowpants, mittens and boots selling Girl Scout cookies outside a Minnesota gas station as temperatures hovered around 30 degrees. And that’s without the windchill.

I wasn't sure what the group was selling until we got right up to the gas station. I was ready with my camera.

As my family drove through the small southern Minnesota town of Courtland around noon today, these Nicollet Girl Scouts and their moms were peddling cookies at the Shell station along U.S. Highway 14. FYI, Courtland lies west of Nicollet, which lies west of Mankato.

I have to give these girls and their moms credit for their devotion to the cause. I doubt I would have stood out there in brisk March winds selling sweet treats. These Girl Scouts are some tough cookies.

And, no, I’m ashamed to say that we did not stop. I snapped these images as we passed by. But, clearly, the Girl Scout in the second photo wanted me to stop.

Girls and their moms peddled Girl Scout cookies in Courtland.

After I uploaded the photos into my computer, I noticed the smaller sign on the box on the back of the pickup truck: “Buy cookies and donate them to our military troops!! We do the shipping for you!!” That would have been one more good reason to stop.

To the Nicollet Girl Scouts, I admire your patriotism and your determination. Clearly you’re not going to let a Minnesota winter keep you from reaching your goals.

Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 

 

 

 

Honesty goes a long ways at roadside market October 19, 2010

 

 

Mounds of squash for sale at George Denn's roadside market.

 

BY GEORGE, that George is a mighty trusting fellow.

But, hey, the system must work for George W. Denn, purveyor of pumpkins, gourds, squash, hay and straw bales, corn shocks, apples, honey, popcorn, wheat, pumpkin seeds and books—I think that’s it—along Blue Earth County Road 2 on the Blue Earth/Le Sueur county line.

When you pull up to George’s roadside spread northeast of Mankato by Wita Lake next to his farm, he’s nowhere to be seen. That’s where the word “trust” factors into his Hey by George! business.

The Christian pumpkin farmer-writer relies on his customers’ honesty to simply deposit their payments in a secure metal box attached to the side of an old truck. Signage directs shoppers to “PAY ON OTHER SIDE” or to “PAY HERE.”

Apparently the system works. Or, if it doesn’t always work, perhaps George figures his business can survive a few stolen pumpkins, gourds or squash among the thousands he’s displayed.

If anyone happens to take one of George’s $14.99 inspirational books or some of his produce without paying, he/she may want to turn to page 35 in Hey By George!.

George reveals that he’s not only mighty trusting, but he’s also mighty forgiving.

 

You pay on the honor system, depositing your money into a box attached to the side of this old truck.

 

 

The money goes here, in this secured box, as directed.

 

 

If you can't find the perfect pumpkin here, then you probably won't find one anywhere.

 

 

A kitschy sign lists the price for corn shocks.

 

 

Piles of squash for purchase.

 

 

A close-up of the bumpy squash at Hey by George!

 

 

Heaps of squash at Hey by George!

 

 

Wispy wheat makes an artful display beside the wheel of the old truck.

 

 

Colorful squash next to the old truck are for sale.

 

 

Jars of wheat are among the offerings at George's roadside market.

 

 

George Denn's two books, Hey By George! and Hey By George II, are tucked into plastic boxes and are also sold on the honor system.

 

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling