Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Embracing the writing & art of the Northern Great Plains at SDSU April 19, 2017

“The Prairie is My Garden,” a painting by South Dakota artist Harvey Dunn, showcases the prairie I so love. Here I’ve photographed most of a print which I purchased at a yard sale. I bought the art because I liked it and only learned afterward of its value and prominence. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

ONE OF MY FAVORITE PRINTS, “The Prairie is my Garden,” is rooted in South Dakota. The artist, Harvey Dunn, was born in a claim shanty near Manchester, west of Brookings.

I’ve been to Brookings. Once. While in college, I accompanied a roommate to her hometown where her dad owned the John Deere dealership. I don’t remember a lot about that visit except the fancy house in which my roommate’s family lived and our attendance at the annual Hobo Day Parade. That tradition of South Dakota State University, which peaks in a Jackrabbits football game, is going on its 105th year.

As you’ve likely surmised, Brookings is rural oriented, the university known for its ag focused majors. Students, for example, make ice cream and cheese from milk produced at the SDSU Dairy Research and Training Facility. This is a hands-on college that draws many a rural raised student.

 

The cover of Oakwood 2017 features “Dancing with Fire,” the art of Samuel T. Krueger. Promo image courtesy of Oakwood.

 

This university, where students work with farm animals and where the prairie paintings of a noted Plains artist are housed in the South Dakota Art Museum, seems the ideal setting for Oakwood, a literary journal. Featuring the work of SDSU students, staff and alumni and also of greater Brookings artists/writers and others in the Northern Great Plains region, the magazine releases this Thursday. According to the Oakwood website, the journal embraces a regional identity.

I am happy to be part of that identity with the inclusion of my poem, “Ode to my Farm Wife Mother,” inspired by my mom. She raised me and five other children on a dairy and crop farm about 1 ½ hours northeast of Brookings in Redwood County, Minnesota.

 

A gravel road just north of Lamberton in Redwood County. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Most of the poetry I write is based on prairie life. I write with a strong sense of place. The endless open space and wide skies of the prairie lend themselves to creativity. Within the stark setting of rural southwestern Minnesota, I noticed details—the strength of the people, the blackness of the earth, the immensity of the setting sun, the sharpness of a winter wind, the quiet of stillness. I can trace my poetry, my photos, everything I create, to that rural upbringing. I am honored to have my latest poem selected for inclusion in Oakwood 2017 as a writer from the Northern Great Plains.

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FYI: A public reception will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 20, at the SDSU Briggs Library & Special Collections for writers and artists whose work is included in Oakwood 2017. Readings and talks will be featured. Because I live nearly four hours away, I can’t be there. When I can share my poem with you, I’ll do so.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Vending rural & rustic in Zumbro Falls October 7, 2016

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TIS THE SEASON OF FALL occasional sales.

 

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Although I haven’t shopped one yet, I showed up a day early for The Rustic Hinge Fall Gathering in Zumbro Falls. Not on purpose. My husband and I were on a day trip, no specific destination in mind, when we happened upon a yard full of stuff in the heart of this small southeastern Minnesota river town.

 

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Stuff would be defined as collectibles, antiques, primitives and such all with a definitive rural and rustic theme.

 

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My disappointment rated high when I inquired and learned the sale opened the next day. And nope, no early shopping. Except window shopping, minus the windows. Too bad for me.

 

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I glimpsed new, aged, repurposed and other merchandise in the Hinge’s outdoor lot across the street from a building presumably packed with lots more.

 

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You have three more days to shop this occasional sale. That would be today (Friday) from 1 – 7 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.

You can’t miss the sale. Downtown Zumbro Falls is only a few blocks long.

TELL ME: Do you have a favorite occasional sale that you shop?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesota skylines January 28, 2016

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The Minneapolis skyline as photographed from Interstate 35 in Burnsville.

The Minneapolis skyline as photographed from Interstate 35 in Burnsville. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, June 2015.

MINNESOTA HAS LONG been divided. Rural vs. urban. The area outside the Twin Cities metro is often referred to as Greater Minnesota or Outstate Minnesota. I don’t mind the “greater.” But outstate? Isn’t every inch of land, every single one of our 87 counties, part of the state of Minnesota?

The division of urban and rural is always most noticeable during the legislative session. Or during road construction season.

Silos mark the rural skyline on a farm in the Prior Lake area.

Silos mark the rural skyline on a farm in the Prior Lake area. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Despite our division and differences, we are still Minnesotans. And whether you like the busyness of the city or the quiet of the country, or something in between, you can find your right place in the diverse geography of our state.

The gravel road that runs past my middle brother's rural acreage just north of Lamberton, Minnesota.

Just north of Lamberton, Minnesota, in Redwood County, the county in which I was born. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Follow prairie to the Dakotas and hills to Wisconsin. Angle lakes and canoe winding rivers. Secret yourself away in woods or free your spirit under wide skies. Choose an office cubicle or a tractor cab to box you in. Meander along gravel roads or rush along the interstate.

The downtown Minneapolis skyline, up close.

The downtown Minneapolis skyline, up close. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Whatever your preferred skyline, embrace it. Urban isn’t better than rural and rural isn’t better than urban. Not in the sense of a grand, broad statement. But from a personal perspective, we have our preferences. And that is good. Our state needs balance. And we should respect that.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Welcome to St. Charles, Minnesota, Part I November 18, 2015

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Driving through downtown St. Charles, Minnesota, population around 3,700.

Driving through downtown St. Charles, Minnesota, population around 3,700.

ST. CHARLES LIES in southeastern Minnesota farming country just off Interstate 90.

One of two Amish men I spotted doing business in downtown St. Charles on an early September afternoon.

One of two Amish men I spotted doing business in downtown St. Charles on an early September afternoon.

It’s home to a pocket of Amish.

We just missed the Gladiolus Days celebration, promoted in this storefront window. Love the gladiolus "hair."

During my September visit, I just missed the Gladiolus Days celebration, promoted in this storefront window. Love the gladiolus “hair.”

And site of an annual Gladiolus Days celebration. That event honors the late Carl Fischer, once the world’s leading hybridizer of new and distinctive gladiolus.

These friendly locals at the Whitewater Cafe gave us directions to the glad field and Amish farms.

Coffee time at the Whitewater Cafe. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

I’d been to St. Charles several years ago, even dined at the Whitewater Cafe.

A view of the gladiolus field just south of Utica along Winona County Road 33.

A view of the gladiolus field just south of Utica (near St. Charles) along Winona County Road 33. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

I saw the glad fields, the Amish and the historic buildings downtown. But on a return trip in early September, my husband and I took even more time to explore.

Here’s an overall look as we drove into St. Charles from the east, swung through a residential neighborhood and then parked downtown:

On the east edge of St. Charles we spotted this brand new combine along U.S. Highway 14.

On the east edge of St. Charles we spotted this brand new combine along U.S. Highway 14. There’s a John Deere dealer in town.

We backtracked after noticing this sign along the highway.

We backtracked after noticing this sign along the highway.

Unfortunately, the antique shop was closed.

Unfortunately, the antique shop was closed.

Still, I photographed this weathered art out front.

Still, I photographed this weathered art out front.

Next, I was distracted by all these John Deere tractors parked in a front yard. I don't know why.

Next, I was distracted by all these John Deere tractors parked in a front yard. This is a rural community with a John Deere dealer in town, remember.

Next stop, the downtown business district, where I delighted in this lovely mural.

Next stop, the downtown business district, where I delighted in this lovely mural.

The mural deserves close-up attention. I appreciate unexpected art like this.

The mural deserves close-up attention. I appreciate unexpected art like this.

Likewise, flowers add visual interest, greenery and punch to a downtown.

Likewise, flowers add visual interest, greenery and punch to a downtown. They also show community pride and care.

I always enjoy signs, especially creative ones.

I always enjoy signs, especially creative ones.

St. Charles has some aged buildings. Be sure to look up. Many storefronts were "modernized" and thus hide the historic character of the buildings.

St. Charles has some aged buildings. Be sure to look up. Many storefronts were “modernized” and thus hide the historic character of the buildings.

More interesting signs.

More interesting signs. Every small town needs a hardware store.

Now, if I’ve piqued your interest, return tomorrow when I’ll take you inside an impressive St. Charles antique shop.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Shopping at the picker’s market, Part II July 19, 2015

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The barn is filled with goods, from lower level to hayloft.

The barn is filled with goods, from lower level to hayloft.

LOREN MARTIN’S BARN SALE features an eclectic mix of merchandise. Milkers, milk cans, pedal tractors, wooden chairs, crocks, lamps…

One of the many treasures packed into the hayloft.

One of the many treasures packed into the hayloft.

Way too many items to list.

A vendor.

A vendor.

He’s a picker. You have to appreciate a guy like Loren who invites folks onto his rural Medford acreage once a year to pick through his picks and those of selected vendors.

Loren has several old pick-ups for sale.

Loren has several old pick-ups for sale.

I perused his farm yard Saturday afternoon, taking it all in. The kicked back feel. The wind whipping my hair. Gravel drive and pick-up trucks. Rust and metal and memories.

Not sure if this 4-H sign is for sale.

Not sure if this 4-H sign is for sale.

I love this place, the rural junque displayed thereon.

There's plenty to see.

There’s plenty to see.

You have today (Sunday, July 19) to shop, until early evening or until the last shoppers leave. The sale opens at 8 a.m.

A vintage clothespin bag offered by a vendor.

A vintage clothespin bag offered by a vendor.

BONUS PHOTOS:

A vendor set up under the shade trees by the house.

A vendor set up under the shade trees by the house.

Spotted by the hosta.

Spotted by the hosta.

A vendor takes a lunch break.

A vendor takes a lunch break.

Lots of furniture possibilities.

Lots of furniture and decorating possibilities.

An old game for sale.

An old game for sale.

Another view of the merchandise.

Another view of the merchandise.

Stacked inside the barn door.

Stacked just inside the barn door.

Several pedal tractors were for sale, including this one reflected in a mirror.

Several pedal tractors are for sale, including this one reflected in a mirror leaning against a shed.

Vendor's merchandise on the left.

Vendor’s merchandise on the left.

FYI: Click here to read my first post about the Barn Sale. The sale is located at 5415 Frontage Road East, rural Medford, just off Interstate 35 across from the Medford Outlet Center in southern Minnesota.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

If you love vintage, check out this rural Medford barn sale July 18, 2015

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ATTENTION ALL PICKERS, collectors, decorators, flea market lovers and anyone who’s interested in vintage junque.

Park along the edge of the circle drive or on Frontage Road and then amble up to the Barn Sale.

Park along the edge of the circle drive or on Frontage Road and then amble up to the Barn Sale. And, yes, the barn is packed with stuff.

Loren Martin, food scientist by day and picker on the side, is offering a farm yard full of eclectic old merchandise at his annual Barn Sale in rural Medford today (Saturday) and tomorrow. My husband and I happened upon the sale this afternoon while driving home from Owatonna.

The sale is located along Frontage Road East, about a mile from the Medford Outlet Center round-about.

The sale is located along Frontage Road East, about a mile south of the Medford Outlet Center round-about off Interstate 35.

This is the third year Loren has held his third weekend in July sale at this location, 5415 Frontage Road East, just across Interstate 35 from the Medford Outlet Center. However, he’s been a picker in southern Minnesota for 30-plus years, scouting for goods in barns and elsewhere. He’s from a family of pickers.

One of several vendors.

One of several vendors.

Folks, this sale is worth your drive. In addition to Loren’s finds packed into a barn and sheds and scattered around the farm yard, several other vendors are also peddling their wares.

A snippet of the merchandise for sale.

A snippet of the merchandise for sale. See that striped table in the center. Should have bought it for $20.

The hot items this year, according to Loren, are anything wine or garden related. And galvanized. Furniture for repurposing is also popular with shoppers.

There are lots of vintage wooden pop crates for sale.

There are lots of vintage wooden pop crates for sale.

This picker’s finds are also sold at Urban Finds at the Medford Outlet Center. And, if you’re looking for something specific anytime, ask Loren. He’s always picking.

You're in the heart of farm country in Steele County, Minnesota.

You’re in the heart of farm country in Steele County, Minnesota.

You’ve got until early evening today (Saturday, July 18) and tomorrow, beginning at 8 a.m. until early evening to shop in this rural setting next to busy Interstate 35, rural Medford. Even if you don’t purchase anything, browsing junque on a farm yard next to tasseling corn fields will give you your country fix.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Lots of rustic and country, including this old door.

Lots of rustic and country, including this old door.

A vendor grabs lunch and settles in next to a bear he's selling.

A vendor grabs lunch and settles in next to a bear he’s selling.

If you'd rather have a deer mount than a bear, another vendor had that. I asked why I often see deer heads at flea markets. The vendor answered, "Because they never sell."

If you’d rather have a deer mount than a bear, another vendor had that. I asked why I often see deer heads at flea markets. The vendor answered, “Because they never sell.”

A Hardware Hank statue.

A Hardware Hank statue.

There are some great old outbuildings on-site, including this corn crib.

There are some great old outbuildings on-site, including this corn crib.

And inside the corn crib, this chandelier was for sale.

And inside the corn crib, this chandelier was for sale.

A vendor's dog.

A vendor’s dog.

Art

Art

Rural art and more.

Rural art and more.

A cupola country touch on the corn crib.

A cupola country touch on the corn crib.

The farm yard and buildings overflow with vintage finds.

The farm yard and buildings overflow with vintage finds.

FYI: Check back tomorrow for more photos from my time at the Barn Sale.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Another chapter in the book of Minnesota wineries June 30, 2015

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WHEN VISITING A WINERY, it’s as much about the setting and experience as about the wine.

Rows of grape vines grow alongside the barn at Next Chapter Winery, 16945 320th Street, rural New Prague.

Rows of grape vines grow alongside the barn at Next Chapter Winery, 16945 320th Street, rural New Prague.

On Sunday, my husband and I discovered yet another delightful southern Minnesota winery, Next Chapter Winery, just southwest of New Prague.

This inviting canopied gravel driveway leads wine lovers to Next Chapter Winery. The house is a private residence, not the tasting room as I initially thought.

This inviting canopied gravel driveway leads wine lovers to Next Chapter Winery. The house is a private residence, not the tasting room as I initially thought.

Randy parked our car to the right out of this photo, next to the house.

Randy parked our car to the right out of this photo, next to the house. There’s plenty of parking behind the shed and barn.

The barn quilt adds an artistic touch to this vintage barn.

The barn quilt adds an artistic touch to the vintage barn.

Even the barn doors hold rustic charm.

Even the barn doors hold rustic charm.

From the time we turned onto the rural tree-lined driveway that tunnels toward a lovely home in a subtle buttery hue, parked our car in the shade of the yard near an aged red barn adorned with a barn quilt and entered the pole shed style winery, I felt comfortably at home. It was as if I had arrived at the farm of a favorite aunt and uncle for a Sunday summer afternoon visit. And wine.

A sign directs visitors to the tasting room.

A sign directs visitors to the tasting room.

The tasting room.

The tasting room.

Love the ambiance of the chandeliers in the tasting room.

Love the ambiance the chandeliers create in the tasting room.

Inside a rather non-descript white metal shed, where chandeliers add unexpected elegance and stacked wooden wine barrels line walls, Randy and I settled in at the bar to sample eight wines ranging from a fruity/black cherry Merlot to the semi-sweet white Muzungu to the refreshing fruity MN Blushing Bride to the winery’s specialty Cranberry Burst, sweet and tart with a burst of fizz and crafted from Wisconsin cranberries.

Sampling Next Chapter wine.

Sampling Next Chapter wine.

For $6 you can sample six of eight wines. The fee is waived with each bottle purchased. We shared two of the wines so we could each try all eight.

The wine is aged only in wooden barrels.

The wine is aged only in wooden barrels.

There wasn’t a single wine on the sampling list that I didn’t enjoy. That’s unusual since I typically find at least a wine or two I don’t like upon tasting at a winery. Maybe it’s the time-honored, authentic aging of wine in wooden barrels (no plastic used here) or the land or the grapes or the crafters or even the comfortableness of this place that resulted in my appreciating every wine.

The grapes are still small and growing.

The grapes are still small and growing.

The attentive and friendly service of Laura, who poured the wines and also offered a brief history of Next Chapter, certainly added to a truly wonderful personalized experience. The winery, she said, is the dream of Timothy and Therese Tulloch, who met in the early 1980s when Therese served with the Peace Corps in the Congo and met Timothy, a native of South Africa. They fell in love, became engaged and planned then to someday own a vineyard.

Rows of grape vines stretch around the property.

Rows of grape vines stretch along the property.

Last July, Next Chapter Winery, with eight varieties of grapes growing on 3,700 vines on six acres, opened to the public.

Musicians

Musicians perform Sunday afternoons in the tasting room.

There's even a piano inside the reception tent.

A piano inside the reception tent.

That's a tasting tent to the left of the barn.

To the left of the barn is a tasting tent.

But this winery is about more than just the wine. It’s about a sense of place, an embracing of rural Minnesota, of creating an experience, of celebrating life and good wine and special occasions and summer Sunday afternoons. Couples can marry here. From 3 p.m. – 5 p.m. Sundays, musicians perform. Tours are offered from noon to 1 p.m. Saturdays. On Wednesday evenings you can paint and sip wine. In the winter, you can catch the occasional theatrical performance.

Across the pond is the tasting room deck. To the left is the tent permanently set up during the warm months for wedding and other celebrations.

Across the pond is the tasting room deck. To the left is the tent permanently set up during the warm months for wedding and other celebrations.

For couples like us, Next Chapter offers a brief respite, a place to snug up to the bar for some great Minnesota wines while chatting with new friends, Gary and Cindy from Prior Lake. Or, if we had been so inclined, we could have kicked back in Adirondack chairs or sipped wine on the deck overlooking a small pond spraying a fountain of water.

At home with a bottle of Cranberry Burst.

At home with a bottle of Cranberry Burst.

While Randy purchased bottles of Muzungu and Cranberry Burst, I headed outdoors with my camera, following the rows of grapes, stopping to photograph, extraordinarily pleased that we found this lovely rural Minnesota winery between New Prague and Montgomery.

Our second purchase, Muzungu, Swahili for "white guy."

Our second purchase, Muzungu, Swahili for “white guy.”

FYI: Wine tasting hours are from 1 p.m. – 7 p.m. Wednesday – Sunday. Be aware that, on weekends, the winery may host the occasional wedding and thus be closed to the public. I’d advise calling ahead at 612.756.3012 if you are driving from a distance. Click here to reach the Next Chapter Wintery website.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling