Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Family connections in the berry patch & beyond June 25, 2021

Picking berries at Straight River Farm on a Saturday morning in 2012. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

JUNE PROMPTS MEMORIES of Junes past, when our then family of five headed south of Faribault to Straight River Farm to pick strawberries.

We made a game of it, seeing who could harvest the most berries. It added an element of fun as we collectively picked 20-plus pounds of sun-ripened strawberries.

Years have passed since the kids left home and Randy and I picked berries. But now our eldest daughter continues the family tradition by taking her two children to a berry patch. Together the three of them (the kids are two and five) recently picked close to four pounds. While that’s not a lot of strawberries, it’s not all about the quantity. It’s also about time outdoors. About being, and working, together. About learning that strawberries come from fields, not just the produce section at the grocery store.

My grandchildren are a second-generation removed from the land. I want them to understand the origin of their food and to appreciate that their maternal grandparents grew up on family dairy and crop farms. Agriculture is part of their heritage.

Our granddaughter zooms along on her scooter last year at North Alexander Park in Faribault. This past Saturday we shared a picnic lunch near the shelter in this image. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2020.

As their grandmother, I hold a responsibility to continue that connection to the land. This past weekend, when Isabelle and Isaac stayed overnight, we enjoyed the stunning summer weather with lots of time outdoors. That’s one simple way to link to the land. We packed a picnic lunch, with the kids “helping” to make their own sandwiches. Then it was off to North Alexander Park, where they learned to side step goose poop on the paved trail before we finally found a picnic table in a goose-poop-free zone. (Note to City of Faribault: Please place more picnic tables in the park among all those shade trees.)

While eating our picnic lunch, being in nature spurred conversations, which prompted questions, observations and more. Grandma, how many oak trees are there in the world? Leave that grape on the ground; the ants will eat it. The airplane is in the blue sky. Oh, how I love viewing the world from the perspective of my grandchildren. Life is so uncomplicated and simple and joy-filled.

Randy and the grandkids follow the pine-edged driveway at a family member’s central Minnesota lake cabin last summer. This is one of my favorite photos from that time in the beautiful outdoors. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2020.

Later that day, Randy and I took the kids to Wapacuta Park near our home. Rather than follow the most direct path up a steep grassy hill, we diverted onto a narrow dirt path that winds through the woods and leads to a launching point for disc golf. The kids loved that brief adventure into the woods, where we found a broken park bench (Note to City of Faribault: Please repair or replace.) and art flush to the earth. Exposed tree roots and limestone provided insights into the natural world and local terrain.

Randy also posed the kids next to a gigantic boulder near the playground while I snapped photos with my cellphone. Our three adult children responded with enthusiasm to the texted images. Wow! It looks the same as 30 some years ago! It has barely eroded. Amber and I will have to climb it the next time we are in Faribault.

A second trip to Wapacuta the following afternoon led to a lesson about storms as thunder banged, rain fell and we hurried home. Not through the woods this time.

I love every moment with my grandchildren. The time making cut-out star cookies for an upcoming July Fourth celebration. The time in our backyard blowing up a bubble storm. The time at the playground. The time reading and laughing and building block towers and putting dresses on the same Little Mermaid dolls Izzy’s mom and aunt played with some 25-plus (or less) years ago. These are the moments which link generations, which grow family love, which I cherish.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


It’s berry pickin’ time in Minnesota June 18, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:02 AM
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Berry picking at Straight River Farm near Faribault started two weeks ago and is expected to continue for awhile yet. Yes, berries are about two weeks earlier than normal this year in Minnesota. And, yes, Straight River is open weekdays. Call before driving out to the farm which is located in a peaceful country setting along the Straight River.

JUNE WOULD NOT BE JUNE without berry picking.

So on a recent Saturday morning my husband and I slipped into tattered jeans and worn t-shirts, laced our tennis shoes and grabbed caps as we headed out to pick strawberries at Straight River Farm east of Faribault.

Picking berries at Straight River Farm on a Saturday morning.

About 1 ½ hours later we’d harvested 21 pounds of fruit. We most definitely had to work for what we got. The berries really needed another day or two of sunshine. But we’ve come to expect that; all the berries cannot possibly ripen at the same time.

We usually have a competition to see who picks the most strawberries. This year we tied and picked a total of 21 pounds. See that fold-up garden kneeler in the right corner. I find picking much easier when I use that. But then I have an artificial right hip and I need to be careful how I bend and manipulate my body.

After dropping our two boxes of berries off at home, we took in the Faribault Heritage Days Soap Box Derby trial run and a garage sale before eating lunch and then getting down to the task of cleaning and bagging the strawberries.

My husband and I worked as a team to prepare the berries for freezing.

Plucking berries is the easy part. I’d rather creep between rows, back bent to the sky, than stand in the kitchen for hours washing, hulling, slicing and finally bagging berries. I’d rather chat with other berry pickers—including the young family next to us and the Florida retiree recently returned to his native Minnesota—than shut myself away in the kitchen on a gorgeous summer afternoon.

But such is the destiny of the berry picker.

I sliced and froze 13 three-cup bags of strawberries, no sugar added. I also saved some for eating fresh.

A shipped-in, store-bought strawberry can never match the taste of a fresh Minnesota berry, like those pictured here in this file photo of Straight River Farm berries.

FYI: We’ve been picking berries at Straight River Farm, 3733 220th Street East, Faribault, for years. To learn more about this multi-fruit and vegetable farm, click here.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling