Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Community pride: A vision & two gardens, all because she cares about Faribault August 26, 2015

Behind several of these buildings in downtown Faribault, two gardens have been created.

Behind several of these buildings in downtown Faribault, two gardens have been created.

WITHIN MY COMMUNITY, there’s a new sense of optimism rising, a positivity that shouts “community pride.”

Rather than whine and complain about what Faribault lacks, locals are taking action. They are finding solutions and digging in to make this city an even better place.

Several months ago, the Faribault Daily News began publishing good news snippets on the editorial page every Saturday, citing examples of local community pride. This came after editor Jaci Smith called Faribault residents out on their negative attitudes about our community. A group, Citizens in Action, has formed locally to assist with clean-up and other public and private projects in the Faribault area. And recently the Faribault Foundation awarded its first ever Community Pride grants of $500 each to four projects that reflect exactly that—community pride.

The Second Street Garden, started last year and still in development.

The Second Street Garden, started last year and still in development.

Businesswoman, crafter and all-around optimistic long-time Faribault resident Dee Bjork received one of those grants for the Second Street Garden, a mini garden she began developing last year on a once blighted space in the heart of downtown. It’s a work in progress and a spin-off of a garden she created six years ago behind her sister and brother-in-law’s flooring store next to The Crafty Maven, the business she and another sister run.

Dee is a go-getter, a woman who cares deeply for her community and those who live here. She is always smiling and helping and encouraging.

That is how this all started, when Dee noticed a mom sitting on a bath towel on a curb downtown watching her kids play. She remembered her own childhood. Her mom lounged in a lawn chair, sipping iced tea while watching Dee and her siblings play ball in their yard.

Dee and Michelle

Dee and Michelle. Photo courtesy of Dee Bjork at The Crafty Maven.

Dee wanted the same for families living downtown. So she created Michelle’s Garden, named after a young girl she had begun mentoring. Michelle, now a teen, still lives downtown Faribault with her family and remains near and dear.

A street side view of the space now occupied by the Second Street Garden.

A street side view of the space now occupied by the Second Street Garden.

A lovely sign defines the garden.

A lovely sign defines the garden.

Beautiful flowers and plants spill from containers at Dufour's Cleaners next to the garden.

Beautiful flowers and plants spill from containers at Dufour’s Cleaners next to the garden.

With the success of Michelle’s Garden, the focus shifted recently to another spot, a vacant area between a dry cleaner and a hair salon. Dee wanted, she said, “to create a beautiful space outside in a space that was neglected but had potential.”

Flowers spill from a raised bed in the Second Street Garden.

Flowers spill from a raised bed in the Second Street Garden.

She wants the Second Street Garden to become a multi-purpose green space for those who live, work and shop downtown.

A side view of the Second Street Garden.

A side view of the Second Street Garden.

Already the lot, once filled with rock and debris and generally neglected, is shaping into an oasis of flowers and vegetables. Neighbors, gardeners, church members, youth and more—70 people, according to the list Dee’s kept—have worked together to create the two downtown gardens. There have been cash and plant donations, too, and a community planting day.

Plans call for latticework to eventually hide these utility boxes.

Plans call for latticework to eventually hide these utility boxes.

A splash of flowers in the garden.

A splash of flowers pop color into the garden.

Potted tomatoes will eventually be planted in yet to be built raised beds.

Tomatoes will eventually be planted in yet to be built raised beds rather than in pots.

And now Dee has that $500 Community Pride grant, and is seeking additional funding to continue with her vision for the Second Street Garden. A concrete pad will be poured for the dumpster and garbage containers that sit on a side of the lot, a necessity for those who occupy the adjoining building. The dumpster will also be fenced. She plans, too, to have a concrete pad installed for seating under a pergola. The city has promised a picnic table for seasonal placement. Latticework on the pergola will hide utility boxes. More raised beds are planned for the tomatoes that now grow in pots along a wall.

Gorgeous petunias add color to the garden.

Gorgeous petunias add color to the garden.

A dog waits on stairs overlooking the garden.

A dog waits on stairs overlooking the garden.

Veggies to give away.

Garden veggies.

Already the two gardens are lush with growing vegetables—tomatoes, squash, eggplant, peppers, brussel sprouts, kohlrabi, broccoli and zucchini—to be distributed among those downtown and also shared with customers at The Crafty Maven.

Encouraging words posted at the garden.

Encouraging words posted at the garden.

Dee saw a problem and solved it. And because of that, Faribault’s downtown is a better place.

FYI: Check back tomorrow to learn about another project that has been funded by the Faribault Foundation’s Community Pride Grant program.

If you wish to help Dee with the Second Street Garden, consider a cash, labor or materials donation. Contact her at The Crafty Maven.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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When fashion wins over horses April 29, 2015

FOR AS LONG AS I CAN REMEMBER, my now nearly 83-year-old mom has been enthralled by the Kentucky Derby.

I purchased this stunning 24-inch x 18-inch paint-by-number painting for a song last fall at a Wisconsin second-hand/collectible/antique shop. The scene reminds me of the Kentucky Derby. Interestingly enough, on the official Derby website store, paint-by-number horse paintings are available for purchase.

I purchased this stunning unframed 24-inch x 18-inch paint-by-number painting for a song last fall at a Wisconsin second-hand/collectible/antique shop. The scene reminds me of the Kentucky Derby. Interestingly enough, on the official Derby website store, paint-by-number horse kits are available for purchase.

This week I asked her why, something I felt compelled to know because, well, time slips away and then we wish we’d asked these questions. So I phoned her at her assisted living apartment 120 miles away in southwestern Minnesota, catching her right before lunch.

“It’s because of the hats they wear, not because of the horses,” she replied. And here, all along, I thought her Derby interest was fixed on the horses.

She continued: “It’s unbelievable to me what kind of crazy hats they wear. They’re so big.”

The fancy hat I purchased months ago for a Kentucky Derby party.

The fancy hat I purchased months ago for a Kentucky Derby party.

In that moment I wished Mom could join my husband and me for the Big Hats & Big Hearts Annual Auction for the Arts and Kentucky Derby Party at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault from 4 p.m. – 7 p.m. Saturday. That celebration includes viewing of the race, live and silent auctions, and Derby food and drinks.

Kentucky Derby hats

Kentucky Derby hats at The Crafty Maven, 212 Central Avenue, on display in early April.  Photo courtesy of The Crafty Maven.

A bonus is the current gallery exhibit, “A great place to hang your hat,” running through May 5 and sponsored by The Crafty Maven. That downtown Faribault shop offers an assortment of Derby hats and will even custom embellish hats for the big race day.

While I’m sitting in the Paradise theatre watching the Derby on the big screen, my mom will have her TV tuned to the festivities. She’ll review the list of contenders and choose a horse solely on liking its name. That’s precisely how I pick a horse. Neither of us cares about their rankings, only the names.

Names of past Derby winners are listed on a commemorative drinking glass gifted to me by my friend Beth Ann.

Names of past Derby winners are listed on a commemorative drinking glass gifted to me by my friend Beth Ann.

Of the 140 Kentucky Derby winners, I remember only one—that of triple crown and 1973 winner Secretariat. Aristides won the first race in 1875. Reviewing the list of horses for the 141st Derby run, Bold Conquest grabs my fancy.

My vintage paint-by-number horse painting up close.

My vintage paint-by-number horse painting up close.

I wonder which horse Mom will choose. She’s never been to Churchill Downs, but years ago attended several races at Minnesota’s Canterbury Park. The Shakopee horse race track is hosting a Kentucky Derby party on Saturday. Mom and her sister Rachel selected horses at Canterbury based on liking their names. Once, though, they picked a horse co-owned by the son of the veterinarian from my hometown.

My friend Beth Ann, who spoils me, gifted me with official Kentucky Derby mint julep glasses from 1986 and 1991.

My friend Beth Ann, who spoils me, gifted me with official Kentucky Derby mint julep glasses from 1986 and 1991.

I wish Mom could travel to Louisville, sit in the stands in a big fancy hat and sip mint juleps. She’s always wanted to attend the Derby. But at her age, she never will. Life is like a horse race. Sometimes we win. Sometimes we don’t.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Instead of following the star in the east… December 21, 2012

WHO ARE THESE

Wise woman 2

three

Wise woman 1

mysterious

Wise woman 3

women?

The holiday window display at The Crafty Maven, 212 Central Avenue, Faribault.

The holiday window display at The Crafty Maven, 212 Central Avenue, in historic downtown Faribault.

They are “The Three Wise Women,” you know, the women who could have altered the biblical account of the three wise men traveling to Bethlehem to see the Christ Child.

Sometimes it’s fun to ponder what may have been.

Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling