Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

From car to military shows & more, there’s plenty to do in Rice County this weekend May 18, 2017

A scene from the July 2016 Car Cruise Night. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.


INTERESTED IN VINTAGE CARS, flea markets, running for charity, gardening, military history, or comedy? If you are, check out activities in Rice County this weekend.


The U’s solar car at the August Car Cruise Night last summer. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.


Kicking off the weekend is Faribault Car Cruise Night slated for 6 pm. – 9 p.m. Friday along Central Avenue in the heart of historic downtown Faribault. The University of Minnesota solar vehicle is a special draw to this first of the summer cruise event. The car shows are held on the third Friday of the month from May through August.


An absolutely beautiful work of hood ornament art, in my opinion. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.


I’m a Car Cruise Night enthusiast. It’s a perfect time to mill around the downtown—appreciating the vehicles, the historic architecture and the people who attend. With camera in hand, I always find something new to photograph. Often, I view the artistic angle of the vintage vehicles. That interests me way more than what’s under the hood.


A Minnesota souvenir, an example of what you might find at a flea market. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.


Saturday morning brings the Rice County Historical Society spring flea market from 8 a.m. – 2 p.m. at the RCHS, 1814 N.W. Second Avenue in Faribault. One of my favorite activities is poking through treasures. As a bonus, the county museum will be open at no charge.


The Drag-On’s Car Club graphics, photographed through the window of a vintage car. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


Right next door, at the Rice County Fairgrounds, the Faribo Drag-On’s Car Club hosts its annual Car/Truck Show and Automotive Swap Meet from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. Saturday. The show includes pedal car races for the kids.


Edited image from Color Dash.


Also along Second Avenue Northwest, but at Alexander Park, Rice County Habitat for Humanity will benefit from a Color Dash 5K  sponsored by the Faribault Future’s class. On-site packet pick-up is at 9 a.m. followed by the race at 10 a.m.


Hosta will be among the plants sold at the GROWS plant sale. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


If you’re a gardener, you’ll want to shop the Faribault GROWS Garden Club perennial plant sale from 8 a.m. – noon in the Faribault Senior Center parking lot along Division Street. Sale proceeds will go toward purchase of trees for city parks and flowers for Central Park.


This piece of military equipment was exhibited last September when the Vietnam Memorial Traveling Wall came to Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.


Military history is the focus of the 8th annual Armed Forces Day—Military Timeline Weekend gathering at the Rice County Steam & Gas Engines grounds just south of Dundas/Northfield on Minnesota State Highway 3. I’ve never been to this event, which recently moved to the Rice County location. For military history buffs, this presents a unique opportunity to learn and to view living history as re-enactors role play noted military battles and more. The event opens at 10 a.m., closing at 5 p.m. on Saturday and at 3 p.m. on Sunday.


The Looney Lutherans. Photo credit, The Looney Lutherans website, media section.


Wrapping up the weekend is “The Looney Lutherans” music and comedy show at 4 p.m. Sunday at the Paradise Center for the Arts, 321 Central Avenue North in downtown Faribault. I expect this trio of actresses will work their magic on even the most stoic among us. I could use some laughter.

Before or after the show, check out the gallery exhibits, including one by 13-year-old Mohamed Abdi, a young artist already exhibiting a passion and strong talent in art.

There you go. All of this is happening right here. Not in the Twin Cities. But here, in greater Minnesota. Let’s embrace the opportunities in our backyard. Right here in Rice County. And, if you don’t live within county lines, we’d love to have you here exploring our part of Minnesota.

FYI: If you plan to attend any of the above events, please check Facebook pages and websites for any possible changes due to the rainy weather and also for detailed info. With the Paradise show, check on ticket availability in advance.

For more events happening in Rice County, visit the Faribault and Northfield tourism websites.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Promoting Faribault March 10, 2017

A snippet of Faribault’s just-published 2017 tourism guide cover shows Faribault’s signature angled name graphic overlaid on a photo taken along Central Avenue.


NEARLY 35 YEARS AGO, I moved to Faribault, relocating to this southeastern Minnesota city after my May 1982 marriage. My husband had the more secure job in an area with more employment opportunities.

I’ve grown to love this community and its people. I can go almost anywhere in town and run into a friend or acquaintance. While Faribault, with a population of around 23,000 still seems big to me in comparison to my rural southwestern Minnesota hometown of under 400, I feel here the closeness of a small town. Paths cross at events and in churches, schools, grocery stores, shops, restaurants, parks and more. That creates a sense of community.

Among events fostering community closeness is the monthly May – August Car Cruise Night along Central Avenue in our historic downtown. The well-kept aged buildings in Faribault’s central commercial district are among our strongest assets and provide an ideal backdrop for car enthusiasts to gather.

For a blogger like me, Car Cruise Night presents an abundance of photographic opportunities. I enjoy the challenge of coming up with new and creative ways to photograph the car show, showcased many times on Minnesota Prairie Roots.


My July 2016 Car Cruise Night photo is the cover of the 2017 Faribault tourism guide.


Now my car shoots have extended beyond this space to tourism. A photo I shot at the July 2016 Car Cruise Night graces the cover of the just-released 2017 Visit Faribault Minnesota tourism guide published by the Faribault Daily News in collaboration with the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism. I am delighted and honored to have my work chosen by a committee for this placement.

In a single photo, potential visitors get a snapshot of Faribault. In the backdrop architecture, they see the history and the care Faribault has taken to preserve historic buildings. In the people and cars, they see a fun event. In the green Faribault banner and lush, hanging flower basket, they see community pride.


My original photo from the July 2016 Car Cruise Night. The left side of this photo is printed on page 22 of the tourism guide in the section titled “Explore historic downtown.” Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


But there’s more to this photo than seen in the vertical tourism guide cover. I shot the image in a horizontal format, my view stretching along nearly the entire length of the 200 block (west side) of Central Avenue. The 1884 Fleckenstein building, beautifully renovated and restored by Faribault-based Restoration Services, Inc., anchors the image on the right. But just look at all those buildings beyond. I cannot say enough about how lovely the historic architecture in downtown Faribault.

Of course, Faribault is about much more, so much more. I’ve also had the opportunity recently to pen pieces on River Bend Nature Center and the historic murals in our downtown for the tourism website. I’m proud to promote Faribault, pronounced fair-uh-boh. That would be French in a community that’s today culturally diverse.


TELL ME: What would you like to know about Faribault? Or, what do you know about Faribault? Or, what do you love about Faribault?

FYI: In addition to my cover photo, my Midway photo from the Rice County Fair is printed in an ad on page 20 and a photo I took of Twiehoff Gardens & Nursery is published on page 30.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Faribault is about blankets, beer, blue cheese & a whole lot more April 28, 2016

Faribault's new promotional billboard, visible while traveling southbound along Interstate 35 near the city. Faribault is about a half hour south of the Twin Cities metro.

Faribault’s new promotional billboard, visible while traveling southbound along Interstate 35 near the city. Faribault is about a half hour south of the Twin Cities metro and about an hour from the Iowa border. Perfect for a day trip.

MY COMMUNITY OF FARIBAULT could easily fall into that grey space of endless towns perched along Interstate 35 from the Texas-Mexico border to Duluth in northeastern Minnesota.

But Faribault, pronounced fair-uh-boh, because it’s a French name, isn’t just any other community. This is a city of some 23,000 with a strong sense of history. Drive a few miles off I-35 to see the aged buildings along and branching off Central Avenue and scattered throughout town. We have historic churches (like the Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour) and the historic Shattuck-St. Mary’s School and wonderful old houses.

A new billboard along I-35 hints at what you’ll discover in this southeastern Minnesota community named after founder and fur trader Alexander Faribault.

Let’s zoom in on billboard details:

Strolling along Central Avenue in historic downtown Faribault late on a Saturday afternoon in December 2011.

This remains one of my all-time favorite shots of Faribault’s Central Avenue, our Main Street. It showcases the aged buildings and beauty of our historic downtown. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, December 2011.

HISTORIC DOWNTOWN: Aged buildings, most beautifully restored, border Central Avenue for several blocks. If you appreciate old architecture, history and home-grown businesses, then you’ll enjoy our downtown.

Award-winning Amablu Gorgonzola from Caves of Faribault.

Award-winning Amablu Gorgonzola from Caves of Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

BLUE CHEESE: Award-winning blue and Gorgonzola cheeses are produced and aged in Faribault, in sandstone caves along the Straight River. I’m crazy about AmaBlu, St. Pete’s Select and AmaGorg cheeses. All are sold at The Cheese Cave, a Central Avenue retail shop that also serves up a limited menu of soup (seasonal), sandwiches, salads, pizza and more. The fresh cheese curds, flavored and plain, are a must-try. Iowa-based Swiss Valley Farms now owns the once locally-owned retail shop and cheese company.

We wanted to sample all of the beers on tap, so we ordered a flight.

Samples from a flight of F-Town beer. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

BEER: F-Town Brewing Company opened in the downtown historic district, just a half-block off Central Avenue, last summer. It’s a great addition to our community, continuing a tradition of early beer brewing in Faribault by the Fleckenstein brothers.

Perusing merchandise at the recently reopened Faribault Woolen Mill retail store.

Perusing merchandise at the Faribault Woolen Mill retail store. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

BLANKETS: The historic Faribault Woolen Mill has been weaving blankets for some 150 years. Visit The Mill Store (open daily except Sunday) and/or tour the mill (every Friday or the second Saturday of the month) along the banks of the Cannon River. This business produces quality made blankets, throws, scarves, etc., in the time-honored tradition of hands-on looming by employees who’ve been around for a long time.


BILLBOARDS SHOWCASE only a quick visual of what any place offers. So here are additional personal recommendations from my favorites and must-see list of Faribault attractions:

This restored 1915 clock was installed on the Security State Bank Building, 302 Central Avenue, on Saturday.

This restored 1915 clock was installed in 2015 on the Security State Bank Building, 302 Central Avenue. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

ART: Stop at the Paradise Center for the Arts, a restored theater, to peruse the galleries and gift shops or to take in a show.

Admire the recently-restored Security Bank Building clock at 302 Central Avenue.

At the south end of Central Avenue, at its intersection with Division Street, admire the art throughout Buckham Memorial Library. Don’t miss the Charles Connick stained glass window, the Greek murals or the exterior clock tower.

Throughout the downtown area are numerous murals depicting scenes from Faribault history. I love this concept of combining art and history in such a highly-visible public way.

While I’ve never toured Whillock Studio, home to woodcarver Ivan Whillock, I’d suggest a visit. Locally, his work can be seen in churches, at the library and more. Noted woodcarver Marv Kaisersatt also calls Faribault home. Kaisersatt keeps a low profile. But I was lucky enough to visit his second floor downtown studio (not open to the public) several years ago when penning a magazine article.

Folks waited in line for these cupcakes.

Folks waited in line at last summer’s Faribault Farmers Market for these cupcakes from Bluebird Cakery. The business now has a storefront location at 318 Central Avenue, Suite 101. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

FOOD: Hands-down, The Signature Bar & Grill serves the best thin crust (or any) pizza in town. I always order the Italian sausage. The old-fashioned bar area is reminiscent of Cheers.

The Depot Bar & Grill, housed in an old train depot, is always a good dining choice. Warm weather outdoor dining is available on a patio next to the railroad tracks. It’s a thrill to feel the power of a train roar past only feet away.

Faribault offers many ethnic dining choices ranging from Mexican to Somali to Chinese, Thai, etc. Gran Plaza Mexican Grill downtown is a local favorite.

Fairly new to downtown Faribault is Bluebird Cakery, specializing in cupcakes (plus other sweet treats) and assorted coffees, etc. I’ve been there several times and each time it’s been super busy. Choosing cupcakes proves difficult given all of the enticing flavors.

I’m not a fan of fast food or fast food chains. But for an authentic American fast food dining experience, Faribault’s A & W still offers car hop service during the warm months. And I do love a frosty mug of A & W root beer.

New to Faribault, and hidden away in the Faribo West Mall, is Smoqehouse Restaurant. I’ve been there once and will definitely be back as I love pulled pork and other savory smoked meats. The smokey smell alone is enough to draw me in. Take note that if you want to eat here after the mall closes on say a Saturday evening, you need to use the back entrance across from the Walmart Auto Center.

Burkhartzmeyer Shoes, a family-owned shoe store along Central Avenue in Faribault.

Burkhartzmeyer Shoes, a family-owned shoe store along Central Avenue in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

SHOPPING: I’m not much of a shopper. But I do like thrift stores–you’ll find Good Will, the Salvation Army, All Seasons Community Services Thrift and Jan’s Thrift Shop in Faribault along with some used clothing shops.

Third-generation family-owned Burkhartzmeyer Shoes is a Faribault staple offering full shoe-fitting services (yes, they measure your feet and put the shoe on your foot) and shoe repair. This place is reminiscent of a bygone era when outstanding personal customer service mattered. I know nearly everyone who works here and these are salt-of-the-earth wonderful people. Shoe boxes are tied with a cotton string and you’ll even get a sucker if you want one.

We also have gift shops, antique stores, an architectural salvage business and more in our historic downtown.

Tables packed with colorful flowers fill the Faribault Garden Center.

Tables packed with colorful flowers fill the Faribault Garden Center. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


Farmer Seed and Nursery, in an aged building along Minnesota State Highway 60/Fourth Street, is a fun place to poke around for anything plant and garden related. This business has provided American gardeners with plants, bulbs, seeds, etc. for more than 120 years through its mail order catalog (also now online) business. It’s especially fun to tour during the holidays when themed Christmas trees pack the store.

Donahue’s Greenhouse is open for the season, drawing gardeners from all over to this massive family-owned greenhouse/retail shop at 420 SW Tenth Street. After a long winter, this feels like walking into summer. I get a bit overwhelmed with all of the choices at Donahue’s, thus I often shop at the smaller Faribault Garden Center or Northstar Seed & Nursery.

Twiehoff Garden & Nursery on the east side is another great choice for plants and then fresh produce throughout the growing season. Housed in a no-frills pole shed style building which lends an earthy authenticity, this 52-year-old business is operated by the friendly Twiehoff family. It’s one of my main sources for local fresh seasonal produce along with the Faribault Farmers Market.

Biking through River Bend Nature Center.

Biking through River Bend Nature Center. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

NATURE: One of my favorite places for an in-town get-away is River Bend Nature Center. Faribault also has an extensive trail system for biking and walking.

City View Park, on the east side by the water tower, offers a beautiful overlook of Faribault.

The restored Tilt-A-Whirl sits in downtown Faribault, just two blocks from Buckham Memorial Library.

The restored Tilt-A-Whirl sits in downtown Faribault next to Burkhartzmeyer Shoes, just two blocks from Buckham Memorial Library. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

HISTORY: It’s everywhere in Faribault. In the architecture of old buildings. On murals. In the Rice County Historical Society Museum. In our churches, especially The Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour. In the historic Hutchinson House Bed & Breakfast. Even in a restored Tilt-A-Whirl car located on the corner by Burkhartzmeyer Shoes. Yes, the Tilt-A-Whirl originated in Faribault and, up until a few years ago, was still made here.

I love Faribault. I’ve lived here more than half my life now. I don’t have the connection of family roots. But I do have the connection to place. Faribault is home.

DO YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS about Faribault? If so, ask away and I’ll try to answer.

FYI: Chambers of Commerce and tourism centers in Faribault, Owatonna and Northfield have joined in promoting visits to their communities through a Minne-Roadtrip venture. All three cities lie along the I-35 corridor, with Faribault in the middle. Click here to learn more about this promotion. I’ve explored all three communities; they are definitely worth your visit.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Lindström/Lindstrom’s missing umlauts April 16, 2015

A section of LIndstrom's business district.

A section of  Lindstrom’s business district.

IT’S ALL A BIT AMUSING in a Minnesota sort of way.

Some folks in Lindström, “America’s Little Sweden” located about 40 miles north of the Twin Cities, noted the omission of the umlaut over the letter “o” on newly-erected official Minnesota Department of Transportation highway signage. They weren’t happy.

The town's 1908 water tower, converted to a Swedish coffee pot in 1992, sports umlauts.

The town’s 1908 water tower, converted to a Swedish coffee pot in 1992, sports umlauts.

Now if you’re of Swedish heritage and/or a stickler about absolutely proper linguistics, you can understand this discontent. I studied German in high school and college and am well aware of the importance of umlauts in correct pronunciation of a word. An umlaut denotes a specific sound.

A Swedish dala horse and  Yule goat posted on a business honor this community's Swedish heritage.

A dala horse and Yule goat posted on a business honor Lindstrom’s Swedish heritage.

I expect if I lived in Lindström, where the Swedish heritage is an integral part of the town’s identity and a tourism draw, I might be miffed, too, about that missing umlaut.

In MnDOT’s defense, it was simply following state law which allows only standard alphabet usage (no umlauts or such) on traffic control devices.

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton has since intervened, issuing an executive order on April 15 that approves addition of those two missing dots above the “o.”

In the meantime, The New York Times, the Associated Press and many other media outlets have picked up this, shall I call it, distinctly Minnesotan story.

I noticed in a television news story on the missing umlaut, that signage on the city’s center of government reads Lindstrom City Hall and Community Center rather than Lindström City Hall and Community Center. On the city’s website, the umlaut is sometimes there, sometimes not. I find that discrepancy interesting.

During my visit, I was more interested in what the bakery had to offer.

During my visit, I was more interested in what the bakery had to offer than an awareness of umlauts.

So I wondered about other signage in this community of 4,442 which my husband and I visited briefly last October, when I wasn’t noting the absence or presence of umlauts. I checked my few photos and here’s what I found:

Umlauts on the Swedish coffee pot, but none on the bakery sign.

Umlauts on the Swedish coffee pot, but none on the bakery sign.

No umlauts on the bakery bench signage either.

No umlauts on the bakery bench signage either.

Interesting, huh?

Apparently no umlauts in the word "julekaka" on this bakery signage.

Inside the bakery which specializes in Swedish treats.

Umlaut or not, Lindström has garnered national attention. And that can only benefit local tourism in Lindström/Lindstrom.


More bakery treats.

More bakery treats.

Many choices at this bakery.

Many choices at this bakery.

Nothing Swedish, as far as I know, about Deutschland Meats.

Nothing Swedish about Deutschland Meats. Love that kitschy brat art atop the business.

A must-visit antique shop in Lindstrom.

The must-visit Lindstrom Antique Mall, where you will find Swedish merchandise.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Note that the absence of umlauts in cutlines is not intentional, but due to my not knowing how to add them there, if that is even an option.


I was “this close” to Prince Farming’s hometown & more March 17, 2015

MAPPING OUT A ROUTE from Mason City to Dubuque, Iowa, last summer, I routed our drive through Strawberry Point, which is 10 miles from Arlington. Remember that.

The world's largest strawberry sculpture is made of fiberglass, weighs 1,430 pounds, is 15 feet high, 12 feet wide and was constructed in 1967.

The world’s largest strawberry sculpture is made of fiberglass, weighs 1,430 pounds, is 15 feet high, 12 feet wide and was constructed in 1967.

Strawberry Point is home to the world’s largest strawberry. I delight in kitschy roadside art, thus the stop in this town of nearly 1,300.

I'm not sure this motel is open anymore.

There’s even a Strawberry Motel.

Homespun address signage in Strawberry Point.

Homespun address signage in Strawberry Point.

A sweet message.

A sweet message outside a cafe.

Additionally, I find the name, Strawberry Point, charming. Its name history traces to the soldiers, traders and railroad workers who savored the wild strawberries growing along the area’s trails and hillsides.

Driving into Strawberry Point.

Driving into Strawberry Point.

On the late August afternoon my husband and I drove into Strawberry Point, I was tired and crabby. Mostly due to the excessive heat and humidity. But also due to the endless travel through an Iowa countryside that seemed monotonous in fields and flatness. This is unusual for me to feel this way given my appreciation for rural prairie landscapes.

This impressive building anchors a corner in downtown Strawberry Point and houses a coffee shop/cafe and hotel.

This impressive building anchors a corner in downtown Strawberry Point and houses a coffee shop/cafe and hotel.

Had I not been in such a funky mood, I would have explored more. Looking now at my photos from downtown Strawberry Point, I see what I missed. That sprawling brick corner building labeled Coffee Shop/The Franklin Hotel calls for exploration. Just like other places in Iowa.

The strawberry sculpture sits in the heart of downtown Strawberry Point.

The strawberry sculpture sits in the heart of downtown Strawberry Point.

How many of you had heard of Arlington, Iowa, before this season’s reality TV show The Bachelor aired? The star, bachelor farmer Chris Soules, dubbed “Prince Farming”, is from Arlington.

Signage remained from  RAGBRAI, the bike ride across Iowa.

Signage remained from RAGBRAI, the bike ride across Iowa.

Last July Soules met with RAGBRAI bikers in Strawberry Point, greeting folks in a fire department fundraiser. I missed him by a month. Not that I had even heard of him then.

While I don’t agree with the premise of The Bachelor, trying to find true love by dating multiple women simultaneously, I do see the show’s current value to Iowa, specifically, Arlington. That community of less than 500 is using its moment in the spotlight to raise funds for a new community center via sales of “The Other Bachelors of Arlington, Iowa” calendars. Local farmer and community volunteer John Fedeler came up with the calendar idea featuring 12 Arlington bachelors. Brilliant.

From what I’ve read on the campaign’s Facebook page, it’s a tastefully done calendar that can be yours for $14.99 plus $2 for shipping.

For example, here’s the bio on Mr. September, Jordan:

Mr. September was born in Arlington and helps out on his family’s farm. When he is not farming with his father, Mr. September works to grow his computer consulting business and practices his piloting skill. Mr. September is more reserved about details of his love life, but joked that he will be a “bachelor till the rapture”. Mr. September would give you the shirt off of his back if you needed it and is not afraid to reach out a helping hand.

A farm site somewhere in notheast Iowa between Nashua and Strawberry Point.

A farm site somewhere in notheast Iowa between Nashua and Strawberry Point.

He sounds like one wholesome Iowa farm boy to me.

Somewhere in northeastern Iowa.

Somewhere in northeastern Iowa.

And isn’t that the image we have of Iowa—a good, wholesome place of mostly farm fields and small towns? Pigs and corn. Fields of opportunities?

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Up close with an Amish family in southeastern Minnesota October 15, 2013

HIS NAME SURPRISES ME. Dennis. “It is not,” I insist to my husband, “in The Book of Amish.”

Not that a Book of Amish exists. I have made that up. But in my mind, this trim Amish carpenter with the dark beard, suspenders criss-crossing his back and a tape measure hooked on his black pants, should bear a biblical name like Samuel, Jacob or Daniel.

Dennis sounds too Englisch.

His surname of Hershberger, however, seems appropriate although the German in me would like to insert a “c” and make that Herschberger.

Driving Fillmore County Road 21 north of Canton toward Henrytown then west to Dennis and Mary Hershberger’s farm in early October 2012. This is deep in Minnesota Amish country.

The photographer in me would also like very much to photograph this young Amish father who crafts the most beautiful, gleaming furniture you can imagine on his farm north of Canton and west of Henrytown in southeastern Minnesota. But I know that to photograph him would violate his trust and hinder my welcome to Countryside Furniture.

Inside Countryside Furniture, with furniture crafted by Dennis and crew.

So I keep my camera low, tugging it to my side as I watch the Hershberger children, 17-month-old Simon and his 3-year-old sister, whose name I never do learn, wheel a faded red wagon. I am mostly intrigued by Simon in the plain handcrafted blue dress that skims his ankles above pudgy bare feet hardened to the stones and rough grass underfoot. His face is still edged with the softness of a baby, but emerging into that of a little boy. Straight cut bangs ride high on his forehead with wisps of hair tickling his ears in a bowl cut hair style.

Jars of canned goods line the shelves in Mary’s shop.

When I amble next door, the siblings follow me into their mother’s shop, rattling round and round with the wagon like a car on a racetrack.

I admire the rows of canned produce (bright orange carrots, golden nuggets of corn, jade spears of dill pickles), the faceless Amish dolls snug in a cradle, the tight weave of cotton rag rugs…

Faceless handcrafted Amish dolls in a handcrafted cradle.

I lift bars of homemade soap and breathe in their perfumed scent.

A pathway in the crafts store where Simon and his sister circled their wagon.

Then my attention turns again toward little Simon and his sister as they drop marbles onto a colorful tower before darting outside. Clack, clack, clack.

The siblings dropped marbles down the colorful tower on the right.

Through the open shop door, I watch a horse and buggy wheel into the farmyard, steering toward the weathered red barn. A boy, perhaps 10 years old, strolls toward the farmhouse and I lift my right hand to wave. He hesitates, then returns my greeting.

I turn my attention back to Mary’s merchandise. We must choose something to purchase now. It is expected. So Randy picks two jars of Mary’s Preserves. We head back to the furniture showroom, a small outbuilding with white walls and a low ceiling, with two jars of strawberry and tripleberry jams.

We make small talk. Dennis asks where we’ve come from. “Faribault,” I tell him.

“Along Interstate 35,” he notes, then tells us of a good customer from our community.

A close-up of the furniture Dennis and his crew craft.

I ask Dennis’ permission to photograph his fine furniture and he gives his OK. Then we return, with Simon still tugging that wagon, to Mary’s shop. As we walk, Dennis lifts his son off the ground, snugs the boy against his right hip, then speaks to him in a language I can only assume is a German dialect. I expect Simon may be getting a gentle admonition about taking the wagon inside his mother’s shop.

Randy pays $4.50 for the jam. We thank Dennis for the gracious welcome to his farm.

My final shot of the Hershberger farmyard: the barn, the buggies, the stack of wood.

As we head to the car, I photograph the red barn, the two buggies parked next to it and the rough-hewn lengths of stacked wood which Dennis and his helpers will soon craft into fine furniture.

Even though I couldn’t photograph the Hershbergers, the visuals of this place, of this Amish family, of this experience, have imprinted upon my memory. And sometimes that is better than a photo.

A picturesque farm near the Hershberger place, rural Fillmore County, Minnesota, taken in early October 2012.

FYI: Dennis Hershberger also sells his furniture at Countryside Furniture, located at Old Crow Antiques in Canton, at the intersection of U.S. Highway 52 and Fillmore County Road 21. The Hershberger farm is about five miles northwest of that intersection.

Old Crow Antiques is a great place to stop for information on local Amish farms.

This story and these images are from an October 2012 visit to the Hershberger farm.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


In which I meet Amish quilter Fannie Miller on her Lenora farm October 11, 2013

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THE AMISH HAVE ALWAYS intrigued me. I can’t explain specifically why, except to admit that perhaps I am a bit envious of their minimalist lifestyle, one likely similar to that of my farmer forefathers.

Never have I gotten a closer look at Amish life than on an early October 2012 day trip to the Lenora/Canton/Harmony area of southeastern Minnesota.

My first glimpse of the Amish began in unincorporated Lenora in southeastern Fillmore County where my husband and I were searching for the historic Lenora Methodist Church. Unable to initially locate the church (how we could miss it in tiny Lenora is beyond me), we stopped at Summer Kitchen Antiques, which was closed, and then began driving east onto a gravel road.

An Amish buggy approaches our car just on the outskirts of Lenora.

Just barely past the antique shop, an Amish buggy came into view and I raised my camera to snap two quick photos through the passenger side windshield. Now I know how the Amish forbid face photos, and I am (mostly) respectful in their close presence. But when they are traveling on a public roadway in a region that markets itself as a “see the Amish” destination, from which the Amish benefit financially, I do not feel obliged to keep my camera tucked away.

A close-up look at the approaching buggy shows a young Amish boy reading a book to his little sister as their mother guides the horse and buggy down the gravel road.

After that initial sighting, we came upon a roadside sign advertising quilts and table runners less than one-quarter of a mile from Lenora. My excitement heightened as we turned into the Amish farmyard, even though I was acutely aware I’d need to keep my shutter button finger mostly still.

That proved to be a challenge as I desired more than anything to photograph the red-haired pre-teen Amish girl with the pinkish birthmark splotched across her right cheek lolling on the feather-littered lawn next to her younger brother with the bowl-cut auburn hair.

When I cannot take a photo, I imprint visual details upon my mind.

Fannie Miller’s brick house is on the right, her shop in the attached lean-to just to the left.

The siblings directed us toward a lean-to attached to a stately and aging brick house adjacent to a wood-frame house. Dogs roamed while a third one, tethered to a thick chain in a pole shed next to an Amish buggy, barked with a ferocity that made me thankful he was restrained.

My first glimpse of the Millers’ dog chained in the pole shed.

The pungent smell of silage wafted across the yard as, across the gravel road, a farmer pushed the fermented corn with his tractor and loader.

Stepping onto the lean-to porch, I eyed a handwritten “no photos” sign and pulled my camera close to my side. Randy made a point of pointing out the warning to me, as if I couldn’t see it.

And then we met Fannie Miller, whose name aptly describes her rotund physical appearance. She settled onto a chair and watched as I caressed her fine handiwork, praised her stitching. I admired the sturdy, blue built-in wall of cupboards in the corner and told Fannie so.

I wished, in that moment, that I could photograph the entire scene before me and through the doorway into the next room where Fannie’s husband napped in a chair by the wood-burning stove. His chin dipped, his scruffy beard defining my side view of the old man sleeping. In the corner I spotted a patchwork quilt snugged across a single bed. I dared not look more for fear Fannie would banish me from her home.

I hang my laundry outside, so I was particularly intrigued by this circular drying rack onto which handkerchiefs were clipped on the porch of Fannie’s house.

I remember thinking, though, before exiting Fannie’s shop, before asking her if I could photograph hankies drying on her porch on this Monday wash day in October, how perfect and lovely the natural light that filtered into the two rooms of her house.

The children ran into this house after I stepped out of Fannie’s shop.

She granted me permission to photograph outside, as long as I did not photograph the children. I told her I would respect her request, then watched the red-haired siblings scamper inside their house.

Just another buggy parked on the Miller farm. I was surprised to see the round bales.

I snapped several more building and buggy photos, though not too many as to overstay our welcome, before passing by the now placid chained dog and turning onto the gravel road back to Lenora.

My final photo on the Miller farm, of the dog turned docile.

PLEASE CHECK BACK for another post about the Amish in the Canton and Harmony areas.

Click here to read my previous post about the historic Lenora United Methodist Church.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling