Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

UPcycleMN: From jeans jackets to Boomerang Bags April 27, 2022

The label that tags UPcycleMN products. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

REDUCE. RECYCLE. REUSE. Those three verbs theme an environmentally-conscious business established by a retired Northfield children’s programming librarian. Kathryn Ness, “CEO & Head Scrounger,” who holds degrees in Fiber Arts and Art History, champions those 3 Rs in UPcycleMN.

The UPcycleMN tent at Northfield’s Earth Day Celebration showcases jackets crafted from blue jeans. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

I met Ness at Northfield’s recent Earth Day Celebration at Bridge Square. A bold SAY NO! PLASTIC BAGS sign initially drew me to her vendor tent. There I admired blue jean jackets stitched together from used jeans. And I saw a basket filled with Take-n-Sew kits for Boomerang Bags. Ness was also giving away those cloth bags.

Kits to create Boomerang Bags. ((Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

A brief conversation with this artist revealed that she introduced the Boomerang Bags project (which originated in Australia) to the area while working at the library. At one time libraries in the Southeastern Libraries Cooperating system bagged patrons’ books in plastic bags. Today the libraries use locally-made cloth bags. In Northfield, volunteers have sewn 4,000 Boomerang Bags from donated fabric, according to the UPcycleMN website.

A jacket crafted from upcycled wool. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

Ness wants to eliminate single use plastic bags and also bring awareness to plastic and fabric waste in Northfield. But she’s not just making a statement. She’s doing something. Thus her UPcycleMN business focusing on taking a new or used item and creating something else from it to keep it out of the landfill. She collects fabric, upholstery remnants, curtains, old blue jeans and more to craft jackets, Fab-baskets, table runners, bags, totes…

Artsy fabric incorporated into a jacket crafted from blue jeans. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2022)

She brings her artistic background and talents to her work, assisted by her daughter, Krista Ness Mullen. Her interest in the arts stretches back to junior high school art classes, where she learned batik, macrame’ and weaving.

A Boomerang Bag at my library in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2018)

Today, with a focus on upcycling and the environment, Ness is stitching a message of reduce, recycle, reuse into the fabric of the Northfield community. And beyond.

FYI: You’ll find Ness marketing her UpcycleMN products and her environmental-friendly message at places like Northfield’s Riverwalk Market Fair, the Rustic Mamas’ Market in Owatonna and the Northfield Garden Club Tour. Visit her website for more information.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A glimpse of Northfield’s Earth Day Celebration April 26, 2022

A banner marks Northfield’s Earth Day Celebration at Bridge Square. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

WARM WEATHER, albeit wildly windy, drove Minnesotans outdoors on Saturday to embrace a partial-day reprieve from the cold and rain defining this April.

An overview of a section of the Earth Day Celebration. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

For Randy and me, that included a short drive to neighboring Northfield in the afternoon to check out the Earth Day Celebration at Bridge Square. I expected the event to draw a lot of locals and students from Carleton and St. Olaf Colleges. It did.

While the Earth Day Celebration happens behind them, these guys fish. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

In and surrounding Bridge Square, exhibitors shared information on topics ranging from climate change to water quality to composting to healthcare access and much more. Vendors from the Cannon Valley Farmers’ Market also set up shop. And kids created at several stations just a stone’s throw from fishermen angling in the Cannon River.

Near the river in Bridge Square, this temporary art installation focuses two messages: “NATIVE LIVES MATTER” and “CLIMATE JUSTICE.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

We mostly meandered, our stay cut short by raindrops. I zipped my camera inside my sweatshirt as we headed back to the van.

Bannering for a cause at the Earth Day Celebration. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

Yet, even during my brief time at Northfield’s April 23 Earth Day gathering, I felt the passion for taking care of this planet. Of being responsible stewards. Of engaging in conversation. Of doing our part.

A sign on the UPcycleMN tent grabbed my attention. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

It’s refreshing to see, especially when I observe all the exposed winter-tossed garbage along roadways and read about endangered Minnesota rivers, our shorter winters and so many other climate and environmental concerns.

An example of an upcycled blue jean jacket crafted by Kathryn Ness of UPcycleMN. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

I delighted in meeting former Northfield librarian Kathryn Ness who identifies herself as “CEO & Head Scrounger” at UpcycleMN. Signage and jean jackets drew me to her vendor tent and a short conversation. She upcycles used jeans into “new” jean jackets, crafts cloth bags and more. Kathy reminds me of my Uncle Bob, who weaves old jeans, bedspreads and more into beautiful, durable rag rugs. They are artists who are doing their part for our earth while creating.

Bridge Square is often a canvas for chalk art, including during the Earth Day Celebration. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

Attending Earth Day in Northfield gives me hope. Hope because people care about this earth, this place we call home.

TELL ME: Did you attend an Earth Day celebration?

Please check back for additional posts that focus on UPcycleMN and on the temporary art installation.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


The art of reclaiming and repurposing in a Northfield shop April 20, 2013

Makeshift accessories

THE CLEVER CREATIVE sidewalk sign crafted from license plates catches my eye and draws me into a cozy shop in downtown Northfield.

Inside I finger rings formed from spoons, try to slide on bracelets shaped from old license plates and other materials, admire oversized blooms folded from pages.

But I don’t take a single photo to show you, save that outdoor sign.

I Should have asked to photograph the art. I didn’t.

So you will have to imagine a one-of-a-kind home-grown shop featuring handmade merchandise repurposed from reclaimed items.

MakeShift Accessories, owned by artist-enterpreuner Devin Johnson, hometown boy come back home to Northfield, is my kind of store with its authentic artsy vibe.

FYI: To learn more about MakeShift Accessories, 418 Division Street, click here to reach the business website. Or, if you’re at Junk Bonanza today at Canterbury Park in Shakopee, scout out Johnson’s booth.

His work is also sold in Minneapolis at “I like You,” Gallery 360 and Mill City Museum; in New Prague at Cranky Alice; and in other locations.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


One person’s junk…Hot Sam’s Antiques, Part III September 19, 2012

Truck door signage, a nod perhaps to Jake Hood, owner of Hot Sam’s Antiques, Lakeville, Minnesota.

ONE MAN’S (or woman’s) junk is another man’s (or woman’s) treasure.

That adage could aptly be applied to Hot Sam’s Antiques, rural Lakeville, Minnesota.

I’ve posted about this antique theme park twice already. Click here and here to read those stories. But Hot Sam’s deserves a third post. Why? Think upcycling and recycling.

Barry, artist and upcycler of stuff at Hot Sam’s Antiques.

I appreciate businesses like Hot Sam’s Antiques which sell or re-purpose used stuff. We are too much a throw-away society although, in recent years, it’s become suddenly chic to upcycle or purchase vintage/used. I hope the trend lasts beyond the current economic depression.

Inside the log cabin at Hot Sam’s is a bounty of antiques, collectibles and other used merchandise. The door leads to the wrap around porch, where you’ll find more goods.

For decades I’ve shopped at rummage sales and thrift stores. The bottom line is that I am careful with my money, a trait instilled in me while growing up in a farm family with little money. Think eating white rice with cinnamon and sugar for a meal. Think no birthday presents. Think shopping only for clothes hung on the sales rack.

My parents worked hard to provide for our family of eight, but it was not easy for them. I never realized, though, that we were poor until I grew into adulthood. That’s a credit to my parents’ love and care.

Because of my upbringing, I tend to bargain shop and put less value on material possessions than many in today’s society. For example, of all the furniture in the house my husband and I own, only five—the sofa, recliner, twin bed frame, entertainment center and my office desk—are pieces we bought new.

Likewise, nearly all of the art I own originates from rummage sales, thrift or antique stores, or recycled art sales.

There. That should explain why I appreciate places like Hot Sam’s Antiques.

And I also like Hot Sam’s because of the creative art pieces such as Popeye and Olive Oil and Sweet Pea riding in the family car. I watched “Popeye” cartoons while growing up.

Somewhere in my memory bank I possess a memory of my dad telling us to watch for the flying red horse en route to visit relatives in the Cities. I couldn’t tell you now where that red horse was located, but I’m fond of this icon. In the background you”re correctly seeing a Statue of Liberty jutting from the front end of a partial vintage car.

I rode in a taxi once in Chicago. It didn’t look anything like this one at Hot Sam’s. But that’s my single taxi experience.

I’d like to attend a circus once… See why I love this place?

Ten years or more before I experience the validity of this statement.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling