October 2007 Archives

Rural and Leadership

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I'm in a crowd of 450 Bush Fellows. They just identified us by where we live in the Bush region-- North Dakota, South Dakota, Twin Cities, and Greater Minnesota. For the first time I've been id'd as a resident of greater Minnesota. See-- it says "Clinton" on my badge. Now begins the "where is Clinton" series of questions. One thing about living in greater Minnesota is that you lose precious time identifiying where your place is rather than the substance of work and life. But now, I guess, my identification as a rural Minnesotan is part of the susbstance of my life. I'm pleased to be put in the breakout session for the vitality of greater Minnesota. There are 50 Bush Fellows here (of over 450) who hail from greater Minnesota.

Never been so glad to have a dog....

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This is Happy. We got her about 4 years ago after our precious middle daughter Milly died. I thought that we needed a reason to say the word "Happy" over and over each day. Little did I know how often we would be saying to the puppy "No! Happy No!" Honestly, Happy was an ok part of the family-- but too big for our little yard, lots and lots of hair in the house, too wild to take to the playground with the kids, bit the nice neighbor lady etc...

I am so very very happy to have this dog today. She was born to guard our farm-- to bark wildly at the bus absconding our little children-- and to run with me through the prairie in the morning. I am not alone on this big lonely prairie. I have a good companion along side of me every mile I run. She doesn't chase the deer or the pheasants, but she does have a thing for rabbits.

I've been having a lot of Little House on the Prairie flashbacks. I read all the Laura Ingalls books to Alma a couple years ago. There was a scene where the Ingalls in their covered wagon come across a man and woman stranded along the trail-- their horses stolen while they slept. The Ingalls offered to take them to the next stop, but they declined to leave their lives' belongings. As the Ingalls ride away, Pa says something to the effect of "what are they thinking to be out here without a dog." Remember the Ingalls have the faithful Jack.

And now I can finally say after all these years. I am really happy to have Happy. She is living up to her name in our lives and our family. We got Happy a dog house-- it has lichen growing on the top-- I'll get a picture. When we put it in the yard facing the house she refused to sleep in it. I moved it around so the back is to the house and the front looks down the driveway and she is in there all the time. She wants to guard us. She is guarding us out on the prairie.

Sending the littles one off on the bus

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In St. Paul we walked out the door at 9:08 to be in Alma's classroom at 9:10 with time to spare. There were three doors between our door and the Elementary school-- we didn't even have to cross the street. I loved my leisurely mornings with my kids.

Now I walk out the door with my three little ones (ages 8, 3, and 3) at 7:10 am. That gives us 15 minutes to walk our 1/2 mile driveway to where the school bus picks them up. It takes all 15 minutes to walk that far with 3-year olds. Now that the toads, frogs, and salamanders are gone the walk goes a little faster. We are the furthest stop on the route-- but not the first kids to be picked up thankfully. The bus turns around in our driveway and heads back north.

My boys are incorrigible – maybe because they are boys, because they are twins, because I have a totally emotive parenting style in contrast to their dad’s authoritarian style (we’re a good parenting team). Dale, the bus driver for the past 1/3 century is threatening to suspend my little darlings from riding the bus.

Which leads to the logical question—what are a pair of 3-year olds doing on a bus for 1.5 hours per day anyway??? I asked myself that question before we put them on the bus for the first time. But Mike (my husband) and Dale (the bus driver) assured me that this was the proper and logical thing to do. Dale had dealt with as many at FIVE 3-year-olds on his bus in the past. So, Mike put them on the bus for the first time in their lives on Thursday September 6, 2007. The only problem was, there was no pre-school on Thursday September 6, 2007. So he put them on a bus by themselves in the world to, well, nowhere. But we now live in a small community. So the boys were well cared for in the absence of parents or teachers until the offending parent could pick them up.

So they all ride the bus. We now arm Alma with a pile of candy that she can dole out for good behavior as the bus travels down the gravel roads picking up the increasing number of kids in our “neighborhood.? Did I mention that we are the only family in a four square mile area? So like the term “prairie? I use the term “neigborhood? loosely.

But look at that sunrise—it is a pleasant treat to walk that mile a day with my kids.

Ill afforded sentimentality

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This is the last of the original 1912 buildings on the farmstead and it is not long for this world. The only thing holding up that building was the 1952 pickup truck-- which was pulled out and collapsed the west side of the building. I'm sentimental about these buildings in a way that my neighbor says he and his fellow farmers can't afford to be. Life can be hard and cruel on the farm. Attach your heartstrings to a building and they'll get pulled down along with the building.

I'm reading The World Without Us right now. It's an ecological trip through various parts of the world if humans are wiped from the face of the planet in an instant (i.e. not dragging down the entire planet with us over the coming centuries). The author quotes a farmer as saying if you want to bring down a barn put an 18 inch hole in the roof. In 10 years the barn will be dust. It's true. Drive around rural Minnesota-- not the collar suburbs or the exurbs-- but the far agricultural corners of this State. There are no animals in barns. The barns, where they still stand, are surrounded on every possible side with corn and soybeans. There are no pastures and there are no functioning barns. I think that SE Minnesota might be faring better than other parts of the State, but wouldn't count on that. My sister and her husband have a dairy farm there- a confinement dairy like the majority of dairies. But there are a few pasture based dairies left. Not here.

I feel grief, a heavy sadness at this building coming down. Yes-- we will salvage the wood and Yes-- it will be the bus shelter at the end of our 1/2 mile drive or the siding on the "chicken coop of my dreams" yet to be designed and built (and the chickens are waiting!!).

I feel grief that no one cared to fill the 18 inch hole in this granary. It was a two story granary. Beautiful, but not useful to modern agriculture. If you are working from morning until night-- your fingers swollen with arthritis-- your farm on the verge of bankrupcy-- you don't have the luxury to buy the supplies, take the time and take the physical risk to climb atop an 85 year old granary that serves no modern purpose. There isn't room for sentimentality.

I feel grief that all of these buildings are going away-- more and more every year. And believe me when I tell you that modern buildings-- like granaries and confinement feeding operations-- are not built for beauty. Out here form follows function in 2007-- and the form of industrial agriculture is not beautiful. Somehow I believe it was more than that in 1912. I don't know for sure, but I have a sense. There are some core pieces of beauty inside our house-- I've seen some lovely hand carved rafters.

I can afford to be sentimental. I have a job in the City. I don't have my heart in my throat to just hang onto the land in the face of industrial agriculture.

Big Stone County

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Well-- thought I should give a few details about this place on earth we are seeking to resettle. Big Stone County is on the far western edge of the State-- due west of the Twin Cities. There are about 5,000 people in the county-- down from 10,000 people who lived there 30 years ago. Nearly 10% of the land area (491 square miles) is water-- this is the heart of the prairie pothole region. Less than half of the prairie potholes remain, the rest being drained for agriculture. While our farm has wetlands adjacent on the south side and kitty corner to the west, we could probably restore a couple on the farm itself. That is where economics confronts values. I don't know that we can pay for this farm with wetlands, but I do know that we can pay for it with corn and soybeans. Give us some time-- we might find our balance....


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Finding Food in Farm Country

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From our home in St. Paul we were within walking distance of Mississippi Market in Highland Park. Abundant fresh, local and diverse food. On Saturday I drove over 50 miles round trip to the Hutterite colony to stock up on local foods-- 50#'s of potatoes, tomatoes, squash, pumpkin, pickles, sauerkraut, some frozen turkey pot pies, jams, relishes, cucumbers and the last of the seasons watermelon. Delicious and wonderful harvest. Next year we should have some of our own. I'm grateful for my Hutterite "neighbors."

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So I'm a mom and a local foods advocate living in rural Minnesota. My gold standard would be organic and local. In the mean time local would be great. Apart from the Hutterites farm market, my nearest grocery store is now 11 miles away and doesn't carry any local foods-- except for some of the Hutterite jellies, jams, and relishes. I asked about carrying some local eggs-- the Pride of the Prairie egg coop operates in this area. Bonnie, our grocer, said that she only has 1 choice for eggs on the food distributors list. If I could track down the contact information she would look into it. I told her it might cost more-- she said that people prefer the Hutterite jams and do pay more for them and so she would be willing to give it a try. Heck-- we go through a couple dozen a week ourselves.

It's interesting that I move from the smack dab middle of St. Paul where I have quick, easy and abundant access to local foods to a farm where it is much more of any effort to track down a local diet. I'm sure over time we will get grow more of our own-- but in the mean time I'm like many working families that depends on the local grocery store. Our food choices don't include much local/organic.

Kinda confirms Ken Meter's work on Finding Food in Farm Country

http://www.crcworks.org/wcmnsum.pdf

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This page is an archive of entries from October 2007 listed from newest to oldest.

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