November 2012 Archives

Coming Home to a Very Proud Community



It is a good time to be living in Clinton, Beardsley and Graceville Minnesota. Our small towns, together, won the 2012 Nine-Man State Football Championships. What a tremendous community building experience. What sheer, unadulterated joy if you are willing to just give yourself completely over to the experience of small prairie towns bursting with pride over the collective efforts of its children. Let's just go with that feeling. Hopefully for months and years to come.

The last time one of our three towns won a state championship was the 1926 boys basketball team from Beardsely, MN. So once every three + generations or so we strike upon the ingredients that make for champions. What are the odds that our family would be here to enjoy such good fortune? But here we are. And enjoy we will.

Even the State HS Football League officials were impressed by the turnout of our small communities. If my math was correct, there were about 1,000 people in the stands cheering on CGB. Keep in mind that the total population of our three towns is about 1200 (Clinton 400, Beardsley 225, and Graceville 575).


Among those 1,000 were a number of 'exiles'- the folks that have built their lives elsewhere after growing up among the good people of our prairie towns. A few of the exiles didn't know what the consolidated school districts new colors were (they are blue and silver) as they may have graduated from the town with the green and the gold shamrocks. There were rivalries and even some cultural divides among these small towns.

There was a fair amount of pain that came with the necessity of closing down schools and busing kids across what is now a 50 mile wide school district. Not a choice any of these towns wanted to make. But this win- this collective win- is possible because we brought all of our children together into this one CGB school district not by choice, but by necessity. And after all these years, the old alums of their respective villages are now excited, happy and know the 'new' school colors. "Go Wolverines!!" They all shouted together. All 1,000 of them. A lot of healing took place on Friday. Healing that was decades in the coming. A good thing.

But oh! the breathe taking fun that was to follow the game. We drove the four hours back to our small town. It was night now and the prairie was dark. There were cars and people lined up waiting to wave on the team starting many many miles from home. People from Cyrus (40 miles east), Morris, Chokio, Alberta--wearing parkas and waving at the cars. The Morris, Chokio and Graceville fire departments had their trucks out and were waiting to escort the team the last miles to their hometown. And in Graceville, MN the Case tractor dealership had turned on the blinking lights on all the tractors in the lot. It was a treat to the senses and to the heart.

It was nothing short of thrilling to watch the cold, dark and quiet nighttime prairie come alive with lights, sirens, and people. Watch this: (start at 1:31 to avoid hearing me yell at my kids)

I am going to digress. I'd lived an adventurous life before settling down in Big Stone County. My work as a Soil Scientist has taken me to every continent except Antarctica. I've traveled through war torn Colombia, hitchhiked alone on the Golan Heights of Israel, meditated in the Taj Mahal in India. But it is this adventure- this adventure in farming and rural life - that is my best. It is moving, grasping, heart rending, and exhilarating. It is profound.

And if you take some still, calm moments you will recognize much good in the people around you. I loved senior football player Ethan Chase's talk to the crowd and his teammate at the Welcome Home party back in the high school gym. I liked how he came to say it, as much as what he said, because in his moment of glory Ethan quoted the bus driver. The nameless bus driver. The bus driver told those boys that they were coming home to a very proud community and that they should cherish every moment and those around them. Ethan typifies these good plains people who know that wisdom resides in everyone- that we don't need to look to people of distinction to find truth and inspiration. That it can be found in all of us in our everyday. And so listen here (for the first minute):

Ethan Chase responds to crowd

This morning in church we all gave not just one, but two rounds of applause for the football players sitting in the pews. And after church those strong boys were put to good use hauling the Christmas decorations up the stairs for the ladies to begin decorating for the season.

What's left to say? Go Team!

Without a Trace

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I made the first entry in this blog in September of 2007-- a solid 5 years ago. In that time I've been the observer of the recent changes to this place. Building by building. Farmstead by farmstead. Mostly there is a diminishment with each event. I've chronicled a few of the events as they happened- moving the Dry Wood Church away, the loss of historic buildings to fire and neglect.

But the last few weeks have just been "in your face" loss.
We are now down to one dairy farm in the county (from 400 in the 1960s). The historic Columbia hotel burnt down after being an anchor and landmark for 120 years on Main Street in Ortonville, MN. And another farmstead was razed and wiped off of the landscape this week.

I drive the same route when I head to the Cities. Last week I passed this familiar landmark farmstead on the corner the Chokio road and the Hancock road.

View Larger Map
This farmstead is gone as of this week.

A nice little farmstead- neat and tidy with a little house, a few solid outbuildings, and a grove of trees. From one week to the next- it was gone. All of it. Every last bit. The trees, the home, the farmstead. A few piles of dirt is all that is left to mark the transition from a peopled countryside to ag land. I'd say farmland, but that implies something more wholesome than I feel like attributing to this development. You know- like a farm instead of a global commodity business.

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The farmstead turning into cropland

With each death of an old farmer, the humble homes are left to deteriorate. And with the price of land and value of cash rent, those homesteads are being burnt down/buried and plowed up. I've only been here for five years and I see it all around me.

I am bearing witness to the depopulation of the countryside.

I am bearing witness to what, for all practical purposes, appears to be the end of farming as we have known if for millennia. 100 years ago the farming practices used on this same land were recognizable with the farming described in the old and new testaments. Farming brought us the best of civilization and is woven into our culture and recognizable in many of the hymns we sing and the symbols in every stained glassed window in our church. The wheat- wine- grapes- lamb- green pastures. An inspiration.

Today farming has become the production system at the front end of a global supply chain. We aren't growing food out here for our families, our neighbors, or even for our country. The land and the people who 'work' it are part of a global industrial commodity markets.

We've so perversely incentivized industrial agriculture that there is virtually nothing like a family farm remaining. A diversified family farm is a thing of the past. It's time came and went. It was a good run- a 14,000 year run. And I for one believe we leave that form of farming at our peril. Not just for the production but for the civilization it inspires. The independence. The hard work. The good values of being raised close to the earth and to animals. I admire those farmers.

Oh sure- there are some nostalgic notions and even investments going on right here on this farm. Hell- we might even build a wooden barn. And to be sure I came here- to Big Stone County- for the romance of farming. I came here for all that is good and right about stewarding the land with which I am entrusted, to eat 'honest' food and meat that we grew and butchered ourselves. How romantic is that?

There's enough grief to go around tonight. But I am taking off my hat and bowing my head for the loss of yet one more farmstead. Time will tell, but today I cannot imagine that once those family farmsteads are erased that they will be rebuilt.

A Saturday in Big Stone County-- a day in the life


I set out a couple Saturdays ago to take one picture every hour of my life in Big Stone County. It's a rich and sometime busy life. If you're under the impression that small town and rural life is slow paced and without opportunities, you might be surprised. Here's a view of a day in the life of a farm mom in Big Stone County.

It started early with taking Alma into Clinton for play practice. The school is doing the musical Oliver!

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While Alma was at practice, I headed down to the Harvest Fest at the Apple Ranch on Big Stone Lake. There were lots of friends to talk to, artists and artisans, and apples to be bought. Any U of M students at Food Day at the U? You may have enjoyed those apples on the Regional Partnership's table. Last year I met a woman who raised her own alpaca, spun their wool into yarn, and knit lovely hats and scarves. This year I marveled at Liz Rackl's granite carvings. I couldn't stay as long as I liked because it was time to pick up Alma from play practice and so I headed back to Clinton.

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Alma and I had a bit of time to spare before we went to a friend's house and so we stopped to visit Doreen at the Cabin Cafe. We split a homemade caramel roll and I enjoyed a good cup of coffee. People! Go out of your way to eat at The Cabin Cafe- Doreen is a great cook and committed to using healthy food. Organic oatmeal for breakfast and secret recipe pie crusts made with canola oil-- and delicious! Open 7am to 2pm Tuesday - Sunday. Pie on Sunday only.

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On the way to our friend's house to help them move, we passed what looked to be 3 or 4 generations of one family combining corn. Alma got a good look at the guys in the combine- and older man with a very old man. Looked like an aging farmer with his own elderly dad bringing in the harvest. What a great touchstone for a farm life and a family on a crisp autumn afternoon.

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Alma and I went on to our friends JoAnne and Simon's house- for a fun and sad time helping them move. JoAnne and her family had to move away because the DNR cut her hours as the Big Stone State Park ranger. We need this beautiful state park! We need this young and active family! Just think- the weekend they moved out we lost .1% of the population of the county. So this was not a happy event- but I'm sad to say it is indicative of the state of the county. (Let's change that)

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We stayed for sandwiches and apples at JoAnne and Simon's and then off to the big game! Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley had a Saturday afternoon football game. Met the rest of the family there and we all stood with hands on heart as the Star Spangled Banner was played by the school band.

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An hour later I was cold and warming up in my car. Check out the great view of the game with a fieldside parking spot! And me- after my gushing thrill of football post a few weeks ago- now reading the Energy Bulletin on my cell phone.
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At last back home to hang out, process tomatoes, and cook up a batch of ham and veggy soup. This tomato squisher/de-seeder is the best invention EVER! We make great seedless sauce in no time. What's more, the chickens get the seeds and the tomato skins and think of all the healthy nutrients there- not a bit wasted.

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This takes some time and makes a big mess. So got the whole family involved including in the clean up, which made for some crabby moments. The sun was going down in the west.
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As the tomato sauced cooked down and the ham and veggies stewed- I had a few moments to myself.
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Dinner together:

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And upstairs to bed- but first a couple games of hangman.

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String together a bunch of simple pleasures and you get something of a life well lived. The trick, I think, is to pay attention-- every hour sometimes.

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This page is an archive of entries from November 2012 listed from newest to oldest.

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