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Oh Sweet Mama!! or Minnesota Local Foods Compulsions in April


Friends. I hope this note finds you doing well on this blustery spring day. The grass on the burnt off prairie is just starting to show the first signs of green. We've had a couple inches of rain this week, but it is still dry on the western edge of the state. Unlike friends to the east, we had no snow cover this year. But our alfalfa field is starting to green up, so our fears of winter kill are lessoning.

The cold, wind, and rain meant there was no gardening or yard work and so... we ventured to the pantry to see what was left of last year's produce and to curb my compulsion


The remainders of last year's potatoes will be used for seed in a few days. They've already proven their 'storability' since they still taste perfectly delicious.

But it is the squash that I had to get off the shelf and cooked or lose them all together. My boys are now 9 years old and perfectly suited to the job of "Go get the rest of the squash from the pantry!"

Sweet Mama Squash- April 26, 2014- that's a good storing squash!

The boys were a little uncertain about whether to touch some of the squash. In case you are wondering, the white is, well, fungus/rot/mold. We started out with about 100 of these squash and only had to toss a few into the compost bin.

Big call out to our local veggy farmer Jan for her generous unloading of extra squash. We made good use of it Jan!

Since they are 9 year old boy, we had to take a scare mom and SCREAM!! break with a fake spider. How many times can a mom fall for this old gag?



But overall, I am so grateful that I have this window of time where I have sweet boys who can haul my soggy, smelly, questionable produce up from the 100+ year old pantry.


And then the fun begins. Chopping out the rotten parts and getting the squash ready and baked.


This squash, named Sweet Mama, is fleshy and stores well. I would highly recommend it to gardeners and foodies. It's a great tasting squash to eat baked with salt and butter or to use in hotdishes. Yesterday's batch was destined for some Oh Sweet Mama Chipotle Soup!

And the squash is ready to go into the oven-- WARNING CUTE PUPPY PHOTO BOMB BELOW!


There's something I'm rather compulsive about- I don't like to waste food and I like to use as much of my food as I can. So this soup started with last Sunday's Easter Ham juices. First, I have to say that the ham we got from Big Stone County's newest farmers, Peter and Anne Schwagerl, was fabulously delicious with a very special, unique and mild flavor. The quality of the heritage breed hog they raised really come through in that ham.

I had decanted off some of the fat (1/4 cup) from the ham drippings along with about 1 Cup of the juices that I didn't use in the gravy. I saved it in the fridge and used that delicious, rich and flavorful based in which to fry the onions for the soup base.

Onions simmering in ham fat and juices and squash waiting to be added to soup base

To that, I added the very last cloves of garlic from 2013's crop (thank you Theresa, Russ, Les, and Jess!). What's more, I dehydrated the last of the garlic that would have been rotting before I could use it fresh and then ground it up into garlic powder. That is simply the best garlic powder imaginable. In fact, I almost prefer it to the fresh garlic- it has a strong but richer flavor than fresh garlic.

Last cloves of 2013 garlic and the resulting garlic powder made from the last of the garlic remaining.

I added the garlic, smoky Chipotle spice, and the squash to the simmering onions. The soup needed a bit of sweet to balance the savor and so I opened a can of candied crab apples that had been on the pantry shelf a couple years. The crab apple tree is well over 50 years old and still grows and produces on the north side of our house, depositing apples on the garage roof. I pulled the apples apart, removed the seeds, and tossed them into the soup as well.

Candied apples added to the soup

I'd also saved the water that I poured off of the potatoes from last Sunday's dinner and stored that in a quart jar in the fridge (this is the compulsive part- I don't even like to waste the potato water). And that was used to thin the soup so that it went from hotdish consistency to thick soup consistency.

Potato water in fridge

Use the hand blender to whirrrrrrr it all together and VOILA'! You have Oh Sweet Mama Spicy Chipotle Soup! Top it with some crumbled blue cheese and you have a meal fit for, well, a well deserving farmer. I guess that means I should bring some over to Jan!


Pretty soon the sun will come out, the nettles and dandelions will come up, the garden will go in and we'll start the whole process over again. Plant. Grow. Weed. Weed. Weed. Harvest. Eat. Store. Prepare. Enjoy.

Mike asks me what the return on investment is. I'd say it is a day well spent. String a bunch of those together and what to you have? A life well spent.

RECIPE: Oh Sweet Mama! Spicy Chipotle Squash Soup

- 5 Sweet Mama Squash, baked and removed from skins
- 2 onions
- 4-8 cloves garlic or garlic powder
- 1/4 C oil (Ham fat ideally)
- 2 t Chipotle spice
- 2 cups of candied crab apples
- 2-3 C of potato water

Simmer. Blend. Enjoy.

The Real Happiest Place on Earth


Gallup poll results came out this week ranking the Happiest States in America. And despite the endless days of subzero weather and blizzards Minnesota ranked among the top Happiest States in America.

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Big Stone County, the bump on the western edge of the MN, is kinda in the middle of the cluster of Happiest States in America- in green. Why do you think that is? Wide open spaces, 4-H, bowling leagues, highest per capita farmers, a "could be worse!" culture? Maybe it's our pleasant winters.

One small thing that makes me happy living in Clinton, MN is that my grocery bags are colored by the elementary kids- most of who I know. With messages about reduce, reuse and recycle. And the kids (Kindergarten through 6th grade) put a lot of effort into these bags, which turn out both beautiful and artsy!

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I just love the children's art put into useful everyday items and then spread throughout the community-- again and again. And these bags can be and are used over again because they are too special to toss and you feel like you need to handle this child's art with care. I'm bringing all these bags back to the store for the next lucky customers. And frankly, that's something you might not be able to do in a large city. The grocery store might not take bags from some random person wanting them to be restacked at the checkout line and reused.

There was one bag I liked in particular--a watercolor with fall leaves and a message "Don't Litter. It Makes the world bitter." Imagine my delight when I found out that it was painted by one of my own sons. And it's no coincidence that I got that bag--Bonnie and Holly at the grocery store tucked that one away to make sure that my groceries would end up in it.

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Let me tell you a little story about a Kindergartener whose name was on the bottom of one of the grocery bags. I make it a point to meet the bus every afternoon when it pulls up to the end of my ½ mile long driveway. One afternoon the bus pulled up and off jumped my two little boys and one of their friends, for a planned Friday sleepover. And then off of the bus comes the sweetest, cutest little 5 year old girl. I looked at the bus driver quizzically and he said she was to get off at our house.

Now, it was a completely blameless situation. The little boy was her brother and they had gotten on and off the bus at our house before. So when the bus driver saw the note giving the brother permission to get off at our farm, it made sense when the little girl, we'll call her Izzi, said she was to stick with her brother. And Izzi herself was quite convincing to the bus driver that she was to go to our farm with her brother.

But what an unexpected treat for me! My own Alma and I got to walk down the driveway with little Izzi - "1, 2, 3! SWINGing" Izzi up into the sunny sky. And once at home it was "Raise High the Roof Beams! Break out the Candy Land and Dust off the Barbies!" Can you imagine such luck and fun on a Friday afternoon out on the wide open prairie? Now Izzi's home is the absolute other side of the 40+ mile wide school district, so we had a nice block of time to play before someone came to pick her up.

So I invite you to try living in a world where the little things, the bag you get your groceries in, can bring such simple pleasure and invoke such sweet memories. A place where a child's hand crafted artful bag can make its way into your home and your life--occasionally accompanied by the child themselves (both on purpose and on 'accident'). To experience the delight of reading the names of each precious child on the bottom of your bag can bring smiles and a cry of delight.

And remember these messages from the children of Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley Elementary
• Recycle or your ecosystem will fall apart (reduce, reuse, recycle. Save me for Christmas)
• Recycle- Batman does
• When you toss out paper, you're killing trees. DO NOT toss out paper.... RECYCLE
• Go Green, Recycle, Recycle, Recycle

Maybe the Happiest Place on Earth isn't a place, or if it is a place, it might be a place that is small enough to care about. But wherever it is, it is about noticing and appreciating the small things.

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Rising from the Praire- Abbey of the Hills


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Stained glass window in the small chapel

Last weekend the kids and I went to the open house at the former Blue Cloud Abbey, now Abbey of the Hills, near Marvin South Dakota. This place is a gem upon the prairie. It somehow captures so much about this place and its prairie beauty and foreshadows some of the past century of this place.

Abbey of the Hills rises up out of the Prairie Coteau. You can see the Prairie Coteau rising up out of the prairie from where we live, on a crisp clear day. The first time I drove west from our farm, with my mom and kids to buy vegetable from the Hutterite Colony, my mom said "what's that rising up out of the prairie." "Must be a bank of clouds," I said, because I hadn't heard of any hills or mountains on the other side of Big Stone County, MN. But I was wrong. The Prairie Coteau is hauntingly lovely "Alps of prairie" as described by the early 1800's explorer Joseph Nicollet.

It is in these hills that a group of Benedictine monks built their Blue Cloud Abbey in 1950. This place is just 40-some miles from our farm. A refuge.

I'm not Catholic and so won't claim to know the heart and spirit that went into these monks, whose stained glass window says "Pray, Read, Work", finding and building this place. There's a good story (click here) about how they found this piece of land on their way from one place to the next.

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And they built this place both simple and glorious. An Abbey in the Prairie Coteau- a place of subtle and astounding beauty in which to seek G-d under blue skies. They built it, really, at the peak of its population and maybe hopefulness. Or before we even knew we needed to be hopeful. Because family farming was still thriving all around them out on the prairie and there were still young men and women inspired to live lives of "Pray, Read, and Work."

But things have changed since 1950, haven't they? The independent farms that dotted every section of land have been consolidated and the homesteads are coming down. The number of young people going into full time religious life has plummeted. And both of those demographics meet out here on the prairie.


And so it was exciting news that after more than a year and a half of looking for people to buy the Abbey, that a group of 6 local families decided to buy it. It was bitter sweet news to learn that our inspiring grape growing and biodynamic farming neighbors were among the visionaries stepping up for this great adventure. They have relocated there are applying their skills and innovation to this place.

Here's the kayak that Dan built as a fundraiser for the Abbey. Now imagine that kind of craftsmanship and heart going into a place.


What's remarkable to me is that Abbey of the Hills is being remastered, in part, on a hope for this place that is a palpable hope for so many rural and family farm advocates--that we can find a way to thrive out in the country. What is that way? Well, for one thing, that is by having a healthy and local food system that nourishes our bodies, souls, and communities. Because when we lost those family farms, we lost the small town creameries, butcher shops, as well as the kids who attended schools, and the Masons who built sturdy and lovely brick buildings on Main Street. So those folks at Abbey of the Hills are looking at their sustainable farming operations, their greenhouse, their wood shop, art lofts. They are baking bread in their commercial kitchen and selling it in local grocery stores. They are hoping for a rural renaissance that includes a people landscape with good food and satisfied souls.

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I found this butterfly on one corner of a wall of stained glass. It spoke to me of that transformation that I hope for our rural places and prayers for the success of Abbey of the Hills. The chapel was completely full of well-wishers for last Sunday's prayers and hymn.

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On the way out, I had to wait for my kids. They'd met up with their friends and were having a great time catching up and exploring. I was standing in the concrete hall, the working part of the Abbey, between the greenhouse and the mechanic shop. I lingered there wondering where the heck my kids were. And then I looked up at the ceiling with the exposed pipes. And what did I see?

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Even this 'industrial' corridor of the Abbey was touched by the spirit, where some Brother had discreetly put Leonardo da Vinci's Creation of Adam and the hand of G-d reaching towards humanity in between the electrical conduit.

Big Stone County Agri-Tourism


On Saturday, September 28th, a group of 30 people from Fargo-Moorhead area toured some of the small farms and local foods highlights of northern Big Stone County, thanks in part to a mini-grant from Minnesota's Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program of the USDA. I think that this might be a first for our county. Even some local folks were surprised that the roads go both ways from Fargo and that a busload of people would spend an entire day checking out our small farms and local foods. It was a great day- organized by the tireless farmer Noreen Thomas from Doubting Thomas Farms in the Moorhead area.

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The tour began at the Russ and Theresa Swenson farm just east of the Big Stone County line. The Swenson's grow garlic on a market scale as well as raising both milk and meat goats. They make a variety of goat cheeses on their farm including mozzarella, garlic and chive flavored hard cheeses, and soft ricotta type cheese. In Minnesota you can produce and sell cheese from your farm, but the only way to purchase it is to take a trip to the Swenson's farm. From our experience, it is worth the drive!

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From there the tour went to The Cabin Café where Doreen Winston provide a lunch of homemade barbeque pork sandwiches and salads made from local produce- cabbage for coleslaw, fruit, local tomatoes, zucchini, and peppers. The lunch was served as a picnic at The Apple Ranch on Big Stone Lake, where the group had the opportunity to tour the orchard and buy locally grown apples, namely the Honeycrisps and Haralsons that are currently ripe.

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From there the tour went to the Dan and Michelle Moberg vineyard, named Juanita's Vineyard after Dan's mother the late Nita Moberg. The delicious and cold-hardy Marquette grapes (from the University of Minnesota) are at perfect ripeness and the group had the opportunity to spend time walking in the vineyard and harvesting grapes to eat on the spot and to take back home with them. In addition, the Mobergs had samples of the wines they have made as well as grape jellies.

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The final stop was the Mike Jorgenson family farm. The Jorgenson's have put a portion of their farm into pasture and are raising grass-fed beef, both Irish Dexters and Lowline Angus. They also have a University of Minnesota organic edible bean variety trial on their farm that includes both market classes like kidney and pinto beans, and specialty beans like cranberry and eagle's eye. Two U of M graduate students were there to both explain the field experiment and to begin harvesting some of the plots. The trial is to help select heirloom bean varieties that grow well in Minnesota conditions.

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One aside from this trip, noted by this author, is the role of the University of Minnesota in the crops on these farms. Bette Johnson, owner of the apple ranch, made a point of telling the crowd that all of the nine varieties of apples in her orchard were developed by the University of Minnesota (though she did note that the more recent varieties that the U has released are not as accessible as past varieties). Likewise, the Moberg's noted in describing their vineyard operation that the three grape varieties they grow were develop at the U of M. The Jogenson's demonstrated first hand how the U of M continues to work with farmers to develop new crop and hopefully new markets.

Overall, the day was a success and many in the group hope to return. Already some have asked the Moberg's to invite them to help harvest grapes next year. They found the vineyard peaceful and the work "therapeutic" and would like to volunteer. Upon leaving, the group asked if there were places in Big Stone County where they could hold retreats and stay for more than a day. With places like the Beardsley Lodge open, it is hoped that more tourists will discover the hidden and not hidden treasures of Big Stone County. It is gratifying to see outsiders appreciate the beauty and the local foods that our area has to offer.

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Photo courtesy of the Kansas Historical Society, 1899

It's already the end of August. Summer passed by too fast ~~ a few wafts of regret. I didn't make enough time for swimming and gardening and family. Today, however, was a beautiful day despite life threatening heat indexes and the increasingly severe drought conditions. It looks like this lovely day that will end with our family of five sleeping in the living and dining rooms--the only rooms with air conditioning. That's fine. We've lived here six years next month and this is the first time the heat has driven us out of the upstairs.

Mike noticed the cattle getting heat stressed in our western paddock. The grass is high and deep, but there is no shade out on the open prairie. One of our low-line Angus had gotten herself into the water tank and the other Angus cattle were panting (Note: Mike has observed that our Dexter cattle seem to handle the extreme weather better than the Angus).

So the two of us left Sunday dinner and herded the cattle back around the farm and into the paddock by the barn that has a watering pond surrounded by trees that Mike and his dad dug out years ago. Today I didn't have the camera with me and missed capturing the most strikingly beautiful scenes. As I closed the last gate behind Mike and the herd, I saw a view that I want imprinted in my mind for the rest of my days: Mike walking in his Australian sun hat, white t-shirt, blue jeans leading his herd of cattle across a bright green, neat and clean pasture. The sky was blue, a few white clouds. 30 brown and black cows followed trustingly despite the painful heat. When we got through the last paddock the cows took off at a run!! They raced through the green grass (it will be brown soon without rain- which is not in the long term forecast). They ran to the shady pond and every last one of them waded into the water--some went in over their backs-- their noses touching and drinking the water-their panting subsiding as they cooled off in the water. Happy cows.

We stood and watched them for a while; basking in their relief. We make plans to deepen that pond in the fall, just in case this drought continues. Then we returned to our Sunday dinner with Mike's mom, dad, uncles, and an aunt. An all around good day.

Let me tell you about this Sunday dinner, brought to us by the farms and farmers of Big Stone County. We had a grilled leg of lamb (thanks to Radamachers), cucumber salad (Shumachers), greens, spuds, and an Aronia (choke berry) pie.

There are a few different stories around that Chokeberry pie- stories about community, family, health, and soil conservation. The journey to getting this pie on the table started at the café where I stopped to get a cup of coffee on Friday morning. There were a group of beautiful, elegant, and kind local matriarchs enjoying a coffee gathering. As a result, I was invited to pick berries at Marge's farm. Izzy was at the café and also interested in some berries. So Saturday morning my kids, Izzy and I drove to Marge's- a nice multi-generational farm with a variety of animals and crops including the first mature, full fruit bearing Aronia bushes I have had the delight to encounter.

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Aronia, also known as choke berry (not choke cherry, which people are more familiar with), is native to our region and produces seedless berries, larger than blueberries. Aronia is touted as the next "superfruit" because it is full of healthy nutrients and is attributed with all kinds of health benefits.

Whooo hoo!!! I was just giddy to have a chance at these berries. Izzy, Marge, the kids and I picked berries for about ½ hour and harvested about 8 gallons of berries. The berries are in clusters, about eye level, come off without stems attached. Easy, easy, easy!

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At home we processed them into pie filling, jelly, syrup, and juice. A number of fun hours and a huge mess- as these projects usually are. When each batch was finished the kids descended upon the kitchen to lick the pans and spoons.

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How did this great stand of Aronia berries come about? Well, they were planted with the advice and assistance of a United States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service program called EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program). This program provides cost share to plant wind breaks and implement on the ground conservation practices, like grassed waterways, pastures, cover crops and even organic farming. The NRCS and their close colleagues the Soil and Water Conservation Districts (in every Minnesota county) are really where the rubber hits the road in getting conservation practices onto the landscape. These are the guys with the equipment (like tree planters and native seed drill presses, the plant material (thousands of trees, grass mixes, etc...) and manpower to lay down the landscape fabric, plant the trees and the prairie grasses.

Now, here's the deal. You can buy any tree imaginable from the SWCD for the EQIP program- the point is to hold the soil in place. The "ah-ha!" is that we can select trees and bushes that also provide human and wildlife food. There are a whole lot of folks interested in growing and others interested buying locally grown food. And here's a chance to do double and triple duty on the land- soil conservation AND food and food ventures. On our farm, with the help of NRCS and the SWCD, we've planted our windbreaks with 400 fruit and nut trees including:
Aronia (chokeberry)
Prairie Red Plum
Black Walnut

It's a cool idea to have an edible windbreak as a conservation practice, but there's still work to be done to catalog and promote these multipurpose tree plantings to include fruits and nuts. There are all kinds of reasons this is a good idea including increasing access to healthy foods in rural places, like Big Stone County, which is a USDA designated "Rural Food Desert." So it's win-win-win: keep your soil in place, grow some pie and jam berries, and if the harvest is good enough you can even sell those berries. What is needed is to get the information together on the how's and why's of growing these trees as part of the EQIP program and then get the word out that you can plant your windbreak with fruits and nuts.

By the way, the pie was an absolute hit across three generation. With a good cup of coffee, some more stories about barn building and how the electricity came to these parts in 1941, I'd say it is just about the most satisfying piece of pie I've ever enjoyed.

What stories did you take part of or hear lately? Do you have or remember ground cherries and gooseberries?

A few good hours of farming


There were about 24 giddy hours where we felt like we had finally done something right on the organic portion of our farm (about 40 of the 320 acres). We've had a few trials and errors compounded by both floods and droughts. Seems like if we are committed to any particular thing, it is a commitment to experimenting. Problem is we got skunked a few times with our experiments. The tillage radish was good, but no income. We gave organic corn a shot, but ended up plowing it under. So this year, lo and behold, we got our first crop off the 40 acres.

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Alfalfa bales

It's an absolutely gorgeous crop of lush, green, alfalfa. One heck-uv-a yield. I kinda get that whole "waiting to exhale" idea. We've been holding our breathe on so many of our farm ventures and finally one of them turned out well. Sigh.......

The other precious thing about this hay crop is that part of it was harvested with a lot of family and neighbor hands at work. The kids and I drove in from an evening of roller skating to find a couple haying efforts underway-- though it was growing dark. The kids ran down and pitched in with Mike, Russ, Theresa, and kids. Pumping out small square bales and putting them on a hayrack. Just a couple hundred that way, but still-- a perfectly wholesome farm and family night.

Last night, we jumped in the car and went to the street dance in Clinton, MN. When asked how the farming was going, we beamed. "Great!" "Excellent!" "The alfalfa crop was great and it's baled!"

We had a solid 24 hours of farming we could brag about.

And then the phone rang over breakfast-- cattle out of their paddock on the US Fish and Wildlife land. Mike has spent the last few weeks toiling to fix 50 year old fences so that we could graze our cattle on the adjoining federal land (we've worked out a lease with the US Govt).

As it turns out, our cows can swim. Even the little babies it appears. They swam around the fences that went up to the edge of the slough. So we geared up with waders, fence post, wire and headed out to separate our cattle from another herd they had decided to 'mingle' with and set up fence into the slough.

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Getting fence post set so the cattle will stay put

It was 94 degrees, hot and buggy. But we got the job done- new fence up, cattle herded back. That's a good feeling.

All in all, it is a joy to see this farm in grass. The cattle barely visible in a sea of shoulder high, tall grass prairie grass. And it looks like we now have enough hay to get this herd and a few more through the winter. Plus, we're going to butcher our first two steers- Trouble and Bill (yes, they have names). So stay tuned to order some grassfed beef from us. We're going to try it before we start to sell any.

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I'll be back in the coming days with more cattle tales. In the meantime there are community celebrations to attend and fireworks tonight in Clinton, Minnesota. I am grateful for these days and this place. And I'll savor those hours when the farming is good, the grass is green, and we are living in the lushness and abundance of life on the tallgrass prairie.

Today my family paused to remember those who came before us and those who served. Maybe you did too. If so, please add a comment and share where and how you remembered.

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Parade starts in front of the Clinton Memorial Building at 9:15am

Being part of a small town requires us to be a part of the activities- Alma in the band and the boys riding bike in the parade (the latter was voluntary). Also being part of an immigrant farming community brought us to our ancestor's church- open one day per year--to remember.

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Parade ends at the elementary school. This woman stands and watches the parade each year- each year it moves me

It's a healthy exercise to be grateful for others' sacrifices and to remember our own mortality as we spend time in ceremony and cemeteries on this Memorial Day. That's what took place today in Big Stone County, Minnesota and many other places.

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I liked the patriotic seed cap

It's a somber day and feeling. Not lightened by the cool, gray weather, the decaying buildings, the people remembered in death this year who were with us in life last year.

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Heads bowed as the name of each deceased service man and woman from our community is read aloud and followed by a drum roll.

2nd Lt. Jacob Lillehaug talked to us about remembering the people- the individuals who serve and served their country. A good boy from our small town, invited home. Asked to be wise as age 22, maybe 23. And we are grateful, grateful for him going out into the world- with our blessings and on our behalf. And remembering those from the Baatan Death March- for touching them, few that remain, as they touch him. Godspeed Lt. Lillehaug.

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A deserted and lovely Main Street- as we leave early for the next service we will attend

From Clinton, we head to rural Long Lake Church. This is the church of my mother-in-law's family. A church of immigrants- largely Norwegian and Danish.

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Long Lake Lutheran Church- established 1872 and built in 1890

They hold one church service and potluck dinner here each year- on Memorial Day. My mother-in-law plays the pump pedal organ that still sounds lovely after all these years and dozens upon dozen unheated winters.

We sing from the 1913 copyright, 1927 published Lutheran Hynmary.
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Enjoy a real Lutheran potluck dinner- complete with an amazing rhubarb custard pie and an exquisite tatertot hotdish.

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Lutheran church potluck dinner

And then we walk through the cemetery and remember the family members buried there. For us, it is Mike's grandpa and grandma. The Brustuens.

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On the last Brustuen grave we visited were the words "Ikke tabt, men gaaet forud." None of us knew what that meant. Thanks to Google translator we know it means

"Not Lost, but Gone Before."

Some things are lost. Those first generation immigrants tongue and their language is, in fact, lost to us. Their legacy continues on. It is a good, wholesome, respectful legacy of family, community and farming. It comes from and leads to honorable service. Humbling and honorable service. I suspect my husband left with the hope and maybe a promise to come back and help fix the shingles on the roof of that old church.

Thanks you to those who brought us to this place and for those, known and unknown, who have defended our freedoms these many years so that rural Minnesota can be a peaceful place.

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!

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.

Scarcity and Abundance


There's been enough scarcity to go around these days. Remember those pictures of the lush corn crop in late June? And that story about The First Cutting of Hay? Well, it was the only cutting. The corn died and the hay crop didn't grow (but is still hunkering in!). No hay to sell and the corn yield will be well below the bill paying level, yet enough not to trigger crop insurance payments (maybe 50 bushels an acre).

Here's what a few hundred acres of dead corn looks like in August 2012.

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The soil is turning to dust and on our farm the clay soil cracks are so deep, you can't see the bottoms. I turned the camera flash on this crack- hoping to see how deep it went. The soils are losing all their structure and becoming fine dust. I suspect this is what they felt like going into the dust bowl years

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And not just farming is impacted by this long, dry spell we are having in our township. I say our township, because the weather has been spotty and erratic. Some farms 7-8 miles away had a crucial July rain that saved their crops. Hell- some of them are getting bumper crops just 15 miles away.

The wetlands are drying up. There is 50 feet of dry pond bottom at the place the kids and I used to put in the canoe. The picture below is the slough at the corner of our section. That pond is completely dried up- the duck nesting house standing in cracked mud.

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And we pretty much got skunked with the garden in 2012. Mike fell on April 13 and by the time he was on his feet it was too late to plant. And yet.... and yet. We are experiencing great abundance of produce thanks to good, caring and kind neighbors. I'm spending all day today putting up a cornucopia of tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, squash, onions, green and yellow bean, peppers, this 12# head of cabbage. Deb, Bruce, Dorothy, Dianne, Simon and Jo and all of you who have dropped off veggies for us this year-- thank you for sharing your summer's labor with us. We hope to return the favor for years to come.

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And so in parting, this summer has seen a scarcity of rain and abundance of neighborliness and produce.

And it somehow fits with the goodness I saw in town yesterday. The Red Cross blood mobile spent a few short hours in our little town of 400 people yesterday afternoon. About 10% of the town's population showed up to give blood- the farmers, truckers, teacher, mom, post master, carpenter, and senior citizens. We've lost so many people from this town and county. And yet.... and yet- here they all are on a nice late summer day, giving back, giving generously, giving from the heart (and vein).

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