Guest Feature: That Time I Made It To Granite Falls, MN
What does it feel like to participate in Civic Saturday? More than just the cross-pollination of urban and rural people…
I am a Minnesotan. Minnesota is part of who I am and how I see myself in the world. It is a place, the place I come from. But what does that mean? Am I Minnesotan because I grew up in Duluth? Because I lived in Minneapolis for 10 years? Because I can drive in the snow and love Lake Superior and visit the boundary waters and eat Gedney State Fair pickles? I share these things with some Minnesotans, but definitely not all of them. I’m Minnesotan alongside all kinds of people like Lizzo, my grandmother, and Anna Claussen. Anna’s from a farm in western Minnesota, a part of the state I’ve never been to. In June she invited me to the Civic Saturday she hosted in Granite Falls.
I drove up the Minnesota river valley from Franklin to Granite Falls. It was gorgeous and swollen with late spring rain. Near a creek there was an old monument to the white settlers who took this land in the 1800s and a more recent sign about the violence the U.S. army and settlers did to the Dakota people who have been living on the prairie for 1000 years, before Minnesota was a territory or a state. On my way, I stopped at the Lower Sioux Agency and drove past the Upper Sioux Community. They are still here and they are some of the Minnesotans I have not met.
In Granite Falls, I set up a tent in Memorial Park and met a man and his girlfriend at a lookout who have bracelets with the coordinates of that specific spot. It grounds them and provides quiet in life’s tough times. I crossed the river into the picture of a small town. Local shops line Prentice Street, the main street that parallels the Minnesota River, where the next afternoon we watched the Western Days parade. A walking bridge spans the river. White pelicans spend summer in Minnesota and they seem to love Granite Falls. They hang out below the falls in the foam from the municipal power dam and feast on fish. Meanwhile the community feasts on brats, burgers, and pulled pork cooked up by the American Legion and local firefighters. With a beer from the Bluenose Gopher Public Houses – a co-op bar! – and a brat, I watched the pelicans. Locals said hello while mosquitoes feasted on my ankles. It was both familiar and new.
The next morning, a handful of people from the Twin Cities and more from around Granite Falls gathered for the Civic Saturday in the YES! House, a storefront that was once a post office and is on its way to becoming a community arts center. We sang songs, heard poems, and Anna gave a talk--a civic sermon--about how people in rural areas wear multiple hats. Her pastor pulled off his bus driver hat as he walked into the church and transformed. A farmer finished planting and drove to her other job at the bank. It’s as simple as that. Identity is complex and it changes. People are all special but in rural areas they are not all specialized. They don’t have that luxury. After her talk we got into little groups and discussed the question, “What are your identities?” That conversation was surprisingly intimate. One person shared that she identifies as a listener. We talked about what makes her a good listener. She said patience is important. Patience is something I can stand to practice, and I’ve been trying. I stuck around for the parade - featuring farm equipment, fire trucks, marching bands, and a cowboy clown on a moped - but took off before the rodeo that evening. I was saturated with experiences and city life called me back. I made the drive home through tiny towns filled with road construction and bare business districts. They seemed to be getting by. Striving and thriving, just like me. Exploring these rural bits of Minnesota, I discover pieces of myself.
People are all special but in rural areas they are not all specialized. They don’t have that luxury.
I drove back out west a week later and went on the Redwood County Farm Bureau’s “I met a farmer” tour. We visited three farms and a dairy. Each farmer had their own story. It is linked to their land, the crops they grow, the techniques they use, the machinery they’ve bought, the way other people see them, the jobs they do off the farm. What became clear to me was that diversity is vital. It makes space for new ideas. Stoney Creek Farm has demonstrated that regenerative agriculture can be profitable and restore tired out land, because they didn’t want to stop grazing animals on their fields they innovated. This is the third time I’ve heard a family member from this farm talk and every time I’m energized. Their farm is exciting. The fields are lush. The cows are happy. It was also exciting to learn about growing peas from the conventional farmers who supply the Del Monte canning plant. The corporations and farmers and land have a complex relationship. They all cooperate and struggle to succeed in an industry that has been focused on extracting resources for over a century and is just now working on how to build up the soil and the local community in a global economy where the number of farmers keeps shrinking.
We, Minnesotans and Americans, urban and rural folks, are a lot of different people. I can’t help but worry the president’s politics are whipping up the fear of others and fear of diversity – people of color, immigrants, refugees – in a way that makes rural communities weaker. It is the diversity in these communities that makes them rich, lively, and able to adapt. People think for themselves, learn from the world, worship in different ways, innovate, and love each other. They also love the land and want to be loved. I heard this deeply in the warm invitations and small gestures of welcome that were extended to me. I heard frustration at not being understood by urban consumers, being unfairly blamed for water pollution and other environmental problems. We all live in relationship to each other. To have a relationship we need to listen, to be patient, to learn a little more about unfamiliar people and a little more about the unique shape of our own identity, an identity that changes as we move through this life we have been offered. I am glad I accepted these invitations to spend some time in rural, western Minnesota. Exploring Minnesota I learn about myself and I've learned that I like to listen.