Investing In How We Relate


This summer we’ve been busy. But we also know the value of slowing down.


Credit: Anna Claussen, Justin Wakem


As the unusually cool days portend the coming of fall, we find ourselves reflecting on the full days we spent this summer investing in how we relate to each other. With two Civic Saturdays in June - one in Minneapolis and one in Granite Falls - we came together as rural-urban place dwellers and dated each other again. We stretched our own identities and reclaimed parts of ourselves that were lost. We moved through July and August sharing our personal truths on stages and melding policy discussions with barn dancing, as if they were always meant to be a part of one another. Summer, you’ve been good to us - let’s reflect on our blessings.

In June we showed-up.

We showed up, created, and hosted the first ever Civic Saturday in Minnesota - and we did it twice before the month was over. On a perfectly sunny June day Minneapolis neighbors drove, biked and walked to the amphitheater outside our local elementary school to share a bold act of citizenry. With a high level of trust and a lot of uncertainty, neighbors and strangers listened to poetry, sang together and shared personal truths with each other. They stepped up to the podium and shared readings about place; about neighbors; about proximity and distance - contributing to a conversation about how we as rural-urban people can commit to set aside assumptions and build a stronger, truer relationship with one another. Weeks later some of those attendees accepted an invitation to join us again - this time 130 miles upriver, in a small town of 3000 people. Amidst the buzz of their summer festival weekend we gathered over coffee and pastries in the old post office, now the YES! House, on Main Street. A local musician, Tom, drew us in with the tunes and lyrics of his prairie inspired original songs. Following an intimate gathering, the rodeo clown led us out to the sidewalk to partake in the Western Fest parade - taking in the summer joys of small town living. Using our attendee numbers at our events to measure our impact would fail to tell the whole story. The volunteer team that coalesced to plan and deliver on both events was integral to the bridging and the civic building. Six strangers met six times from April to June, discussing the subject and intent of our events, helping realize a Civic Saturday, and embodying a wide spectrum of geography and identity. When our Civic Saturdays rolled around they were no longer strangers, and traveled 100's of miles, slept in tents, on farms, and in church basements together, sipped brews and sang karaoke in small town bars, and worked together to create, curate and be a part of something unknown. The process and the journey are key to meaningful outcomes - I hope we all pause and count this more often. 

In July I listened.

Joining nine other millenials on stage, I was honored to help curate and co-moderate a conversation that was rich in perspectives and added depth to the often oversimplified analysis ‘that if there are jobs in rural places, people will come’. We were all working to explain to the Regional Economic Development (RED) Group--a statewide collaboration of more than 100 organizations that foster rural economic vitality to support regional economic development--what makes rural Minnesota welcoming (or not) and what do millennials think the future of work in rural will be?  Through story millennials shared their experiences making lives and making a living in rural Minnesota. An examination of ‘should we put down roots’ certainly includes the real need to find available and affordable childcare, housing and healthcare. But it also includes the ability to connect with diverse cultures to find an environment that is not only rich in culture, arts and religion, and is open to evolving. Millennials need not just jobs, but opportunities to connect, to contribute, and to participate in entertaining activities. They want to feel a sense of purpose and belonging. Minnesota Millennials rank 6th in the nation for volunteer service and are also committed to finding communities where they can give back in ways that align with their passions. They won’t stay in rural communities that don’t provide that something “extra”, but more importantly, they are willing to build and create the opportunities and conditions they desire in communities. 


The process and the journey are key to meaningful outcomes - I hope we all pause and count this more often.


In August we cooked together.

At the farm where my husband and I were married, our gracious friends at Willow Lake Farm hosted the biennial Agroecology Summit. In partnership with the Science Museum of Minnesota, this year’s theme - Butterflies, Bluegreens, Kilowatts & Calories - guided a two day local exploration of possible policies to promote perennials for cleaner water and better habitat. Local farmers, scientists and policy makers embarked into the loft of the barn for a robust day of discussion of the incentives and markets needed to create products derived from perennial cropping systems. Following an evening made perfect for community conversation, good eats, music and dancing, the guests spent the second day on tours to observe the test plots of perennial vegetation, acknowledge the Woodland and Oneota era Native American occupation see the local wind energy projects and other aspects of the grain farm operation. But in addition to the discussion and the tours, we cooked and ate together. All weekend long a community of friends, neighbors and strangers made the barn kitchen function like the backhouse of the Ordway.  With fluidity and fun we husked hundreds of ears of sweetcorn, grilled ninety pounds of Alaskan salmon, baked eggplants over the fire’s coals for baba ganoush and washed heaps of dishes. We were blessed with local hospitality - bountiful produce from local farmers, Ethiopian coffee ceremonies, and local musicians who made the loft of the barn shake with the rhythm of happy dancing feat. 

Summer is a blur. The photos we have of our time together are a reminder of all that we have done, and will continue to make our social media feed swell with love. We are often rushing from here to there, riding a wave of high energy and drinking in the long days with little time for hesitation. It’s in the in-between - on road trips between my heart home and my family’s home, in-between seasons and seasonal energies, between projects and gigs - that feelings come to the surface for me. Feelings that make me question the path I’m on, make we wonder if I should redirect, make me question if I’m living the best and most meaningful life. Make me pause. I’m incrementally coming to realize that in a go-go world these pauses are necessary. If I can see them as a signal that life has not become a habit or reflux, but is still a rhythm of stretching and straining, then I can find peace in this discomfort, and maybe even embrace them as signs of strength instead of confusion or weakness.

As we move into fall, I wish you pause and peace.

Anna Claussen