Rural by Choice: A Home on the Prairie

On the western edge of Minnesota, John White has helped rebuild a natural prairie habitat that also supports an orchard, garden and domestic fowl. With land, a house and nearby wetlands, he felt he “couldn’t go wrong” by choosing to live in this rural area.

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Name: John G. White

Where I live: Rural Big Stone County between Clinton and Ortonville, Minnesota.

Why I live here: After finding this farm situated between two nicely frequented wetlands, and for the price of a solid house and 14 acres, we couldn't go wrong.

 

Daily Yonder: Tell us a little bit about yourself- who you are, how you spend your time.

John White
John White: Statistically you could count me among the retired, although I'm quite active with my writing and photography. Several years ago while on assignment, I flew over the prairie in flood stage and realized there was a ghost of the past on the land … what I've come to learn was a postglacial prairie pothole biome. A few years after that my late wife and I planted a prairie garden in our backyard. I was amazed at the different life stages and interesting looks and shapes of the prairie grasses and forbs. I began taking pictures almost daily of the changes, and since "retirement" and remarriage and moving to this farm, I've concentrated on portraying that less than 1 percent of the prairie that remains. I've hung several shows and will be a featured artist again this year in the annual Minnesota River Valley Arts Meander. My wife, Rebecca, and I share a blog about place called Listening Stones Farm that combines my writing and photography.

 

DY: Where do you live?  Paint us a picture.

JW: We have planted the full eight acres of tillable land to Pheasants Forever prairie [Pheasants Forever is a conservation group], and this will be our third summer coming up. We are working to refurbish the grove, and have planted a fruit tree orchard along with Rebecca's huge organic garden. We raise chickens for eggs that we sell through the local Granary Food Co-op, as well as Red Ranger meat birds for our own freezer. This year we'll likely add turkeys to the fold, as well as a couple of feeder lambs. We haven't finalized our livestock plan for the year. We have completely remodeled this 1912 four square, and are just completing the construction of a garage/summer kitchen/studio and office timber frame, designed by area artist Dale Pederson. We may keep the studio open year round as an on-farm gallery due to the tourism in the area.

DY: How did you come to live where you do?  How long have you lived there, and how long do you plan to stay?

JW: I guess I've always been drawn to country. Even when I was working at the Denver Post in the 1970s, we had an eye on a corner of the family farm back in Missouri. When I accepted an editorial position with Webb Publishing in St. Paul in the early 1980s, we lived just below Afton State Park for one summer before finding a country place east of Hastings. But it was when we moved out to Clara City to run a country weekly newspaper that I came to more thoroughly enjoy the prairie rivers and the prairie itself. Moving back home became less of an option, especially when considering the political climate in Missouri. After my wife died, and I met and married Rebecca, who works for Land Stewardship Project as a community organizer, we made a decision to live somewhere in the Minnesota River Valley. This farm was owned by one of her dear friends who moved for job considerations. We just feel at home here.

Photo by John White
"The Art of Erosion"

DY: What are the drawbacks of living in a rural place?

JW: If there is a negative about living here is the lack of good broadband communications network. We can barely stream even a YouTube video, and we must reboot the wireless one to four times a day. The record was six! That is a major frustration. The other negative is the amount of wind-blown soils from neighboring farms where it seems the dirt is of little consequence. We have experienced drift damage from their use of sprayed herbicides, too. That would not be much of an issue if the one farmer would choose to apply his spray in less than 30 mph winds, which he has done two years running. Yet, we love the sunrises and sunsets, and the beauty offered us from the skies and the prairies, including our own. It seems that at least once every day one of us will look at the other and say, "We live here!"

 

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