Farm-sitting: A Cultural Adventure in Owatonna

13 Comments 08 April 2010

I'm definitely not in the city any more....

“Remember – you have the bigger brain” – these words of instruction provided to me echoed thru my mind. It was my mantra as I went out to feed the horses for the first time. I know very little about horses, except that they are much bigger than me; but apparently their brain isn’t. A few days earlier Amy had taken me for a test run of the farm chores; showing me how to feed the chickens, gather eggs, call for the horses, feed them separately and give them the right mix of food. Now, on my own for the first time, the horses seemed much larger than before. I thought I would ease into the horses by checking on the chickens first. They seemed easier…and much smaller.

My latest house-sitting gig has landed me on a farm. It’s really a hobby farm (so I’m not taking care of livestock or driving a tractor – yet that does sounds like fun for a few days!) The farm is home to 3 horses, a couple dozen chickens, 5 or 6 cats, and 1 big dog that is more of an uncoordinated rag doll than a dog! All of this fur meant that I was downing my allergy pills with gusto!

The chickens produced more eggs than I could ever imagine eating. However, I tried my best. I went to the Incredible Edible Egg website a and found egg recipes for every occasion. I made omelets, custard, egg salad, and quiche and didn’t even make a dent in the egg inventory in the fridge! However I’m pretty sure my cholesterol skyrocketed.

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The horses were great at first, but I think they quickly figured out that I was a newbie and tried to debunk my bigger brain theory. They clearly wanted to be in control. I also believe they were secretly laughing at me every time I tried to hoist the hay bale up into the feeder and ended up with hay in my hair and down my shirt. Farming was never my strong point; however I did learn to check which way the wind was blowing before hoisting the hay – a lesson I learned the hard way.

I told myself taking care of horses would prepare me in some way for my upcoming trip to the Kentucky Derby on May 1st. In fact, one of the horses, appropriately named Bourbon, was the grandson to a horse who raced in the Derby. I felt like this was my chance to bond with Derby History!

The famous Bank Building

I decided to embrace this farm-sitting gig and treat it as a Midwest cultural trip. The small town was a new place to explore and try to understand culturally. At first glance, Owatonna , Minnesota is merely an exit along I35 in the shadow of the giant Cabellas store; or at least that’s what I thought. I was actually able to find a lot of character in Owatonna making it worth a stop on your way to/from Minneapolis!

I first visited Mineral Springs Park and went for a run along the trickling stream and golf course. The park was pristine with a well maintained trail, historical markers/plaques along the route, and everyone I passed said hello to me – adults and kids.

Next I drove in to the town square. Every small town in the Midwest will have an old town square. It didn’t take me long to find Main street which led me right into the center of town. I had heard that there were a few ‘must see’ sites in Owatonna and they were all around Central Park…that is, Central Park of Owatonna.

Huge Stained Glass Window

Central Park wasn’t surrounded by sky scrapers, but it was surrounded by history. The cornerstone to Owatonna is the National Farmers’ Bank Building. You’ll notice it right away, a brick block like building with ornate green trim. When you enter the bank, the keyhole entry opens into a huge, expansive lobby bathed in greens and golds. Massive half circle stained glass windows and a skylight allow in natural light and flood the large lobby with color. There are terra cotta chandeliers each weighing 2 ¼ tons. An ornate terra cotta sculptured clock sits over the tellers. The building is currently owned by Wells Fargo today and you are allowed to take as many pictures as you want! The architect, Louis H. Sullivan exemplified monumental simplicity of form combined with intricate complexity of ornament.

The 2nd most popular site in town was my personal favorite; mainly because it was all about chocolate! Across from the bank sits the Costa Diner; in operation for 90 years. A typical small town diner, however it has something that makes it unique…truffles.

Truffle Yumminess!

This diner not only serves up coffee, but it also makes homemade chocolate truffles, butter creams, caramels, and nut concoctions. It was started by Greek immigrants in 1919 and is still featuring the same family recipes and equipment. This explains the great old neon sign outside.

The colorful chocolate display case draws you in, but it’s the smell that ultimately makes you buy. The whole place smells like chocolate decadence! I also highly recommend stopping and having lunch there – the Greek salad and Gyro is great. Then follow that with a colorful wrapped truffle…or two…or three…

The bank building and Costas were sites I had heard about, but I decided to explore a bit more and it didn’t take me long to find something just as interesting that wasn’t written about. As I walked thru the main streets and past shops and restaurants, I finally noticed them…the old, antique signs. There weren’t many, but the few that had survived over time were classic. It reminded me of something you’d see along Route 66.

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The sun as setting and I had to get back to the farm to do my evening chores! The chickens, horses, cats and dog were waiting for me no doubt; a farmer’s work is never done. My farm adventure in small town Minnesota yielded some great photographic results; I really couldn’t ask for anything more…except for maybe another truffle.

View Owatonna photography

Your Comments

13 Comments so far

  1. Alison says:

    Staying on the farm sounds like a lot of fun (and a bit of hard work) but what a difference way to experience a new area!

  2. bethany says:

    Looks fun! I would LOVE to house sit on a farm – i miss all my pet chickens I used to have.

  3. As a Midwest girl, born and raised, I know all about small towns, and it really is amazing the things you can find in these out-of-the-way places. Not to mention the always friendly people!

  4. Aly says:

    Loved the retro signage! We are currently situated in a very small town in the south, and once you start looking interesting sights and activities start popping up…but you definitely have to look for it.

  5. Mary says:

    Stumbled across your site for the first time, and I love love love this post! I’m from the Midwest, and I appreciate you featuring the region in a positive light. Most people think the Midwest is so boring, but your post shows that even small towns in Minnesota can have things to offer visitors. Awesome pics, too!

    • admin says:

      I find the midwest culture fascinating – and it’s my home culture! I have been living in NYC and San Francisco in the past and they are so different than the ‘middle’! Thanks for your comments!

  6. No doubt a delightful adventure. And middle America does have its charm. I even enjoyed my time in Flint, MI last summer. Surprisingly, the place has a lot to offer.

    And as for farming, your stories or saga reminds me of a recent TV show I watched. The Fabulous Beekman Boys… check it out:

    stay adventurous,

  7. Jan says:

    One more person who just stumbled onto this enlightening site. Since I live here in Owatonna, I can only wish you could have visited a few more fantastic areas. On State Street in Owatonna you would come upon West Hills Campus and the buildings that once housed the MN State Orphanage. There is a museum that details the lives in the orphanage – there is a dormitory depicting life in a boys cottage – there is a graveyard that crosses have been erected for those who perished while in the orphanage. Really wonderful work done by Max and Harvey Ronglin. I’m really proud to be an Owatonna resident and it’s so much more!

    • admin says:

      Jan, thanks so much for the information! It sounds like a fascinating place. I’m not sure if I will make it to Owatonna again very soon – but if I do I’ll be sure to check it out. I really enjoyed my time there last winter – it was short – but really nice. I still miss the chocolates!

  8. Kelsey says:

    I would love to housesit on a farm! I have farm experience working with horses, goats, sheep, donkeys, chickens, you name it. I’d love that kind of arrangement. How did you come by it?

    • Sherry says:

      This was actually through a friend of my sisters. I basically just put the word out via facebook and my website that I was available to housesit and I had a few opportunities like this come up! That’s also how I ended up housesitting for a month in Brussels last summer too!

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Sherry traveling the world

I'm Sherry, a corporate cube dweller turned nomadic traveler. I travel to off-the-beaten-path destinations to bring you unique travel experiences and photography. But it's not just about travel, it's also about life experiences of a middle age wanderer.
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Where am I and Where am I going?

Minnesota/Wisconsin -> Nebraska

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