Ready for a change: Couples are getting their all into small town life | Minnesota News

By DAN GUNDERSON, Minnesota Public Radio News

BATTLE LAKE, Minnesota (AP) – Katrina and James Ball were living and working in the Cayman Islands when the coronavirus pandemic hit.

They packed their bags and flew to Minnesota with two young children, to Battle Lake, a small town in west-central Minnesota where Katrina’s parents live and where they often spent their summer vacations.

“It’s kind of the first place we thought we would be going,” Katrina told Minnesota Public Radio News. “We thought, ‘We’re going to get over the pandemic in Minnesota, with a little more space. “”

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“We thought it would only be a three month contract, that we would come here, that we would spend the summer,” said James.

After living with their family for a few months, they started looking for rental accommodation, but rental accommodation was limited.

Eventually, they bought a house in Battle Lake where they can walk to their children’s school, the coworking space Katrina helps run in an old church, and where they often spend their working days. .

The couple, who are in their 30s, also lived in Australia for a while. Katrina said she realized it was important to be close to family, especially with young children.

“I think it always came down to ‘We should try Battle Lake’,” she said. “You know, if that happens, and if we can’t work remotely, we’ll have to make that decision. But for the moment, we say to ourselves: “We can work remotely and live with the family”. It’s good.”

James grew up in Botswana before moving to Australia in his late teens. It was there that he met Katrina while she was on a study abroad program. They have been married for 10 years. Both are accountants and their employers support remote working.

Now they are consciously starting to take root in Battle Lake.

In October, Katrina helped organize a fall festival.

“I just went for a walk around the companies and everyone was like, ‘Yeah, we’ll support you. What do you need ?’ », She remembers.

James was amazed at the amount of work the volunteers put into the community, but he says in a small town it may be easier to get things done because you see city officials at the cafe, and it looks like everyone in town is connected.

“It’s so much more accessible. And it’s like in a small town you can do anything, if you have the stamina, really, ”he said.

And if they need a break from small town life, Fargo-Moorhead is 90 minutes away and the Twin Cities is a three hour drive.

“We can go to a Twins game if we want to. But neither do we have to sit in traffic or we don’t have to face thousands of people at an event, if we don’t want to, ”James said. “So to me it’s almost like the best of both worlds.”

About ten kilometers away, near the small town of Ashby, another couple settles into a new life. Kate Mudge and Amy Freund are getting used to living on a small farm they bought last year.

The couple had long wanted to try country life. But Mudge, who worked for a community organization in St. Paul’s Midway neighborhood, said the unrest following George Floyd’s murder was sort of a tipping point.

“After the murder of George Floyd, Midway had a lot of things that were really hard to see. And, as much as I loved being a part of the community and rebuilding efforts, it was taking its toll, quite honestly, ”Mudge said. “It was just a really tough time. Social networks were getting a little ugly. People were sort of going to their corner, and I was ready to take a break. “

And Freund says the pandemic was making the city a little claustrophobic. She relishes the space and seclusion of her new home.

“When we got out here I almost felt like I could breathe again,” she said.

They made the decision to act quickly when a friend told them about the place for sale between Battle Lake and Ashby.

Freund had some concerns about how the couple would be accepted in a conservative part of the state.

“I was like, I don’t know as a community here in Ashby… what they think about same-sex marriage,” she said. “But the people here are really nice and tolerant.”

The couple cite numerous cases of people offering help, such as the furnace repairman who saw them struggling with a tiller to arrange garden space.

“He looked at us and he was like, ‘Do you want me to grow this for you?’” Mudge said. “Like, who just came in with a tractor and a tiller?” I mean, it happened over and over again with such nice people.

They also learned that living in the countryside is not easy. Mudge jokes that trips to Fergus Falls involve lists and 37 stops to get everything they need. They have to haul their garbage down a quarter-mile driveway to the road where the truck picks up the garbage. And there is a lot of mowing, wood cutting, snow removal and maintenance.

Mudge has a job in Fergus Falls, but works from home most of the time. Freund is retired from a career in corrections.

They both lack amenities in the Twin Cities like favorite restaurants. But Mudge said the trade-off is an overall improvement in quality of life.

“I don’t mean to say it’s easier here,” she said. “It’s definitely slower. So I could get out of my front door and walk in the woods and around the ponds with the dogs. This is, for me, one of the nicest things of all time.

Next year, they hope to add goats or other animals to the farm, and they have a long list of things to do. They want to create a welcoming place to meet with friends.

Mudge and Freund admit they still have a lot to learn about country life, but over a year later, they’re convinced they’ve made the right choice.

James and Katrina Ball also feel good about their choice to relocate to Battle Lake, and they continue to find connections with others who have made similar pandemic migrations.

“I don’t think our story is unique. I think there are probably a lot of people who have stepped back or made important decisions in their lives because of COVID, ”James said.

“I think it’s great for small towns. And I hope that in five years, people haven’t sort of migrated back to the cities. “

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