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Kelsey shares history through seed bags

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 10/03/2013 4:35 PM

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WASECA, Minn. — Ron Kelsey's seed bag collection provided a glimpse into agriculture's past at the Southern Research and Outreach Center's centennial celebration.

About 200 cloth bags hung neatly on hangers on a shed's wall. The shed was filled with historical displays showing the history of the center through the decades.

Kelsey, 73, of Lamberton, was asked to bring his seed bags to the celebration. Kelsey, who is superintendent of farm crops at the state fair, displays his bags at the fair and gets requests to bring his display to other events.

He stood near his bag collection answering questions and pointing out special features of the bags at the centennial celebration..

Cloth seed bags were used from the 1920s to the 1950s, he said. He started collecting them 25 years ago and preserves them based on instructions from the University of Minnesota.

Wherever he goes, people ask him about seed bags they remember. He has a list of bags people are searching for.

The bags were made by three companies in Minnesota, Bemis Bag Company, Fulton Bag Company and Chase Bag Company. All were based in the Twin Cities. Seed sellers would work with the companies who employed graphic designers to design the bags, Kelsey said.

Some designs were quite detailed with many colors. Others simply featured a company logo. The bags would often be reused. After soaking in boiling water, the ink would wash out and the bag would be used as a dish towel or T-shirt.

Kelsey has one bag that was mended with a flour sack print. The pink fabric with blue flowers would have likely been used to make a dress, he said. His own seven sisters wore dresses made from flour-sack material.

Kelsey's oldest bag is a yellow Land O'Lakes bag that was made for open pollinated corn. The bag was never used.

His most recent acquisition was a bag from Windom, the World's Flax Capital.

One of the most unusual bags is a Morning Star egg mash bag from La Crosse, Wis. The family wanted the bag in a collection, Kelsey said. It arrived at his house with chicken feed still in it.