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Living the rural lifestyle

Serving in the Peace Corps a life-changing experience for Fairfax couple

Jacob Rieke stands in front of a milk house on their farm that dates back to the 1860s.

Serving in the Peace Corps in El Salvador in 2008-10 was truly a life-changing experience for Kylie and Jacob Rieke of rural Fairfax.

“It was in El Salvador that we realized we enjoyed living in rural communities,” Jacob said. “After our two-year commitment, we decided to move back home to join the farm.”

Kylie, who grew up near Bernadotte, and Jacob, who grew up south of Fairfax, met at Gibbon Fairfax Winthrop High School.

After Kylie earned an art degree at Augsburg University in Minneapolis and Jacob got a bachelor’s degree in psychology and sociology at Hamline University in St. Paul, they decided to join the Peace Corps.

“It was something we always talked about doing (in college) and wanted to do it. We knew it would be a great life experience,” Jacob said. “It’s a tough experience, but you come out of it, and you’re set for life. There’s not a whole lot you are scared of anymore after spending two years abroad like that.”

Kylie Rieke works on her potter’s wheel in her studio.

El Salvador is a relatively poor, developing country with volcanos, beaches, coffee farms, great surfing and breathtaking landscapes. The dollar is the legal currency, and English is commonly spoken.

Transportation can be challenging.

“It really broadens your protective and gives you a boost of confidence,” added Jacob.

“It also gives you a feeling of contentment being at home,” Kylie said.

“We lived on $300 a month down there, but it was plenty of money,” Jacob said. “It was hard, but it was one of the happiest times of my life. We were way out in the countryside, near the Honduras border, far from big cities.”

Kylie and Jacob Rieke live in rural Fairfax with their children, Avery and Maya.

Rieke said there is gang violence in El Salvador, but it’s mostly between gangs themselves and in bigger cities.

“We worked on rural health and sanitation there,” Jacob said. “Some of our main goals were impressing people to wash their hands, keep food and bathroom areas clean. Kylie did lots of art with people there.”

The Rieke’s established a school computer room, clinics and improved-efficiency stoves for people, so they didn’t have to breath as much smoke while cooking.

Kylie taught art classes and painted a number of murals in El Salvador.

Back home on a family farm that was established about 150 years ago, the Rieke’s keep busy producing corn, beans and hogs. They’re also busy with other things.

Jacob is the RS Fiber Cooperative Board chairman. He began volunteering for the project in 2010, helping cities promote the project.

In 2018, he was accepted into the Minnesota Agriculture Rural Leadership program. With MARL, he has attended many seminars around Minnesota in addition to seminars in Washington, D.C., and a two-week seminar series in Cambodia and Taiwan.

Jacob is running for the Renville County Board District 2 seat this fall.

Kylie works as a production potter and is a founding member of the GFW T-Bird Community Arts Board. She has participated in community art shows and volunteers for arts projects as much as she can, earning regional and state art grants.

“Handmade, functional pottery is especially unique, because you continuously interact with it,” added Kylie. “There is something truly satisfying and remarkable about using handmade dishes. I love bringing vibrant colors into places that were once dreary and boring. Large murals can completely change how you feel within a space. They can add meaning and much-needed beauty to our lives.”

Her pottery is available at The Grand Center for Arts and Culture and the New Ulm Community Market and Co-op.

Kylie plays Maria on the T-Bird Community Arts summer musical “The Sound of Music.” Their daughter, Avery, 12, plays Brigitta in the music. She also plays violin and Maya, 10, plays cello. They participate in the New Ulm Suzuki School of Music.

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