Plains Folk

Once a week during Main Street, weekdays at 3 pm CT with a repeat at 7 pm CT.
  • Hosted by Prairie Public

Plains Folk is a commentary devoted to life on the great plains of North Dakota. Written by Tom Isern of West Fargo, North Dakota, and read in newspapers across the region for years, Plains Folk venerates fall suppers and barn dances and reminds us that "more important to our thoughts than lines on a map are the essential characteristics of the region — the things that tell what the plains are, not just where they are." Find Plains Folk archives here.

Ways to Connect

Great Plains Bison

May 30, 2018

Dan O’Brien speaks for the American bison. He has observed the resurgence of bison numbers on the plains over the past generation. The species is no longer endangered per se. Genetically, the union of previously inbred lines in the burgeoning herds of the twenty-first century has improved and restored the animal. Still, O’Brien is not impressed.

Summer Reading

May 30, 2018

Where to begin? At the beginning, with the great novel of the Great Plains: My Ántonia, by Willa Cather. Within a few days I will be attending a symposium devoted to the centennial of the work in Cather’s old home town, Red Cloud. You’ll be hearing about it here. Prepare to fall in love again with a book that is so perfect, it kind of bothers me sometimes as a Lutheran, but I cannot help myself. So now, having begun with the obvious, let me count through a list of titles I recommend for your summer reading on the Great Plains in 2018.

“This is a great land--one filled with resources not yet exploited and opportunities still ungrasped. Its prosperity is dependent on agriculture--upon the soil.” So speaks Professor Alfred G. Arvold, of North Dakota Agricultural College, in a talk probably delivered in about 1915. This country “is certainly a Land Where the Farmer is King. East of the Montana copper mines and west of the Minnesota iron ranges is the agricultural Mecca of the continent,” declares Professor Arvold, thus situating his own Flickertail State in the middle of things.

Rhubarb Days

May 17, 2018

You can talk about your daffodils and your cherry blossoms, but this is the springtime emergence that counts: rhubarb. As the bulbs grow rank into stalks and leaves, there are two things I crave. I’ll tell you about one of them now, and the other in the end.

Operation Snowbound

May 4, 2018

This essay originated during the Good Friday Blizzard of 2018 on the northern plains, when the only person who still liked snow was my Labrador retriever. She has a coat like a bear, about two inches of body fat, and a serious case of cabin fever. (And yes, I realize I just referred to my dog as a “person,” what of it?)

Martyr Mother

Apr 19, 2018

The story of Wilhelmina Geiszler is a legend long told by the people of North Dakota, and I have been one of the tellers--here in this radio space.

When I was going to college, we had things figured out in Great Plains history. We knew that the climate (as opposed to weather, which was changeable) was constant. It set the baseline for history and life.

Gregarious Geese

Apr 2, 2018

Tom Isern shares a Plains Folk essay, “Gregarious Geeese.” 


The great Alfred G. Arvold, founder of the Little Country Theater at North Dakota Agricultural College, was a heckuva storyteller. His classic work on his life’s work, The Little Country Theater, published in 1923, begins with a scene, a scene that is about a scene.


Gregarious Geese

Mar 21, 2018


In the changing seasons of the prairies, there are certain developments that capture our attention for their continentality. They are sprawling events that progress up the latitudinal length of the Great Plains.