Series highlights benefits of living in OT County

Cory Hepola interviews Nick and Betsy Roder for an installment of the latest series entitled Rural by Choice.

By Tucker Henderson

Reporter

Cory Hepola stands next to Nick and Betsy Roder and with a couple pairs of snowshoes while filming Rural by Choice.

Rural by Choice, the docuseries on life in Otter Tail County, is premiering its second season on Sunday, Nov. 27.

The series, which began filming in August of 2020, has received national attention with views in the hundreds of thousands and was also shown at the Twin Cities Film Festival.

Rural By Choice was started by the Otter Tail Lakes Country Association to help promote Otter Tail County to the rest of the nation. The project is a collaboration between OTC Lakes Country Association, Kvidt Creative, and Cory Hepola to create larger-impact marketing of the unique and positive attributes of Otter Tail County. 

Erik Osberg, Otter Tail County’s Rural Rebound Initiative Coordinator, said after the first season premiered, that it was important that the county’s story was shown by those who lived in the county and had their finger on the pulse of the community.

The second season will include five new episodes exploring the county’s education and healthcare systems, as well as childcare, working from home and maintaining a work/life balance. These are all set in winter, which provided the filming crew to capture some winter sports in the area as well.

Episode One, “Cabin in the Woods,” features local residents Nick and Betsy Roder and spotlights the Cultural Center in New York Mills, as well as the Finnish heritage of the area. The episode captures a snapshot of rural living around Butler and NY Mills.

Hepola said that the reception to the first season was very encouraging to the project members and helped fuel the motivation for producing a second season.

“We were blown away,” said Hepola. “Hundreds of thousands of people watched the first season and it was selected into the prestigious Twin Cities Film Festival. We received so much positive feedback, but the comment I heard the most—and the one I’m most proud of—is that it helped break down some popular misconceptions people may have had about rural living.”

One popular misconception is that winter in Minnesota is as bad as it is shown on television. Albeit, the state is prone to have the occasional blizzard or deep-freeze like stretch, but a lot of joy can be found in the snow as well.

“Unfortunately, the reality is, the winter is a barrier for many people to live in or explore Minnesota,” said Hepola. “But, the truth is, we’re blessed with the beauty of winter in Otter Tail County with special opportunities surrounding us. These five episodes show we don’t hibernate, we choose to explore the wonder around us by snowmobiling, snowshoeing, ice fishing, and jumping in and out of the sauna.”

Though Hepola currently lives in the Twin Cities, he grew up in Perham and makes sure to visit his childhood home-county for family vacations and visiting relatives. There is a lot of diversity among the large area and population of Otter Tail County and this docuseries makes a point to try and capture that.

“We really tried to find different perspectives from all over Otter Tail County as we explore some of the common questions about rural living: education, jobs, childcare, and healthcare,” said Hepola. “Otter Tail County is a hidden gem in Minnesota. It’s my forever home. Right now, there’s this narrative about a rural versus urban divide, but I live both and don’t feel that. My prayer is that this docuseries continues to unite people from across the state and helps educate families on the idea of rural living in Otter Tail County.”

The five-episode series will premiere on Sunday, Nov. 27 at 7:27 p.m. on YouTube and Facebook. A new episode will be released each Sunday evening through Christmas. With the hard work paying off and now being shown on a national stage, the producers have been very happy with the results.

“I’m just so thankful to have the opportunity to share these stories and my love for Otter Tail County, with the world,” Hepola said. “This series and being able to represent my home has been a dream come true. We have an incredibly talented team with Micah and Jenna Kvidt and Erik Osberg, and I’m forever grateful to the leaders of Otter Tail County who have supported this project.”

As the first lasting snow has fallen in Otter Tail County and indoor activities start to find a larger place in people’s lives, the importance of family and togetherness is not forgotten, especially as Rural by Choice is released to the nation to exemplify the narrative of slowing down and enjoying the simplicities of rural life.

“It’s really difficult to be present,” said Hepola. “We’re constantly thinking about the past or worrying about the future, but all we really have is today. This moment. That’s a major theme we explore this season. Feeling content and living with joy, which is easier to do when you’re slowing life down and focusing on the people and world around you.”