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Sparks Publications July 2013

A local author visits our Prairie Restoration’s Bluestem Farm near Glyndon, MN and learns about a unique style of farming where the crops are native grass and wildflower seed.

Publications: Red River Valley Cooperative Power Association – Sparks
Author: Rich Whitcomb
Date: July 2013

Drive through the Valley and you’ll see neat and efficient large farming operations with GPS-planted rows of corn and beans growing in precision-straight lines in the rich, dark soil.

Now, drive a little further east to the beaches of ancient Lake Agassiz. Level black dirt transitions to sandier hills with more trees and grasses. It is here, southeast of Glyndon, that a 500-acre farm grows a different crop – native grasses, plants and flowers for landscape restoration.

Prairie Restorations and Jim Johansen, its seed production manager, has operated the Bluestem Farm next to the Nature Conservancy and Bluestem Prairie since 1997. Th e farm was created with seed harvested from nearby remnant prairies. Prairie Restorations is a full service firm with six locations in Minnesota specializing in plant production, restoring native communities, installing commercial and residential landscapes, shoreline restoration and prescribed burns. It's Glyndon location produces 60 different species of native grasses and flowers serving eastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota.

“This is diversified farming,” Johansen explained. Prairie Restoration’s Bluestem Farm employs four people year-round. In spring, employees typically perform prescribed burns and plant the year’s crop of grasses and flowers. Summer will find employees weeding the production plots and also installing colorful native plant landscapes for businesses and homeowners. Many clients own lake homes and corporations like Microsoft have used their services to maintain a more natural landscape than traditional manicured lawns. Fall finds crews harvesting the year’s crop and they spend the winter cleaning the seed and equipment.

Working on the farm is a mix of hand weeding and planting and using tractors and combines when practical. Grasses and flowers can be combined just like any small grain or row crop. Some small plots are hand-weeded and picked though. All the production areas are interspersed through sedges, natural prairies and oak savannah on the property. Th e farm looks like multiple gardens spread out on the land rather than a conventional farming operation.

Moose, deer, turkeys and many species of birds are frequent visitors to the farm. And wood ticks. Johansen said he pulled off 18 wood ticks in one day this year.

For Johansen, working at Prairie Restorations represents the best of both worlds. He grew up on the family farm near Underwood, and he also has a love of wildlife.

“This job is really gratifying,” he said. “Every seed we plant is going somewhere to help provide a buff er for the environment and find a balance.”

For more information about Prairie Restorations, go to www.prairieresto.com or call 218-498-0260.

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