Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

What’s the deal with all the flies at Valley Grove? April 27, 2018

 

The historic Valley Grove Churches, rural Nerstrand, Minnesota.

 

ALL YOU SCIENTIST, ENTOMOLOGY, biology types out there, I need your input to solve a mystery. I suppose I could google the topic, but I’d rather read your theories or fact-based conclusions.

 

The buzzing started once we stepped inside the front gate and onto the grass between the two churches.

 

Last Sunday afternoon while walking on the grounds of Valley Grove Church, rural Nerstrand, I heard a buzzing. Like a zillion bees. At first I thought I was hearing things because, when I would stop, the droning also stopped.

I questioned whether I could be suffering from tinnitus, an occasional issue given my hearing loss. I’m nearly deaf in the my right ear which causes all sorts of problems in determining sound sources and in hearing in general.

 

 

But this buzzing seemed real. I risked asking my husband if he heard what I heard. He did. We paused on the dormant dried grass. No buzzing. Then we took a few steps and the irritating hum resumed. Then my observant husband, with the way better vision than me, saw the flies. Everywhere. Infinite numbers settled on the grass as if sunning themselves. I strained to see the camouflaged flies and then photograph them. I managed one image of a single fly. Whenever either of us moved, they, too, moved. It was the craziest thing.

 

One of several birdhouses located on the grassland hiking area.

 

I’m a woman who has a history with flies. They were part of my growing up environment on a southwestern Minnesota dairy farm. A fly swatter was always at the ready. Sticky fly traps dangled from ceilings in our farmhouse; one even hung over the kitchen table. Not at all appealing. But I’d rather see a dead fly than have one land on my dinner plate. In the barn, biting, swarming flies were a constant problem. For cows. And for humans.

 

This aged, massive oak is a focal point in the corner of the cemetery.

 

But why were these thousands (maybe even millions) of flies here, on these church and cemetery grounds on a sunny late April afternoon, the first warm weekend of the season in Minnesota? There were no cattle (although the occasional piles of deer and other animal poop). There was no food.

 

 

The insects didn’t swarm the entire grounds—mostly just the area between the two historic church buildings and along the edge of the adjoining cemetery.

 

 

Once I got past the fly territory, I enjoyed my time at Valley Grove. It’s a beautiful place of quiet, of peace, set high atop a hill with lovely rural vistas. There are hiking trails and history in the cemetery (and churches when they are open). Generations of families are buried here. And there are oak trees, including one held together by thick chains in the corner of the cemetery.

This place holds stories. And now it holds one more story—the mystery of the fly invasion.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Touring Simple Harvest Organic Farm, rural Nerstrand July 25, 2016

The Zemans' farmhouse and yard.

The Zemans’ farmhouse and yard, this view looking toward the driveway.

SIBLINGS KATHY AND NICK ZEMAN farm the old-fashioned way.

Visitors park along the county road by Simple Harvest Organic Farm for the Eat Local Tour.

Visitors park along the county road by Simple Harvest Organic Farm on 155th Street East, rural Nerstand, for the recent Eat Local Farm Tour.

Simple Harvest Organic Farm, 17 geese close-up

 

Simple Harvest Organic Farm, 79 beehives

 

Simple Harvest Organic Farm, 69 pigs

 

Their 20-acre rural Nerstrand acreage is home to an assortment of animals typical of farms of yesteryear. Chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, pigs, goats, cows and rabbits along with two dogs and bees comprise the collection of critters I spotted on a recent visit.

 

Simple Harvest Organic Farm, 15 back ends of goats

 

Livestock graze in pastures and are fed a vegetarian diet. These animals see sunlight and sky on this organic farm.

 

Simple Harvest Organic Farm, 8 Simple H sign

 

Simple Harvest Organic Farm was among sites featured on the recent 2016 Eat Local Farm Tour. As I hiked up the driveway toward the farm yard, I noticed the absence of a barn. I didn’t ask Kathy about that. I was distracted by the goats and then the chickens peering from behind chicken wire in the weathered chicken house.

 

Simple Harvest Organic Farm, 43 bunnies

 

Simple Harvest Organic Farm, 39 goat close-up

 

Then it was on to the rabbits and the sweet bunnies and a single milk goat that preferred chomping on dry leaves over fresh leaves.

 

Simple Harvest Organic Farm, 18 geese walking

 

As I circled the property, I noticed plenty of weeds and droppings from wandering geese. This isn’t a pristine picture perfect farm. But it’s lovely in the sort of way that this is a way of life for Kathy and her brother. Not only do they raise food for themselves, but also for others through their Community Supported Agriculture business.

 

This weathered building houses the chickens, who roam inside and out.

This weathered building houses the chickens, who roam inside and out.

This pair peered through chicken wire in a chicken coop window.

This pair peered through chicken wire in a chicken coop window opening.

The farm store is located in a closed corner of the pole shed which also houses pigs and fowl.

The farm store is located in a an enclosed corner room of the pole shed which also houses pigs and fowl.

On the second Saturday of every month, from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., the Zemans open their farm store—housed in a room in a pole shed—to CSA and other customers who stop by to pick up frozen whole chickens, eggs and more. The farm is also open by appointment.

 

Simple Harvest Organic Farm, 81 bikes

 

As I chatted with Kathy, whom I met 30-plus years ago when I was a newspaper reporter and she the Steele County dairy princess, she paused to greet new arrivals. “The neighbors are here,” she enthused. And they really were her neighbors, their bikes leaning against a fence near the end of the farm driveway.

 

Simple Harvest raw honey available for purchase at the farm.

Simple Harvest raw honey available for purchase at the farm.

Friendliness and old-fashioned neighborliness prevail here on Simple Harvest Organic Farm.

BONUS PHOTOS:

On the day I visited, these items were available for purchase from Simple Harvest.

On the day I visited, these items were available for purchase from Simple Harvest.

I photographed this sunflower by the chicken coop.

I photographed this sunflower by the chicken coop.

Customers could also purchase Wildflower Honey from Schoolhouse Apiary during the farm tour.

Customers could also purchase Wildflower Honey from Schoolhouse Apiary, Northfield, during the farm tour.

 

Simple Harvest Organic Farm, 7 Eat Local sign

 

FYI: Check back as I take you several miles away to Shepherd’s Way Farms, also on the 2016 Eat Local Farm Tour.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling