Fields of gold

Grimes family pollinator habitat draws admirers

T-R PHOTO BY GARRY BRANDENBURG Pictured is an aerial view of the 165 acres of prairie pollinator land privately owned by members of the Grimes family. The space sits adjacent to Grimes Farm and Conservation Center, and has become a popular area for people to stop and admire the abundance of wildflowers. The Grimes family land is being preserved through a partnership with the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) of the USDA. - - - - T-R PHOTO BY SARA JORDAN-HEINTZ In 2016, this farmland was converted into a pollinator habitat, owned and maintained by the Grimes family. Currently, the wildflowers are in their prime. The family said they are thrilled people stop along the roadway to take photos and admire the view, but permission is needed to step onto the land, as it is privately owned and not a part of Grimes Farm and Conservation Center.

Driving along Highland Acres Road or down Highway 30, passersby may have noticed the striking, golden fields which border the roads, its wildflowers encompassing 165 acres of land.

The space, set adjacent to Grimes Farm and Conservation Center, is not a part of the complex but rather is privately owned and maintained by members of the Grimes family.

It all began when the late Leonard and Mildred Grimes began to donate 160-plus acres of their land to the Marshall County Conservation Board and the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, beginning in 1991. A nature trail and conservation center was later added. Their four children — Roger Grimes, Carrie Grimes Barr, Martha Grimes Isaacson and Kyle Grimes — and their respective spouses — own and maintain the neighboring land, which up until 2016, had been used for farming. Some of the land is co-owned by all four siblings and their spouses, while other parts are strictly owned by Roger and his wife Emily. Farmer Don McKibben worked as a sharecropper for nearly 40 years on the land before the family decided to make a change.

“We wanted to go into organic farming but then Don told us about the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and we thought that’s perfect for us because none of us are farmers,” Roger said. “Because the bees and other pollinators are in trouble the FSA (Farm Service Agency) and Department of Agriculture came up with this conservation reserve program directed at creating more pollinator habitat, so that’s what we have put this oddly shaped 165 acres of ground into.”

Bees, butterflies, wasps, insects, birds and other animals call the land home.

“It is a wonderful collaboration of a purposeful government initiative, a resourceful seed developer, and a family interested in conservation and good environmental stewardship,” Carrie said.

In the course of just three growing seasons, the land which once grew crops is now home to a variety of prairie pollinators, known as forbs. Ox eye sunflowers currently dominate the space.

“It takes quite a transition period between going from corn or soybeans to what you see here,” Roger said. “It looked like a weed patch for two years. But the seeds that came in the CRP packets have finally taken, and they are now dominant, and we work hard to get rid of the unwanted ones — thistles and that sort of thing.”

The CRP is a cost-share and rental payment program of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

“You sign up for 10 years and you get paid by the government each year for each acre that you maintain in this CRP but in all likelihood we can keep renewing in 10-year increments,” Roger said. “Years ago, when our parents bought this farm and built the house in 1964 they began conserving the land as best they could using every chance they had to plant trees through the USDA-Farm Service Agency program to take land out of production that shouldn’t be in production because it’s highly erodible.”

“Their parents just were very far-sighted in terms of their interest in conservation, and at the time, trees were the thing to plant to help clean up the air,” Emily said. “Their conservation interest had always been there, so we’re just thrilled to be able to continue that with this pollinator habitat.”

The cost of the pollinator seeds was split between the family and the government. The family estimates the cost of the seeds was $400 per acre.

Martha, her husband Dean, and Emily maintain the prairie, while Roger takes care of the trees. They spend the summer months living in the home once occupied by Mildred and Leonard, owned by Roger and Emily for the last several decades. Maintaining the land, especially in the heat of the summer, is backbreaking work, wading through the 4-foot to 5-foot tall flowers. The rest of the year, Martha and Dean reside in Texas, while Roger and Emily live in Chicago. Kyle resides in Alabama, and Carrie lives in Marshalltown.

“The eight members of the partnership are very enthusiastic about what we’ve done and we’re so pleased people are out and enjoying it taking pictures of one another in front of it,” Roger said.

However, the family said in order to step onto their land to take photos or look around, permission is required by reaching out to Carrie at 641-750-2890. People are encouraged to take photos from the road.

To see a video of the Fields of Gold, visit https://vimeo.com/278603026

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Contact Sara Jordan-Heintz at 641-753-6611 or sjordan@timesrepublican.com