Profile photo of Julie Buntjer

About Julie Buntjer

Hi, I'm a farm reporter for the Daily Globe in Worthington, Minn. I grew up on a 96-acre hobby farm raising goats, chickens, turkeys and barn cats. I also had sheep as an FFA and 4-H project. The farm is rather quiet now - just a few cattle which, by the way, scare the dickens out of me (one too many bad childhood memories!) I have three brothers, 10 nieces and nephews, five great-nieces, one great-nephew and a mostly lovable pooch named Molly. Molly now keeps my parents entertained down on the farm.

Musings from the farm

Molly, as captured on a day when she wasn't playing with snakes.

Molly, as captured on a day when she wasn’t playing with snakes.

I pulled into the driveway of the family farm late Sunday afternoon, and I could tell before I even parked the car in front of the garage that I didn’t want to step foot outside.

Oh, it was a beautiful day — certainly one to lure me to the solitude of the great outdoors. I just wasn’t sure I wanted to be in the great outdoors with certain other critters, specifically, my Molly.

Molly — the loveable mutt that more resembles a black lab than the full-fledged German shepherd that was her mother — loves to put her front feet on the floor board when I open my car so she can get an affectionate pat on the top of her head, a tickle behind the ears and a nose-to-nose greeting.

Only I wasn’t about to give her an affectionate pat on the head, a tickle behind the ears — and certainly not a nose-to-nose greeting — this time. In fact, I didn’t want to be within arm’s reach of her.

The problem is sort of a Catch-22. In all honesty, Molly was being Wonder Dog again, saving me from the dangers that lurk in the newly mowed lawn — the kind of dangers that slither and hiss and cause me to scream with all of the power my lungs will allow.

Yes, Molly had killed another garter snake.

And she wasn’t done torturing it when I drove onto the yard.

To spare you the visions still clearly embedded in my memory, suffice it to say the deed was already done when I arrived. Molly had moved on to the “I’m just playing with it” stage.

She picked it up, whipped it from side to side, and then flipped it up in the air. (You can understand why I didn’t want to step out of the car. I could just see Molly losing her toothy grip on the reptile and flinging it in my direction — I shudder just thinking about it!)

She dropped the snake when I shut off the engine, and quickly made her way to the driver’s side door, waiting to greet me.

I looked at her. She looked at me. The door was closed. The window was closed. She wagged her tail. I cringed.

As expected, she put her feet in my car when the door opened, and she knew enough to back away when I said, “Molly, No!”

The poor girl. I felt really bad. She did the one thing I most admire her for — helping to control the farm’s snake population — and yet I couldn’t congratulate her properly. That would have required touching her and, well, she had snake germs — everywhere.

So, with my hands well out of Molly’s reach, I said, “Good girl, Molly! You are awesome!

“But I’m not letting you in the house.”


Mom and I were sitting on a bench in front of the Minnesota State Fair grandstand Sunday afternoon, resting our tired feet and legs for about the fifth time, when I said, “I think we’ll skip going to the state fair next year.”

Yes … I said that!

And Mom even nodded in approval.

Perhaps it was the heat talking — or maybe the humidity. Or maybe we were just tired of sweat dripping off the tips of our noses. Actually, I think we were just plain tired.

In the span of four weeks, we had maneuvered our way through the Nobles County Fair, the Iowa State Fair and finally, the Minnesota State Fair. I can’t say we’re entirely “faired out” because I hope to visit the Clay County Fair in Spencer, Iowa, next week.

I had even timed my upcoming vacation to visit the Mississippi State Fair, notching another state  — and state fair — off my list of places to see, but I’m starting to rethink those travel plans. While I have always loved to travel, the best parts of the trip seem to be the starting out — the excitement and anticipation of things to see and do — and the coming home to all things familiar, including home-cooked meals and my comfy recliner.

Then again, fall travel provides that last nice getaway before Mother Nature starts spitting snow and freezing rain, pushing those of us who don’t like the cold — or the shortened days of sunlight — into the winter doldrums.

As soon as the snow melts in the spring until it returns late in the fall, we Minnesotans have to soak up all the outdoors fun we can. It can be downright exhausting and exhilarating at the same time.

I just keep telling myself the rest and relaxation will come when winter arrives. I’ll be able to put my feet up and sit under the heat lamp — I mean stitching lamp — to finish some needlework projects. There’s also a bookshelf filled with must-reads just waiting to take me on an adventure without leaving my house in the dead of winter.

I can hardly wait for the days to put more time into my hobbies, but until then, I’ll be soaking up the sunshine outdoors.

My fair share

What is a gal to do after surviving five days of sweltering heat at the Nobles County Fair, followed by a day-long project putting together the special fair supplement for the Daily Globe and then writing a handful of stories to round out the week?

Well, go to the fair again, of course!

Four years after our first visit to the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, my mom joined me on a quick trip to the land of corn, soybeans and swine last weekend. We admired more than a hundred quilts, dozens of cross-stitched pieces and a disappointingly small collection of hardanger embroidery.

The butter sculptures are a popular exhibit at the Iowa State Fair. Here is Rich Uncle Pennybags with some of the Monopoly game pieces.

The butter sculptures are a popular exhibit at the Iowa State Fair. Here is Rich Uncle Pennybags with some of the Monopoly game pieces.

We walked passed several pork-chop-on-a-stick stands and visited the Iowa butter cow display (they added a Monopoly board, game pieces and Rich Uncle Pennybags — all created from butter — to the display this year in honor of the game’s 80th anniversary.)

Sampson was the winner in the Iowa State Fair's largest bull competition.

Sampson was the winner in the Iowa State Fair’s largest bull competition.

I took a picture of Iowa’s largest bull contest winner (Sampson, a red Angus raised near Atlantic, Iowa, weighed in at 2,893 pounds) and snapped a photo of a tomato that resembled a chirping bird. (At the Iowa State Fair, they have a category for vegetables that are, well, a bit unique. There was a trio of potatoes shaped like zoo animals and some rather odd-looking carrots among the display.)

This tomato was entered in the unique vegetables display.

This tomato was entered in the unique vegetables display.

You could ask 100 different people what they enjoy most about the fair and you could get 100 different answers. I could give more than a dozen reasons myself. Whether county or state fair, it doesn’t matter.

I love to see the handcrafted items displayed by 4-H and open class exhibitors. Where else can you see a scale model combine built from Popsicle sticks, admire a yard art metal peacock with plumage made from silverware or smile over a colorful quilt featuring hedgehogs?

An Iowa 4-H'er made this yard art bug from parts of a Volkswagon Beetle.

An Iowa 4-H’er made this yard art bug from parts of a Volkswagon Beetle.

The talent and creativity people possess in making something with their own two hands is simply amazing. I am thankful for those who grow the flowers, fruits and vegetables to display at the fair, and I appreciate the young kids willing to lead a 1,000-plus pound beef steer into the show ring. I can’t operate a sewing machine, keep a houseplant alive or get within 10 feet of a large beef animal due to sheer terror, but there are people in this world who can.

This sand sculpture on display at the Iowa State Fair took 100 hours to create and consists of 50 tons of sand.

This sand sculpture on display at the Iowa State Fair took 100 hours to create and consists of 50 tons of sand.

The fair is a symbol of Americana — and at the Iowa State Fair that symbol may just be in the guy wearing striped bib overalls or in the teenage girl flaunting pink hair.

I can hardly wait to see what I might discover at the Minnesota State Fair next week!

So much to see, so little time

After working a three-and-a-half-hour shift in the 4-H Food Stand — and spending another two hours typing up results from the 4-H general exhibit judging — I drug my feet back to the Daily Globe office Thursday afternoon wondering how much longer until it’s Sunday.
I love the fair, but the fair makes me tired.
I can traipse through the exhibit halls and livestock buildings half a dozen times a day and yet it seems like I never really get to “see” anything.
Frankly, when I’m in the livestock barn, I’m watching where I step. (Especially after returning to the office after a fun interview with the John family late Tuesday night, only to discover a chunk of livestock poop came off my shoe in the vicinity of my work desk. Shhh — don’t tell my publisher!)
My trips through the exhibit halls are often with a purpose too — tracking down 4-H’ers to get their pictures or taking a shortcut on the way to the parking lot.
While you may think I’m anxious for Sunday because it’s the last day of the Nobles County Fair, that’s only partly true. For me, Sunday is my day off — my day to “look and see” all of the exhibits on display.
I can admire all of the quilts, the needle arts, woodworking and photography displays and appreciate the talent in kids today, all the way up to our senior citizens. I might even have time to look at the potato and vegetable boxes and stop to smell the roses (or other flowers) on display.
I’ll probably also rest a while with a slice of blueberry pie — my favorite from the 4-H Food Stand.
The Nobles County Fair has the 4-H Food Stand in McCarvel Hall and the FFA Cook Shack, both of which offer up hamburgers, pork burgers, french fries and an assortment of other items. 4-H also serves daily dinner specials, commercials (meat, potato and bread slathered in gravy) and super nachos.
The FFA and 4-H food stands use the money they raise from food sales during the fair to help fund programming, so please stop out and support them. The 4-H Food Stand is open from 7 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. today and Saturday; and from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sunday. Meanwhile, the FFA Cook Shack is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. today and Saturday, and from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sunday.
Of course, there’s also the Nobles County American Dairy Association’s malt stand, which consistently has long lines as people await their favorite chocolate, strawberry or vanilla malt.
I anticipate there will also be some offerings on the Midway. Mini donuts or funnel cake, anyone?
There are lots of things to see and do, taste and appreciate at the fair, so I hope to see you there!

Pick your poison

If you’ve driven along any country roads — or perhaps enjoyed the trail along Crailsheim Drive recently — you must have seen all of the Queen Anne’s Lace blooming along the road and trail. The white flowers are dainty looking as they flow in the breeze. If you have time, I’d encourage you to take an up-close look at them to see the tiny flowers.

It is a delight this time of year, when wildflowers are in bloom and the 4-H prairie garden down on the farm is completely overgrown with towering compass plant and Maximillian’s sunflower. The 8- to 12-foot stems are surrounded by tangling rudbeckia, prairie sage, meadow rose, yellow coneflower, lead plant and five different varieties of prairie grasses.

Yellow coneflower in the 4-H prairie garden.

Yellow coneflower in the 4-H prairie garden.

From the little plugs pushed into the ground by 4-H’ers more than half a dozen years ago, followed by two years of mistaking prairie plants for weeds, I’d say the garden has become a success. For the past few years it has filled numerous lunch-sized bags with seeds, which have been scattered on various lands in Nobles County to create fields of color.

The little garden with its seasonal pops of yellow, purple and white pales in comparison, however, to the recently-dedicated Worthington Wells Wildlife Management Area across the road from my parents’ farm.

This is the site of the monument, which was dedicated during the Minnesota Governor’s Pheasant Hunting Opener last October.

If you drive out there now, you will find the granite monument surrounded by big bluestem, rudbeckia and dozens of other varieties of grasses and forbs. It is a beautiful sight, and undoubtedly a habitat haven for wildlife.

A quiet evening on the farm brings with it the joys of hearing pheasants cackle in the distance; a walk to the alfalfa field leads to a sighting of wild turkeys and their young poults; and a drive to the back pasture brings delight in finding some native forbs previously undiscovered by me and my inquisitive 9-year-old niece.

Wild Bergamot, also known as Bee Balm, blooming in the back pasture.

Wild Bergamot, also known as Bee Balm, blooming in the back pasture.

It was a week ago that niece Katie and I delighted over the pretty purple Wild Bergamot (Bee Balm) along a hillside in the pasture, and were stumped over another pretty flower in a different area of pasture land. (I’d forgotten to bring along my Minnesota wildflower field guide!)

Well, Katie wanted to pick some to take back to the house for Grandma to enjoy, so she broke off three stems close to the ground and gripped them in her hand.
It wasn’t until I returned home that night and paged through my field guide that I discovered the pretty flowers picked were actually prairie onion. In the author’s notes, it said “Do not pick or dig up this plant.”

Prairie Onion in bloom in the back pasture.

Prairie Onion in bloom in the back pasture.

That was it … no other explanation. Oh dear!

I called Katie and, just to be sure the forb was prairie onion, I had her take a whiff of the flower.

“Does it smell like onion?” I asked.

“Yeah!” she exclaimed, excited to hear the positive ID of the mystery flower.

I still haven’t found an explanation as to why prairie onions shouldn’t be picked or dug up. Neither of us broke out in a rash or had any ill side-effects, and we’re both still alive, so I guess we can go out exploring the prairie another day. I think, however, that we shall not pick any more flowers that we haven’t identified!

This is a new discovery in the back pasture. Based on my "Wildflowers of Minnesota Field Guide", I think it might be the poisonous flower, Water Hemlock.

This is a new discovery in the back pasture. Based on my “Wildflowers of Minnesota Field Guide”, I think it might be the poisonous flower, Water Hemlock.