I don’t remember when Glen started collecting agates.
But for the past couple years, at least, many of our conversations in passing while working around the farm have started with Glen saying, “Hey, look at this one I found!” Then, with the excitement of a kid on Christmas morning, he’ll open his outstretched hand to show me the newest agate he’s found.
Oftentimes, the agates are so small that I wonder how on Earth he managed to spot them while walking around. Sometimes, the agates are so tiny he forgets them in his pockets and I find them in the washing machine. I even found a couple teeny-tiny agates stuck between the grate and lint filter in our dryer.
Glen saves all his agates, but I don’t know where. I just set the ones I find in the wash on top of the dryer and he re-collects them. I’m not sure if he keeps a mental inventory of each agate, but I know there is one he will never forget – that none of us will ever forget.
The story of this agate starts with a heifer named Mogen. She gave birth to a heifer calf out in the pasture. Glen brought her into the cow yard with the other close up cows. He sorted Mogen out as the rest of the close up cows went back out to pasture. As soon as Mogen realized she was alone in the cow yard, she went crazy.
Glen called for help to get Mogen into the barn, so Monika and I went to assist. But three people weren’t enough. Ten people might not have been enough. First, Mogen jumped over the barbed wire fence into the grassed waterway. Then, she plowed through three separate electric fences. We managed to get her back into the cow yard, but she pushed two steel freestanding gates apart and escaped.
Forty-five minutes later, we finally got Mogen into the barn. As we were sliding the barn door shut, Glen stopped and said excitedly, “Look what I found!”
In his hand was the mother of all agates. Easily the biggest agate Glen has ever found, this gem is almost as large as the palm of Glen’s hand. One facet of the dark red stone has perfect agate lines; another facet has bright white crystals. It is a truly beautiful agate.
He said he was in the pasture by the pond, repairing the electric fence dismantled by Mogen, when he spotted the agate in the sand.
His contagious jubilance over finding the agate was a much-needed mood booster after the frustration of corralling Mogen. And we really needed that boost, because it took another 30 minutes to get Mogen into a stall.
A couple days later, while we were still reveling in the discovery of the agate, I suggested that our next family getaway should be a trip to the North Shore to go agate hunting. Glen didn’t disagree.
But, then, Glen met a couple of professional agate hunters by happenstance and learned that some of the best agate hunting is right here in Stearns County.
“What?” I asked, in disbelief. “Here in Stearns County?”
He went on to share what he’d learned: Lake Superior agates were distributed throughout the upper Midwest by the glaciers. The best place to find agates is where the earth has been disturbed. Historically, farm fields in which the earth has been turned over by a moldboard plow are the best places to find agates.
“But now,” the agate collectors told Glen with disappointment, “farmers aren’t plowing their fields as much anymore.”
And, they said, the increased use of rock rollers in fields prevents agates from surfacing.
“Well, honey,” I told Glen. “I guess we’ll have to start moldboarding our fields.”
He laughed at my joke. I chuckled with him.
Moldboard plows might be good for agates, but they’re bad for fields.
We haven’t used a moldboard plow in the 15 years we’ve been farming and no promise of agates could convince us to start. Agate collecting is a fun hobby, but the health of our cropland and the conservation of our soil are essential to the success of our entire livelihood.
The agate collectors also told Glen about the Cuyuna Rock, Gem, and Mineral Society’s annual spring trade show in Brainerd. They said he could bring his Mogen agate along to have it evaluated. Perhaps we’ll make plans to go ogle over agates there.
    Sadie and her husband, Glen, milk 100 cows near Melrose, Minn. They have three children – Dan, 11, Monika, 8, and Daphne, 5. Sadie also writes a blog at www.dairygoodlife.com. She can be reached at sadiefrericks@gmail.com.