Away in a manger

Ahlgrens host live Nativity scene

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DARWIN, Minn. — High in the hayloft of the barn, an angel will appear and bring good tidings to all who visit the live Nativity production at Ahlgren Dairy.

Rick Ahlgren and his wife, Sarah, own and operate Ahlgren Dairy near Darwin, where they milk 160 cows with three robotic milking systems.

“It’s unique how our live Nativity (scene) set up,” Rick said. “It is a guided tour.” 

Sarah agreed.

“It’s like you are stepping back in time,” she said. “Guests will be taken on a tour of Bethlehem.”

The couple, along with Rick’s mother, Mary, worked with Sandy Burt of Highland Community Church to host the live walk-through Nativity production. Together they decided to hold the event at Ahlgren Dairy on the evenings of Dec. 15 and Dec. 16 from 5:30-7:30 p.m.  

“I wanted the event to take place on a farm, and the Ahlgrens are such wonderful people,” Burt said. “This farm is gorgeous. It is the perfect place to host this event since (the Nativity) happened outside in an agricultural setting with livestock.”

The guided walk-through play has eight stations at which guests will stop to watch a short scene. It will take groups about 30 minutes to walk through the production. Group leaders, who will be in costume to match the time period, will take groups of 20 to 25 through the stations and explain what is happening in each scene. 

“It will give some background as to what was happening at that time — why there were Roman soldiers around, why Mary and Joseph were going to Bethlehem, why there was no room for them at the inn — then finally ending with Jesus’ birth,” Burt said.

Guests will visit the census bureau, a blacksmith shop, shepherds in the field, an angel scene, the inn, the stable, and finally a marketplace and bakery where refreshments will be served. There will also be Roman soldiers walking around to demonstrate the civil unrest at that time. 

Burt said there will be 32 people in costume, including all six of the Ahlgren children, and most of the characters will have lines to say. Two groups of people will be serving the refreshments at the end and another crew will handle parking. Visitors can park on-site, and the Ahlgrens designated a section of field directly across the road from the dairy for additional parking. 

The tour will take place outside but will end inside the heated utility room of the robot barn. There, guests will have a chance to warm up with coffee, hot chocolate, cookies and milk. Princess Kay of the Milky Way and Meeker County dairy royalty will be on-site, along with live music. Rick and Sarah will be in the robot barn to answer questions about their dairy and the robots. 

The Ahlgrens already have the cattle and horses at their farm, and another family will bring in sheep. Besides Burt, various volunteers through Highland Community Church are making the costumes, props and backgrounds for each scene. 

“God has really blest us with talented people in our community,” Burt said. 

The Ahlgrens received comments of support for hosting the event. 

“When people give us praises, it’s not us,” Mary said. “We like to say, ‘For thine is the kingdom, the power and glory.’ All the credit belongs to God.” 

This is the second time the Ahlgrens will host the live Nativity production. The first was in 2020, six months after completing their robot barn. Because of the capacity limits during that year due to the coronavirus pandemic, it was not feasible to host a live Nativity event inside a church. 

“Sandy approached us about hosting the event in 2020, and she did most of the coordinating to put the event together,” Rick said. “Almost every year since, we have had people ask us if we are doing it again, and we haven’t until this year.” 

When the Ahlgrens first put in the robotic milking systems, they hosted an array of tour groups and events on their farm.

“After a year, we kind of got burnt out, so we wanted a break,” Rick said. “But then when Sandy asked earlier this year, we agreed that we were ready to host it again.”

In 2020, Burt and the Ahlgrens only expected a couple hundred people to show up since they advertised through word of mouth. However, they had over 400 people attend, exceeding their expectations. 

“The first time we did this, we were blown away by the turnout and were so impressed with the unique way that Sandy and her team put this production together to tell the story in such a unique way and give visitors such an experience,” Rick said. “It’s a real production, and it’s been a joy to be a part of it.”

This year, the Ahlgrens and Highland Community Church are prepared for a larger audience. Form-A-Feed has donated the cookies for the end of the tour and First District Association has donated milk. 

“We encourage people to dress warmly and come anytime during the time window,” Rick said. “We will have groups going through every five minutes.”

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