A bit more about Alex

So an artist, a theologian, and a biker walk into a bar…

…but there’s only one guy! Okay, I’ve done a lot of weird things. Let me tell you a little about how that all has led me back to the plants that I first experienced as a little boy exploring the hills along the eastern edge of the Red River Valley.


I was born as the only child of an avid outdoorsman (who happened to be an art teacher) and an incredibly supportive mother (as of this writing she is one of two people to have signed up for my mailing list!). We lived in the small town of Elizabeth, MN. It was the typical two churches and two bars kind of town. At least it used to be, there’s only one bar now. The other one burned down years ago. That was the one that my dad grew up in. I mean that literally. Grandpa and grandma owned the bar.

The churches are still there. I went to the Catholic one, which kind of bummed me out because the other church was closer to the waterfall on the east side of town, which I’ve always thought was pretty cool. But come to think of it, the Catholic church was closer to the prairie on the west side of town, so I guess it all works out.

Dad being the outdoorsman that he was, and I being the only child that I was meant that I was drug along on countless outdoor excursions. I don’t recall appreciating them as much as I probably should have. I never really took to the hunting aspect, so much of my time was spent simply following Dad through the long grass, or plopping myself down along a fence line to wait for him. I remember my walks with Mom much more fondly. Specifically I remember walking across town with her to the old railroad bed that ran alongside the waterfall on the Pelican River. My main focus at the time was to find the much prized old railroad spikes that remained from the long since removed tracks.

Mom and Dad

In both these cases I was being introduced to something that I wouldn’t realize until some thirty years later, and it came to me in the form of a smell. I had recently become acquainted with the understanding that there were remnant prairie fragments scattered along the ancient shoreline of glacial Lake Agassiz and had set out to explore one of them. I had absentmindedly crushed the seed head of a plant between my fingers and smelled its fragrance. Like only a scent can do, I was thrown back in time to my walks with my parents. I had been “here” before, among these plants, under this sky. I kept the remainder of that seed pod with me for months until the scent had completely dissipated. It was a treasure to me, although I did finally identify it somewhat ironically as “common yarrow.”

The thinker: religion, life

I skipped church once as a boy. My parents went that day, but for some reason I was given a pass. This was not normal, and to the best of my memory it only happened once. I rode my bike west of town and down the gravel road where Dad would bring the dogs to swim in the summer. There I climbed a tree and sat swaying in the breeze. “Why can’t this be church?” I remember thinking.

In a way, I spent the next twenty years of my life working on that problem. I was looking for a way to integrate the depths of my actual experience of life with the symbols of my tradition. Yet time after time I encountered not depth, but surface, not the real, but ideas. And from there, arguments, separation, and a whole lot of efforts aimed as self-preservation. How was our love to lead us?

A lot happened during those twenty years. I met my wife, Megan; we built a home in Rice, MN; I started a business building motorcycle seats; we had two children, Adrian and Brynn; and between their arrival, my father passed away. In the process of sorting this all out, I earned my doctorate in theology from Luther Seminary and wrote some very, very geeky things. Meanwhile, Megan worked incredibly hard as a mother and professional graphic artist. I traveled a long way from home, both literally and figuratively. But that was to change in the spring of 2016…

They say you can never go home…

Okay, sure Heraclitus, but on a few different levels our move back to my home town of Fergus Falls very was much was a return home. We bailed on the path of an academic life and sunk our fingers into the earth of a community that felt like home. With the help of YouTube I built the home in which we now live

It was also during this time that I had begun to discover and fall in love with the unique life happening within remnant prairie fragments. One such place existed just a short walk from our home. Megan and I would regularly spend our evening walks there, she enjoying the sunset while I scrounged around for seeds.

After our home became livable, I took a job as a utility meter reader. That gig sent me all over western Minnesota and eastern North Dakota. Once a month, all year long, for about four years, I would traverse the same roads. I would regularly stop and visit remnant prairies and marvel at their diversity and change from month to month. With my research background still somewhat operative from my years in academia, the prairie became my new field of study.

Over the top

When I love something, I give myself to it fully. I can’t just buy a motorcycle; I have to build a custom seat, then start a business selling them. I can’t just find philosophy and theology interesting; I have to spend ten years of my life racking up degrees. And likewise, I can’t just find native plants beautiful; I have to begin reconstructing the acreage around our home into native prairie and convert our furnace room into a growing operation!

For the next few years our prairie reconstruction transformed from a godawful mess of weeds to an ever-increasing display of colors and textures. Life was moving, and it was good, but the word on the street was that the meter reading job was going to be finally succumbing to march of technology sometime within the next couple years. I decided it was time to make plans for the next chapter. You can just about imagine what my scheming involved.

Putting myself in the way of my love

I would, of course, open a native plant nursery. Realizing that I had never even so much as been to a native plant nursery, let alone have even the faintest idea of what was involved in operating one, I decided to remedy the situation. I went to visit John.

John Devries lives at the end of a gravel road somewhere outside the box. It might be the road they brought the box in on. I can’t be sure. He lives and breathes native prairie like a sprinter breathes air after completing a hundred yard dash. He is the self-proclaimed padewan of a mythically shrouded “Mr. Larry,” a retired USFWS wildlife biologist from lands north of here. He’s lived an eclectic life. He spent years as a professional mover, a successful hunting guide, and finally the president of the Save the Hens Foundation, which became United Prairie Foundation in 2016. Everyone I spoke to, including people who had spent their entire professional lives working on ecological restoration, said “talk to John.”

I set out to visit John in Enderlin, ND on a gray misty day in April. Upon meeting him he quizzed me on the species of a small seedling he was holding. Apparently I passed, because he attempted to hire me on the spot! I resisted his overture, telling him that what I really wanted to do was begin my own nursery. Over the next couple months, John would text video clips of the work UPF was doing, and increasingly I realized that if I really wanted to transition to this kind of work, John was offering me an education. So in August of 2022, I took it.

My education

I was not disappointed. I was immediately thrown into native seed harvest. Working closely with the USFWS, we spent our days on remnant prairies of richness and diversity that blew my mind. I thought I knew prairie. My first few weeks on the job showed me just how wrong I was. John was a kind and generous teacher, and I enjoyed absorbing all that he shared.

Of principal importance to him was that everything we grew and planted was “real.” Real for John means that the seed has its origin within the relatively narrow growing regions that it has been adapted to thrive. Native plants have evolved to be highly sensitive to the timing of temperature, day-length, specialized pollinator emergence, and who knows what all else. These factors change quickly as one moves north or south by even as little as 50 miles. The adaptive changes eventually become great enough for scientists to classify different “ecotypes” within a species. Thus, if our goal is to benefit what is left of our natural heritage, it is crucial to use local ecotype plants and seed when doing restoration projects.

I’ve taken this message fully to heart. Though I do offer shipping for customers outside our specific growing region, my goal has been to serve the local community and the work being done here.

Follow along

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