By Jennifer Von Ohlen
COKATO, MN With the snowdrifts (finally) practically gone, Minnesotans are finding it easier to believe they are indeed in the midst of spring.
For some, that means it’s time to crack open the seed catalogs and begin planning the flower and vegetable gardens. Others, however, might have an interest in turning their property into more of a wildlife habitat whether it’s to be used as hunting ground or simply pose an invitation for wildlife to be seen from the house.
This is the specialty of Maximized Habitat, LLC in Cokato. For owner Tim Barberg, however, it’s more than a specialization. It’s a passion.
“You’ve got your lawn [and] your garden, but then you’ve got these other areas that [are simply] there,” stated Barberg. “My concept and my passion, really, is to maximize every acre available whether it be [through] trees, wildflowers, grasses, [or] prairie, so eventually it’s maximized for habitat conservation. For wildlife, pollinators, and then aesthetics, too.”
Barberg’s interest in nature goes at least as far back as 1997, when he started planting trees annually on his family’s property, in Cokato, through the Wright County Soil and Water tree program. He was 17 years old, and had a vision of “how everything should be” in order for wildlife to prosper on the land.
His plans were a little too liberal, however, since none of his planning accounted for property lines. Barberg was reminded of such limits when he came home from college one weekend and saw stakes for a house to be built in the field.
“It just kinda shattered my vision and my dreams,” he recalled. “I literally wanted to throw up.”
Barberg had plans for the property to one day be a nature retreat center, and he thought the construction of a big house would be a real eyesore. He didn’t care to look at it while hunting on his family’s property, either.
What Barberg didn’t know at the time, however, was that the house, its shed, and the 20 acres it was built upon would one day be his.
After learning the property was for sale, Barberg and his wife inquired about the price, spoke with a mortgage loan officer, had their offer approved, and “next thing you know we’re headed into a $430,000 mortgage,” said Barberg, who at the time was working an $11/hour seasonal job.
“I walked into the house,” he recalled, “and [was like], ‘Alright God, this is Your mortgage and Your house. Do with it what You will.’”
Since then, Barberg has used his property to minister to more than 125 foster kids, as well as the Royal Rangers a Boy Scout-like group organized by his church New Life Assembly of God.
“So, this is kind of intertwining ministry with nature,” said Barberg, adding that this also relates to the intention of his business.
“On the spiritual side, God created us, and [through ministry] we restore our lives to the way He designed it before we messed it all up,” he explained. In the same way, Maximized Habitats is about returning the land to its natural, wild state before people started developing it.
Barberg slowly got his business going two years ago, after his passion for managing wildlife property became apparent during several conversations with community members who were also interested in it.
“It would just start pouring out [of me] and I’d walk away from a conversation like ‘that’s my passion. That’s what I need to be doing,’” recalled Barberg, who is now using his wildlife management education background through the University of Minnesota to serve Wright, Meeker, McLeod, and Stearns County residents.
Some of the services Maximized Habitats offers include:
• native landscaping;
• shoreline restoration;
• woodland management: tree planting, recreation, and woodland editing;
• control of invasive species: noxious weeds, wild parsnip, and European buckthorn;
• conservation reserve program management;
• food plots; and
• total property planning and management.
“What I love to do is get in a blank landscape and create,” said Barberg, who takes great joy in watching the landscape he’s managed change over time.
And it does take time.
Unlike most projects, Barberg said when clients hire him, they will be working together for about three to five years, depending on the depth of the project. Much of this has to do with clearing what is already growing in the property, and planting and pollinating what the property is to become.
Because of the duration of his projects, Barberg knows how important it is to establish and maintain trust between himself and his clients.
“Communication is key on my part,” he said, “to really walk with them the whole way through it, because it is a long-term deal; but the payoffs are great.”
Throughout his work, Barberg has had clients inform him that when he works on their project, they can tell he is treating it as his own. This mindset has since become Barberg’s golden rule for the business.
“I come into your property and I’m going to treat it like it’s my own property,” he said. “I’m going to approach it that way, and help you reach your goals, and use my expertise to make it look the best it’s going to be to maximize both its functional and aesthetic potential. That’s really what it is. You’re going to enjoy it, the land’s going to enjoy it, the wildlife, everything’s going to benefit from it, for any project that I put in.”
It was about five years ago when Barberg experienced his end result to a new degree. He was walking through the woods he had been planting trees in since he was a teenager when he came across a pine tree he didn’t recall planting.
“I was like, ‘I didn’t plant this. And there’s another one. I didn’t plant that one.’ And so, I became a grandpa that day,” he shared, beaming. “Where I planted those pine trees, they were producing offspring. That same trip, I found an oak tree [I’d planted] that [now] had acorns on it. It just [brings] a new level of ‘it’s coming,’ when you start seeing stuff that is beyond what you’ve done.”
For more information about Maximized Habitats, or to schedule an appointment, call (651)-334-6558 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.