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Korby Connections: Worms are big business for Barnum grad

It's hard to believe, but Noah Parker has been the CEO of a thriving Highway 5, Carlton County seasonal business for 10 years ... after all, he's only 23.

"I was 13 and asked my dad if he could give me money to go and see a movie," Parker said. "He told me, 'all the money you need is out here in the yard in the grass.' I didn't know what he meant."

His dad then told him that he'd have to work hard, but could make plenty of spending money by picking and selling nightcrawlers to prospective angling amateurs and professionals. Noah took Dad's comment very seriously and so it came to be: Best Crawlers worm business was born.

Usually, I buy my fishing worms at the Outdoor Advantage store on Highway 33. They have been very lucky and productive for me. Their crawlers work hard to find bluegills, sunfish, and other swimming species for me.

But last summer, headed to Cromwell's Eagle Lake in Cromwell from Cloquet, I decided to go through the Cloquet Forestry Center. During my detour - at the intersection of Highway 210 and Highway 5 - there it was: another worm option, a sign advertising the "Best Crawlers."

Driving south on Highway 5 about a mile, I saw the sign again. It was a driveway to the Little Otter Creek Ranch. Noah lives there with his parents, Gary and Melissa, and his sister, Miriah, when she is not away for college. Gary went to high school in Cloquet and Melissa, Esko, so they are local grads. In front of the garage was a fridge stocked with worms and directions for how to pay for them. It's an honor system, leaving $3 in the tray for each dozen worms. Actually, it's not 12, it's 13, a baker's dozen.

"When I designed the logo, I wanted it to be unique," Parker said. "So if you look close at the 'B' on 'Best,' it's actually a 1 and 3 joined together. Customers have always received 13 crawlers from my business."

The family breeds and boards horses and cattle at the ranch, gives horse training and ridership lessons and, someday may even host a small rodeo.

Parker just graduated from the College of St. Scholastica, with a psychology degree and plans to someday get his doctorate.

"Right now, I'm working as a case manager for older folks at a nursing home, but someday hope to be trained and licensed to work with youth patients as well," he said.

His sister, Miriah, after receiving a degree from the University of Minnesota, is now attending the Royal Veterinary College in London, England. Said Noah, proudly: "It is recognized as the finest Veterinary College in the world!"

Noah went to high school in Barnum. He played, and excelled, in three sports, football, basketball and baseball. In a football playoff game his senior season, Noah needed just 3 yards as a running back to get a first down and prolong the game.

"I tried to stiff-arm the defender and got my thumb caught in his face mask," Noah shared. "I pulled him on top of me, but managed to get a first down and we ended up winning. I knew the thumb had to be hurt pretty bad."

Surgery on the thumb about a month later suspended his basketball season and made pitching a baseball that spring nearly impossible. His dreams of playing football at St. Scholastica were dashed when he heard the prognosis of his thumb being further injured if he played more football. He decided against football, and fished nearly every day.

Noah's dad calls the nightcrawlers "South Dakota King Crawlers." They're big. His dad planted them in the yard/pasture many years ago.

"It took a while to perfect the method, but I can usually "pin" three to four worms with one hand," Parker said. "They go into shock, and I ease them out of their holes, careful not to break them."

Of course, picking is always done at night with flashlights. Parker said he can usually pick 10 dozen in 30 minutes. The few broken worms are put in a special place and Noah tries to bring them to full length. He gives them a home. He never injects his worms with embalming fluid or other methods used by some competitors to enlarge their product.

Parker buys his worm containers in bulk from Upper Lakes Foods. He gets some large crawler orders from Facebook and other marketing methods, but mostly, worms are sold via word of mouth and happy repeat customers. He also has some recurring orders from nearby lake resorts. He has had other part-time summer jobs over the years, including stints at Grussendorf Nursery on Midway Road near Proctor, leading others as a supervisor. He still tries to fish nearly everyday, often for trout on the nearby Little Otter Creek.

His dad and mom always told him and his sister that hard work pays off. The siblings sure seem to take it to heart. Good luck to them - they'll

be, undoubtedly, very successful.

Steve Korby's interest in writing goes back to when he was in fourth grade and editor of the Scan-Satellite school newspaper in Scanlon. He welcomes ideas for human interest stories and tales regarding Carlton County residents, projects, history, and plans c/o [email protected].