Sometimes the most magical of things are the tiniest of things, and for Diane Garcia of Spanish Fork, tiny magical things call her farm home.
Thompson Century Farm has been part of Garcia’s family since 1852. The home first erected on the farm and still standing was built from rocks gathered in Spanish Fork Canyon by her great-great grandfather. It has been a refuge for generations of her family and has also been refuge for tiny fireflies who light up the night sky for a few weeks each summer.
Garcia’s ancestors discovered the fireflies on the farm years ago and each generation has sought to protect their habitat, perhaps none more doggedly than Garcia herself, because fireflies need moist soil and tall grasses, but also dark skies.
The flashes of light a firefly produces is a mating call and the flying ones are generally the males flashing light in a pattern to attract a female, who generally waits in the grass. The female flashes a light, and they communicate with light until the male and female find each other. If there is competing light, even the light of a full moon, the fireflies do not come out to mate or are unable to find each other. They are not migratory and spend much of their life in the larval stage. If competing light keeps them from reproducing, they simply die off.
“I have people who get emotional when they come here. They cry. And they hug me. I’ve gotten lots of hugs”Diane Garcia
In a city of rapid growth like Spanish Fork, the dark skies fireflies need is dwindling, and Garcia has fought the development of 130 homes on property adjacent to hers for years to no avail.
Fireflies in an arid place like Utah might seem an oddity, but they are more common than you might think, and have been found in 27 of the 29 counties in the state. But as the population of the state increases development, the dark skies are harder to maintain.
Knowing that a housing development is being built, Garcia has tried to protect the fireflies through other means, namely educating followers about fireflies and the importance of dark skies on her Facebook page, Thompson Century Farm and Fireflies. She also holds volunteer events at the farm to help keep it safe for the fireflies.
“I’m a farmer, but I’m not a rich farmer,” Garcia said, so the volunteers help fill a need.
One such volunteer event took place June 2 at the farm, as more than a dozen people gathered to help Garcia with projects.
This event was orchestrated by Explore Utah Valley, Utah County’s destination marketing organization which promotes all things Utah Valley.
Garcia met the volunteers outside the family farmhouse and after a short discussion about fireflies, habitat, and the history of the farm, gave them their marching orders.
Projects included cutting a narrow pathway through the tall grass, refuse cleanup, fence repair, and creating log benches in the field. Also planting of trees on the border of the field.
Garcia said she has tried planting trees before to protect the darkness for the fireflies, but the other animals who live on the farm (deer and rodents) look at the sapling trees as a tasty snack and gobble them up. She keeps trying, however.
The volunteers split into groups and went after it, mowing a path toward an observation point where another group put together log benches.
Both the path and the benches serve a purpose in Garcia’s design. The path allows for passage without disturbing the long grass, and the benches are an observation point for visitors she allows on the farm a few at a time who have added their names to the list on her Facebook page.
“This is my sixth year of conducting tours through June and July and I have people who signed up in 2018 who are still waiting for a tour,” Garcia said.
She wants to share the experience that can be found there, but it is a delicate balance to maintain because she must often deal with trespassers. The tours are by appointment only, so she asks the curious to be respectful of her farm.
She said when people have their tour some of them have never seen a firefly before and the impact can be profound, and magical.
“I have people who get emotional when they come here. They cry. And they hug me. I’ve gotten lots of hugs,” Garcia said.
Fireflies don’t like the cold and don’t like extreme heat. They generally start appearing the first part of June, but it depends on weather conditions.
“Every night I come out and look and I am excited when I see the first flicker,” Garcia said. “Once you see it you value it, and I want to preserve it.”
On her Facebook page she offers information not only on fireflies, but the preservation of dark skies. She said she was heartened when Spanish Fork announced in August 2020 that its future lighting for the city would be dark-sky compliant. Garcia hopes eventually codes will also require it for home construction.
Dark-sky compliant lighting focuses the light on where it is needed, on the ground, not up into the sky where it contributes to light pollution. Homeowners can convert their outdoor lighting to dark-skies lighting with a trip to the local hardware store.
With the June 2 volunteer work done, there is still much to do, and Garcia will keep rallying help and spreading the word that there is magic in the world worth protecting.
“It really is magical. It is healing. It’s peace. Watching them you are in the moment and that’s something we miss nowadays. You’re in the moment.” (Davis is editor of Serve Daily.)