Harvest Party to Celebrate Local Food!

Are you ready to party in the Garden!?!

This Harvest Party grew from the BearPower organization. White Bear Lake is lucky to have the efforts and talents of this group of dedicated people. They’re working to bring healthy living to our community in so many different ways.

I’ve been digging into coordinating this BearPower Harvest Party with the BearPower team and loving finding the best of the best to help celebrate community grown food. We’ve brought together the cream of the crop local chefs to prepare all that lovingly grown food. Add to that a great mix of activities to take over our White Bear Area YMCA gardens for the day and you’ve got a can’t miss event! We’ve got FREE food,  games,  information, samples and activities to get you growing your love of good food!

More Information by clicking on the -> Facebook Event Page

The Details:

Sunday Sept 23rd @12:00-3:00PM
White Bear Area YMCA Community Garden
2100 Orchard Lane, White Bear Lake, MN 55110
Indoors @ the YMCA if raining

Harvest Party Food

Tamarack Nature Center Gardens

All the food at the harvest Party was grown in local community gardens, including WBL district schools, HealthPartners White Bear Lake Clinic, Tamarack Nature Center, and the YMCA community gardens! 5 of the beds growing food for the event are part of the awesome local initiative, “Giving Gardens“. Making sure we have enough food to fill in the gaps, All Good Organics local farm has pledged to donate from their recent harvests as well!

Chef Challenge

A chef challenge meal, created from all the locally grown food will be served starting at noon. We’ll keep serving until every last veggie has been eaten. If there’s simply too much food, extras will go the White Bear Area Food Shelf.

The food service will include some freshly made soups and grilled veggies. Huge thanks to  local chefs, Ben Pratt of Ingredients Café + The Burger Bar and Matt Ellison of Bonfire Restaurants, who will be creating tasty creations with all the veggies we throw at them! I can’t wait to see what they come up with 🙂

Vote for your favorite food on your way out!

Glen Oliphant of United Methodist Church, WBL with freshly harvested potatoes and herbs to go into the breads!

Bread baked by White Bear Lake United Methodist Church in their Community Bread Oven during a community bread bake on Saturday will also be donated. Ciabatta and Focaccia were mentioned when I was talking with one of the bakers! Our garden-grown herbs and potatoes will be used in making the breads.

Nancy Jacobson with some freshly harvested apples!

Pine Tree Apple Orchard is donating crates of freshly picked apples for the event as well. The apples will be handed out by volunteers from the White Bear Area Emergency Food Shelf. Please think about making a monetary donation to the food shelf to help make sure all our neighbors have access to good food!

It is so amazing to be able to say that ALL the veggies were grown and/or donated by community members!

Harvest Party Activities

We’ve got a little something for everyone during the Harvest Party!

Chomp at an earlier YMCA Garden Event

BearPower ‘larger than life’ games and the famous carrot mascot, “Chomp” will be perusing the party ready for photos.

Insect Hotel We will be group building a “beneficial bug hotel” Stop by to add your mark and help pollinate our YMCA gardens!

Beets from the YMCA gardens

White Bear Lake Schools will have a table, highlighting the gardens and gardeners (mostly kids) that grew food for the event!

The YMCA will have information on renting a garden bed in the gardens next season. We will also be handing out a limited number of strawberry plants that YMCA Summer Power kids helped propagate!

Sunflowers in the YMCA garden

White Bear Lake Seed Library will be doing Seed Saving Demos with plants growing in the gardens. Take home Seeds to get your garden growing next year! We’ll be working with sunflower and marigold seeds to name a few!

Ramsey County Master Gardeners will be onsite ready for your questions, and info on getting the most out of your Fall garden, and how to prepare it for Winter.

Health Partners Health Club will be onsite with info on eating healthy and demos.

All Good Organics farmer will be onsite with info on growing organic and a few surprises. This farm has dedicated to fill in produce that we need to round out the harvest party meal.

Butch and Kris from All Good Organics

Keeping it Local

As YMCA Community Garden coordinator, I’m wearing a few hats during this event, I’ll be onsite with a Forks in the Dirt information table about the impact of eating local and samples to share!

I LOVE how this whole event began; a well-loved local doctor, Elsa Keeler, had a vision to bring families together over locally grown healthy food. Just look what that one well rooted idea has become!

Staying True to Doing Good

Hanging with some of the YMCA garden Club kids

One of the reasons I started blogging was to highlight all the good that is happening around us.

Forks in the Dirt’s motto is “Crossing paths with Farmers, Food and Doing Good”

And with this event, I got to be part of making that good happen. I have learned so much about our community and how strongly we believe in AND follow through with showing up for one another. It makes me proud to be part of this community 🙂

The amount and diversity of Community Gardens in our area truly amazes me. It really is a testament to people wanting to be more connected to the food they eat, and the land they inhabit. If you are interested in joining any of the local community gardens, read my earlier blog post all about our local gardens!

Can’t wait to Dig into some good food and good conversations- hope to see you there!



Seed Saving for Home Gardeners

Garden Fresh Food

It is that time of year gardeners… Everything is ripening, and FAST in the garden right now. So right now is the time to start looking at your plants’ produce not just as food- but also as seed for next year’s garden crops. Time to start seed saving!

I started saving seeds because I got behind on picking my pole beans. When I found a few (ok, lots) of bean pods that were swollen and starting to yellow and a light bulb turned on. I didn’t have to toss these inedible beans into the compost- I could let these keep growing and save these to plant for more beans next year.

It was a sublimely empowering moment. One I want you to have too!

Beginners Luck

I got lucky starting with one of the easiest seeds to save. For the first few years I saved mostly bean varieties and native flowers. I’m still a novice when it comes to saving seeds. Which is why I’m the perfect person to pass the torch: if I can do it – you can too! I want you to feel that same kind of power that saving your own seeds invites.

The Barn + Diane’s Garden at Heritage Farm, Seed Savers Exchange. Photo Credit: Molly Moe

Seed Savers Exchange

Diane Ott Whealy and I in her magical heirloom garden. Photo credit Molly Moe

First- I want to give a shout out to the Seed Savers Exchange for their recent Summer Conference and Campout on Heritage Farm. I’m still buzzing with all the new information I brought home. I had to share some of what I learned with you all!

They’ve built a vibrant community of dedicated volunteers and staff, all starting with co-founders Diane Ott Whealy and Kent Whealy in 1975. I was lucky enough to meander through Diane’s gardens with her at the beginning of the weekend.

New Friends from Southern Exposure Seeds! Photo credit Molly Moe

Today, the 890-acre Heritage Farm in Decorah, Iowa grows over 20,000 plant species and has 13,000 members. Meeting some of these wonderful members and staff at their annual conference and campout has increased both my understanding of seed saving and my excitement for it.  I mean with an onsite Seed Swap with people from all over- how could I not get more excited!?!

Carl Gaudian from Albert Lea seed, and a whole lot of Barley seed! Photo credit Molly Moe

I was also gifted a few pounds of cover crop from Carl at Albert Lea Seed for the White Bear area Food Shelf “Community Roots Garden” that I help out with. These are good people! The future of the wonderfully diverse world of seeds is in some very caring and competent hands indeed!

If you garden, you’ve likely already benefited from the work of Seed Savers Exchange staff, volunteers and members. There are treasure troves of information on their site and at the store- visit online or in person, often!

Heirloom vs Hybrid Seeds

Me geeking out over all the seeds! Photo credit Molly Moe

You may have heard more about heirloom varieties lately. I think this is directly linked to more home gardeners digging a little deeper into growing their own. Along with not wanting to grow anything genetically modified in a lab, more gardeners are wanting to save their own seeds. One of the inherent values of an heirloom plant’s strength lies in its ability to reproduce itself. And to keep reproducing stronger plants that are better suited for the exact location they are grown in each season. Win/Win!

Save the Right Seeds

Start with seeds worth saving. Find out if the plants growing in your garden are heirloom or hybrids. Seeds from Hybrid plants will not grow the same plant. They will likely revert back to one of the two plants that were combined to make the hybrid. Heirloom varieties will grow the same plant again next year.

Of the heirloom plants, it also helps to find out if they are ‘open-pollinated’ or ‘self-pollinated’ plants as open pollinated plants may ‘cross-pollinate’ with other kinds of plants in the same family. Stick with me one more sentence. Think two kinds of cucumbers grown close together and a bee buzzing between them- those cucumbers will likely have a little of each plants pollen shared between them- so you’ll get a mix of the plants with seeds from those plants.

Read my “Seed Saving Starts Now” blog for a different take on growing seeds to save.
Pam from the White Bear Lake Seed Library, who really knows her stuff contributed lots of the information!

Save the Very Best Seeds

Some Tiger’s Eye Beans for shelling – and saving

Save seeds from the best plants in your garden- selecting these ‘top performing’ plants will build seed and plants for next year. This is how us humans domesticated and increased our harvests from wild seeds over the centuries- but it is still worth doing over a few years. After 8 years of saving Pole Bean Seeds mine produce better than the original packet I bought – just saying.

Tricks to Save Tricky Seeds

Catching Corn Vit/mache seeds

I’ve got some old tulle (thank you sister’s wedding) that I use to wrap unsuspecting plants that are slowly setting seed to catch seeds as they fall. This is because I’m too lazy + forgetful to trust myself to get out and shake seeds into a collection bag every day many days in a row as seeds ripen.

Patience with Nature

One on one time with Lee in the gardens. Photo credit Molly Moe

One thing to keep in mind when starting to save seeds is theat we’re really just helping nature along. Waiting long enough for Mother Nature to do her work is a big part of the initial learning curve. …Both waiting for the seed to be ripe enough on the plant and waiting long enough for the seed to be dry enough to put into storage!

As Lee Butala, president and executive director of Seed Savers Exchange, told me, “Plants will tell you when their seeds are ready. They give you signs, like color changes or simply starting to fall off the plant. Lettuces for example are like dandelions with their seeds; it becomes obvious.” Lee knows what he’s talking about. He is after all the co-editor of our award-winning book The Seed Garden: The Art and Practice of Seed Saving”.

Riding back from the orchard with Rochelle

Not all seeds are as showy with their seed ripeness, which brings me to Heritage Farm Field crew Leader, Rochelle’s advice, “spend a little time learning about the plant you are saving seeds from. Each crop has some specific information on how to work with it- but don’t be afraid to mess up. There are so many easy plants to start with.”

So let’s start with…


Beans + Peas + Lettuces + Tomatoes

Saving Pea + Bean Seeds

These two have such similar saving techniques- I’ve lumped them together 😊 You can save bean and pea seeds on the plant and let them mature rather than eat them.

Peas and Beans are self-pollinating plants. You don’t have to worry about them cross-pollinating and mixing the strains. To save your seed, wait until the peas/beans are ripe, and then wait some more- until they are brown and drying on the vine. The pods will become papery, turning a yellow to brown color. Ideally, you should be able to hear the dry seeds rattling inside. I’ve read this is usually about 4 weeks after the peas and beans are ready for eating- I’m not organized enough to keep track) but it sounds about right.

I usually leave them in their pods in a paper bag  to dry further in a dry closet until I happen on them in winter and then shell them out, keeping them in paper envelopes or bags.… I am going to try to be more intentional this season- but if that’s all I’ve done has worked in the past you know you can handle this.

Saving Tomato Seeds

Tomatoes may cross-pollinate with each other, so if you are serious about saving these- plan on growing different varieties on opposite ends of your garden. The good news on saving these seeds is that you get to save your seeds and eat your tomatoes too! Tomato seeds are ripe the same time as their fruits– Yay!!

There are two main schools of thought on how to save tomato seeds. Fermenting then drying and just drying. Anyone who’s eaten a tomato probably knows about the little gelatin glob that encapsulates each seed. This gelatin helps the tomato seed to hold off on germinating by needing to break down and through the glob before germination begins. So, some people want to get rid of the gel by fermenting it away before drying, and some think that drying alone breaks it down enough. I *plan* on trying both methods as the season progresses and seeing if I find any difference. #nerdalert.

Saving Lettuce Seeds

Bella before she devoured all my arugula flowers + seeds

I’ve never really saved these before; so lucky me, I’m learning this one as I write! You’ll need to let lettuce bolt and send up its flower and seed stalk before collecting those seeds. I do know that chickens love arugula seeds- part of why I didn’t get to save any last year- I’m such a softy!

Lettuce seeds send out showy little seed poof balls. You can roll/crush into a bowl or bucket- then blow away the chaff (extra plant material) Lee Butalla likened it to dandelion seed heads.

If you want a good visual, watch this video– it was the best I found about saving lettuce seeds. 

Seed Storage

This is one place I need to get MUCH better as I am saving way more seed varieties this year. It is recommended to store them in a glass jar or plastic bag. Air tight containers will hold seeds viable for longer, you just need to make sure they are fully dried out before sealing it to avoid growing mold instead of more food 😉 So far I mostly keep them in paper bags or paper envelopes in a cool dark area. I’m not suggesting that as a best practice- but so far so good!

Seed Saving Next Steps

I will suggest our checking out the Seed Savers Exchange website for more online tips.  Our local White Bear Lake Seed Library, run by Pam, gives ‘seed saving talks’ quite frequently. The next ‘Seed Talk’ event is August 14th @ 6:30pm, in the downtown White Bear Lake public library. This is a great group of gardeners to get to know! PS- The White Bear Lake Seed Library is looking for Butterfly Weed flower seeds to replenish their stocks- save ’em if you’ve got ’em!

Happy Seed Saver, Jim- Ready to Help!

Once you get the hang of it, Lee Buttala of SSE suggested, “to grow a few plants dedicated for seeds. Many plants grow in such a way that you can’t use them for both eating and seed saving.” This way you really can have your salad and …eat it next year too!

I hope I’ve inspired you to start saving your own seeds!  Like most things in life getting started is the hardest part- so please ask for help! Ask me- or find another local seed saver, there is such a great community of people working to ensure diversity in seeds. I mean you could meet somebody like Jim at a seed swap and learn SO MUCH!

Seed Libraries are starting to pop up all over too. And if you want to geek out on seed libraries like I have been- subscribing to the “Cool Beans” newsletter is well worth it!

Off to collect some calendula seeds… and dig into some of the amazing food ripening in my gardens!

Dig In!


Farmers Markets Summer 2018

Get your Fix of Farm Fresh the easy way, there’s a farmers market almost everyday!

I really like really local food… So of course I wanted to share my favorite Farmers Markets in my corner of the Twin Cities with you!

I shop these markets to: buy ‘new to me’ varieties to test before I grow myself, buy in bulk for preserving and to buy the crops farmers have started early or keep growing late in greenhouses to extend our local fresh food season. I also love chatting with the farmers and vendors, and I get some good insight into my own home gardens listening to the experts.

We are absolutely feeling the bounty of local farmers’ hard work up North right now. The food rolling in is dripping with sun ripened sweetness; from the cucumbers  to the zucchinis. And with a little planning, can be served on your table the same day it was picked! These Summer bounties make our MN Winters worth it, am I right!?!

For tips and secrets on ‘how to’ shop a Farmers Market like a pro, read this article! 

Summer 2018 Farmers Markets


Little Canada Farmers Market:
Jul 9-Oct 8: Mon 2:30-6p.
Located at 2920 Rice St in the Hardware Hank parking lot



Aldrich Arena:
May 16-Oct 31: Wed 8a-Noon.
N side of Aldrich Arena parking lot, 1850 White Bear Ave.

Vadnais Heights:
Jun 20-Oct.17: Wed 2-6p.
1155 E County Rd E in the parking lot of the Helene Houle Medical Center

Jun-Oct: 2-6p.
1584 Hadley Ave next to City Hall at Richard Walton Park



White Bear Lake:
Jun 29-Oct 26: Fri 8a-Noon.
Hwy 61 & 4th St. on Washington Ave.


Jun 16-Sep 22: Sat 8a-Noon.
Aat the crossroads of Mahtomedi Ave (Hwy 244) & Stillwater Rd.

Jun-Oct: 7:30a-Noon.
Corner of 3rd & Pine St.

St Paul Farmers Market:
April 28-Nov 18: Sat 6a-1p
290 E 5th St, Lowertown St. Paul


St Paul Farmers Market:
April 28-Nov 18: Sun 8a-1
290 E 5th St, Lowertown St. Paul

Didn’t find a market in the right spot at the right time? Search the MNGrown farmers market database  to chose from the more than 180 Farmers Markets (WOW). I was even able to grab farm fresh food on our way to a recent camping destination using this search tool 😊

Costas Farm Greenhouse Farmstand

Between these markets you can sample food from most of the farmers I’ve interviewed for my blog. Read up on them before you head out to learn a little more about who you are buying from…

Mhonpaj’s Garden
Costa’s Farm and Greenhouse
Heinel Farms

All Good Organics Farm Stand

And if you want to pick up something on a day there isn’t a market running… swing by Costa’s or All Good Organics on site farm stands, fresh from the farm doesn’t get better than this!

Now let’s get out there and enjoy this beautiful + bountiful Summer season while it lasts!

Do you have a favorite farmers market? I’d love to hear about it 🙂

Forks at the ready,  Let’s Dig in!


Blueberry Fields Forever

Blueberry Bliss

Guests from the 2017 picking season. Photo courtesy of Blueberry Fields of Stillwater.

Pick Your Own Farms bring together the best of summer- getting to spend time in the great outdoors in a beautiful setting, with friends + family, all working towards a tasty end goal; buckets full of blueberries! This is local food Summertime bliss. Blueberry Fields of Stillwater brings a sweet mixture of this bliss to their guests each Summer.

Is it the farm’s rolling hills and pastoral setting? Or the acres of immaculately maintained spacious rows all bursting with blueberries? Maybe it’s all the energy and love that farmers Bev and Mike O’Connor have poured into the land? Regardless of the ‘why’ you can feel the unique calm of this farm as you stroll down into the fields. Just wait until you taste the sun sweetened blueberries!

Bev in her happy place!

If you’ve never picked your own blueberries before no worries, they’re every bit as easy as strawberries and raspberries. You can just roll them between your fingers and the ripe ones will kind of fall off. You can easily tell the ripe from unripe berries.

The farm has two acres of blueberries now in the third year of organic production. There are seven varieties to give us all a wonderful selection and extended picking season. From the first sun-sweetened Polaris berries to the late-season Superior berries they have it planned out so you get to come and pick at your leisure. Always check their Facebook, Instagram, website or phone line (651-351-0492) for the latest picking updates.

Slow Food Movement

My boys picking blueberries last Summer

Picking different kinds of berries offers different kinds of experiences. Blueberry picking is not as fast paced as strawberry picking. The berries are smaller, but the bushes bigger, so you can set down a stool and just loose yourself in picking. “Something just happens in these fields when they’ve got a few groups picking, voices can carry and conversations continue over rows. We also get quite a few couples on dates. Everyone slows down a bit while they’re here. That’s our hope, that this is a beautiful place to pick the best blueberries- but also that you leave a little refreshed.”

Building a Blueberry Farm

Bev takes her time; even when they are busiest on weekends during their 3-4 week PYO season. Usually there are three ‘picking’ times on each bush. The first are usually the biggest berries, and mildly sweet. The second round produces the sweetest berries. The third produces smaller berries but usually the sweetest. Each year is a little different though,  Mother Nature’s way of reminding us she’s still in charge!

Bev has also taken the time to work on the soil. Increasing from 1% organic matter when they started testing in 2005 and increased it to 5% in 2018 (Most MN Soil is around 2% organic matter so this is kind of a big deal!). That organic matter helps maintain moisture, feed the plants and helps the bushes fight infections. I also think it helps these berries burst with a flavor unique to this location.

Local Food Flavor

Isn’t that why we love Pick Your Own Farms? To be able to taste the difference in these locally grown fruits verses the store bought and shipped varieties (from as far as Chile in the winter and California/Florida, Maine/Michigan as the summer progresses). And one thing I’ll ask, when you go- pick as much as you can! Blueberries freeze VERY well- just roll in a towel to get any stubborn stems off and freeze on a sheet pan, then pop into a freezer bag.

“They smell amazing in the middle of winter, opening a bag of frozen berries in February brings you right back to that sunny day on our farm,” says Bev. I can attest to it, they smell amazing even frozen. I’ve opened bags of organic frozen blueberries from Costco in February and they don’t smell.  At All. I ran out of the berries we picked last summer way back in November. I am not letting that happen again!

What About Growing Your Own?

I love our two blueberry bushes (and the few handfuls of tasty berries we harvest from them) growing in our home garden. But they look nothing like the full, glossy leaved, ‘dripping with berries’ bushes at this farm! Bev shares links to their favorite growing practice websites right on their website. These folks are truly passionate about blueberries, and want spread the love.

I also have two small Aronia Berry plants, another native Super Food berry, read more about these berries and their amazing properties HERE. I love that berry bushes are a perennial form of food in my yard.

When you’re looking down over the immaculate rows of bushes you can’t help but notice all the netting! This is another reason to leave mass blueberry production to the pros. This labor-intensive practice keeps the birds out, and also why you pick only where they have lifted the netting off.  Bev and her helpers will direct you to the best berries for the day.

Blueberries in/on Your Bucket List

Me and my boys visited for the first time last year and knew this was a place we’d be returning to. Sure enough it was on my boys’ 2018 Summer Bucket List too. I can’t wait to get back there with them and pick all morning. Now that I know they’ve got a handwashing station and a ‘berrywashing’ station, we can plan to stay a while and enjoy the ‘fruits of our labors’ (ha) under one of their well thought out shaded rest areas, the breezy top of the hill overlooking the fields would be my pick!

The Minnesota Grown website show 31 PYO Pick Your Own Blueberry Farms in the state, we’re lucky that one of the very few to be growing with organic practices is also the closest to us! They’re even working on using essential oils in place of pesticides with a grant from the MN Dept of Agriculture AGRI Sustainable Agriculture Demonstration Grant. Just another way these farmers are staying true to their mission of creating a healthy, refreshing experience.

Berry Nutritious

Bev’s previous profession was nursing, so she well acquainted with the value of good health. She loves being able to share these  super food berries with visitors. Blueberries are packed full of antioxidants and other vitamins and minerals, are low in calories and have many other health benefits. They also taste amazing. Especially when you can eat a few sun warmed berries sitting in the shade overlooking the fields you just picked them from.

Know before you go:

Blueberry Fields of Stillwater- 9450 Mendel Road Stillwater, MN 55082

  • $4.50/lb cash or check and $4.62/lb paying with credit card
  • Picking buckets and boxes provided
  • Bring water, sunscreen and bug spray
  • No pesticides are used so there may be bees in the field
  • Kids are welcome, please read their Kid Tips
  • Handicap Accessible bathroom on site, uneven ground
  • Check their online, or call 651-351-0492 for up to date picking info
  • Earlier is better, they open at 8


I can’t wait to get back and pick buckets of blueberries this summer, and this time I’ll be more prepared. I hope you will be too. If you’re too far from Blueberry Fields of Stillwater to make it out there, I know Bev would still want you to find a place to pick your own, closer to your home. The Minnesota Grown website can help you find your closest berry patch. Type in “Blueberries” in the product search bar 🙂

Bev’s favorite way to eat them is still warm from the sun, or just thawing after coming out of the freezer, I agree with both.  I also see a blueberry cobbler in my near future! What will you make with yours?

ps- Don’t forget to pick enough to last the long haul through winter…

Looking forward to Digging In to blueberry season!


Local Food For Thought

I love that when I took a step back and looked at why I care about local food so much, the answers came full circle! Of course, nature had her answer all wrapped up like that. And just for the record, no one knows exactly what ‘local food’ means… some say it is food grown ‘within 100 miles’ of the purchase, others say ‘in my state’.

Here’s a quick(ish) look into why I believe taking the extra effort to eat local pays off in dividends larger than we can measure.

Nothing beats sun ripened home grown tomatoes!

Local Food Tastes Better 

Fresh + local food just tastes better. Exhibit A> The Tomato. Homegrown varieties will leave you smiling as you savor the layers of flavor that drip off the sun warmed juices. The store bought, often packaged version of tomatoes  we get up North in winter are pale pink, mealy, styrofoam imposters. Don’t even get me started on eggs 😉

Nutritional Value

Food loses nutrients after it is harvested- up to 30% in three short days! Being able to pick a salad out of my garden or buy from a farmer that harvested earlier that day means more nutritional ‘bang’ for my buck or my work than buying food that was shipped across the country. Not to mention food flown/shipped here from another continent before it was ripe. Continue reading

Worms at Work: Vermicomposting 101

Compost is Key

We all know compost is good for your garden soil, and that I’m a big fan of incorporating composting into the garden cycle- but did you know that worm castings are nature’s effortless and ideal answer to up-cycling!? Vermicomposting is the practice of using worms to decompose food scraps and using their worm poop (aka worm castings) to grow more great  food. 

Melanie with some impressive garlic- must be the worm castings!

I asked local vermicomposting expert, Melanie Harding, to help us understand more about using worms to transform trash into treasure. Melanie has been Tamarack Nature Center’s Naturalist Coordinator for going on 5 years. She’s most happy when she gets to help people have those light bulb moments when they make a nature connection. Her info here will have light bulbs going off all over the place!

So… let’s all learn a little more from Melanie:

I have a deep respect for decomposers – those marvelous creatures that recycle nature’s leftovers into the building blocks of new life. That probably doesn’t surprise people who know me, as I have been working in the field of environmental education for more than 25 years. But when someone finds out I have worms living in my kitchen, the reaction is usually surprise…followed by disgust…and eventually curiosity. Those who are curious enough to ask about the three bins stacked inconspicuously in the corner, open a proverbial “can of worms” at my house. I have worms living in my kitchen and I love to talk about them!

Everyone can help with the worms!

Continue reading

There’s something comforting about meeting people who are doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing. It’s even better when they’ve taken over the family farm; better for the land, the crops, the animals- and better for us lucky people who get to eat the food they raise.

Butch and Kris Cardinal of All Good Organics have worked hard to find their groove and they’ve really hit their stride after figuring out their unique niches.

The farm on April 20th, 2018 – thank goodness we’re all melted now!

Butch is a 5th generation farmer – OF THE SAME LAND. His family has been farming their slice of heaven at 6657 Centerville Road in Hugo since 1866. The way they have farmed has swung the pendulum over their 152 years of land stewardship. “Everything was organic back when my dad was born- but then, by the 40’s chemical fertilizers and pesticides showed up. And these guys were of the mind that if a little is good, more is better. When my dad came home from WW2 it was all about the chemicals; they meant less weeding,” but it took over 50 years for most farmers to figure out that the chemicals had some major downsides.

Pulling produce from the greenhouse all winter long!

Butch knew what we could grow as a conventional grower with the pesticides and herbicides, but he’s worked with them and didn’t want them around-. “I mean, just read the labels and directions on some of them, if I need to put on full suits and respirators to apply, I don’t want that stuff sticking around in my soil or my food.”

So when his dad asked him to help with some pumpkins years ago, he countered with wanting to grow organic vegetables too. They’d been growing conventional hay for years prior.

So, Butch brought the farm back to organic practices, and they’ve been certified since 2010. By USDA NOP (National Organic Program) the transition period is three years. Now they plant 25 acres of vegetables, many started in the 1,800 square foot greenhouse. Like most organic farms, they’ve got a ‘full circle’ approach, using each resource in many ways, and always keeping their eyes open for opportunities.

Butch and Kris in front of their Farm Store

Continue reading

One Year of Digging In!

Ringing in 2018!

Let’s Celebrate One Year of Forks in the Dirt!

Looking back over the first year of sharing food stories and info with whoever would listen- I had to stop and say THANK YOU! Thanks for making me so happy I took that leap of faith!!

I’ve learned more than I could have imagined; about growing food, farmers, food systems and building websites- but I also had a chance to distill what is important to me. I got to hang out with dozens of farmers on lovingly cared for land. I got to eat my way through a delicious summer and ate mostly locally grown (home preserved) food all winter.

Karin Costa helping my boys get their weekly sweet corn fix!

Officially, my website had 4,469 reads and lots of engagement over the many different posts on the blog, Facebook and Instagram… again, thanks for showing up!

*Some* of the topics covered:
Composting, Community Gardens, Farmers,  CSA’s, Planting Tips, Farmers Market Shopping Tips, Farm + Food Events, Raising Backyard Chickens, Pollinators, Food Hubs, ForagingHealthy Eating Recipes + Canning Recipes, Food Shelves, Growing for Food Shelves, the first ever Winter WBL Farmers Market and our WBL Seed Library– wheee! Continue reading

Planting your garden based on the “Dirty Dozen”

Nothing beats home grown strawberries!

Using the Environmental Working Group’s ‘Dirty Dozen‘ List to plant a Healthy Harvest!

I’ve used this guide for years to help me choose what I plant in my veggie patch. I pay close attention to the Environmental Working Group (EWG’s) ‘Dirty Dozen’; an annually updated list of the twelve fruits and veggies found to have the highest levels of pesticide and herbicide residue. This is a straightforward publication that can help you both in purchasing healthy food,  and planning what you want to plant. The EWG has so much well researched information; their website is worthwhile for their “Food Scores” app among others.

Why do you grow your own fruits + vegetables?

Of course the taste is far better than you can buy in the grocery store, and the nutritional value is higher because of freshness… but after a few common truths, the reasons we grow our food are as wonderfully varied as each garden. I see this as part of the inherent beauty of growing your own food.  Beauty in diversity through and through♥!

For my family, we grow what we like to eat (duh). You have to enjoy the ‘fruits’ of your labor or else tending the garden will become more work than pleasure. One way I can easily justify spending my time hauling compost and growing seedlings is knowing how much tastier and healthier the food we’re eating is than what I can get in the grocery store. Another thing that keeps me weeding through the steamy months is how much money I’m growing- I mean saving, my family.

For those of you interested in getting the most bang for your buck with garden space… Continue reading

Community Gardens Keep US Growing

Community Garden workday from last Spring. This plot inbetween a parking lot and a street grows food for a food shelf and was one of my first Forks blogs.

What produces for a food shelf, tomatoes for canning, relationships and a more beautiful and connected community?

Community gardens have the ability to take a single piece of land, work its soil collectively and deepen our growth both as individuals and part of our local community. With more people living in housing with limited or no yard space, these kinds gardens are rapidly growing.

Like most things that develop organically, community gardens are as varied as the communities they take root in. The one thing all community gardens offer is garden space for gardeners to grow. It’s the ‘who, what, where, when and why’ that makes each garden unique.

My boy and his friend checking out a “Bug Hotel” in Minneapolis’ Loring Park Gardens.

These gardens find their homes on city, county, school district, faith based and privately owned land. Just like the produce they grow, there are an infinite number of combinations and variations limited only by the people who grow together’s imaginations.

White Bear Area YMCA Community Garden

I am excited to share that starting this season I’ll get to grow and play alongside gardeners in the White Bear Lake Area YMCA Community Garden as the garden coordinator!

I can’t wait to help cultivate my love of ‘grow your own’ with more of my neighbors!

YMCA Gardeners grew a beautiful variety of flowers and vegetables last season!

Set on the grounds of an old skate park, the garden is greening up this piece of black top. The garden has been chugging along for a few years and the WBA YMCA director, Shane Hoefer, has decided it is time to really get things growing. There will be 10 new raised beds, thanks to Frerichs Construction Company! … along with more activities and education to get people growing healthy. There are a total of 25 4’X10’ raised beds for rent at $25 (YMCA members) and $35 (neighbors) for the 2018 season. You can contact the YMCA front desk at 651-777-8103 or message me directly to reserve a plot! Continue reading

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