Category: Farmers (page 1 of 2)

Meet your local farmers. Get a peek into farms and the farmers who love them all through the Twin Cities metro area! This is where the seeds hit the dirt.

The Good Acre: Full Circle Food Hub

The Good Acre (TGA) provides Full Circle Local Food System Support. From soil to your table, TGA is there implementing the organization’s mission:

“We connect and strengthen farmers, food makers, and communities through good food.”

This is the place you can learn how to make kimchi, pick up a farm share with locally made add-ons, attend a beginning farmers conference, volunteer in a hoop house or find your child’s school lunch staff kicking up their culinary skills. Full circle!

There is also a contagious positivity running through those artfully slanted walls that makes it all gel.

I stumbled upon this powerhouse operation online while looking up local CSA’s. Turns out Community Supported Agriculture is the perfect term for part of what happens here, but The Good Acre goes way beyond the traditional CSA.

What is a Food Hub Anyway?

Farm Share Packing Day

food hub, as defined by the USDA, is “a centrally located facility with a business management structure facilitating the aggregation, storage, processing, distribution, and/or marketing of locally/regionally produced food products.”

The thing that the USDA missed in its definition is the community that takes root around an initiative like this. There are farmers who would not be making it if it weren’t for TGA. In 2016 around 65,000 pounds of food moved through the facility. That’s 65,000 pounds of food that traveled significantly less than the average 1,500 miles. Hello lowered carbon footprint.

Food Hubs like TGA aren’t prolific, and that may be in part because for now, they rarely turn a profit. They are often funded in part by donations, grants and in the case of TGA- significant support from the Pohlad Family Foundation.

There’s so much shaking at TGA on any given day, that’s it’s easy to overlook one of the ways they bring good food to the community. So, let’s break down how they put the mission into action.

Cala Farms

Farmers:
The Good Acre has a dedicated staff member to do farm visits and help with things from building soil fertility to crop planning for the items TGA has contracted to buy.  Staying up to date on the latest farm safety protocol and working with wholesalers on behalf of the farmers they partner with is another piece of the pie. Another thing that shows TGA’s support to making lasting change in the local food system is:

Grower Support Specialist, David VanEeckhout
“He’s been an organic farmer for over 20 years and helps our farmers implement sustainable and organic practices on their farm that will help them with pest management, soil fertility, and more.”

Photo credit: The Good Acre

They also tend three hoop houses of varying sizes and strengths as testing grounds for farmers interested in growing some seasonally-extended crops. They are used for instructional purposes, and supply berries, ginger, peppers and tomatoes to local food makers such as Chow Girls and You Betcha Kimchi.

Galen and crew brewing Kimchi

Storage:
They have both dry storage, cooler and freezer storage spaces available for rent. This type of space is hard to come by,  which Galen Kanazawa, of Fierce Ferments,can attest to that, “The Good acre offered us affordable and convenient storage space. Being able to make as much as we need to with no space limitations enabled us to scale up to a warehouse distribution level of business. Additionally, they helped us gain a higher profile by getting our name out there in front of some bigger accounts that we otherwise likely wouldn’t have noticed us.”

Photo credit: The Good Acre

Farm Share:
The new TGA CSA, Power in numbers. Simply pooling farmers produce and offering it up in a carefully curated box each week is another way TGA connects local community with the local good food. Because they work with a variety of ‘often’ organic farms you can expect to see up to 70 varieties of produce over the course of the season this year! Because of their close relationships with many local makers (like produce from their farmers, then made in their kitchens) they are able to offer some great “add-ons” to their farm share as well- like fresh eggs, bread, kombucha, kimchi and the like. More info HERE.

Sound like the perfect option for you? Sign up for their 18 week Farm Share HERE!

Wholesale:
TGA works with wholesale accounts in hopes the good food coming through their doors is spread wide and far. They work with a handful of local wholesalers, and increasingly, schools and hospitals, YAY! *we still have a long way to go on bringing this into the mainstream*

White Bear Lake Schools kitchen staff perfecting their roasting skills. Photo credit: The Good Acre

This hit close to home when I realized TGA had directly effected my kid’s lunchroom. Turns out TGA worked with our local White Bear Lake school district’s kitchen staff on how to cook with the local produce they are procuring through their wholesale program. “The Good Acre currently works with over a dozen area school districts, all of which have the opportunity to bring their Nutrition Service staff members in for training on scratch cooking techniques and development of healthy recipes scaled up for the lunch line and suited to kids tastes”, offers Nikki Warner, TGA marketing manager. A food hub that can offer locally grown produce and training on how to prepare it really is a win/win for our schools and our kids. This awesome service is funded by the USDA Farm to School Grant TGA was awarded in 2017. Keep it coming!

I’m jumping up on my soap box now:
This is such a great way to start that sea change in moving towards making local food systems sustainable. When we ask for healthier, local foods on our children’s lunch menus it has an effect that takes root. A child may be offered that food for a first time, or know the food and get others excited about it. Of course kids are always going to get excited for sweets, but they do get excited for brussel sprouts too- when they taste good. I love that TGA is there for the full circle from working with the farmers, the wholesalers and the kitchen staff to implement real change in the way our kids view food. I’m jumping back down now.

“We believe that the more that we can connect local makers to our network of growers, the more equitable, vibrant and resilient our local food system will be.”  The Good Acre website

Making Mushroom Jerky!

Commercial Kitchen: Rental
With Food safety laws as they stand, if you’re going to sell food in a store you need to make it in a commercial kitchen. Which is good for public health, but bad for start-up companies. Introducing the shared space commercial kitchen. These kind of ‘rentable’ kitchens are popping up in more places all over the country, there’s even a website, Food Corridor, that connects makers with kitchen space. These spaces give small companies, like ProCured Mushroom Jerky  a chance to break into the local wholesale and institutional markets. TGA currently rents this space out to 15 different makers every month. If you’re interested in adding your name to the growing list of renters- find more info HERE.

Commercial Kitchen: Classes

Ready to make my own yogurt thanks to Iman Mefleh of You Bethca Kimchi

I just took my first TGA class, a DIY yogurt class and I have to tell you the instructor made us all feel right at home in that stainless steel kitchen.  I’ve gone to some other cooking classes before and this felt more approachable and laid back- but with so many great tips and tricks thrown in there by Iman Mefleh of You Bethca Kimchi that is was worth every penny. Julia Cohen, the Culinary Support Specialist, is pumped about the wide variety of offerings in their kitchen, “We offer cooking classes truly ‘for the people’, our classes are approachable and our instructors are some of the best around.”

I was really impressed with how much information I walked away with for a very reasonable price. They offer tons of classes, on everything from Pho to kitchen skills ‘boot camp’. The best place to keep up with their class offerings is their TGA Facebook page. I can’t wait to go back and try something else new. If you become addicted to their classes, they have a Cooks Club membership that saves you money on multiple classes and gets you some awesome perks. For now, I’m excited I know what to do with the extra whey in my yogurt!

Maker to Market:
You guys, this program makes me so happy. It’s genius in its simplicity- and beautiful in its heart.  From the website:  “Lakewinds Food Co-op and The Good Acre have partnered under a shared purpose: bring new and diverse slow food products to the world as we strengthen our food community as a whole. We help independent food makers hit the ground running. We source ingredients from small, local, and disadvantaged farmers to cultivate our local food economy. And we give consumers amazing new choices at shelf. It’s a win-win-win.”

From Senoras de Salsa,to Caldo Foods sauces and spices, the results are delicious!

They are currently accepting applications for the 2nd Maker to Market! More info HERE.

mix and match fingerlings

Bringing  Food + Community Full Circle
This is one lean, mean food systems machine. Nestled into the east side of the Twin Cities Metro, and across the street from some U of MN test fields, TGA add such value to the food we eat, the farmers in our midst and the future of food systems.

Implementing the “Frost Mob” was another way I tried to get involved this past year. Interested in helping local farmers quickly gather crops threatened by unexpected frosts? Or maybe you’re interested in volunteering in another way? You can let their spunky marketing manager, Nikki Warner know by emailing her.

In so many ways they are doing the heavy lifting of laying a solid foundation. They’re working to make small farms viable thanks to the Pohlad Family Foundation, some large grants and individual donations. They hope to be self sufficient, and what will help that to happen is for us consumers to vote with our dollars. You’ve heard that before, but we can use our dollars not only to buy from local farmers via Farm Shares and  farmers markets,  but the larger food movers, the wholesale food side– like restaurants, school lunch programs, hospitals and other institutional wholesale opportunities.

Asking where your food comes from is a Good place to start.

I am a huge proponent of the Farmers Market and CSA (or TGA’s Farm Share) but thinking about making small farms secure far into the future we’ll need to do more than buy a few tomatoes from a few of them every week; we need to find a way for local to be necessary – not a luxury.

I can’t wait to Dig In to making my own yogurt. Thank you to The Good Acre for  doing Good Work!

Michelle

Winter Farmers Market Tomorrow!

I wouldn’t want you to miss out on all the food!

The first White Bear Lake Winter Farmers market is tomorrow, Saturday December 9th from 10am-2pm, at Tamarack Nature Center. Link to map and directions HERE.

This is a one day only event and a great way to fill your holiday tables and check off gifts with sustainable items from your neighbors.

HERE is a previous post all about the market, from vendors and community tables to the donated apple cider.

The Facebook Page, HERE will continue to have updates, like this  basket of goodies I’ll be raffling off at the market!

Thanks for following along on this journey to find good, simple, local food- I truly appreciate it.

Can’t wait to Dig Into the food this Saturday!

**Looking forward to sharing recipes made with all the local food I bring home from this market!**

Michelle

 

A Winter Farmers Market is Coming to Town!

White Bear Lake’s first time Winter Farmers Market has turned into something bigger and better than I could have imagined- all because so many people came together and energized this event. White Bear Lake was ready  for this farmers market, and I feel darn lucky I get to help make it happen!

The WBL Winter Farmers Market:  December 9  
10am – 2pm at Tamarack Nature Center

 

So many local people and groups have made this event a success even before the first shopper sips hot cider or scores a squash… Continue reading

Micro Greens + Macro Dreams

I found a farm, with a ‘little’ twist…

Meet Kayla and Eric  Elefson, the young farming couple behind Turtle Hare Farm’s tasty micro green mixes, tomatoes, salad greens and coming next summer- gourmet garlic!

As most really good stories go, they came to farming in a round-about, unintended way. Both take to the stage regularly. Kayla is a dancer with ‘Eclectic Edge Ensemble’, and a choreographer (White Bear Lake High School is performing her steps in their “Footloose” musical as I’m writing this post.) Eric is an actor working with Mad Munchkin Productions and the Math and Science Academy.

After a mild injury Kayla had to step away from the strenuous dance routines, and took a farming class on a whim. Both Kayla and Eric grew up on hobby farms, so it wasn’t a huge stretch. But after some soul searching and learning about “Holistic Management” they came upon micro green farming as a way to jump into farming right away- without jumping deep into debt.

Now, there’s no reason to go back. They love supplying people with organically grown, locally delivered, super fresh produce year round.

With two years under their belts they’ve already fine-tuning and weeding out some of their original practices. Switching their field of tomatoes to garlic will require many less summer hours of labor but give close to the same profit. Their outdoor garden space is only 1,400 square feet and yet it is adequate to supply the markets they serve. Working out of their home in Lakeland Township gives them the best of both worlds.

What’s the BIG deal with micro greens?

Micro greens are plants in between the stages of sprouts and baby greens- and are said to be the ‘sweet spot’ where taste meets nutrition.

Studies have shown that micro greens are loaded with nutrients, such vitamins, C, E, and K, lutein, and beta-carotene. Up to 40 fold compared to the mature leaves of the same plants! This is another well rounded article from Web MD.

Micro Greens contain up to 40 X the nutrients of their full grown plants!

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Forks’ Weekend Spread – Harvest Time!

Nothing says Autumn in Minnesota like Colorful trees, pumpkins, apples and fresh air!

Harvest Festivals can be the culmination of a good growing season- or a feel like a bland mix of pumpkin spice and everything nice. Lucky for us, our vibrant local food scene is bursting with phenomenal farms of all flavors. They each celebrate their love of local food and drink in unique ways. Family friendly and full of fall fun, find the hip harvest party of your dreams below…

 

Urban Roots 20th Anniversary Party

20 years of awesomesauce. Urban Roots is one of those groups that’s just got it going on. Through their Market Garden Program they work with inner city youth interns that purchase, grow, maintain, harvest and sell- sometimes even  serve- the produce they raise on their urban farm plot. Cook St Paul is one of the local restaurants that carry their produce. The Chef + Owner of that fine establishment, Eddie Wu, is the emcee for the night’s festivities. *See Cook St. Paul’s listing below too* Live auction items for foodies and farmers alike to drool over. Featuring BANG Brewing and Chowgirls Killer Catering. If you want to have fun and support changing our food systems at the same time, this is your ticket. Those tickets are available Through Wednesday (that’s tomorrow!!) evening.  Get ‘em while they’re hot!

Thursday, Oct 12, 6pm- 9pm
Tickets $75 and up Available through Wed
Harriet Island Pavilion, 200 Doctor Justus Ohage Boulevard Saint Paul, MN 55107

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Hive Mind.ed

The passions that bind this blog together: gardening, cooking, local farmers and food shelves all rely on one thing to exist:

Pollinators!

We need those busy bees, butterflies, wasps, ants, moths etc..

Now they need us.

**GIVEAWAY**
…has ended, thanks for all who participated 🙂

WIN 4 Passes to the Polli*Nation Festival Sept 10
Live Music* Food Trucks* Craft Beers*Bee Science*Art
Contest Ends Tuesday Sept 5 at 7pm
Like us on Facebook to enter: www.facebook.com/forksinthedirt/

Unless you’ve been hiding under a garden paver, you know that bees are in trouble. Honeybees in particular have received lots of coverage in the news- topics like Colony Collapse Disorder, Varroa Mites destroying hives, and pesticide kills after a windy day. Honey Bees get most of the news coverage because they are the easiest of the pollinators to observe, being raised in a controlled area rather than being so spread out like the other wild and native pollinators. But there are signs that ALL the pollinators are in trouble. Continue reading

Forks’ Weekend Spread: August

Oh August, I’m in awe…

This summer is growing by fast. Even with Fall right around the corner, if you’re like our family we plan on squeezing every last drop of summer out of the rest of this Summer. And this weekend is ripe with opportunity to do just that, by exploring local farms, flavors and vineyards and learning more about our pollinators. Let’s jump right in, the sun is set to shine just in time for these weekend farm and foodie events!

Friday August 18th

Great Table Dinner at the Dancing Dragonfly Winery

Enjoy the vineyard like never before with a unique and memorable al fresco dining experience, while mingling with fellow wine lovers at our large, family-style table. A 3-course dinner, featuring locally sourced foods from the St. Croix Valley region. The menu includes: Wilted Spinach Salad with Bacon, Top Sirloin with Garlic Crusted Portobello Mushrooms, Champagne Chicken Breast, Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Vegetables, and dessert. The website also mentioned dressing in layers, which was the first time I got legitimately excited for Fall. You can also add on wine pairings (a glass chosen for each of the three courses) for $20. Our regular lineup of wine also available. Simply put this sounds like heaven.

Details: Friday, 6pm-8pm. $55 in advance Registration Link.
Dancing Dragonfly Winery 2013 120th Avenue, Saint Croix Falls, WI 54024 Continue reading

Cultivating Good Will & Good Food at Costa’s

Ron, Grace, Gina & Karin Costa in front of a CSA delivery van. Photo Credit Paul Dols

Costa’s is that rare breed of medium size family farm that fills up its community with both good food and good will.

*Full Disclosure: I received two vine ripened tomatoes for writing this article.
They were totally worth it  😉

Yes. Farmers are busy. CSA providers are busy. Roadside Farm Stand operators are busy. Vegetable wholesalers are busy. Greenhouse flower growers are busy. So, one family that runs a business including all of these; yes, you could say they’re BUSY! And yet Karin Costa can make you feel like you’re the only person at a bustling Farmer’s Market as she talks with you about corn, the weather, or you kids- sometimes all those points blended into one seamless sentence.

Karin helping my boys pick out their dinner.

This family fully understands that they get to stay busy precisely because they pay attention to their customers, and all those farming details. From seed, to soil; from picking crews practicing food safety (they are USDA Food Safety Certified for the last 6 years) to making those personal connections at market. You can tell they love what they do- not just because Ron took on the farm for a 3rd generation, but because they smile even when no one is looking.

Grace Costa working their Farmstand with a smile.

As their website says:

 “We firmly believe in local agriculture because it supports local farmers who care about the impact of their farming and because it helps support local economies. We run our entire business under the mindset “From Our Field to Your Fork” because that’s the way food is supposed to work.”

Earlier in May when the crops were just coming in, greenhouses in the background.

Since they moved the family farm from Little Canada to their current location in Grant back in 1990, they’ve kept innovating and adding ways to serve their community. My favorite (hi)story was how their flower business began; they first started growing a few hanging baskets, just because they had unused space above the flats of vegetables in the greenhouse. That first year they sold out of the baskets, so they added more… and more as the years went on. Constantly searching out ways to engage with their local customers lead to them adding the CSA branch of their business a few years ago.

Their Roots Run Deep
The Costa family has been selling at the St. Paul Farmer’s Markets since it was at its original location, over 70 years ago; back before the ‘middle men’ wholesale companies were so prevalent and grocers would buy direct from farmers. They’ve been selling  at the White Bear Lake Farmer’s Markets for over 25 years.

Their commitment to getting you the freshest food is apparent in all the ways they’ve made it easy to buy from them. Being lots of places to sell to the public might seem like a no-brainer, but it takes a lot of planning, extra trucks, more staff and lots of set up and tear down to make it to all these farmer’s markets. They also see less produce get onto local table through markets than wholesale, but they value the face to face connections.

Here’s the Costa Farm & Greenhouse Summer 2017 Lineup

Farmstand at their Farm, 9411 Dellwood Rd in Grant MN:
Open Daily now – Mid-September. 9:30am- 6:30pm.

Farmer’s markets: Wednesdays- Aldrich Arena
Fridays- White Bear Lake & St. Thomas Moore
Saturdays-  St. Paul Downtown & Mahtomedi.
Full Listing of times and locations HERE .

Oakdale HyVee Display featuring Costa Produce

Even the JW Marriot restaurant, Cedar & Stone,  lists them as one of their Favored Local Farms!

A few steps closer to their farm is the Oakdale HyVee, which featured them as a featured local farmer.

 CSA: This season they have close to 500 Community Supported Agriculture Shares going out to families across the metro. Get on their email list now to ensure a spot on next summer’s list. info@costafarm.com

 

View of May row crops from Karin’s Cart.

You can also always contact them via email, or their Facebook page, or subscribe to their blog. They are easy to connect with, and ready to show you how the details add up to delicious local food.

While riding around the farm on “Karin’s Cart” I saw first-hand how obsessed they are with the details.

They get the soil tested at least three times a year to understand exactly how to best feed the crops they’re growing down to the row. The land they farm on in Grant, MN is sandy and doesn’t hold nutrients well, so they feed (fertilize) their crops as needed. Karin describes their farming philosophy as responsible and innovative, but not chasing after organic.

Being able to build relationships with the people who buy their food, through CSA newsletters and emails and meeting people at markets, “we hope to build a trust with them, that while we do spray to keep the worms out of our corn, we do so with non-neonicotinoids and as sparingly as possible,” explained Karin. I can attest to the fact that there are weeds (sometimes big enough to decrease crop yield) that were not sprayed, and plenty of dragonflies, butterflies and birds flying around the fields as we meandered through.

I also saw rows of black plastic mulch; a relatively new farming innovation that keeps weeds down, and greatly reduces the need for irrigation. It also requires specialized equipment to lay the plastic and the drip line to water underneath it, and a specialized planter. It was a large investment a few years ago, but Karin is happy with being able to use less water, less chemicals, and less tractor time. Another bonus is the early spring growth boost the crops receive because the black plastic heats up the earth quicker. Like all things there are positives and negatives to this system. Costa’s is currently looking into recycling the agricultural plastics they use. The recycling of these plastics is an upcoming and exciting opportunity to close this loop in food production.

I have used this thick black plastic in my backyard garden to heat up the soil in the spring, and in another area to kill weeds by leaving it pinned down all summer long. My small scale and ability to reuse the same plastic again and again differs greatly from market farms- even though it’s a petroleum based product, it has its place in growing food for the big guys and for many backyard gardens.

Early May, before the summer squash went completely bonkers.

Karin cheers on us home vegetable gardeners and loves how many more people are growing their own produce. She also knows, from trial and error, that what works for the home gardener doesn’t always work for a large-scale farm. From which varieties of vegetables will hold up getting to market, and what techniques are used to grow them.

When you’re farming around 100 acres of vegetables, much without irrigation, “you need to give the investment of seed and land the best chance at getting to market and feeding America- feeding your neighbors,” Karin said.

Eggplant flowers are just so darn pretty.

Costa’s feeds many of us shopping at Twin Cities Metro grocery stores through their relationships with fifteen produce wholesale companies. A large part of Ron’s responsibility (apart from the hands-on farming) is making connections with those companies to sell the large amounts of corn, kale, beans, tomatoes and bell peppers that ripen and only have a few days to go from just picked to past their prime.

I learned so much about our local food system listening to Karin explain the steps from seed to table. There are single use boxes to ship all produce purchased wholesale, delivery costs, what to do when a wholesaler rejects a shipment of very perishable produce etc. No matter the scale farming is a risky business!

They make efforts to see that as much produce as possible feeds neighbors, even if it gets rejected by wholesalers; for too much size variation, too curvy, too small or too big. (Remember that not all tomatoes come out perfectly round and uniformly red the next time you peruse a tomato display in January.) When Costa’s has a surplus or an unexpected rejection, they give generously to Second Harvest Heartland, a total of 1,125 lbs of produce in 2016! They nurture an ongoing relationship with the St. Jude’s Catholic Church FoodShelf. They also have a growing relationship with Habitat for Humanity; where they donate their unsold flowering annuals to the program, giving newly moved into houses some added curb appeal.

So whether Ron is planning the field layout, or Karin is getting the greenhouse up and running for the season- or either/both of the girls are working in the farm stand- this family is all in on farming for your family.

Grilled Corn as the Star of Summer Dinner

And trust me when I say their corn is scrumptious no matter how you prepare it- but my new favorite way is to remove husks, butter and salt it, and grill it on a HOT grill for a few minutes, letting the sugars from the kernels help caramelize the corn. Now, if that doesn’t scream summertime, I don’t know what does.

Dig In to all the fresh veggies Costa’s has to offer! Consider canning, or freezing some of this locally grown goodness for the winter too. Nothing beats a stockpile of food preserved at its peak 🙂

Michelle

 

 

 

 

Veggies from the Burbs

I did a double take when Don Heinel told me where his land was – Little Canada you say? But it turns out, not knowing the farm was there was the just the tip of the iceberg (lettuce).

Don has been doing this a while- like his whole life. Being out in the fields has given him plenty of time to think things through. And his willingness to share (but not preach about) what he’s come up with so far is refreshing and contagious!

Don with some happy sweet corn

At first glance Don may seem a bit gruff, he’s admittedly “not a big smiler”, but don’t let that fool you. He’s one big ‘Veggie Bear’, (favorite nickname I’ve come up with so far) who is a passionate steward of his land, dedicated to bringing lovingly grown food to market for you to enjoy.

He’s found his own balance of ‘common sense’ farming techniques that bring him high yields without much chemical application. He uses Neem oil and other organic applications when needed, but finds that prevention is the best medicine. He practices crop rotation, letting land lie fallow (not planting anything on it) and pays close attention to water drainage issues (standing water weakens plants and harbors bugs, dry land stresses plants and lowers yields).

While Don was walking me around his farm I saw lady bugs, dragon flies and weeds- not in abundance but enough to know there are no herbicides being sprayed on the row crops, or pesticides taking out the insects. Birds were flying in to grab some snacks of their own too.

No, he’s not Certified Organic.

Don doesn’t care to be certified organic, especially with selling directly to his customers at market. Selling direct gives him a chance to talk with you all and explain the nuances of organic, conventional, sustainable, and where he falls with best practices. For him, the certification is just a lot more paperwork and red tape without the payoff.

Don urges us all to find out more about the way food is grown, starting with the simple fact that, yes- organic pesticides do exist! I learned about the “OMRI” because of him. The OMRI, the Organic Materials Review Institute, “supports organic integrity by developing clear information and guidance about materials, so that producers know which products are appropriate for organic operations,” directly from the OMRI Website. Cool Beans.

The Way Back Story

Don’s a 4th generation farmer whose family has been farming for over 100 years and working this same land since 1939, and farmed in Roseville prior to that. Keeping that same 17 acres in the family for all those years means that Don’s farm is a lot closer to the metro area than most new farmers could hope for; not in today’s real estate market. It also means he knows his land like the back of his hand. He showed me ‘the hill’; a barely visible rise in one section of field and explained how just that rise makes it too dry to plant. He also explained when and where he recently changed row direction from E/W to N/S and just how that will affect water drainage, and how he wait until just after the dirt stops clumping (into what he calls dirt ‘potatoes’) after a tilling to plant.

It’s obvious he paid attention to his chores as a kid on the farm, and spoke to making a conscious decision to stay and farm because of the freedom of choice it allowed him. What and where to plant, who to sell it to, how much is a fair price; these choices and the time outside are a good fit for Don.

Don has sold produce under the Heinel Farm name since 1988 at the fall White Bear Lake Farmer’s Market, the first year it started. He also used to sell wholesale but gave that up after witnessing the increasing hoops farmers had to go through, and the increasing liability insurances etc. they had to take on to continue selling that way. Markets might take a little more work, but they are proving more rewarding too.

Farming Today

His wife, Shari, while following her own career path, helps where she can and is his technical support, answering emails and posting to their Facebook page and all the other tasks that keep the company running. They make a great team and can be seen together at different Farmer’s Markets throughout the week.

Don at the White Bear Lake Farmer’s Market

Don’s father was his main mentor and business partner until he became ill. He passed away in 2015. His father was also the one who suggested Don start taking it easy, helping Don make the decision towards ‘semi-retirement’. Although, once I understood his schedule a little, there’s no way the average person would call that being ‘semi-retired’! He still gets up early, works in the fields most mornings and is at market 3 times a week. Logistically this meant quitting the Minneapolis market so he didn’t have markets on the weekends. (whew!)

Heinel Farm Summer 2017 Market Schedule

Mondays: Little Canada Farmer’s Market: 2:30-6pm

Tuesdays: Shoreview Farmer’s Market: 3-7pm

Fridays: White Bear Lake Farmer’s Market: 8-12pm

 

Nothing like a few green beans to munch while we walked!

In Don’s words “Weather and Critters are the two biggest issues for farmers.” And this year he’s dealt with both. Although his farm was lucky enough to escape damage from the hail storm on June 11 he was still catching up from what he referred to as the “7 days of death” the cold rainy yuck that hung around the Twin Cities in early May. His critter problems include the typical racoons, deer and rabbits along with a crow that has been bugging him for years on end.

Don shared one of his favorite quotes with me, and now I’m sharing it with you…

Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.   -Dwight D Eisenhower

Don checking tomatoes in the High Tunnel.

Critters are one of the reasons he invested in a high tunnel. He uses that for tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers; and low tunnels for cucumbers and zucchini. He also starts a *few* plants; 20 flats that each have 162 cells each – that’s 3,240 seedlings to transplant. And with those seedlings and direct sowing he fills the 17 acres (except what he lets lie fallow) with all kinds of beets, squash, sweet corn, tomatoes, peppers, fennel, bush beans, broccoli, lettuces, kale, cauliflower, zucchini and cucumbers. Yum.

He likes going it alone, and stated, “There’s a certain something to doing it all on my own.” I think he enjoys the peace and solitude of the farm just as much as he enjoys seeing his customers on market days.

Another one of the choices he’s glad he gets to make is being able to give extra produce to the food shelves in the area. In 2016 the farm donated 2,662 pounds of beautiful, Minnesota Grown veggies to the White Bear Area Emergency Food Shelf, and a similar amount to the Ralph Reeder Food Shelf of New Brighton. That’s a few heads of fresh and local broccoli that went to our neighbors in need! Thank you Don and Shari!

If you’re interested in seeing a vegetable farm up close and personal, Don has shown others around for a nominal fee based on availability. He showed me how to wrap a cauliflower (below) so I can try to grow my own next year 🙂 and I still have things to look up from our time together.

I mean, this is the guy who gets spinach to winter over so it shoots out of the ground before anything else, I’m going to listen to his tips! Of course, like all smart businessmen, Don won’t tell a soul how he gets the spinach to grow or which seed variety he uses. And I have to say; good for you Don, I think you’ve earned this one!

My youngest, picking out his cucumber from Farmer Don, aka “The Veggie Bear”

After visiting Heinel Farm and seeing all the flourishing veggies, it gave me a little push to figure out ways to grow happier veggies in my own garden- and to know which ones I’ll leave to the experts.

Either way, I can’t wait to dig into the summer surplus flooding our farmer’s markets from farms just like Don and Shari’s!

Michelle

Forks’ Weekend Spread: July!

Twin Cities farm & foodie fans, here we go again with an over the top summer weekend overflowing with possibilities. And this time, I’ll be here to partake in the farm fresh tastes, sounds and celebrations! Time to jump on this hay wagon and enjoy the ride 🙂

July 15: Eat Local Co-op Farm Tour 

The barn doors are wide open. Twin Cities co-ops have gathered 27 of their hard-working farmers together to open their farms, fields, milking rooms etc. to you for the day. Use this Farm Tour guide to map out your self guided tour and see which farms have special activities, music, even samples that match your interest. This is a great FREE way to let your kid milk their first cow, see actual farm work being done, pull their first carrot and talk to farmers about how they farm. Be ready to stock up on farm fresh produce-right from the farm! Last year my boys and I experienced a great sense of community at Big River Farms,  along with a great wagon ride, samples and music. We bought a few things that had been picked right from the fields we toured. This year they’ve added a little something extra with pollinators! I remember it as one of best days with my boys last summer.

Wagon riders at last year’s Big River Farms’ tour day.

Tips: Wear farm appropriate clothing (farm boots, sun hat), bring along some bug spray, a cooler for things you buy and a lunch if you want. Learn from my mistake last summer! Print out a google map, because these are RURAL farms, you may lose service once you’re on the road!

Stay up to the minute and Follow on Facebook. TC.Farm (also featured below in the Tullibee Butcher Dinner) went the extra acre this year and created their own guide; which looks awesome!

Details: 10am-4pm. 31 locations across the extended metro area.

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