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.
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.
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.”
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 .
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. firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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.
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.
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 🙂