Tag: local food (page 1 of 2)

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

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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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

Crispy Crunchy Dilly Beans

You had me at Crispy.

This recipe is why I fell in love with canning. I was a veggie virgin when it came to home preserving, only having canned jams and jellies before. I fell hard for these crispy pods packed with flavor that make you pucker up and smile at the same time.

This was a recipe that I first found online years ago and have played with it and made it my own, but there are probably tons of recipes similar or exactly like this already out there.

I add more of certain spices; dill, garlic or pepper flakes to different jars as I go along knowing that certain family and friends who get jars have certain taste preferences… like my parents, who like them heavy on the dill- or my boys who like the garlic kicked up a few notches. This is one of the reasons I LOVE home canning; you need to follow the recipe’s basic vinegar to produce ratios and processing times- but there is so much room for playing with spices and crafting something specifically for someone :-)!

One thing I have learned the hard way year after year is one of the keys to this recipe is NOT boiling the jars to process- but a steady simmer for 10 minutes. If you get them going with a hard boil (like most hot water canning calls for) you’ll end up with tasty dilly beans- but they won’t hold their crispness. And crunching into a crispy green bean in winter that tastes like it was picked yesterday is a big part of why I make these.

The most time consuming part of this recipe is getting all those beans to fit into the jars. I use a combo of tall jelly jars, wide mouth pint jars and big old quart jars, just make sure the boiling water bath is at least 2 inches above the tallest jar when processing and you’re good to go.

Dilly Beans

Ingredients:

2-3 pounds of FRESH green beans 

4 Cups White Vinegar

4 Cups Water

½ Cup Canning Salt

Garlic Cloves: 1 clove (or more) for each jar plus at least one for the brine to boil)

Dill: enough for a few sprigs of leaves and one head in each jar (or more)

Red pepper flakes: Use as desired, a little goes a long way!

Directions:

Sterilize 6 (1/2 pint) jars with rings and lids. Trim green beans to 1/4 inch shorter than your jars. Add 1 clove of garlic, sprig of dill and sprinkle of red pepper flakes to each jar. Pack green beans into the jars as tight as possible standing on their ends. (this is the tedious part)

In a large saucepan, stir together the vinegar, water and salt and one clove of garlic and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Ladle the boiling brine into the jars, filling to within 1/4 inch of the tops. Discard boiled garlic. Seal jars with lids and rings. Place in a hot water bath so they are covered by 1 inch of water. Simmer but do not boil for 10 minutes to process. If using Quart sized of jars, please add 3 minutes to the processing time. Cool to room temperature. Test jars for a good seal by pressing on the center of the lid. It should not move. Refrigerate any jars that do not seal properly, those will last for 2-3 months if kept refrigerated. Let pickles hang out for 2 to 3 weeks before eating to absorb the brine.

Dilly Beans Two Ways: Left = Vinegar/processed/shelf stable Right = Fermented/Sour/Refrigerator

As for my new passion with fermented foods, I am making more of the Fermented version of Dilly beans this summer too. I followed (as much as I ever follow recipes) the Cultures for Health Recipe found HERE . This website has so many awesome looking recipes it will take me a few seasons to make them all, but I love a good challenge!

Here’s an earlier recipe post on Sweet Zucchini Relish,   and one on Fermented pickles  you know just in case you’ve gone crazy like me.

Do you have another favorite pickling recipe? I love to try new things , actually I’m quite addicted to this pickling thing, so spread the word my way for the love of the pickle.

Dig in & Crunch away!

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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Secrets to Shopping Success at Farmer’s Markets

Dig In Deep at the Farmer’s Market

An early season market haul 🙂

I’ll admit it, my first few trips to the farmer’s market were pretty much like trips to a grocery store. Most of us are just not used to shopping directly from IRL farmers. While I can respect shopping a farmer’s market like a grocery store (you’ll still get super-fresh, tasty, nutritious foods) …for me, part of the Farmer’s Market experience is being able to connect with the farmers. I’m looking to knock out a few chains in the old food chain by visiting. And then there’s the plain old fact that the food tastes phenomenal! Sometimes even better than even your own home-grown produce, I mean these people are the pros after all. Through the last decade I’ve gathered some tips to help you make the most of your market visit.

Ask Away!I get it- at first asking questions can be a weird thing; maybe we’re too “Minnesota Nice”, or maybe we’re just not used to being able to ask anything about our food. But really, isn’t getting closer to ‘Farm to Table’ eating why you’re at the Farmer’s Market? Don’t be worried about offending a farmer by asking them why their farm isn’t certified organic; you’ll learn so much about the how and why of their farming techniques you can’t help but feel good about eating it.

Here are some questions to get you started:

“Where is your farm?”
“When was this picked?”
“Do you use organic methods?”
 “Any new crops coming next week?”

These questions should get most farmers going! They’ve worked hard to grow and bring this food to market, their name and livelihood is dependent upon people caring enough to buy the food they grow again and again (another 180 from the supermarket).

White Bear Lake Farmers Market 2017

Use your powers of observation
“There’s visual evidence behind the display table to give you big clues to how the farmer handles their food,” that’s a tip straight from a farmer who’s been selling at markets for almost 30 years. Continue reading

Forks’ Weekend Spread: June

Another Minnesota Summer is in full bloom with the rain + heat doing their thing for the plants (and in spite of the nasty storms)! Get out there and make hay while the sun is shining. This line up of Twin Cities Metro area farm and food offerings over the upcoming weekend has something for everyone; not to mention the Famer’s Markets… But you guys, we’re missing All The Things because we’re heading out of town! I’m sending out this post of amazing-ness in hopes others can enjoy them and that I may live vicariously through you all 🙂 Seriously though, what a great weekend to live in the Twin Cities!

June16
Gibbs ‘Farm Fridays’ (for the family)

Gibbs Demonstrations – Ice Cream Making

This a unique farm experience for so many reasons; it’s nestled on the edge of the city and it showcases both pioneer and Dakota ways of life and gardening side by side. Farm Fridays feature weekly themes. They pack so much into their space, with the bonus of super friendly, knowledgeable staff in full pioneer garb. My kids are never sure how to talk with these costumed people, which adds to our quirky memories. This Friday we’re missing “Dakota Moons”, which (I think) is about planting with the moon; someone tell me what I missed! Gibbs Farm is open weekends too, with ‘Ice Cream Sundays’ featuring their homemade ice cream, on, you guessed it- Sundays.

Full disclosure* This place has been a favorite of mine since I had my birthday party here; we made corn husk dolls (like 30 years ago)!

Details: Admission: $8 adults, $7 seniors 62+, $5 children ages 4-16. Free for RCHS members.
2097 W. Larpenteur Ave. Saint Paul, MN 55113 There is local road construction so plan accordingly.

June 17
Breakfast on the Farm – (for the family)

I have not been to Goldview Farm, but I so wish I was going to this event! Start with a pancake breakfast fit for a farm hand; pancakes, sausage, coffee, milk with all proceeds above cost going to their local Food Shelf! (you know we love that) Then, check out the rest of the farm buildings and animals along with special events like: Wagon rides, FFA (Future Farmers of America) petting zoo, kiddie train rides, live music and free food samples. How could you not leave happier?
Details:  7am – 1pm, $5 (kids 5 and under are free) for the breakfast, the rest of the activities are free!
Goldview Farm- Waverly, MN 55390 – South of Howard Lake on County Rd 6 (directions)
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Ode to Asparagus

Delicious spears

I’ll admit it, I’ve been obsessing over asparagus. One of the first veggies to appear in Minnesota each year, these delicacies have a unique flavor that stand alone + plays well with others. These beauties are also packed with powerful nutrition and their season is short, so let’s get right down to business.

Buy or Grow?

The cute little bundles of asparagus hanging out in their wading pools of water in the supermarkets can be hit or miss when it comes to taste and texture.

Tip: Always look for tight buds at the top; once the flowers start unfurling, a chemical to strengthen the plants gets released and makes for woody stalks.

 

It Comes from Where?

Recently there’s been a big shift in supermarket asparagus, so it more than likely comes from outside the U.S., namely Mexico and Peru. Between NAFTA and the California drought, it has been tough for U.S. growers. (I am not wading into political waters, just sharing what I’ve been reading.) “It is, you see, a uniquely labor-intensive crop to grow,” according to Cherie Watte, executive director of the California Asparagus Commission, in this interesting article, “75 percent of the production cost of asparagus derives from labor.”

A few days too far gone.

These tender little treats are 5X more perishable than lettuces, making timing important when you’re adding in shipping around the globe.

Add that asparagus really does rocket out of the ground, from under the dirt to full-grown in one day during peak growing conditions. That means skilled pickers have to be constantly picking asparagus stalks for the 6-8 week season. (I wonder what those skilled laborers do the other 44 to 46 weeks of the year?)

The spears are then sorted by size; Swiss folks like the fattest stalks (they know their stuff!) with lessening sizes sorted for different countries. Americans prefer the slimmest stalks. We only see the uniform skinniest spears of the harvest. Which makes me feel so much better about my asparagus patch. I get all shapes and sizes there, all tender and delicious. Wondering what was wrong with my asparagus because of its variations in size is like wondering what’s wrong with ourselves if we don’t all look like the models in magazine…but I digress.

Large scale growers who export internationally require expensive automated machinery to make it profitable, right down to a huge cutter that gets them all the same length for shipping and according to this article, “The boxes are then loaded into a hydrocooler, which bathes them for five minutes in cold, chlorinated water containing food-grade citric acid. This is done to kill any pathogens the asparagus may have picked up in the field or during handling.” Well, hmmm, I’d rather just wash them at home thank you very much. Then those boxes put on THOUSANDS of miles in an airplane. There must be a simpler way, like… Continue reading

Mhonpaj’s Organic Garden Farm

 

These women just had to be my first ‘full on’ farmer interview. They have helped my kids fall deeper in love with many veggies, they’re the only certified organic farmer at our local White Bear Lake Farmer’s Market and they are a great example of giving back and educating their own community.

Let’s back up, shall we so you too can fall head over heels with Mhonpaj’s Garden (pronounced mon-pahs).

May is the head farmer, and Mhonpaj, her daughter is the farm manager; their care and love for each other is mirrored in the farm. “She’s my shining star,” Mhonpaj says of her mother.

When I walked into their greenhouse up in Marine on the St. Croix I was hit by two things; May’s smile and the amazing smell.

May at her greenhouse

May’s smile is positively contagious, and the smell of warm earth was heaven after the cold snap mother nature had thrown at us. ( fingers crossed for no more frost!). If you’ve ever taken a stroll through a commercial vegetable greenhouse, or even a floral greenhouse, you’ll remember the smell of chemical fertilizers clinging to you.

In May’s greenhouse, only rich, pleasant organic soil smells wafted by…

May came to Minnesota in 1981, a refugee from Laos. She spent many years picking produce in the summers and assisting farms. Then she watched her mother, who had picked in fields while pesticides were being sprayed the next row over, lose her battle with cancer. At one point the doctors asked if May’s mother had eaten pesticides the cancer in her intestines was so bad.  Deeply affected by the loss, both May and Mhonpaj were determined to do things differently moving forward.

Mhonpaj’s experiences around food lead her to a degree in Health Education/Health Fitness. It was during a college trip to Thailand where she saw their practices of sustainable agriculture that she became hooked.

Around the same time Mhonpaj’s fiancé (now husband) took a position as the SE Asian coordinator at the Minnesota Food Association (MFA). He suggested her parents look at MFA because of their love of farming. May enrolled and took the 4-year organic farming program. The program included everything you need to know to become a certified organic farmer in Minnesota. They teach hands-on techniques, technical support, record keeping and marketing.

starting a second planting of green onions

10 years later they are organically farming 6 acres and *almost* making their livings from farming. They rent 4 acres at MFA, and feel lucky to have access to that certified organic land with irrigation, deer fencing and available tillage – all the costly infrastructure pieces that constrain many other farmers from getting started. They also rent and farm a 2-acre parcel in Stillwater.

I got a chance to speak with Laura Hedeen, programs manager at MFA about May. “Everyone values her expertise so much, her knowledge is evident when she teaches,” Laura said. May has been mentoring farmers informally for years, and now is in her third season as an official staff member of MFA, teaching organic farming to immigrant farmers.   “She teaches visually, and her techniques are really efficient, we’re lucky to have her help,” Laura added. Then Laura filled me in on a long and impressive list of speaking and teaching engagements ( MOSES Organic Farming Conference speaker, Keynote Speaker at the Immigrant and Minority Farmers Conference, children’s groups, farmers groups etc) that, of course, May didn’t see the need to share.

“Organic farming and gardening, it’s not just a technique, it’s a lifestyle,” was Mhonpaj’s immediate response to my asking if the organic piece was really ‘that’ important to her. Next she said, “what you’re putting into your body matters; what the vegetable comes with, I mean what they put on them, is just as important as the nutrition inside the veggies.”  So yes, people- this family is ‘all in’ on growing organic.

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