Tag: organic farming

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

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

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!

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!


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: 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

Growing Farmers Growing Food

Minnesota Food Association + Big River Farms

Just driving to this unique teaching farm makes my mouth water. Admittedly, that doesn’t take much, but the foods grown here are second to none and the farmers have a lot of fun along the way. Food integrity is deeply rooted in every choice made at the Minnesota Food Association and Big River Farms; plus they give one mean tractor ride! Come along and fall in love with this vital and idyllic farm on the outskirts of Marine on the St. Croix.

They grow organic food in a way that honors the land and engages marginalized people. This is truly a one of a kind place. Being a land-based training program focusing on immigrant and minority populations you could meet farmers from many distinct cultures just walking through their fields. The diversity within the program is seen as another strength which drives their mission:

To build a more sustainable food system based on social, economic and environmental justice through education, training and partnerships. 

Women run Big River Farms. From L to R, Danielle Piraino, Laura May Hedeen, Emily Squyres, Lebo Moore, Molly Schaus.

The education piece of their mission is achieved through their Farmer Training Programs . The training is a 3-4 year program starting with the basics in organic production and post-harvest handling moving up to whole farm management where farmers hone their marketing and business development. Classes are held in the evenings and on weekends to accommodate working adults. “There are currently 17 farm teams in the program, 11 of which are land-based at Big River Farms – the others have other land or are taking classes only, without using the land. There are 7 cultures represented in this group,” according to Laura Hedin, MFA program manager.

Interested in taking the next step in growing your inner farmer? Contact Laura at laura@mnfoodassociation.org.

With a deep and solid list of teaching staff like Molly Schaus, Farm Director and May Lee, former student (see my blog post about her farm HERE) the 90 acres of certified organic land is well planted, well rested in between use and always well loved.

Farm Plot Allocation Map. Planning time up front ensures land health in the long run.

The training program has led to several success stories over the years. Farmers like Rodrigo and Juan Carlos of Cala Farms who have found a great market in wholesaling. Or Moses and Rhona of Dawn to Dusk Farm who focus on Farmer’s Market sales. These and other MFA graduate farmers’ stories can be found on their Meet the Farmers page.

CSA Box of Vegetable Heaven.


Eat Out Of The Box
With all the care and devotion new farmers give to their crops you know the veggies placed into a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) produce box are going to be top notch! Add in certified organic food and competitive rates with other CSA farms and buying a CSA from Big River Farms is a natural choice. Their CSA program also supports many different farmers simultaneously. They can supply up to 200 shares for the season’s 16 weeks. That will help you eat your veggies and support immigrant farmer education at the same time. They have 12 drop locations around the Twin Cities. You are in luck, because there are still CSA shares available through May 31. Get your Big River CSA here. 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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