It’s been a great growing week over the last five days or so. I always worry about those things which are planted, but just need some more heat and light to ripen and get ready for the box. Although a lot of those melons are still not ripe, at least the late corn seems to be coming along and you’ll see some this week. Also there are those “fall crops” which we plant in July or so which I’m always worried about…fall lettuce, spinach, carrots, turnips, broccoli, and cabbage. I get worried because the fall can be so fickle; it can be so cold and wet that a lot of those crops just don’t finish in time and that just drives me crazy! We did all the work to bring the crop along, but mother nature just didn’t get the memo about our plan. This weather sure helps, so I expect some of those greens to make it next week, namely salad mix and arugula.
The other news I’m really excited about is the completion of the farm stand. It turned into one of those summer projects which had so many details that I just couldn’t bring myself to finish it off. Kind of like an afghan or something you started…”boy, this is going to be nice, but I know I’m going to have to put in another 40 hours to finish it.” Kind of kills your motivation, especially if a bunch of other things are consuming your time.
Still, it was a bunch of work. My father-in-law and I had it all framed in late July, but I still had to level out a place to sit it on as well as put on the tin roof and back wall. You see, since we have one of those raised driveways, I had to dig in a retaining wall and fill in an area to make it somewhat level…otherwise the stand would have sat at a 45% angle—not good. Mar and I spend a couple nights this week collecting big rocks from our pasture and our neighbor’s land. Along the way we even had a medical emergency since Will got carried away with throwing rocks out of the wagon and beaned his sister with a rock the size of my fist…not cool! Anyway, at the end of the rock-hauling project, it was just me, a diesel tractor, a 700-pound farm stand on skids, and a few chains. When I get into these “farm engineering” projects, I just can’t help dreaming up scenarios where the farm stand is completely destroyed, the tractor starts on fire, or I’m fatally wounded. I had similar visions when we were moving the walk in cooler in the machine shed. Luckily, I dodged another bullet to tell you all about it.
Now that the stand is at the end of our driveway, we just need to put on some finishing touches like a sign and a lock box as well as get the word out (which may not be too hard since we had our first customer come by looking for produce 90 minutes after pulling it in place). But this is the easy and fun part and we’re sure to have things up and running by Sunday. Our plan is to have the stand open Friday-Sunday for sure.
The big news on the farm this week was the patchy frost which came in Tuesday morning. I was outside watching it make its way across the grass when I got up early to do some things before work. It’s tough to watch for me, of course, because I’m deluding myself in thinking it’s still summer…which it’s not. It was only a matter of time till it came, but it always gets me mad anyway. The great saving grace was that it had rained the day before, so plants and veggies were wet enough that the damage was minimal. What happened is that the cold temperatures put a very thin protective coating of ice on the fruit instead of the frost directly, which leaves the fruit undamaged. It’s a curious thing…why wouldn’t the ice damage the fruit? I don’t know, but I’m glad it happened that way. Basically we lost the tops of some eggplant plants which sat in the lowest part of our fields, which is no big deal at all.
Otherwise, the other big news is that Sylvia went to her first day of school ever on Wednesday. Granted it’s only preschool, which lasts 3 hours of something, but it’s still a big step…maybe more so for the parents than Sylvie herself. Just another sign that summer is over. Oh well…
Last week, after a very good market day in Detroit Lakes, all of us went down to St. Paul to stay with Maree’s relatives. We had tickets to a concert on Harriet Island on Monday and we had plans to check out the state fair as well as attend our nephew’s second birthday in Red Wing.
The problem with a farmers market is that you have to wake up early, harvest like crazy people for four hours, and then race off to the farmers market to frantically set up and sell produce for another four hours. Last Saturday was so busy we had a line up of a dozen people or so even before we had things on the table…pretty nuts and it kept up that way for a good three hours. Needless to say we were a bit tired, so much so that we bagged the idea of going to the Fair on Sunday. Fighting crowds and walking for miles on end didn’t sound like a real relaxing time to a family with no energy, and, although we really like fair food, it’s not really good food.
So, instead, we decided to check out a place in South Minneapolis called Common Roots Café for lunch. I’ve heard about the place through a sustainable ag listserve since they host a monthly local foods happy hour there for interested foodie-types. I’ve found this one of the best examples of what I call the “alternative local economy” based on local production, connecting people to growers and each other, and fair trade. The restaurant currently source 87% of their food from local sources and pays their entire staff a living wage (which start at $11/hour in MPLS), and, beyond that, they have created a comfortable place where the quality of the food comes before quantity and speed (fast food). It’s a place where people are expected to slow down, talk to their neighbors, and celebrate good food…more of this is needed in this world! This experience, of course, got me thinking about what is possible in our own region of the state.
When I first started as a farm apprentice at Foxtail Farm by Taylors Falls in 2000, there were only a handful of CSAs in Minnesota and pretty much all of them were in the vegetable belt around the twin cities. Even there we pretty much felt like the fringe of society since it seemed like only those crunchy people who hung out a local food coops were talking about local foods and organics. But now the tide has really turned. Many people are searching out farms like our because they not only want fresh produce, but they are pulled to this local alternative economy where people are people and not just consumers, where you can get to know the person who grows your food, where your dollars can stick around and support your community…connections you will not find at your nearest Walmart. So, when I see how the twin cities local foods community has matured in eight years, I imagine where we will be in eight years ourselves… Will there be common roots café in our neck of the woods? Will local cut flowers be available down the street? How about local grains? Local beer? I don’t know about you, but I’m optimistic.