Farming = hip and creative

We often associate creativity with urban settings. We picture uber-cool designer types whose days criss-cross between open floorplan offices and a bunch a hipster coffee shops. If I was searching out a bunch of coders and graphic designers, I’d seach places like Seattle, Chicago, or Uptown MPLS. But farm country?

Wormfarm
Farm/Art DTour  in Rural Wisconsin – Wormfarm Institute

I’d argue that this urban image is much too narrow and there is no greater plalatte for creativity than farming. On any given day I have about twelve ideas that I have no time to implement from new cover cropping strategies to ways to add value to veggies in season. Starting up a pizza farm? Engineering another root cellar for dry crops? How about a tool to get plastic tight on greenhouses? This wide range of needs makes farming so damn interesting. Every day I need to juggle biology and business to make the place work, and, oh, troubleshoot some IT issues, write a bit, and learn about some new plant disease or bug.

What I find inspiring is that you can find this rural creative class of farmers in small towns all over. While some are deep into new composting methods and others are testing recipes for market or organizing on-farm accomodations, all are adding to this good energy of rural communities. I’d love it if the rest of the country would stop pinning us as simple-minded dolts and wake up to the notion that you do not need to be in New York or LA to find smart people doing interesting stuff. Some of them may even kiss Uptown goodbye and pack up for beatiful Otter Tail County to join the scene where all the cool kids are.

In the box:

  • Red Kuri Squash
  • Butternut Squash
  • Delicata Squash: I’m such a fan of stuffed squash this time of year. You basically just make stuffing however you like it and bake in the squash. This works great with acorn, delicata, buttercup, or kuri: https://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-make-stuffed-roasted-squash-cooking-lessons-from-the-kitchn-101662
  • Carrots 
  • Parsnips: The white carrots 🙂
  • Russet Potatoes
  • Rosemary 
  • Salad Mix
  • Celery
  • Haralson Apples: This is a good cooking apple which makes a nice apple sauce. We quarter, add water, and put through one of those cone things when soft. Add cinnamon.
  • Yellow Onions
  • ‘Montana Giant’ Garlic

 

 

Is Farming a Lifestyle or Business?

I’ve had a number of people remark that they admire our lifestyle. They like that we work closely with nature, instill work ethic into our kids, and serve a higher purpose. In today’s world where most of us earn a living by moving pixels around a screen and selling bits of information to each other from identically-sized cubicles, I totally understand the sentiment. At times I feel adrift myself and the idea of farming seems straightforward and tangible.

Me Graham and Lamb
Graham and I with newborn lamb, 2012

But there’s definitely a tension between making a living and farm living. I know many farm operators who are barely making it, or losing money every year but they carry on all the same. It’s been an age-old question: Is farming a business or a lifestyle? Tough call., but one thing I know for sure is that you cannot farm and NOT make it your lifestyle. It’s all encompassing.

There hasn’t been a day in the past 14 years that I haven’t thought about the farm in one way or another. The daily drama of the farm just becomes your life and farm moments becomes family milestones. I’ve measured years in relation to when we got our milk cow and when the tractor rolled down the hill and busted out the side of the barn. These are the highs and lows that imprint in your mind and I’d say that farms supply these moments in greater frequency than town life. Almost knocking down the barn – yup, making memories! The daily pattern of work also sets the pace for life. There are times when we must frantically get together the CSA shares and others when I just sit back on my heels and leisurely watch trumpeter swans take off from the pond. If a person can make some money along the way, all the better. Still, farming gives so much material that one cannot help but live a full life if they are paying attention at all.

In the box:

  • Eggplant: With zucchini and onion in the box, you are pretty close to ratatouille 
  • Carrots
  • Sweet Red Bell Pepper
  • Anaheim Peppers: These are long, slender peppers and hot – one green, one red.
  • A Few Tomatoes: Pretty sure these are the last of the season, so savor them.
  • Bunch of Cilantro
  • A Little Lettuce
  • Bok Choy or Swiss Chard: I was short on boc choy, so Fergus and Pelican people are getting chard…maybe that’s a relief or a huge disappointment, I don’t know. For boc choy, check out this garlicy bok choy recipe. 
  • Red Onion
  • Buttercup Squash
  • Spaghetti Squash
  • Rutabaga: Yes, some of these are huge! The Food Network roasts them in this recipe but I always just put in with a roast in oven or crock pot or in something like a beef stew.
  • Zucchini: Most of you got yellow zucchini (don’t worry, use exactly the same as green).

From Apprentice to Married Farmer

I got my routine all thrown off (hence, you are getting a newsletter about a day late), but all for a good reason. A wedding.

For those of you who have been CSA members or associated with the farm for a while, you know that Kelsey Wulf was our apprentice for four years. We worked side-by-side for 10- and 12-hour days where we talked pretty much every detail of life. Kelsey lived on-farm in the intern house attached to the winter greenhouse year-round and she became part of our family. So, I took great pride in being part of the bridal party this past weekend at her and Ben Anderson’s wedding near Brainerd. No bridesmaid’s dress – I got to dress up 1960’s mafia-style with the thin black tie. Kelsey's Wedding

 

Kelsey’s always been a livestock person and she and Ben just purchased a farm near Underwood, which they promptly filled up with critters. Now milking a cow and caring for more animals than I’d want to plus a gazillion other inspired farm projects (including Kelsey’s farm-raised balms, salves, and lotions called Bea’s Botanicals – check out and buy often at her website), Kelsey and Ben are in much the same headspace as when we first moved to Lida Farm. It makes me tired to think about it, but at one time we had the same zeal and energy to turn a farm into our own. I can think of no better project for newlyweds than building a life together on a piece of ground.

In the box:

  • Tomato Mix
  • Italia Sweet Peppers: Long red peppers. A lot of people think that they are hot, but they are sweet.
  • Yellow or Orange Pepper
  • Cippolini Onions: These are my favorite onion. Yes, they are flat and kind of hard to deal with, but I think the flavor is great.
  • Snacking Pepper Mix: These little multi-colored peppers are a variety called Bangles. I find them really pretty and maybe a nice change-up if you’re just looking for something to munch on. They could stuff them for fancy appetizers…add some cheese and bacon: https://belleofthekitchen.com/2016/02/26/cheesy-bacon-stuffed-mini-peppers/ 
  • Cabbage: I admit that I really stretched to get this in the box. Some are small, some of you got half of a head. A bad planting two months ago came back to haunt me.
  • A Little Lettuce
  • Yellow Satina Potatoes
  • Acorn Winter Squash
  • Buttercup Winter Squash
  • Flat Leaf Parsley 
  • Fresh Thyme
  • A Couple Radishes

Who Labored to Feed You?

Well, another Labor Day is upon us. The holiday was started by the labor movement to celebrate workers. Lately, however, we take it as an extra day to labor ourselves. Many people will be out building decks or mowing their lawns today. Many more will grill some hot dogs or burgers and worry about getting the kids up for the first day of school tomorrow (I know that I’m worried about getting into that routine!).

I’m the son of a tradesman (my dad was a 30-year member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW)) and I’d like us to keep some of the original intent of labor day alive and consider the place of workers today, especially in agriculture.

Lately I’ve felt that we really admire farmers. We respect that they work long hours and work with the land. They have strong family values and practically live in some all-American fantasy that we aspire to. You see, I’m the farmer and I get all these accolades and I highly appreciate the kind words people have for our lifestyle and business.

Today, this labor day, please think about all those other hands that bring food to the table who do not get one ounce of respect for what they do. I grew up in East Grand Forks when it took teams of people with hoes to thin beets. These migrant families were commonly slandered for being lazy, on welfare, or thieves. Did we hold these views because they poor or just because they were Mexican? I didn’t see many white families getting up at dawn to work the fields. Closer to home today, I observe the same attitude about my neighbors who work the line at the turkey plant in Pelican Rapids.UFW image.jpg

Whether brown-skinned or white, food workers are totally undervalued because they are cogs in America’s low-margin, low-wage food industry that squeezes everybody in the supply chain to provide us cheap food. If you have read Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, you would know that the union efforts of Eastern and Central Europeans in Chicago made meatpacking a decent-paying job in the US. That’s totally not the case today. Whether meat or fruits and vegetables from the west coast, we have a workforce of immigrants whose fear of deportation gives employers ample room for exploitation. The most visible case lately has been the tomato pickers in Florida who earn less then 2 cents per pound harvested and endure terrible living conditions and sexual assault because the system has them over the barrel. Read about the challenges of ag workers here and here.

Well, I hope that I didn’t pull down your Labor Day with overwhelming guilt, but instead gave you some conversation points for today’s BBQ. We owe it to our forefathers who gave us Labor Day to, at the very least, continue the conversation about who benefits in the food and ag sectors and today’s workplace generally.

In the box:

  • Bunch of Carrots
  • Celery
  • Slicing Tomatoes
  • Onions
  • Rosemary
  • Norland Red Potatoes
  • A few Red Peppers
  • A couple Jalapeno Peppers
  • Cantaloupe 
  • A few Delicata Squash
  • Cilantro

Recipe Idea: Roasted Red Pepper Salsa  In this box are all the fixings to do this salsa or something very similar. The whole idea is to use the broiler in your oven to char the veggies a bit and then blend together for a salsa. I really dig this kind of salsa and the red peppers in this box are simply the best I’ve ever grown. Add the jalapeno if you like heat. Put the cilantro in after the blending if you like that flavor to freshen it up a bit. Get creative…