The Power of Pushing Through

Some may not believe it, but I was very shy when I was a kid. When I was very little, people wondered if I spoke at all because my older brother, Corey, spoke for me. I would whisper to him what I wanted and he voiced my needs.

Today I have no problem speaking what’s on my mind, although one may rightfully argue that I have a challenge filtering the running monologe in my head. However, I’ve found that there’s real power in articulating a vision. Paint a picture of the world you want to see then go about making it happen. If others jump on board, great. If not, you just created a long to-do list.

My reflection today comes from our move of the co-op to downtown Detroit Lakes. I never knew that so many would respond to a vision of relocating and upgrading a small retail space. I first shared this vision with our dedicated board of six people, but, in time, I’ve spoken with hundreds directly and communicated the plan to thousands by newsletter, press releases, you name it.

unloading a truckI’d like to think that farming has prepared me for this task of bringing an idea to fruition, after all, that’s really what farming is all about. We plan a season, start it, and then push on it like crazy til fall. If a produce season is a flight, some years it ends up a crash landing, but we always get to the destination. In the early years of Lida Farm, I did a lot of this pushing alone as Mar was feeding babies. I remember well one April day planting onions in the mud with a hand dibble when the sky turned rain to sleet or how my arm ached after a day of drilling holes through steel to build our first greenhouse. Those first years were a series of me throwing tools, cursing at projects, and getting jacked enough on coffee to pound through yet another harvest day. It was a struggle. Well, it still is some weeks. The moral of the story, however, is that neighbors, customers, and members responded to our striving. Maybe they just had pity on us and threw us some dollars to give us hope, but, really, I think people respond to a genuine and honest effort at building something. It’s human nature.

This expansion and relocation of a cooperative, however, is not a solo act. The effort needs many more people, but the process remains the same as a farm season. Plan it, start it, and push on it as best as you can. This weekend we logged about 12 hours moving grocery equipment and the joyful part for me is how other board members pitched in. Just like farming, it feels good sitting down with your crew after a couple of hours of physical labor. You see the tangible result and it builds a camaradarie that’s deeply meaningful. Look, we’re getting somewhere. We’re building something together. Doesn’t this feel good?

What heartens me so much is that hundreds have now contributed to our efforts and thrown in their support. It isn’t just me planting onions by myself in the sleet. Again, people respond to a genuine and honest effort at building something. It may appear like straight up toil to others, but, for me, I find real joy in honest work. At this point as I sit here writing, I feel very grateful for those who have responded to our work and my fellow workers. It’s been a great ride and we have some miles yet to travel.

In the box:

  • Couple Ears of Sweet Corn: I’m really pushing my luck on this stuff…very young, but I know people are excited so I did my best to find a couple approaching ripe stage
  • Tomatoes
  • Cabbage
  • Broccoli: Sorry not the prettiest – broccoli doesn’t hold well in that crazy heat we had all last week.
  • Green Onions
  • Beans 
  • Bunch of Beets
  • Zucchini: Makin’ a comeback

Mid-Season Discipline or Lack Thereof?

Have you ever had a project that you never got to? A task that forever sat on your to-do list? Well, I think I have about 48 of those items right now.

The big one in terms of the farm is planting fall brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower). They SHOULD have been in the ground about two weeks ago but we hit monsoon season and I’m stuck…it’s impossible when the whole farm is giant mud puddle. The poor plants are in their trays, looking worse by the day, and I’m waiting and waiting for a time when the ground is dry enough to prepare the ground. Throw in a weedy carrot bed, about a dozen crops that need planting, and trellising the tomatoes, it’s kind of driving me crazy.

John and I at farm standThis is a situation where I, as my dad liked to say, “need to buckle down.’ Isn’t that such a dad phrase? Time to buckle down…enough screwing around, just get it done. Well, mid-July is definately like this. We call it the ‘heart of darkness’ where the deeper you get, the harder it gets, until we reach August when we just stop caring about weeds. In this time, a person needs to find that last reserve of energy and combine it with just a litle discipline to turn a corner. I always have a reserve of energy-that’s not a problem-so I concluded this morning that two weeks of focused attention and discipline will take me where I need to go. The provibial ‘buckling down’ has begun. Let’s see if I can make some headway.

Logistical note: I have started to sell on Friday evenings at the co-op in DL from 4-7 pm. I am at the current location, but will transition downtown at some point between now and the fall.

In the box:

  • ‘Farao’ Cabbage
  • ‘Imperial’ Broccoli
  • ‘Provider’ Green Beans: See recipe below.
  • Salad Mix
  • Cucumbers
  • Green Onions
  • Cherry Tomato Mix
  • Basil 
  • Parsley

Heat, Swimming, and Coffee

I don’t know what your routine is in the heat of the summer, but we try to find balance between work and rest.

This isn’t an easy task. We could easily find work from 6 am to dark every day. If I did so for more than a week, I’m sure you’d find me dead in a ditch somewhere – deceased due to a combination of exhaustion, dehydration, and heart failure.

But we do find little summer rituals to break the heat.

kids at beachI’ve been a coffee break person for a long time. It started when I was an apprentice at Foxtail Farm. There we’d break midmorning about 10:30 and eat graham crackers and peanut butter in the barn with strong coffee – I was on coffee break when I heard about the twin towers on 9/11. The daily ritual let our bodies reset in mid summer and the caffeine charged us enough to actually get anything done in the fall. Farm motivation typically falls as the season progresses. At Lida Farm, coffee break is somewhere between 2-3 pm. Strong coffee always, sometimes graham crackers, sometimes we sit on the kitchen deck if the sun isn’t too strong.

Another pastime about 3-4 days a week is the end-of-day swim. This is usually precipitated by my son, Graham, who will ask you about every 20 minutes to go swimming. We really have no excuse not to – the beach on Lake Crystal is a 3 minute drive from our house. Lately, however, we’ve been frequenting the Vergas City Beach. There’s a dock to jump off of and it’s a fun community of all the people who are visiting and residents too poor to have their own cabin. Fargo day-trippers, my fellow farming neighbors, and neighbors from Pelican all mingle at the Vergas Beach.

Yesterday we burned over there at 7 pm after 3 hours of mulching. Covered in alfalfa and chaffy dirt caked with sweat, I hurled myself off the dock at full speed, jumping over the head of Gustavo’s kids from Pelican. That’s about all I needed. I resurfaced, floated on my back about 3 minutes, and then sat down with a gin and tonic I mixed in the back seat of our car. Sitting on the bench in the pavilion, drink in hand, George Harrison’s ‘What is Life’ played on my phone. All was right in the world.

In the box:

  • Mixed Cherry Tomatoes
  • Snap Peas
  • Kale 
  • Red and Green Lettuce: These are not as pretty as I’d like since we had some minor hail and pounding rains of last week.
  • Cucumbers
  • Napa Cabbage
  • Tropea Torpedo Spring Onion

Again, the oddball in my mind is the Napa – check out the video below:

The Power Playlist

I’m always telling people that growing produce commercially is simply a head game. Success has everything to do with one’s ability to stay on task and charge throught the many small jobs that make up a day-in-the-life of a produce farmer. No single task takes a lot of time or is really that difficult, but I need to pound through dozens and dozens of items a day just to stay even and not drown in a tidal wave of weeds and substandard crops.

ec339-earbudsThis is where the power playlist comes in. After I woke up yesterday, I did my usual routine – water, yoga, coffee – good combination right? Feeling sluggish and a bit overwhelmed, I was inspired to make a playlist in Apple Music I aptly named ‘Kicking Butt.’ I recalled my playlist of about 6 years ago of the same name and remembered some solid days of making things happen on the farm. I told myself, yes, this is the medicine you need right now, Ryan.

So, I started downloading songs and albums like crazy – The Who, MGMT, Stringsteen, even the Bellamy Brothers. I found power ballads, super-charged electronica, and even some hiphop. After a good hour of tinkering, I set out to give it a try.

Armed with my DeWitt Hoe, I hit play and the end of a row of weedy winter squash as Anderson Paak’s ‘Come Down’ hit my ears with the world’s best bassline for a warm up. Next, came Nivarna’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ at 8 in the morning, followed by ‘Angel from Montgomery,’ ‘Let Your Love Flow,’ and ‘Rock the Casbah.’ Running the risk of sounding like the Time Life infomercial, the hits just kept on coming: Lisztomania, Paper Planes, Barb O’Riley, Atlantic City (The Band version), Beast of Burden, Maggie May, Timber, and Like a Rolling Stone.

Out of breath and sweating in the humid July heat, I wondered why people buy gym memberships. An Apple Music subscription and a $40 hoe and a person can actually make money 🙂 I’d say the list needs a little fine tuning over the season – I’ll work on the abrupt transitions from a Rolling Stones number to ‘Blurred Lines’ but we have a good start.

In the box:

  • Snap Peas: Don’t shell these things – edible pod.
  • Radishes
  • Cucumbers
  • Zucchini
  • A few garlic scapes
  • Westlander Kale
  • Green Leaf lettuce or salad mix