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…

 

The Great Season Change-over

After lumbering down the stairs in my usual under-dressed morning attire, I threw open the patio door to retrieve something from the cabin in the backyard. Cold air blasted me like I’d just stepped into an walk-in cooler. What happened? Is summer over?

Cold House.JPG
Cold House Planted to Greens, Fall 2017

Each August, autumn starts to find us. It starts with some cool nights, and, before you know it, frost. This morning’s insta-chill reminded me that I have to get to work on the great season change-over this week! The fall season is a great time to grow cool-season crops, but, due to the loss of sunlight and heat, it’s a tight window to get things planted with any hope of harvest. Those seeds planted in the ground this week have a fighting chance. In 10 days time, it’s hopeless.

The great season change-over entails us planting the last crops outside, preparing and planting our two high tunnels, and getting some cover crops started in the fields.

One of our high tunnels is currently filled with tomato and cucumber plants and will be our ‘cool house’ where we will heat just enough to keep the interior near freezing into December. This will allow us to move along cool-season greens, radishes, and the like without stressing them through cold. Our other high tunnel, on the other hand, is totally unheated and will be filled with cold-hearty spinach which survive just about anything. Last year our latest harvest was the middle of December and was super sweet after going down into the single digits. We cover the plants in this greenhouse with a floating row cover, which helps retain a few precious degrees as we head into snow territory.

The last couple of years I’ve fallen short of getting cover crops in place, but I’m committed this year. We use a standard rye and vetch mix which is very hardy in MN. It covers the ground so I don’t have wind erosion where the ground is exposed in the winter and it keeps the ground in place when spring rains come, all the while adding biomass and nitrogen to the soil. It’s an all-round good thing, but I just have to get it done.

This whole post is putting me on edge and making me feel like a squirrel who needs to store nuts really quickly…got to go! Lidafarmer over and out.

In the box:

    • A Few Ears of Silver King White Sweet Corn: This is the end of the line on the corn. I find this Silver King a nice change-up from sweet bi-color corn.
    • Cantaloupe
    • Eggplant: A lot of people suffer with finding a way to prepare eggplant. If you’re tired of eggplant parmesan or fried and breaded, try this baba ganoush dip (baba ganoush is also really fun to say).
    • Salad Mix
    • Cilantro
    • Yellow Onion
    • Shallots: These are small and pink in color. You can use where ever a recipe calls for an onion. Store like all onions, in a dry place at room temperature.
    • Carrots
    • Beets 
    • Anaheim Peppers
    • Colored Pepper
    • Tomato mix: Most are romas (best for saucing, not fresh eating) since they haven’t been in before, but you also received a regular slicing tomato and a Cherokee Purple, a wonderful heirloom.

 

 

Pigs and Compost

The mighty pig. Well-known for snorting, eating, and bestowing bacon on the masses.  These animals have not only earned these reputations, they manage to do even more! Now I’m running the risk of sounding like a late-night infomercial…”And if you buy now in three easy installments of $19.99, we’ll provide you with the pocket fisherman as a free gift…”


Honestly, we like to keep pigs because they are compost-making workhorses. On a vegetable farm there are always good-veggies-gone-bad and heaps of veggie biomass such as carrot tops we cut off. For any of you who pick up at farm, you may have spied these piles we leave behind as we race off to the dropsites on Monday. Hogs are able to convert these heaps of waste into useful manure that we turn into compost and spread on the fields for added fertility. The process of transforming an overgrown zucchini into fertilizer happens quicker when that zucchini goes first through the gut of an animal. Kind of gross, but true.

In addition, pigs love to root. In the back of our barn, we have these old piles of bedding and pigs like nothing more than to turn it over and over and over. Other farmers buy these machines which turn over biomass to make compost. We just have the pigs do it.

So, you can see why having a few hogs is a mutually beneficial relationship on the farm. They get to eat all they want and root around like pigs should. We employ their efforts to make compost and to recycle the farm’s byproducts. And, oh, we also get some meat to boot at the end of the year. Thank you, pigs.

In the box:

  • Yellow or Orange Watermelon
  • Leeks 
  • Red Onion 
  • Tomatoes 
  • Garlic 
  • Poblano Peppers: These are hot peppers, but typically less hot than a jalapeno.
  • Italia Pepper
  • One Colored Pepper: We have a mix of peppers turning color out there. Some are orange, some red, some yellow…all good.
  • Sweet Corn
  • Lettuce or Salad Mix: Just a sampling as my lettuce bed for this round was just not cooperating.
  • A Few Carrots
  • Fresh Thyme
  • Daikon Radish: Mar and I like this refrigerator pickle recipe, so no processing involved. Just follow the recipe and keep in the fridge until ready to use. You probably don’t have enough for the whole recipe, but you get the idea and adjust accordingly: https://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/vietnamese_daikon_and_carrot_pickles/

Hidden Roadside Gems

When you travel, do a seek out the independent business or the nearest franchise in a strip mall? I’m betting on the former.

We dreamed up the farm stand at the end of our driveway when on a fall trip to Vermont in 2005, inspired by all the classic wooden stands you find there. Mar and I loved traveling through the beautiful New England countryside adorned with white farmhouses and cows against the autumn backdrop of golds and reds. We drove on these windy roads transporting us from one quaint town to another, all the while discovering these roadside gems like a farm that pressed cider or a farmstead cheese operation.  The whole scene reminded us a lot of….well, Otter Tail County, minus the all the cool farm stands.

Farm stand 8.13.18Since we loved the authenticity and picturesque quality of the farm stands of New England, we decided to build one seven years ago and we have applied that same thinking to everything else that inspires us. Lida Farm is built on the idea that we should just do what we want to see in the world. The world needs good, organic food…let’s grow it. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a community event with food and music, let’s host a fall harvest party. Sauna, let’s build one. Raw milk, let’s get a cow. I know from talking to the many visitors to our area who come across our farm stand, that our stand now serves as their hidden gem when in lakes country and I’d like to think our local community is just a little bit richer from our efforts.

WARNING: TOTAL RANT BY RYAN. My biggest frustration in life is talk about how all the cool stuff happens somewhere else and we are just worthless consumers who have no agency and no means of changing ourselves. If only our community only had more businesses, more energy, more people, a bigger tax base, more grants…then we’d be great.  No, we don’t have to wait for some multi-national corporation or big foundation or leadership guru to build our community into something. We can do that and we are doing that! If you look around, appreciate the small and independent places that are making Otter Tail a really cool place to be.  Even better, if you have the energy to jump into an endeavor, just do it. The world will be all the better for it.

In the box:

  • Celery
  • Tomato mix
  • Flat-leaf Parsley
  • Trinity Bi-color Sweet Corn
  • Onion
  • Green Onions
  • Garlic 
  • Peppers
  • Yellow Satina Potatoes
  • Green and Purple Beans
  • Basil: Please don’t put into the fridge (it will turn black). Instead, treat like a cut flower…trim the bottom and put in a vase with water.

 

Managing Weeds with Silage Tarps

The key term is occultation. A bit cumbersome a word, but it sounds cool. Deriving from the same root for the occult meaning ‘hidden’ or conceal,’ we’re basically hiding the weeds from the sun to keep them under control.

Recently popularized in North America by a Quebecois named Jean-Martin Fortier, the practice has been standard operating procedure among vegetable operators in Europe. The practice is simply covering ground with a heavy silage tarp to prepare a clean bed. Under the silage tarp, it’s warm, dark, and moist. This is the perfect environment to get weed seeds to germinate, perennial weeds to cook and die, and generally break down any crop residues or vegetation underneath. The result is a fairly weed-free area which is great for finely-seeded crops. We prefer to use this valuable space for things such as carrots and salad mix.

IMG_6374The only issue with this whole practice is moving a huge tarp. Originally our tarp was 50 feet by 200 feet in size, but moving a monster like that takes a lot of energy (especially after a rain). So, we cut it in half, which makes it much more manageable.

Preparing a bed in this way is magical because it doesn’t take tillage (overworking the soil has a lot of issues) and the tarp is doing its work without any thought or effort on my part. I can just go along paying attention to other parts of the farm, and, when I need the bed, I just pull back the tarp, apply compost by hand, and give a light till just over the top to make a nice seedbed.

In the box:

  • Tomato mix: Yes, regular slicing tomatoes are now coming in with many more in the near future. I’m not in love with the prettiness of these guys, but they have a good taste as any first tomatoes should.
  • Satina Yellow Potatoes
  • Zucchini
  • Cucumbers
  • Green Peppers
  • Eggplant: There is a mix of Italian and Asian style…you got one or the other.
  • Parsley
  • Sweet Onion 
  • 1-2 Fresh Shallots: Looks like a purple onion, but it’s actually a shallot. Really can be used anywhere you use onion. Like onions, it will dry down and cure in a warm, dry location.
  • Beets: A little mix of gold and regular beets.
  • Black Spanish Radishes: This one is a bit of an oddball, so check out this article with three ways to prepare it: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/cathy-erway/black-radish-recipes_b_2617652.html
  • Bunch of Carrots
  • Green and Purple Bean Mix