The Apprentice Speaks

Blackbirds are gathering in dense flocks and I now wake before sunrise. A chill is in the air.

As the season comes to a close, I’m just happy to make it to the end. I must admit, at the beginning of the season, I wondered if we would be able to get here. This spring I had painted myself into the tightest corner I could find between moving the co-op and its related capital campaign, Maree working off-farm, and kids doing distance learning. And, by the way, what would happen if I contracted COVID? I don’t know.

But here we are and those worries were for naught, in large part due to the diligence of Emily Reno, our apprentice, who picked up the slack as my attention was often pulled to my many competing tasks. So, I’ll let Emily (now an official ‘veggie serf’ as we call ourselves around here) speak for herself:

Emily writes,

“To say that this summer was challenging would be an understatement. To say that living with the Pesches has been a gift would also be an understatement. To say that working at Lida Farm this summer has changed my life would be right about on point.

It is difficult to say whether or not arriving here was a coincidence. In a conversation while packing boxes with Ryan recently we arrived at the odd conclusion that in the same year – when we turned 26 – both of us came out to this farm. Whatever the universe wanted for us, apparently we found in this place. Something about it is magnetic. I first knew that when I came here to do research with North Circle Seeds, but couldn’t have appreciated the fullness of it until spending the summer here.

Little did I know that my first visit would turn into an apprenticeship, and a rich friendship with the Pesch family. As CSA members you are already probably well aware of their superhuman-ness. Not only do Ryan and Maree work full-time jobs, but they run a farm, raise three incredible little humans, and maintain a strong presence in the community through various service and faith organizations. I thought I was a busybody until I met them. If you haven’t done so recently, I encourage you to express your appreciation for their work. More than likely you’ve only seen a fraction of it!

As the last few weeks of my time at Lida Farm come to a close, I wanted to take the time to say publicly how grateful I am for their willingness to put up with me for the summer, to provide me refuge from the burning down of my neighborhood in South Minneapolis, and to let me take part in some small way in their family affairs. The hospitality led to my decision to reside in West Central Minnesota long-term, pursuing (and accepting!) a position as an Assistant Planner with West Central Initiative Foundation, and to launch into the next chapter of my life with a newfound reverence for the importance of our nation’s farmers. 


P.S. – If you know anyone who would be willing to rent a furnished lake house for the winter to a high-quality renter, please reach out to me at emilyp.reno@gmail.com. :)”

In the Box:

  • Red Kuri Squash
  • Delicata Squash
  • Buttercup Squash
  • Red and Yellow Onion
  • Garlic
  • Rutabaga(s)
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Russet Potatoes
  • Kale
  • Watermelon Radish – this is typically pale green on the outside with a bright red inside (like watetmelon red).

Ode to a Worn Out Honda Odyssey

Most farmers (and plenty of non-farmers) drive big diesel pick-ups. Big tires, jacked up chassis, plenty of power. Lida Farms, in contrast, runs on small Honda vehicles .

The Honda Odyssey started as the family mini van 8 year ago, carting kids to school and events. But for the last four years, I’ve done by darnest to completely trash it. I’ve loaded hundreds of pounds of potatoes, squash, and cabbages into this thing to get crops from field to packing shed. It’s our main ‘delivery’ vehicle too, logging many miles around Becker and Otter Tail Counties. It’s pulled trailers too heavy for its modest 6 cylinder and even held a few sheep and calf one time.

At times I’ve wished for something more, but, really, who can complain about this thing. Over a quarter-million miles and going strong. We’ve been thinking about retiring old thing and getting a proper vehicle for the job, but, at the very least, we can treat this workhorse with an oil and fluid change before it’s winter rest.

In the box:

  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Yellow Onions
  • Haralred Apples
  • Italian Parsley
  • Green Cabbage
  • Long Pie Pumpkin: Use this like you would a pie pumpkin – great for things like pumpkin bars and such.
  • Butternut Squash
  • Carnival Squash
  • Red Potatoes
  • Hakurai Salad Turnip

Do we get better with time?

Yesterday I broke the kickstand on my neighbor’s trailer I borrowed. You know, that thing attached to the tongue that lifts and lowers it? I dunno, I call it a kickstand. Anyway, when I was carting out squash with the tractor, I saw that an absolutely huge pile of grass was all jammed under the trailer. Then I realized that I never put up the kickstand at all and had now bent it beyond help. So I spent a half hour pulling apart a wet haystack lodged under the trailer in the rain. The whole episode got me thinking.

I thought about the time I sideswiped the packing shed with a quackdigger, ripping off some siding. I had another tractor roll down a hill and slam into the barn wall – that one was memorable! I’ve jackknifed a plow, flail mower, and multiple trailers. Greenhouses have blown away, hydraulic hoses have shot fluid all over…well, you get the picture.

Haven’t I been doing this like 20 years? Shouldn’t these accidents and mishaps be a thing of the past? Granted, I can think of many more escapades at the begining of my farm career, but, here I am, still doing stupid things.

Reflecting on this today, I’m thinking that it doesn’t really matter. If everything were perfect, we wouldn’t have any good stories. And farm mishaps make for good stories. When we get together with other farm operators, these memories are the ones we share.

In the box:

  • Satina Yellow Potatoes
  • Little Red Saladnova Lettuces
  • Sunshine Kabocha Squash
  • Acorn Squash: I searched around this morning to find a recipe that used fresh sage to make stuffed acorn. Obviously make you own stuffing – add sausage if you’re an omnivore – but stuffed acorn really compliment the cold weather we’re heading into.
  • Butternut Squash
  • Fresh Sage
  • Anaheim Peppers: Yes, these are hot, but not too hot.
  • Shallots
  • Cippolini Onions: This is my favorite onion, not just because it’s this fun flat shape, but I find that it has a really good, complex flavor.
  • A Single Tomato: Yes, this is the bitter end. There was a ‘secret reserve’ row of tomatoes hidden deep in the weeds and I amazingly found 70 of them, so they made a last appearance in the boxes.
  • Haralred Apples: These are a good multi-purpose apple that could be used in baking or eaten fresh.

Little Projects

Have you ever had a project that you never seemed to get to? Like a plumbing project that was missing just one part and just sat there for 6 months?

Well, I think I have about 72 of those kinds of projects – little tasks all over the place. I will muscle through the bulk of the work, but I like to leave that last little task which I’ll ‘take care of later.’ My challenge is that these darn little tasks just pile up, and, after a while, become this unsurmountable list. I then don’t do any of them.

Yesterday, however, I’d had just had enough of being ‘stuck in neutral’ and feeling the weight of my little task list, so I just started ticking through them. A pile of clothes that was simmering on the couch for a week, random seedling trays that I’ve thought about picking up for months, and an old freezer that sat on its side in our yard since I cleaned out a frozen block of spoiled meat. Oh, and we last mowed our lawn in July.

One by one I ticked them off the list. I also jacked up some of my family members to motivate a sense of urgency. By lunch we were moving and by 2 pm we were making serious strides. It feels good when the little burdens that have weighed your psyche disappear. What was once a wreck and felt out of control was brought into order and brought under control. Tasks that sat there on the list for months took maybe 20 minutes and I began to wonder why I hadn’t done them sooner.

The day after one of these productivity tears always has me telling myself that I’ll just keep up on tasks and save on the stress. Maybe I’ll turn over a new leaf or maybe I’ll just bask in the glow of a solid day of accomplishments.

In the box:

  • Buttercup Squash
  • Spaghetti Squash: This one’s kind of odd, so I found a video with some recipe ideas below.
  • Red Kuri Squash
  • Shallots
  • Italian Parsley
  • Fresh Thyme
  • Kohlrabi
  • Carrots
  • Lettuce: A couple varieties were at play, including greenleaf and butterhead lettuce. Luck of the draw.
  • Arugula: The oakleaf-shaped green in a bunch. I like arugula in pasta – try https://youtu.be/Ue2DjbJuYko
  • Garlic
  • One Italia Pepper and One Yellow Pepper: Both of these are sweet.

Running on Empty

“Looking out at the road rushing under my wheels
Looking back at the years gone by like so many summer fields”

These Jackson Browne lyrics sting of nostagia, looking back at where we’ve been, and point to how we can only keep trucking forward. I had this song on my old MP3 player years ago and I’d crank it about this time of year in the packing shed to drive my adrenals a bit more as we’d push through from summer into fall. When I heard it the other day, the words ran true. Not just for my state of mind this time of year, but the country as a whole. A lot of people and organizations are running on empty.

Now I’m probably trying to make too much meaning out of a 70’s California Pop song, but I’ve lately noticed the affects of my years of constantly charging forward. In organic agriculture, we talk about feeding the soil and the soil will feed the plant. Looking at some of my fall crops that require good fertility, the plants are hungry. Stunted broccoli and spinach plants. For too many years, I have been racing to button up harvests and start up winter crops and the soil has not been fed with a solid fall manuring and well-timed cover crops. It shows.

Nature gives us signs and the plants outside my house are sharing their advice. Regroup. Dig in. Nurture this little slice of creation for which you were entrusted. Good things will bloom from good care and nourishment. Life is just that simple, despite how often our minds are pulled from our families and communities to affairs far away.

In the box:

  • Cabbage
  • Buttercup Squash
  • Delicata Squash
  • Cucumber
  • A Couple Onions
  • A Few Radishes
  • A Few Peppers
  • Greenleaf Lettuce
  • Carrot Bunch
  • Fingerling or Blue Potatoes