Springtime Planting Gamble

Snow greeted me last Thursday as I sped down I-94 – SNOW! This experience gave me a little pause as I looked at our broccoli and cauliflower plants suffering in their trays, running out of fertility. Last weekend’s sunshine and warmth sealed the deal, however, and we planted all weekend in earnest. Nearly 800 broccoli plants and 400 lbs of potato seed joined kale, swiss chard, and cauliflower in the ground. Whether we see snow again or not, the field season’s begun and there’s no turning back.

Jon_Solinger_Photo_07569_August 29_ 2014-Edit

Friends often ask me considerate and caring questions this time of year about spring planing progress. I appreciate their interest, yet, I always need to confess that I both love and hate this time of year. It feels good to get started after the preparation mind game which is early spring. But getting something in the ground is only as satisfying as scratching an itch. I’m mostly anxious until all things are in. The sound of my neighbor’s tractors running all day and night as they plant seeds gives me a feeling like I should be doing more than I am. And if I miss a window of time before a rain I beat myself up for doing so.

But experience helps this time of year. This is year 15 at Lida Farm and I’ve seen all sorts of, shall-we-say “sub-optimal” spring planting activities. Potatoes planted in soil with a texture of small boulders. Tomatoes first in about June 14 in a very rainy spring. Cucumbers frozen out at the end of May. Even with these past mishaps the season carried on successfully. I remind myself no matter how late or poorly a planting season seems to go, rains still come and so does sunshine. Things get done, so take it easy.

Support our Kickstarter Project

I sometimes get despondent. Whether news on climate change or cancer rates, I find myself feeling overwhelmed with how big our problems are. How can we ever overcome? Maybe we won’t and the world will spin off into a Mad-Max like disutopia in my children’s lifetime. Kids at Harmony

But then I think about actions I can take and one’s I’ve already taken. Over time I’ve realized that our one farm cannot change agriculture in America just as our one family cannot fix a whole community. We can only take the actions before us and consider the greater good. 

For me, this has brought me to my latest project: A collaborative farm stand at Manna Food Co-op. It’s not just a farm stand for the use of Lida Farm, but open to other growers and artisans associated with the co-op. It’ll be a nice addition which just won’t give producers a sales outlet, but, I hope, build a little community on-site as we do some Friday evenings farmers markets there. 

To date I’ve been gathering partners and ideas to launch it. A group of Amish builders are constructing this timber-framed building and we’ve been in conversation the co-op and other growers on how this could work. I just need to pull in a little more funding to make it work. I think the idea is a good one and I hope will be one more step to helping to make the world a little bit more cooperative and filled with good food.

Please read about the project and consider sharing and contributing at this kickstarter page at http://kck.st/2W0zw3g

 

A New Year and New Committments


The plane touched down in Minnesota. The air was crisp and dry. The energy of New York City closed off our 2018 with fireworks, but coming back into the terminal and seeing a bunch of boring Midwesterners in brightly-lit and orderly MSP felt good. I felt a sigh of relief.

20181225_152630A week ago, Amtrak brought our family through a cross-section of the US. A whistle stop in Winona. A quick hike through downtown Chicago. A two-hour romp down the mall in Washington DC before pulling into the glorious chaos which is New York City. We enjoyed the subway and people-watching, no doubt. We contended with crowds, witnessed a police raid, and ate really awesome pizza. The kids are a bit more street-smart, no doubt.

Back in my subzero home, not unlike all of you, I’m reflecting on the year and setting intentions for the new one.

I think we found a nice pace to farming in 2018. A little organization gave the season a flow while still pumping out some great produce. I should kick back and celebrate this new-found ease after so many years of pushing, but I’m an accomplishment junkie. I’m now dreaming up projects so I have a new mountain to summit. Still, I’ve begun to think about farming more of a practice than a series of tasks. As I eye 2019, I would like to continue the practice of soil building. Last year we produced just as much stuff on four acres as we did on five acres in 2017. If we are to continue this march to greater productivity we need to better manage fertility to make every square foot count.

My farming ambitions were in check in large part because I dumped so much time into Manna Food Co-op and rode all the ups and downs of a start-up retail storefront. We experienced the highs of a huge sales day at Mannafest, a successful search for new employees, and the opening of the deli—where you can get the ever-popular Ryan’s Green Machine 🙂 We also felt the lows of leadership changes, labor stresses, and worry about making payroll. As the guy who writes the checks and jumped into the fray to help manage the store during the summer, I must say that I’m stronger for the experience and grateful for the many people who have taken us this far – all board members, suppliers, staff, and customers. I think slowly but surely we’re building something good.

20181028_183650-1One of my personal intentions for 2019 is to re-commit to the local businesses and people that transform the pretty landscape in which we live into a really cool and interesting place. If we want a strong local community, we need to commit to being part of that community, not live with one toe in and our hearts focused elsewhere. The universe produces lots of things that pull our attention not only from community life, but even our own families. I hope I can make 2019 a year of reconnection, a time of living my ideals.

Seasonal Cycles

From the earliest time of man, we have followed the season. Hearkening back to my college anthropology class, from the Ancient Greeks to Mayans, cultures and traditions have built events around the seasonal milestones.

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For us, our seasonal milestone is our annual harvest party. Like other farm operators this is our time to celebrate the bounty of the harvest and just getting through one more season – phew! The event was a lot colder than we ever expected—snowflakes were falling on Saturday morning. The hearty souls who made the trek did their utmost to stay warm, and, I hope enjoy themselves. We’ve always hosted the party at the end of September, which coincides with the fall equinox, but the weather’s fairly unpredictable. Two years ago, we had 82 degrees!

These gatherings are nothing too elaborate, but I feel it has the elements for a good end-of-season celebration: good food, drink, and a coming-together of people. Farming can be lonely at times and I so appreciate the opportunity to talk to some of you face to face instead of being a name on my CSA checklist. I also appreciate the opportunity to say “Thank You” for joining us for the summer. I say this each harvest party: CSA member make Lida Farm. Our family can do this only through the willingness of you, CSA members, to sign up with us for a whole season.

In the box:

  • Butternut squash
  • Russet or Mountain Rose Potatoes
  • Pie Pumpkin
  • Black Spanish Radishes and Watermelon Radish
  • Parsnips
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Spinach
  • Yellow Onions
  • Garlic
  • Harlson Apples
  • Carnival Squash

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