A Restart

Up to the start of this season, I’ve been in a funk. Understandable, right? The world is one big mess and my heart wasn’t engaged. I was plodding along – some good days farming, some worthless days. The farm and my mind reflected our collective messy moment.

Barn and Turbine 2020Yesterday, however, something turned. I was 100% in the moment. We cleaned tubs and the packing shed. We set up boxes. I had this feeling that we were restarting. Despite all that had brought us to this place, as I was standing on the newly washed floor by the stainless steel dairy sinks, the world started anew.

This is the magic of a farming. Life starts over. New plants, new landscape, new season. At the farm we have the pleasure of reconstructing something new and it doesn’t entail us doing demolition or tedious legal manuvers. This is just how it’s done. As it’s been done for millenia. It must be this process that makes us farm operators optimists.

It may have taken me a while to get there, but, for me, this year especially, I have found a new hope. I never promise members that everything will be perfect and a season will go off without a hitch, but I do promise that we will do out utmost to work our little corner of the world. After all, that’s all we can ask of ourselves or any of us. Peace.

In the box:

  • Swiss Chard: Video below gives you an idea on how to prepare – you can substitute out the garlic for the garlic scapes.
  • Garlic Scapes: These are the little shoots that come up out of hardneck garlic – very short season crop – milder than garlic itself, feel free to substitute whereever you use garlic. You can dice the whole stalk.
  • Radishes
  • Arugula
  • Zucchini
  • Basil

Invest Local!

As a young man, I learned the craft of vegetable production. I also developed my point of view from the conversations in the field.

Young Ryan
Young Ryan as Vendor at First Farmers Market

Sitting on my knees and propped up on my Red Wing boots in a bed of radishes, I’d engage in conversation with my farm mentors and fellow apprentices, all the while pulling out and banding the pink-red orbs without thinking. Our talk could be light and cheery or simply perfunctory, but we often landed on conversation about the meaning of our work and our lives.

We would bandy about the phrase ‘alternative local economy’ because we felt that operations like ours were creating an alternative for people to buy into, an economy based on cooperation between farms, businesses, and people for the benefit of all.  A type of business model where people and the land were more important than profits. Our outlook stood in stark contrast to the mainstream economy, which, at that time, produced the era of suburban sprawl, corporate downsizing, and a whole lot of strip malls. Main Street businesses were folding and Americans were flocking to big boxes on the edge of town for cheap goods and convenient parking.

We felt like a band of Don Quixotes tilting at the windmills of American Capitalism. But we didn’t care that we were out of step. Our work felt good and tangible and human. This was before the soccer moms of America discovered organic food and we were part of an underground community that was quite small and quirky, but, at the same time, motivated and generous. This start of good food movement that would soon burst out of the small clusters of 1970’s holdouts who hung around small food co-ops in the Twin Cities.

Today I’m 43. It’s been 20 years since I was sitting in Paul and Chris Burkhouse’s field picking radishes. I still believe that organic farming can save the world. I’m still adamant that if Americans refocus on building strong local economies and strong local communities, we will create the world we imagined. One where we are again neighbors, not simply consumers. Where independent businesses together build strong local supply chains that can withstand disruptions and create wealth for local communities.

Right now I know that we’re all shaken up by this pandemic and we’re worried about the future, but I also believe that recent events have given us many people an appetite to support an alternative future. 

I never directly solicit people on this blog, but now is not the time for polite rules of etiquette. If you’ve had enough of turning your attention and investments to Wall Street and expecting different outcomes, please join me and invest directly in MANNA Food Co-op at https://mannafoodcoop.com/capital/

We are right now raising investments and accepting charitable contributions to relocate and expand to downtown Detroit Lakes. You can directly invest in this independent business through preferred shares at $500 per share and memberships for $150 for a lifetime. We will certainly not get there without wide support of existing and new members, so please learn more, contribute, and share the opportunity with others, directing them to https://mannafoodcoop.com/capital/

Adopting Tools for the Season

Even in the dead of winter, sleeping farms like ours still have work to do. Some of that work is planning out the season-picking out seeds and perusing new tools-but some of it is fighting the elements of winter. I have to admit, like mowing grass in the summer, that I’m a lazy snow shoveler. Last month, after allowing a drift to grow with every flurry and wind gust, the whole family was walking up this 3-foot high incline and back down every time we wanted to get to our front door. After walking on it for a couple of weeks combined with a couple freeze-thaw cycles, the drift became a mini glacier on our sidewalk, impenetrable to all snow shovels. My strike of genius – maybe my greatest of all time – was to rescue the broadfork (typically used for breaking up soil) from our packing shed and pry apart the drift as if I were digging up carrots. One of those true dad ‘eureka’ moments. 

broadfork and snow

But enough of winter. We’re putting that behind us, right? This time of year pulls me deep into the most important of tools to adapt to the season – the winter greenhouse. Even though we’ve been growing greens in there since the beginning of the year for the Winter CSA, the summer season now begins its slow march forward. Onions and slow-growing herbs were seeded a month ago already, but just yesterday I laid down over 2,000 pepper seeds in trays. They are now safe and sound on a heating mat, working on germination. Today I plan to plant tomatoes for the high tunnels. After they pop, it will be just 6 weeks before they are in the soil – hard to believe. Man, I’ve got to get going!

winter pea shootsP.S. Yes, it is the season for CSA sign up. I am sitting on a bunch of stuffed envelopes addressed to members last year which will get out tomorrow, but a person could also download the order form here. 

A New Ending

Man, another final box, another end to a season. I had this experience now for 15 years and I find that each year has it’s own flavor. I’ve had years where I’m still energized and not ready for the season to end and I’ve had years where we barely made it over the finish line due to exhaustion.

This year, right now as I sit here, I’m not catching the same end-of-season relief. This darn rain has made our final fieldwork very difficult. I’m not looking forward to fighting mud. Also, have you ever had that feeling that you bit off more than you could chew? If you know me, I have the tendency to over-commit and I’ve painted myself into a new corner with my many jobs I try to manage.

Family at homecomingI’ve learned that projecting too much into the future causes anxiety, and, at times like these, a simple reflection on the season as a whole balances me out. We had some great accomplishments and a lot of things went right:

  • Even though a couple crops were total duds (what happened to you, celery?), vegetable production was mostly good. We had our highest tomato yield ever.
  • We had a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund the Farm Stand at Manna Food Co-op and I started Friday markets there.
  • A crazy number of people discovered the farm stand at the end of the driveway this summer.
  • Wonderful members and customers. Every week I’ve had members and other customers voice their thanks and appreciation for the work we do.  We can rest assured that our daily activities produce something good on this earth and our work matters to others. I find this very meaningful.
  • Great partners. I have the pleasure of working with and knowing many other people who are trying to make the world better through good food and helping others find wellness in their lives by giving their time and energy. A shout out to my fellow board members, staff, involved member-owners at Manna Co-op, fellow members of our Sustainable Farming Association chapter, and enthusiasts of the good food movement across some of the many food-related initiatives I’ve been involved in.

So, yes, we still have challenges to take on in the near future, but the heart all of you have for this work and our operation makes me feel so grateful and we’re lucky to know and engage with every one of you. 

In the box:

  • Butternut Squash
  • Buttercup Squash
  • Long Pie Pumpkin: I added a little video to get your going on doing pie pumpkins from scratch. Mar and I stumbled upon this pie pumpkin some time ago and are big fans of is taste and texture.
  • Carrots 
  • Salad Mix or Spinach: (Farmers Choice)
  • Black Spanish Radishes: These seem like crazy things, I know, but most peel them before slicing.
  • Yellow and Red Onion
  • Mix of Peppers
  • Cilantro
  • Bunch of Kale
  • Head of Garlic


Never Ending Season

Mid-September typically brings a frost that brings summer plants to their knees or at least shuts them down enough that I feel a sigh of relief. So, imagine me reacting to Friday night’s frost – yeh! Still, it was not enough of a hit to call it quits on summer. Some tomatoes are hanging on, peppers escaped below their thick foliage, and, heck, even beans made it through untarnished. Well, enough for that escape hatch!

Instead, the season marches on and I’m just getting tired. We didn’t get a freeze last night, we got a thunderstorm! A thunderstorm? Come on, two more inches of rain? The end of the produce season should be me mowing down weeds, tilling a bit, and putting beds to rest. Not this year. Picture me sitting on my couch anxiously looking out at a pile of mud which was once a field on my second cup of coffee – hoping for the oomph I need to surge inside me, awaiting one more shot of an adrenaline-fueled caffeine buzz to slog through mud and save the spinach.

As you can tell, farming this time of year gets pretty mental. It’s a motivation game. I try to focus on the beautiful images I can see around the farm at every turn.

beets in packing shed Whether we make our living slogging through a field or typing on a keyboard, I think that’s all we should ask of ourselves. Pay attention to the beauty that surrounds us all.

In the box:

  • Pie Pumpkin: You just bake this this over like any winter squash. Cut in half, take out seeds and bake upside down on a cookie sheet. Once soft you can use however you use that pumpkin stuff in the can.
  • Red Kuri Squash
  • Acorn Squash
  • Rutabaga: See recipe below for a fall soup. I like that this guy says not to be afraid of the rutabaga because it is a pretty intimidating veggie.
  • Carrots
  • Garlic
  • Spinach
  • Green Onions
  • Japanese Eggplant
  • Potatoes, Russet or Yellow: Farmer’s choice