Authentically Authentic

Just yesterday at our farm stand… I had a great conversation about Canadian history with a family from Quebec, learned about a neighbor’s organic diet to assist his cancer treatment, talked tomato varieties many times over, and threw up about two dozen waves to customers who stopped by.

Me by farmstand signWhen we built the stand in 2010, I had intentions to sell our ‘overflow’ produce there – stuff we were long on and couldn’t move through a farmers market or the CSA. But in the past three seasons, we’ve witnessed a total explosion in popularity that has us running to keep up. I routinely see three and four cars at the end of our driveway nowadays and the stand attracts a true cross-section of America. Rich and poor. Professionals and rednecks. Guys with MAGA hats and ladies driving hybrids adorned with ‘coexist’ bumberstickers. No matter their walk of life, neighbors and passers-by alike always express how grateful they are for our work and the farm stand. Yesterday, I even had a guy shout “You the man!” at me while I was out harvesting in the tomatoes.

That last one got me thinking…why do people so love this little farm stand at end of our driveway?

Yes, the produce is fresh and certified organic. Sure. But I think something bigger is at play. Our farm stand acts as an authentic holdout in a world becoming more and more virtual and disconnected. Lonely big box stores and daily corporate grift. Endless political wrangling with strangers online. The Kardashians!? In this world gone nuts, this strange fever-pitch drama we now live online, our 30 square-foot farm stand screams out forgotten Midwestern values at their finest. An outpost in total opposition to the sleek and dishonest future into which we’re all being pulled. There’s nothing fake or contrived about it. We’re a single family working hard in fields but 50 yards from the storefront. We labor innumerable hours with our own hands to feed neighbors quality food, one tomato at a time.

I don’t know…maybe I’m just getting overly dramatic. I do know, however, that the role we have the privilege to play in people’s lives feels good and we’re happy to play it.

In the box:

  • Sweet Corn
  • Yellow ‘Satina’ Potatoes
  • Beets: Check out the instructional video below about roasting (my favorite way to have beets). Also, the combo of roasted beets with goat cheese or feta is great: https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/235272/roasted-beets-with-goat-cheese-and-walnuts/
  • Green Peppers 
  • Sweet Onions
  • Cherry Tomatoes
  • Slicing Tomatoes:  Yah!
  • Italian Flat-leaf Parsley
  • Garlic
  • Cauliflower: Sorry this is the most inconsistent cauliflower ever – by the luck of the draw you may find a nice-sized one or a mini head.
  • Bunch of Kale

Bumber Crop or Impeding Backache?

As I sat down on my haunches and appeared beneigth the canopy of tomato vines, I got the first glimpse of a monster crop. I crept further down the row, now examining a new location on my back, “Man, that’s a lot of fruit.” Walking through the whole trellised area where the 3,000 plants grow, I surveyed nothing but really healthy leaves and a lot of green tomatoes. I’m pretty sure that we’re looking at the biggest tomato crop I’ve ever seen. In saying that, I feel like some old miner who came across a huge gold vein. Eureka!

Now, however, the question is whether this is a blessing or a curse. Only now are we starting to get just a touch of color on the tomatoes, a time we call ‘break’ as in ‘the tomatoes are starting to break.’ It would be best if we have some gentle weather…mild and with small swings in temperature. This will allow the fruit to ripen slowly and we can keep up on picking tomatoes as they go from green to orange to red. IF we find ourselves at 90 degrees during the day and 50 at night, these puppies are going to go fast and we’ll be running to keep up. Also, there are only so many tomatoes we can sell use each week in the CSA boxes or sell at the market or farm stands.

Let’s see what happens. One thing I know for sure is that tomatoes are in our future.

In the box:

 

Touring the Farm

We had a small but hearty group on Saturday for the Lida Farm tour. I think when it’s 90% humidity at 7 am, only the most motivated decide to walk around farm fields in the heat listening to me talk about organic agriculture. Thanks to all who made it out and thanks to OCIA (our certification agency) for sponsoring refreshments.

20190721_202155-1When doing the tour, one thought came to me which I’ve had many times before. Boy, every season is the same, but different in so many ways. I know that sounds like politician-speak, so let me explain.

THE SAME: When I look at ‘what’s in the box’ on our blog back to 2006, the vegetable season is pretty much the same thing over and over. Spinach is in the first box with some radishes and then spinach re-appears in the last couple boxes. Green onions go in early-season boxes and then I transition to regular onions (which we started last week). Same pattern over and over. This makes sense because there are only so many crops that grow in MN and everything has its season.

DIFFERENT: Even with the same pattern of production, the quality and yield of crops is different year to year. I’m staring down the biggest and best tomato crop I think I’ve ever grown in my life. Maybe I’m jinxing myself by writing it, but I’ve never seen so healthy a stand of tomatoes with so much fruit on the vine. When these things ripen, look out! Last year, in contrast, I had these sad little plants. Early heavy rains in June beat down the tomato vines and they were set back for the whole year.

The differences come with weather, certainly, but the differences also come with the workflow of the season. Juggling 30-some crops, some years I get celery weeded at a good time and other years it becomes the forgotten crop. As I told the tour this weekend, some plantings are abandoned each year – I’ve let go about four so far this year. It’s nothing personal, plants 🙂

In the box:

  • Cherry Tomato mix
  • ‘Trinity’ Bi-Color Sweet Corn
  • ‘Norland’ Potatoes
  • Bunch of Carrots
  • Sweet Onion
  • Red Torpedo Onion
  • Cucumber
  • Basil
  • Little Green Leaf Lettuce
  • ‘Ace’ Green Pepper
  • ‘Islander’ Purple Pepper
  • Zucchini

 

Lakes Country Blue Zone?

Yesterday I listened to a podcast with Dan Buettner (a MN Native) about his work on Blue Zones, those places in the world with the greatest longevity. Although I had heard about the work many years ago, listening to him brought home the point that health doesn’t come from our individual habits alone, but the environment in which we live.

Sardinia Blue ZonesPlaces like Sardinia and Okinawa produced more centenarians not because they have really motivated people who bought a lot of Jane Fonda videos and worked out a lot. No, these places produced health in a population because their culture and environment naturally mandated physical exercise, a plant-based diet, and social connection. In Sardinia 50 years ago, most were too poor to eat meat daily and everybody had daily tasks that keep them moving like gardening and watching over animals. Moreover, people lived in a tight enough community that you couldn’t just be anonymous – your neighbor would ask why you weren’t at church last Sunday (whether you liked it or not).

I find this stuff fascinating and it made me think about my own patterns and environment in which we live. This morning, I took their ‘longevity test‘ and learned that I could add 8.6 years to my life by doing the things I already know I should be doing – dropping junk foods (yes, the organic vegetable grower suffers with this too) and incorporating more whole grains and beans.

The research and test got my thinking about our community too. Looking around our food environment with a critical eye, I can find loads of places for improvement, but I also think that Lakes Country is positioned to be the Blue Zone of the Upper Midwest. We are surrounded by recreation, nature, and a bunch of walking trails like the North Country Trail are coming online. There is a sense of ‘small-town’ community still that does engender involvement and volunteering…like Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street, a person can’t hide from their neighbors. In our food landscape, I see the success of  Manna Food Co-op in DL and the traffic at our farm stand as good signs.

If we only could tilt our images of lakes country a bit, I think we can get into blue zone territory. Associate an ‘evening on the lake’ more with a rowboat or kayak instead of a boozy pontoon ride. Or fresh salads in season rather than just burgers and mayo-drenched noodles when we think of a picnic. It’s possible. I can see it.

In the box:

  • Trinity Sweet Corn: This is barely ready…I’m sure some are a bit too immature (depending on how you like your corn), but I found enough ripening this morning that I needed to start the harvest.
  • Green Cabbage: Keep an eye out for cabbage looper worms. I did my best to take them off, but they are expert at hiding.
  • Bunch of Beets: If you’d like to try them roasted – https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/roasted-beets-recipe-1925366
  • Green Beans: Keeping with the Blue Zones theme…https://www.bluezones.com/recipe/pasta-and-green-beans/
  • Fresh Thyme
  • Italian Parsley
  • Broccoli
  • Islander Purple Pepper: This pepper works best eaten fresh since it loses its color when you cook it.
  • Sweet Onion
  • Cucumber

Why a Workshare?

This week, I thankfully have a guest columnist because it’s 7:30 am on Monday and I have a long road to travel to get this box out. Luke Preussler has been helping me on the farm since this April, both learning the ropes of commercial vegetable production and just giving me a hand. Thanks, Luke.

Luke writes:

As a healthcare professional, and a graduate student in community development, I am increasingly aware of the urgent need for nutrient dense, local food in our communities. While visiting one of Detroit’s urban farms last year, I learned a new word: “foodish.” This term describes what the industrial food system supplies to millions of households in the United States each week: a foodish product that may only meet the minimum criteria for “food.” Processed and preserved, with lots of sugar added (of course), the machine churns out more foodish product then we could possibly eat in this country. (Which leads to a lot of waste—a topic for another day).

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Luke Preussler

As a 2017 transplant from a large metro area out of state, moving to west central MN brought a new outlook on agriculture. Because of the diligent work of organizations like the Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota and Land Stewardship Project (among many others), I am encouraged that the future of food and ag in our state does not have to be factory or corporate. Food security and food sovereignty are finding new partnerships in otherwise unexplored areas. Healthcare systems, for example, are paying more attention to the value of local food, not only for healthy eating but for local economic growth and environmental benefits. The work is just beginning but I am optimistic that, if trends become traditions, we will have a sustainable future in local food where social, economic, and environmental justice come together.

For this reason, and many others, I asked Ryan to take a risk on this city slicker for Lida Farm’s 2019 growing season. We agreed to a CSA workshare. I know the value of eating well for my family. As CSA members, we support our local farmers, environment, and the economy. And we get to eat well in community with one another. For this I am grateful.

In the box:

  • Green Cabbage
  • Green Onions
  • Fresh Fennel: This is this week’s oddball. It looks like a mutant hairy celery 🙂 See Early Morning Farm for ideas
  • Beets
  • Lettuce: A couple Saladnova varieties that
  • 1-2 Summer Turnips: They look like a white radish and you’d eat the same way. You can peel, slice and add to salads or just eat as is with some salt like a Kohlrabi.
  • A couple Cucumbers

I like that Jamie Oliver’s kids chews on the fronds as ‘bubblegum’ in this video….sorry I didn’t include the roots 🙂

Lost Tools

I’m certain that I write on this topic each year – lost tools. This is probably because I use this blog as my therapy where I ruminate out loud about my shortcomings and frustrations.

“Mar, have you seen the wheelhoe?”

“Well, I don’t know, where did you last use it?”

“Over by the lettuces we planted in the north field last week….I swear”

I tramp back to the same place I already looked, thinking it will now magically appear.  So I walk around the perimeter of the north field thinking that I would have left it at the end of the bed. Since we haven’t mowed around the garden, if it were there, I would be under grasses and weeds four-feet tall. No dice. 

After going through the packing shed, old high tunnel, barn, milkhouse, and the edge of the front field, I recruit my son, Will. “OK, I’ll walk along this side, you go along the other side of the field.” So, we walk the perimeters of the north field (again.  I’m sure it’s here!), front field, and the back field. Will didn’t find the wheelhoe, but Will came back with a cup, a pair of gloves, and my hand hoe. I also found my 5-lb hammer in the tomatoes. Partial successes.

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Can you spot the wheel hoe?

I relieve Will of his duties. I’m now over 30 minutes into this goose chase and I give it one last push as I scour the out-of-the-way places. Visibly agitated, I mutter to myself as I stomp around by the winter greenhouse and kick around weeds growing in the backyard. This is when the voice of my dad comes in my mind, “A place for everything and everything in its place.” I wish, dad. I tell myself that after this escapade, I’ll create this organization that will be the envy of the organic community…I’ll write books about my system and give workshops. Forget it, I give up. Mind you that the wheel hoe is 5-feet long and painted red. This place isn’t that big.

I go back to saving some herbs, pulling weeds by hand. Working 10 minutes, and, eureka, I know the location of the wheelhoe! 10 beds over, between a row of corn and onions, there is sits. Alleluia. I finally get down to business and attempt to clear out the bed for a couple hours. I go in for lunch and leave the wheelhoe where I last used it, destined to repeat the process in a couple days.

In the box:

 

Work and Rewards

Do you remember that first big item you bought with your own money when you were still a kid? For me, my first car comes to mind. After saving up something like $1,600, my friend Dusty and I searched classifieds until we found a white Ford Escort across town. It was a basic car, but, as I drove it home, I remember thinking that this was mine, not from the generosity of my parents, but because I had logged hours bagging groceries at Hugo’s to afford it myself. It was satisfying. Maybe even empowering.

Willem and his new kayak

In past years, we’ve corralled the kids to help us on individual projects or when we wanted to make a big push out in the fields. I’ve always felt that the kids should be paid for their efforts on the farm because, unlike work in the house, farmwork is a business and should pay. In the past, I would normally say, “How about you help me weed this carrot bed and I’ll pay you $10?” Weeks would go by and I’d ask how much I owed them and nobody seemed to remember all the times and amounts.

This year, however, we’ve created a more formal system. We’ve instituted a standard rate of five dollars an hour and the kids keep track of all their hours on a chart on the fridge. Will has been especially motivated because he has been so keen on buying a kayak to paddle around our pond. After a couple months work, he researched and purchased the kayak himself. Sylvia, on the other hand, is a really penny-pincher, and only looking to stockpile even more funds for some future purchase. Graham has very modest goals such as saving up for a new lego set. When he reaches his $8 goal, he promptly walks out of the field and wants to spend his earnings the day of. Well, we all have our own goals right?

Maree has yet to see any payment for all the hours she’s logged 🙂

 

In the box:

  • Italian Parsley
  • Zucchini 
  • Kohlrabi: Peel, slice, salt, and eat. Pretty simple.
  • Snap Peas 
  • Radishes
  • Kale: See recipe below
  • Romaine Lettuce
  • Broccoli Shoots
  • Garlic Scapes: Mince and use where ever you would use garlic.

Kale Caesar Salad with Creamy Parmesan Dressing

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