Greens! An Ode from Caroline

A Salad Advocacy PSA

We’ve made it to July farm subscribers! While my ideas for blog posts are generally inspired by the political threads tying together a non-contiguous farm in the city, on this rambling Sunday I feel compelled to highlight some on the ground happenings.

The month of June has been a salad jubilee- greens bursting out of the ground, our refrigerators, and lunch boxes. While it’s temping to wait out the season for some of the more charismatic bounty of fall, I want to advocate for salad- the early, tender, and unsung hero of the season. Since the urban farm began working within the context of a larger urban-rural cooperative this past season, we have been able to focus on space intensive and perishable crops that make the most sense to grow in the city. Salad is one of these crops and accordingly a significant amount the farm routine is an ode to these lovely leaves.

 Should you be unsure of how to best ingest, here are some of the farm’s favorite preparations to prevent malaise:

• An anonymous salad and donut lunch eaten at the farm this week.

• The Larsen family PB(G!) & J sandwich.

• Breakfast salad

In conclusion: enjoy, revere, and eat your salad greens.

Arugula always,
Caroline

A note from our intern, Angela

Farm friends, family, and supporters:

This week, Angela, one of our summer interns from HECUA, has written about her experience on the farm.  I just returned from an exciting and inspirational weekend at Growing Power in Milwaukee and am full of ideas for more infrastructure projects, mushroom cultivation, community outreach.  I will write more later.  We have a busy week ahead of tomato pruning and weeding after so much rain.

With further ado, here is Angela:

Hey y’all, my name is Angela, I am Organic Horticulture student at the University of

Minnesota, and intern with Stone’s Throw. As my time with the farm is just begining

I have already been exposed to the plethera of projects that occur simultaneously

literally on the soil and off the field. On the ground everything from harvest,

processing, packing, CSA coordinating, staking, composing, hoeing, and of course

weeding all goes down. It has been quite mind blowing how everyone plays to his or

her strengths to keep the organism that is Stone’s Throw moving.

With all the rain this week our focus was to weed like crazy, racing to rescue

various plots and put them in a strong condition to outcompete non-crop plants.

Grass tends to be the main target, with once being lawns the grass can come back

with vengeance. As the team weeds together quickly as possible it can boggle the

brain, yet provide therapeutic qualities with the idea we are tending to a crop that

will soon become nourishment for urban dwellers. This thought keeps floating in

my head, and how straight up amazing it is to care for and harvest fresh beautiful

vegetables in a city. It is a practice more commonly done in rural areas, raising

plants that have been crossbred for human perfection, defenseless, and delicious.

Grown within soil that is constantly being rejuvenated with compost, turned by

human hands and critters. It has helped me connect to land even when surrounded

by city infrastructure.

Constantly working outside is physically demanding but has its treasures, in

particular I witnessed pollination on a salad mix crop gone to flower. Letting

crops go is not always a negative in this case is providing much needed pollen and

nectar for environmentally valuable pollinators. While finishing up composting at

the Galtier and Sherburne site in St. Paul, I wanted to take in the wildness of the

overgrown salad greens. Walking closer to observe the clusters of yellow and white

flowers there were bees buzzing. As a lover of these pollinators it was exciting to

see them out foraging the field. Even better they where native, my best guess is a

Miner bee for it being early in the growing season, the smoky wings, and the large

amount of pollen she was carrying. With the weather really heating up and tomatoes

growing rapidly bumblebees should be in masses soon.

Best,

Angela Schuster

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In this picture (from left to right) are Abdul, a University of Minnesota graduate student (you will hear more from him later), Anna, a hard-working, vibrant volunteer, and Angela, your week’s correspondent and weeding extraordinaire 

At Dairy Queen at 8:45 PM last night, covered in streaks of mud and grease, 8 hours since our last meal, Eric and I dove unabashedly into large sundaes and Mint Oreo blizzards.  We spent the day racing to beat the oncoming rains – planting long rows of salad mix, arugula, and carrots, weeding more mature plantings of those same crops, transplanting our final succession of tomatoes.  As we pulled up to DQ, stumbling upon a civilized line of girls in soccer uniforms, clean, middle-aged men in “World’s Best Dad” t-shirts, and teenage lovers, it felt like we were returning to an America that we had long forgotten existed, spending our days stooped in the dirt, dutifully weeding carrots or checking radish germination.  Such is June in the bipolar North – sensing long daylight hours and warmth for a limited time, plants take off.  We humans hold on for the ride.

Our crops our looking quite healthy after such a slow spring.  Mid-May nighttime temperatures in the mid-30s stunted many of our plants and we are just starting to see their growth response.  While we usually plan to have carrots and beets by late June or early July, this requires being able to plant in early April.  The cold, wet spring (two in a row!) mean some of these crops will be delayed by about a month.  Other crops such as salad greens, spinach, and radishes are thriving with the steady bouts of rain and mild temperatures. 

Land access remains a major issue for the development of our farm (and urban farming in general).  After spending the last several years with various lengths of tenure and lease arrangements, we are feeling more and more strongly that the farm needs to begin acquiring more permanent parcels of land.  We feel stifled by the year-to-year agreements and renter status of so much of our land.  Without land tenure, basic soil health practices such as mulching and cover cropping can feel cumbersome and pointless rather than rejuvenating and necessary.  When the farm began, we started with a basic inquiry: Can urban farming be a successful, vegetable production business that simultaneously beautifies the city and engages urban residents in on-farm education and the development of a more just food system?  We are still deep in the process of answering that nuanced questions with other questions.  What scale does the farm need to be to meet those goals?  How many people should it employ?  What is a good wage to be making?  How can we build the farm on all fronts: financial, environmental, and community?  At what points do these different aims clash and compete with each other?  Land access and long-term tenure is at the core of many of these issues and would foster the development of improved soil management and therefore high-quality, high-yielding crops, sustained community presence and relationship building, and diversification of farm plots to become more complex, ecological organisms (i.e. integration of perennials, native pollinator habitat, etc.) 

We are currently approaching the land issue in a few ways.  We continue to advocate politically that urban farming is an integral piece of the city and that land needs to be dedicated to food production for all people for diverse types of production (community gardens, production farms, experiment stations).  However, this a slow moving target, challenging many of the existing presumptions regarding urban planning and development.  Lately, we have been developing more detailed financial models of our farm plots and production and then factoring in mortgage payments and taxes into these models.  For a long time we have said that, due to the tax structure and land prices in urban areas, urban farms could never afford to own land.   With clearer data regarding increased production with hoophouses and improves soil, we are beginning to rethink that original assumption.  We believe that we may be able to purchase vacant land and, with the construction of a large hoophouse, increase revenue enough to 1) pay mortgage payments and land taxes and 2) increase overall farm income.  We hope to purchase a few spaces at the end of this year to test our prediction.  The farm is also searching for an industrial space to serve as a “home base” for the farm.  This space would house a year-round greenhouse, larger scale composting operation, processing space, and workshop.  It would root the decentralized plots that comprise the rest of the farm.

As always, we are grateful to the employees, interns, volunteers, and community members that make our rag-tag operation a reality.  This time of year we are often running at full speed with tunnel vision, focused on production, production, production.  Please make sure to give us a holler or stop by our plots to chat!  Many thanks for your support and patience as our CSA season gets underway.

- Alex

Transplanting

What a whirlwind spring can be!  We have spent the last weeks running through the city, popping plants into the ground between rainstorms, furiously weeding away young lamb’s quarters, troubleshooting a few soil issues, tightening bolts and fixing engines.  Days have been long as the sun is finally beating down upon our plots and warming our soils.  This coming week, we will begin to install irrigation systems at our sites and catch-up with transplanting.  Last week we planted about 4000 tomatoes, several hundred peppers, 500 feet of basil, and lots of fennel, onions, and lettuce.  We were blessed by our energetic employees, Kristi and Caroline, our University of Minnesota horticulture intern, Abdul, our HECUA intern, Angela, and a wonderful high school volunteer named Kaia.  In one day we planted over 40 trays of tomatoes by hand, thanks to all of these people.  While farming can be quite stressful and often solitary, I am continually amazed by the power of urban people to transform land into food production areas.  Our farm is supported by many, many individuals who come to help us, walk by and comment on the work, or just drive by with their trunks rattling with the latest rap beat, breaking the monotony of weeding and reminding us of the ever-present spontaneity of the city streets.

This time of year is stressful as well.  The baby plants we have taken care of for so long have now departed from the nest to live in the rougher elements.  They are not longer sheltered.  They withstand strong winds and downpours.  Cold weather a few weeks ago stunted many our our lettuces, fennel and brassicas.  Just now, they are beginning to recover.  Farming in the city presents unique challenges which can be hard to solve:  What is the best way to manage 14 different lots with different vegetables?  How do design good irrigation systems with low water pressure (often borrowed from neighbors’ houses)?  When volunteers come to help, how do we best plug them in to a hectic operation, ensuring that they have a positive time and that they are benefitting the farm?  How do we improve our soil in such idiosyncratic conditions?  Only through patience and being present with the land and people around me do I even come close to developing a clear understanding of these challenges and potential solutions.  As I slowly become a more experience farmer, I hope to worry less and breathe more.  I am lucky to have partners and employees who are patient and persistent, reminding me to do the same.

We are excited for the beginning of the CSA in a few weeks and to have more bounty at the farmer’s market.  Ginger is planted in our high tunnels and the Beez Kneez honey women (Kristy and Erin) brought two hives to our 15th Avenue plot.  Head lettuce is firming up in the field and spinach is germinating beautifully (see the picture)!  Please stop by and see us during the day and lend a hand if you would like.  Enjoy the warmth!

- Alex

 

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Over the past few days, spring seems to rush unabashedly into the Twin Cities.  Finally.  During the middle of last week, in between bouts of rain, cedar waxwings plucked sugar maple buds from a tree outside of my attic window.  Beets, yukina savoy, arugula, spinach are all germinating in the field.  Salad mix in our high tunnel is growing rapidly in response to warmer temperatures in the day and night.  Wonderful volunteers have come to help spread mountains of compost, helping us to catch up after a week of rain.  Last week, we also added some major infrastructure to the farm.  Our “home” Minneapolis site – 2820 15th Avenue S. – now has a city water hook-up.  During the past three seasons, our neighbors, first Jana, then Miguel and Andrea, generously lent us water to irrigate our fields and wash our crops.  After much haranguing and number crunching, we decided that investing in water access would allow us to produce and process food more efficiently.  The extra water pressure will be especially appreciated on long harvest days full of muddy carrots.  It is an exciting time to be growing food.

More to come later.  Enjoy the return to the spring, and please see us at the first Mill City Farmer’s Market – SATURDAY MAY 10 – 8 AM – 1 PM by the Guthrie Theatre, Minneapolis.

- Alex 

 

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Farming in the City: A perspective from Caroline

Hi Farm Friends,

My name is Caroline.  I began working with Stone’s Throw earlier this April and will be focused on growing the farm’s capacity to engage with people and processes at work in the city around us.  I’m deeply curious about the possible relationships between farm and city and look forward to what promises to be a chaotic and festive season.  Hope you enjoy my shot at an inaugural blog post! 

I’m coming to the farm following a several month artichoke and sun filled gallivant through my home state of California.  It feels so strange, but lucky to experience a second advent of spring and the flourish of activity that comes with.  Between the push to get our soil ready and get transplants in the ground, I’ve been ruminating a bit on the politics present behind these concrete acts.  Stone’s Throw was recently approached and offered $5,000 by Chipotle.  We accepted the money, knowing that it will further enable our goals for the farm, but not without dis-ease.  We are wary of the ways that outside funding might compromise our working visions of the farm, our larger food systems, and city.  As a farm we have made a conscious political decision to operate as a for-profit business whose main revenue source is derived from vegetable sales.  We believe that growing food should be a viable livelihood and that operating through this structure allows us a greater degree of autonomy over our work and dreams.  But, without an economy or food system that adequately supports farming, it is a challenging moment to keep a farm in the city afloat.

When possible we try to meet these challenges on our own terms.  Through collaboration and scale, the agricultural coop that we recently formed will enable all of the farms involved to more easily participate in the current market economy while staying true to our ethical convictions.  However, working within a broken food system puts us into routine contact with spaces of ambiguity.  The Chipotle scenario is a good example. “Should we take money from a large marginally responsible corporation to build our farm?” Negotiation with these spaces reminds me that a new food system will not be the spitting image a Jeffersonian agrarian fantasy; nor should it be.  We need to look forward and acknowledge contemporary complexity.

Ultimately, I would like to be free from financial dependency on practices that I find socially and environmentally destructive.  I want to live in a society where everyone is economically empowered to pay the true cost of food (one that fairly compensates labor and accounts for the stewardship of natural resources).  I want to live in a city that values development beyond its impact on the tax base.  I don’t foresee these changes being enacted by money siphoned off by corporations, or even foundations.  Such change will require radical political will and commitment from neighbors, policy makers, and governments.  While we are not always sure which direction the decisions we make are taking us, one of the greatest powers we have is to be candid about them.  We deeply rely on your support, not only as CSA members, but also as citizens.   

With a side of turnips,

Caroline

Spring news and a Chipotle(!?) fundraiser for the farm

Spring has arrived to Minnesota in its classic roundabout fashion.  A week in the 50s gives way to a week with expectant snow squalls and nighttime lows in the teens.  I often feel a bit trepidatious this time of year – should we till today?  should we wait until it warms up next week?  will the radishes even germinate at this temperature?  One part of me feels an urge to crawl back into winter’s grasp, the other has slept in fitful bursts, up at dawn, excited, nervous, eager to begin the farming season.  Today, after the cold night’s air burns away and snow returns, we will begin the major tilling of our fields.  A dear friend/advisor to the farm, Dan Guenthner (of Common Harvest Farm) has lent us chisel plow shanks for the tractor.  This will allow us to rip and fracture the urban soils to a fairly profound depth (about one foot), aerating the soil while not overly inverting and disturbing the earth.  While our farm acknowledges that hand tillage methods (e.g. broadfork) or the gradual build-up of compost are likely superior methods of improving and aerating the soil, we make compromises.  The tractor allows us (and many, many other farmers) to manage more land and produce more food.  The fossil fuel compromise is one that our society has, for better or for worse, decided to make.  The benefits – major reduction in human labor, comfort, mobility are outweighed by, among other things, catastrophic environmental destruction, urban sprawl, the very serious and unpredictable development of global climate change.  In using diesel and gasoline, our farm has decided to make the fossil fuel compromise.  Our work is to closely track fuel usage and make steps to reduce this amount both by conserving and adopting alternative energy technologies, all while maintaining a farm operation focused on high-quality vegetable production.

In other news, major infrastructure projects at our 2820 15th Ave. plot in Minneapolis are beginning to wind down.  Three large sheds are nearly complete and a water hook-up is scheduled for next week.  We will also be building a large shade structure to centralize our washing and packing operations.  Farming in the city has required (continues to require) a staggering amount of logistics.  At times, the farm is so spread out and in so many nooks and crannies that the inefficiencies become glaringly obvious (how many places do we need to go to find the tomato stakes?).  We have spent the winter and spring moving the entirety of the physical infrastructure (trucks, trailers, tools, hoes, etc.) out of our houses and garages and into a single location.  This is a big step for us and I hope it will allow us to spend our energy more wisely on farming.

As this spring begins wonderful volunteers have already begun to swoop to our rescue.  A young man named Kevin, riding his bike back from Lake Nokomis last Friday, stopped by the farm and spent an hour broad-forking an entire high tunnel.  Our friend Hannah has built wonderful rock walls to line perennial herb beds.  Our employees, Kristi and Caroline, are already hard at work.  Speaking of help, a man named Mike Fuller of Chipotle (the burrito store chain) contacted the farm, wondering if we were interested in participating in a fundraiser.  On Earth Day (Tuesday, April 22nd), 50% of all Chipotle sales in Minnesota, up to $5000 will be donated to our farm, if our farm name is mentioned while ordering food (i.e. “I am here to support Stone’s Throw…”).  This will be a major benefit for our farm, especially as we have invested so much into infrastructure these past few months.  Please support us if possible and/or tell your friends, co-workers, family, neighbors.

Enjoy the week,

Alex

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