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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Thoughts on spring and the winter behind us

Friends of the farm -

Spring is slowly upon us.  Precipitation begins to take a liquid form, goldeneye ducks gravitate towards open patches of water, the soil inside of our high tunnel is thawed, dry, and planted in salad greens for the first markets of the farming season.  As spring approaches, we hastily reflect on a busy winter of transitions, projects, and plans.  Now is the time to actualize these ideas and begin to farm.  Before things become too busy, a few tidbits of news:

- We spent the winter hastily researching and building tools for the coming season.  We would like to more clearly and effectively transform the giant quantity of waste materials – wood and metal scraps, bearings, engines – into functional farm tools.  We have spent the winter building our skills: learning how to weld, visiting metal scrap yards, scanning craigslist for materials available for repurposing.  This part of the farm operation will only increase over time as we seek to reduce our dependency on purchased supplies for our farm.

- The cooperative has taken shape.  What started as vague ideas about potential farmer-owned marketing collaborations has become Stone’s Throw Agricultural Cooperative, owned by 5 farms, including our own.  We will be producing collectively for a larger, improved CSA.  Shares are still available and we promise the most delicious of vegetable and other treats.  Robin (from our farm), Rodrigo Cala (Cala Farms), Klaus Zimmerman (Whetstone Farm), and John Flory (Latino Economic Development Center) have been instrumental in organizing all of the farmers and setting up the co-operative as a functional entity.

- Unfortunately, our farm has lost two key production areas.  A bank-owned property that we produced on in Minneapolis is being sold.  The large Maryland Avenue site (North End Urban Farm) that was one of our main sites is in the process of development and we will likely be unable to produce at this site this season (although there may be urban agricultural space in the future).  While we have known that urban farming is a new land use in the city and that farming on impermanent parcels is inherently risky, the loss of land is both an emotional and financial blow.  Over the past few years, we have come to appreciate the idiosyncrasies and beauty of all of the different parcels we farm.  We learn the characteristics of each soil and how our practices improve (or hurt) each of these soils.  The neighbors of these different parcels become our friends, companions, overseers, integral components of the ecology of our farm.  For any new farm business, capitalization is tricky.  In a business that requires so much infrastructure, how do we prioritize our needs?  What comes first – land, tractor, a processing kitchen, higher wages for farmers?  In the city, where land is more scarce, agriculture is not (or is yet to become) a priority, and there are many, many stakeholders, land access is not a straightforward process.  However, for our farm project to succeed, we will need to navigate these process to find long-term solutions for urban agricultural land.  Without it, our dream of developing a diversified urban production farm focused on year-round food production, community outreach and education, and ecological health, will be for nought.  One of our goals for the coming season is to solidify our land access plans and achieve permanency on at least some of our land base.

- We have hired our first employees!  

           -  Kristi Turns is a long-time Twin Cities resident active very active in community theatre and general rabble-rousing.  She will be our Production Manager and Volunteer Coordinator.  She has already been helping on various farm projects and we are lucky to have her energy and fresh perspective.  

          –  Caroline Devany will be working with us a Community Liasion, focusing on the complex questions of how an urban farm business should/can function within the ecology of a city.  She will work on education projects, attend community meetings regarding food access and urban agriculture, and work behind the scenes on business planning and financial accounting.  She studied geography at Macalester College, has worked closely with Frogtown Farm, and has a great capacity for great work.

         - Several Step-Up high school employees and University of Minnesota and HECUA interns will be part of our large farm crews as well.

You will hear from all of them, in their own words, many times throughout the summer.

These days we are outside building sheds, cleaning the plots, preparing for the season.  Please stop by to say hello or help out for a few hours and remember to sign up for the CSA!

Thanks for all your support and please contact us with ideas and thoughts.

- Alex

Originally posted on alejothefarmer:

Friends of the farm -

Spring is slowly upon us.  Precipitation begins to take a liquid form, goldeneye ducks gravitate towards open patches of water, the soil inside of our high tunnel is thawed, dry, and planted in salad greens for the first markets of the farming season.  As spring approaches, we hastily reflect on a busy winter of transitions, projects, and plans.  Now is the time to actualize these ideas and begin to farm.  Before things become too busy, a few tidbits of news:

- We spent the winter hastily researching and building tools for the coming season.  We would like to more clearly and effectively transform the giant quantity of waste materials – wood and metal scraps, bearings, engines – into functional farm tools.  We have spent the winter building our skills: learning how to weld, visiting metal scrap yards, scanning craigslist for materials available for repurposing.  This…

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Urban Agricultural Amendments at the State Level: Make your voice heard tomorrow at 3:30 PM @ State Capitol

Urban farm supporters:

Our friend Michael Chaney, director of Project Sweetie Pie, has just notified us that a large group of people will be amassing at the Capitol TOMORROW at 3:30 PM to a hearing on two bills pertaining to the development of urban agriculture in Minnesota.  Please see below to read message from Michael:

“The Council on Black Minnesotans (COBM) holds its day at the Capitol tomorrow, Weds Feb 26th, to give our communities of African descent (and our friends) a chance to be heard by our elected officials. Projects Sweetie Pie is helping to bring urban farmers and food justice advocates and food security organizations to a hearing on amendments to two bills: Urban Fresh Food Access & Food Desert Eradication Initiative Summary:  A bill for an act relating tosustainable agriculture; modifying certain programs and grants; amending Minnesota Statues 2012, sections 17.115, subdivisions 2,3; 17.116; 17.1161 and the Urban Agriculture Land Use Planning Initiative 

Summary: A bill for an action relating to state government; adding urban agriculture and aquaculture development zones in land use planning; amending Minnesota Statutes 2012, section 473.859, subdivisions 1,2,5.

Both pieces of legislation are being sponsored and authored by our food justice ally Representative Karen Clark.”

Other details about the day can be found at http://www.councilonblackmn.com/Moving.

Michael Chaney can be reached at (763) 227-4881

Please head to the Capitol if you like to eat good food and want to see more good food grown near where you live.

Many thanks for your support,

Alex

CSA sign-ups, notes about the cooperative and more

As the sunlight persists into the evening and the days finally climb into the double digits, we are more and more excited for the spring.  We have been working to modify our bicycle-powered salad spinner, constructing a propane flame weeder for our carrot crops, and organizing incessantly for the coming season.  This coming week we are going to begin working with the Riverton Community Housing at the University of Minnesota to design garden beds and a production plan for their residents.  Some garden beds will sit atop the Chateua – a bohemoth housing structure in Dinkytown (http://chateau.riverton.org/).  We are quite excited about this opportunity.

The CSA sign-up site is up and running.  Please follow the link: https://stonesthrowagcoop.com/ to access the CSA registration page.  Our home website stonesthrowurbanfarm.com also has a link at the top of the page.  We want to thank all of our loyal customers for their patience and critiques as we have worked through the glitches and bugs in designing the cooperative website.

As the season progresses, we hope to use this blog as a space to present the stories of all participating members of the cooperative.  The members come from many different backgrounds – a farm-owner originally from Mexico City, farmers from a small town, Agua Gorda, in Mexico, and urban dwellers trying their hand at raising animals.  As stated on the co-op website, the participating farms are Cala Farms, Whetstone Farm, Agua Gorda Cooperative, La Familia Cooperative and Stone’s Throw Urban Farm.  

This year we will be running a CSA cooperatively – produce will come from all participating farms and management decisions will be made collectively.  We are excited to be working together to develop a cooperative that creates livelihoods for beginning farmers, strengthens our regional food system, and provides you all with fresh, healthy food week after week.  Please feel welcome to ask questions about the co-op organization, the history behind the co-op, or the produce you are receiving in your box each week.

Many thanks for your ongoing support,

Alex

 

Crows, hawks, and good food soon

One of my favorite things to do in the winter is to watch the crows in their daily habits.  Luckily, my house happens to be near some prime rooking spots.  At around 3:30 each afternoon, the skies begin to teem with crows, jostling and joining in a mass to find a place to spend the night.

Crows are also an excellent indicator of hawk activity.  In the past 24 hours, I have seen crows mob and dive angrily at a Cooper’s Hawk, a Red-Tailed Hawk, and a Broad-winged Hawk.  I am always pleasantly amazed at the manner in which following the behavior of a common citizen of the city (the crow) leads to observation of the powerful and elusive predators of the skies.

When not crow watching, we have been tinkering away at all sorts of things – cooperative formation and organization (more soon), building racks for our truck, participating in the planning process for a University of Minnesota farm tool design class, and placing a huge seed order.

The website is taking a day or two longer to complete but we expect to have CSA registration open by the end of the week – full of lots of surprises.  Please e-mail us (stonesthrowurbanfarm@gmail.com) with any questions.

- Alex

Help to promote an equity agenda for the Minneapolis City Council!

To farm friends, supporters, CSA members:

Stone’s Throw Urban Farm would like to call your attention to an important rally on January 6th that will put forth an agenda for equity for the newly elected Minneapolis City Council.  The rally will be held at 10:30 AM on January 6th at City Hall in Minneapolis (more details here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Equity-Now-Minneapolis/541378452616091).

As the city council starts its new term, our farm stands with a myriad of Twin Cities’ residents urging the leadership to prioritize equity – closing racial and economic disparities – as opposed to maintain the agenda items of the status quo such as the tax-funded Viking football stadium.  We demand that the new city council works to provide access to stable and affordable housing for all peoples, focuses on closing educational and employment achievement gaps, and develops sustainable energy initiatives and prioritizes alternative land-use in Minneapolis.

As the Stone’s Throw Urban Farm project has matured, I have come to see more clearly the need for our farm to address more intentionally disparities of race and power, especially as a white person working largely in communities of color.  My interests in farming originated from a desire to implement my own ecological values and a fascination with the science and technique of food production.  Yet, I also strongly believe that long-lasting solutions to the major issues of our time will only arise from the education and empowerment of communities downtrodden by the dominant players of society.  There will be no true sustainable agriculture or local foods movement unless we challenge the status quo that impoverishes many and enriches the few.  Race, gender, and economic equality are equally as important as soil health, crop rotations, and agro-ecological farming techniques.  The right to safe and affordable housing, a quality education, and equal job opportunities are intrinsically linked to the right to locally grown, healthy produce.

We look forward to joining with you on January 6th and working with you all in the long-term for a more just and equitable Twin Cities.

Many thanks,

Alex Liebman, Owner/Partner, Stone’s Throw Urban Farm, on behalf of the partners of Stone’s Throw Urban Farm, Whetstone Farm, and the Stone’s Throw Agricultural Cooperative

Good night farm, farmers

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I was in the midst of writing a long, poetic ode to the winter, the long-awaited rest and beauty of sub-zero days.  Then, in a series of clicks to post a photo, the several paragraph post disappeared.  So, with less rambling:

Our farm is finally taking a rest.  Despite the early onset of snow and frigid temperatures, we have stayed busy behind-the-scenes.  We have been selling vegetables indoors at the Mill City Farmer’s Market and to our first winter CSA customers.  A few infrastructure projects have demanded our time, such as dismantling and erecting hoop houses, building harvest carts, and winterizing tools that are powered by gasoline.  An exciting development is that we will be forming a marketing cooperative, Stone’s Throw Agricultural Cooperative (STAC).  STAC will market the products of our farm, Emily and Klaus’ rural operation, Whetstone Farm, and what we hope will be several other farms.  Klaus has diligently written the articles of incorporation and by-laws.  The official mission statement is:

The mission of Stone’s Throw Agricultural Cooperative is

to 1) coordinate marketing, outreach, and educational programming for agricultural

producers that are working towards social justice and ecological health on their

farms; 2) provide marketing opportunities for a diverse group of producers,

especially immigrant and minority farmers; 3) provide educational opportunities

and access to affordable healthy food to the wider community, while financially

supporting local farmers.

We hope to expand our urban farm project to concretely develop a more secure, abundant regional food system, thereby providing more options for our CSA customers, restaurants, and other farm patrons.  As customers, we do not anticipate much change for you all, weeks will still be filled with wonderful produce.  All participating farms will be required to produce using strictly organic principles.  We will write more about this development as it progresses.

We are still working on the ever tricky path towards acquiring more permanent land for the farm.  We have many coals in the fire but, as of now, much of our land is still in precarious year-to-year leases.  While we are diligently trying to find solutions, this remains a major obstacle for the long-term success of Stone’s Throw Urban Farm.  If you have connections to city landowners, investors, politicians, or other people who may have an interest in long-term land access for local foods production, please send us an e-mail.

For the next season, we are filling out seed orders and planning our crop rotation.  We have a suite of new crops and ideas that we hope will improve our farms’ offerings.  But now we will be resting for a few weeks.  We will be visiting our families, playing music or pond hockey and resting our bodies and minds after a long farm season.  CSA registration will open January 15th and we encourage you all to check the website or e-mail the farm at that time.

Until then, we wish you happy holidays and a peaceful new year.  Many thanks for all your support of Stone’s Throw Urban Farm.  We look forward to spending 2014 with you all.

- Alex, on behalf of the Stone’s Throw Urban Farm crew

Week 19- Last week of the regular season!

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We’re going out with a bang. This fall has been blissfully long and warm, so your last share will be packed with all sorts of abundance. But it’s finally fall now. I look out my living room window to the east, and the sun is just rising at 7:27. In the mornings, we’re bundled with sweaters and gloves. But still no frost! This Saturday, we hear.

It’s always a little baffling to sit at the end of a season, looking back. How did we pass 19 weeks together in such a short, blurry amount of time? I do hope that we’ll see many of your faces back at the table next year, so we can continue our conversations.

As Klaus and I get ready to move to Windom and start Whetstone Farm, our new rural venture, I’ve been reflecting a lot about the community aspect of this CSA. I feel sadness at knowing that I, personally,  won’t see our members face to face each week- I truly enjoy our conversation, the chance to watch your kids grow up. But CSA is more than just a way for the farmer to feel good about the customers, and vice versa, right? I do hope that we’re building something more lasting by giving people a chance to interact with their food. I do hope that our tiniest members remember running up and down the rows of cherry tomatoes, reaching for pungent leaves of basil, even when they are grown. I hope that we can provide a space to support other small, local producers, by turning our pick-up location into a mini-market. I hope that our members talk to each other, get to know each other, connect over shared experience. And I hope that our members can be called on to support us in this difficult endeavor of urban farming, which is certainly not going to stick around if we don’t have support and political will. And I hope that, even though I won’t get to see your faces each week for the next few years, our expansion of Stone’s Throw will make us a more lasting presence in our community, will allow us to reach more people. And I hope that you all stick around to take the journey with us.

Thanks for an incredible season,Emily

Your share this week:

  • Green tomatoes
  • Potatoes
  • Carrots
  • Squash
  • Turnips
  • Watermelon radishes
  • Onions
  • Leeks
  • Kale or Chard
  • Cabbage
  • The last of the u-pick cherries and herbs

Week 18

IMG_1104The plots have begun to take on new smells and colors. Rotting tomatoes hang in their skins from their stems, a pile of old, over-sized zucchini lies bloated and yellow on one field edge, and at another the winter squash vines and leaves lay dried up to a crisp. These simple changes are much of what I love about farming. They remind me of the cycle of life and death and that I have little control over the world around me.

Yet in an urban setting, the simplicity of working with plants against the backdrop of city regulations and the hum of the traffic and the movement of people and planes can make the work feel so insignificant. At moments, this urban farming thing seems absolutely ridiculous. Why do we waste our time running from lot to lot, loading and unloading equipment? Why do we dump thousands of dollars of compost on lots we may not even be able to use next year? Is it worth the stress on our bodies? Do Saint Paul and Minneapolis want urban agriculture enough to make real urban farming possible?

In many ways we are much like an average, rural, CSA farm. Like most rural, CSA farms, we are a for-profit business that prioritizes vegetable production. All the partners at Stone’s Throw learned farming skills through rural farms and came back to the city adapting techniques for our soil management plan, our seeding plan, and cultivation method and we would not be able to farm how we do without that knowledge. However, unlike rural farms, at every one of our 14 lots we have a water contract with a neighbor. Unlike many rural farms, we do not own our land and cannot risk a long-term investment in building our soil. Without permanent land we cannot plant perennials like fruit trees or raspberry bushes. Unlike rural farms, we spend many hours working with city advisory committees and land-trust advocacy groups for the hope of creating permanent urban farmland in Minneapolis and Saint Paul, if not for next year, then for ten years or twenty years.  I dream that one day urban farming will not be a struggle, but an intentional, stable component of the city’s food system. Abundant farm stands will pop up in every neighborhood and corner stores will be able to proudly say they carry produce grown right down the street. Stone’s Throw and other urban farms will have rich, deep soil from compost made by restaurant and yard waste. There will be greenhouses that grow big, healthy starts for urban farmers and that grow ginger and greens and herbs year round. We will have shared processing stations with electricity and walk-in coolers and stainless steel washing stations with lots of water pressure. And more than anything, I dream that squashing a rotten tomato with the stomp of a foot or smelling fall in a dried squash vine will be a joy shared by more people.

Dear members, thank you for your support this year. I hope you realize that by supporting us you are also investing in a different breed of agriculture. We would not be able to do this without you!

Sincerely,
Robin

As for what’s in your share this week:

  • Tomatoes (still!)
  • Peppers
  • Carrots
  • Beets
  • Napa Cabbage and/or lettuce
  • Broccoli (full shares)
  • Kohlrabi (half shares)
  • Cooking arugula
  • Onions
  • Leeks
  • U-pick cherry tomatoes, herbs, flowers