Solstice-time farm reflections and a farewell note of sorts

Farm friends, supporters, neighbors:

It is the time of year when the fields are lush, mosquitos breed in murky puddles left in rusty wheelbarrows, days upon days wind into each other.  The second week of the CSA is winding down and produce coming from our fields has looked beautiful – wonderful heads of lettuce, big bunches of bok choi and bunching onions.  We are washing and processing vegetables at the Shared Ground Farmers’ Coop warehouse space on the East Side of Saint Paul.  While we are still working out systems and the idiosyncrasies of being in a new space, it is wonderful to be washing in a shaded space with concrete floors, good drains, and lots of water pressure luxury!  Other ongoing projects include ginger planting, microgreens production, the Dale Street transformation, putting the finishing touches on an organic certification application, and weeding, weeding, weeding.

A main piece of this summer update is to put in writing (and in the eyes of our blog readers) that I am officially leaving the farm in full-capacity to pursue a PhD in Agroecology/Soil Biology at the University of Minnesota, beginning in the fall of 2015.  While I will nominally remain a partner, my roles on the farm are already much reduced.  While I am excited to re-enter an academic environment and to conduct research that supports the development of alternative farming systems, this has been a long, difficult transition.  The past four years have been characterized by immense growth, deep reflection, and a wonderful engagement with the people, city-scape, and soil of the Twin Cities, all while producing hundreds of thousands of food.  I have been lucky to work alongside powerful, creative, and competent people, all the while being challenged, tested, inspired, and supported by the farm’s surrounding community of neighbors, advisers, academics, and customers.  It is quite hard to describe what I have learned but I think it boils down to troubleshooting broken engines, scanning Craiglist for a good deal on mulching straw late at night, participating in dialogues around food justice, anticipating weed flushes and crop maturity, and, above all, humility.  Humility for one’s own limitations and ignorance in the face of the immensity and unpredictability of nature, city politics, cat poop, complex agroecosystems, and the power of beauty to awe.

As I depart to graduate school, I am quite grateful for the steadfast and committed partners and farm crew who work through the ambiguity and difficulty of urban farming (and, for our crew, for withstanding the frustration of farming for inexperienced farmers) and continue to produce wonderful food week after week, year after year.  The farm, in the hands of Eric, Caroline, Sarah, Betsy, and Robin, as well as numerous volunteers and work shares, our watchful neighbors, and the broader community of co-op farmers, has never felt so vibrant, promising, and full of potential.  I have often served as a voice for the farm, but, especially as I leave, I am reminded by the broad input, the many voices and hands, and the dynamism that is only possible through many different people contributing, in their own ways, to a constantly shifting, sometimes shared and oft discussed vision of what urban agriculture and what this urban farm can and should be.  This is not easy work but it is important work as we learn amongst ourselves and with others what equitable commerce, democratic decision-making, and alternative agriculture look and feel like.

So, I will still stay connected to the farm in various forms, but the decision makers, the weekly harvesters, the blog writers, and the farmers will grow and shift in the coming years.  On behalf, of the farm, I can say that we have enjoyed your support, business, and ideas these past years and that they are always welcome as we enter the next 5, 10, or 25 years of Stone’s Throw Urban Farm.  Please do come to a volunteer work day, a Tuesday evening or Saturday morning market, or pass by our plots to say hello during the day.  And, I would be remiss to say that, despite all of the great things happening on the farm, urban farming (and definitely our farm) depends on long-term land access!  If you have ideas about land – in the city, the suburbs, the urban hinterlands, pass them along.  We, or our network of other urban farmers and urban farm organizers will make that piece of land flush with produce.  And, remember to keep eating!  Especially vegetables!

Until the next farm update, your farmer,

Alex

Early spring update

Friends, followers, foodies:

Much has happened since we last wrote many snowy months ago.  I will try to recap as much as possible but please view this as an attempt to sketch out the farm’s collective historical record – ask us at the farm plots, at market, or on the street for more color and details!

Shortly after the New Year, the farm took a trip to Cuba with several other Twin Cities urban agricultural-focused city officials, writers, and enthusiasts.  We toured farms throughout urban Havana and the provinces of Matanzas and Pinar del Rio.  The integration of agricultural into densely-populated areas developed as a response to the erosion of Soviet-support and increasingly severe U.S. trade blockades during the early 1990s.  “Organoponics”, highly-productive urban vegetable farms that use intensive techniques, were strongly supported by the Cuban government as a way to solve severe reductions in food availability.  As part of these agricultural reforms, the Cuban government transitioned from Soviet-style large-scale collective farms (often more than 50,000 acres) to cooperatives with more individualized management.  In general, the cooperatives are well-organized units that coordinate production, distribution, as well as broader research and organizational agendas at the government level.  We saw a large mix of agricultural projects – large-scale cane sugar farms, fairly unproductive grazing land, and impressive vegetable operations.  While the Cuban agriculture system is far from perfect, our group was impressed by the government’s commitment to approaching domestic agriculture policy with a goal of feeding its people nutritious food.  Throughout the trip, the operation of agriculture outside of capitalism’s “logic” challenged and illuminated the group’s assumptions about how to design well-functioning urban and regional agricultural systems.  While the Cuban farms were under-capitalized and in need of various resources such as irrigation, tractors, and food storage, the farmers had almost no issues accessing land or markets.  In many ways, this experience is the opposite of our experience as beginning farmers in the United States.  We continue to think about the idiosyncrasies of Cuban society and agriculture, the lessons that can be implemented in the Twin Cities, and how to build sovereign food systems, directed by small farmers, with the goal of equitable, healthy food distribution using ecological methods.

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Back in Minnesota, we have been busy preparing for spring.  Building projects have included row-marking tools, hoop-house construction, and many picnic tables.  Our seeding tunnel is hopping and we have hundreds of trays of baby plants in various stages of growth and germination.  Lettuces, radicchio, kale, and swiss chard are farthest along, while fennel, peppers, and eggplant are just beginning their long journey from seed to harvest.  Elizabeth Makarewicz joined the farm crew as a full time seasonal employee.  She has made an immediate difference on the farm – bringing attentiveness, thoroughness, and creativity to each day of work, continuing to smile after several frigid days digging around in a compost pile.  We are excited that she will be assuming a central role in the farm as a harvest and markets manager and trust that the food will be in good hands.  In the high tunnels, radishes and arugula are germinating while overwintered onions and garlic are growing rapidly.

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Shared Ground Farmers Cooperative is progressing at a rapid clip.  The cooperative added Aaron Blyth, formerly farm manager at Minnesota Food Association, as a co-manager of the cooperative with Robin.  The cooperative has also received loan financing and SARE funds to implement a significant expansion of high tunnel development across many of the member farms.  Below are pictures of coop members, Rodrigo Cala and Javier Garcia removing high tunnels from the Linder’s greenhouse site on Rice and Larpenteur and a recent co-op meeting in Waseca, MN hosted by La Familia Cooperative.  We are honored to be working with this ambitious group of farmers.

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Caroline Devany has been working non-stop to receive city approval for our ambitious plans to transform 625 Dale Avenue in Saint Paul into an urban agriculture center.  She has applied for countless permits, spoken with dozens of city officials, surveyors, and high tunnel manufacturers.  The good news, is that we are getting extremely close to implementing the plan – by the end of the summer we plan to have mushroom production in full swing, two high tunnels full of food, a market stand, and plenty of neighborhood activities.  Please take a look at our site plan (attached: STUF_625 DALE PLAN).

Also, there is one important thing that you can do to help us move the permitting process forward.  A major hiccup has been the city’s demands that our farm restore three curb cuts that were left after the site’s demolition several years prior.  This restoration was supposed to occur at the time of demolition yet the city is including the curb cut mandate into our lease.  The price of repaving the curbs will run at least $10000, a price that, as temporary users of the site, we feel is unfair and exclusionary to urban agriculture use on the site.  PLEASE E-MAIL Yaya Diatta (YaYa.Diatta@ci.stpaul.mn.us ) of Zoning and use the text from the form letter (ATTACHED: Variance letter of support). It would also be helpful if you would include your relationship to the farm and 625 Dale site, as a neighbor, farm visitor, customer, or other type of stakeholder.

Lastly, we are very, very excited for the return of spring – to see our neighbors, to get into the soil, to put pencil and paper into action.  There are an incredible array of urban agriculture projects transpiring in our region – from re-envisioning East Phillips as an urban agriculture hub, to state-level urban ag. policy by Rep. Karen Clark, the Council for Black Minnesotans, and Project Sweetie Pie, to the recent Midwest Urban Farmers Summit our farm attended last week in Chicago, IL.  Please get in touch, stay in touch, and lend your ideas for how to make this farm a more effective, tangible initiator of systems-level change.  And don’t forget to eat!

Your farmer,

Alex Liebman

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A year’s end note

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Farm community:

As the year draws to a close I would like to take a short written moment to reflect on the past year, discuss plans for the coming year(s), and give a heartfelt thanks to all our our collaborators, supporters, and customers.  We have had a busier than usual fall, continuing on many projects and late-season markets, leaving little time for reflection.  Below is a smattering of thoughts and ideas about food, agriculture, and the farm.

This fall an abrupt, early snowfall largely ended the season at the beginning of November.  However, small trials of carrots and spinach in our high tunnels allowed us to harvest beautiful produce into the middle of December.  We placed piles of actively decomposing brewery waste and woodchips into the corners of the high tunnels as an additional heat source.  While we were unscientific in our process and cannot say for sure if the piles made a difference, the soil remained unfrozen through a series of sub-zero, cloudy days in late November.  Carrots emerged sweeter and crunchier than any regular season carrot we have produced.  During the next several seasons, our hope is to “even” the season out – trading full-on summer exhaustion for sustained, year-round production.  Expect micro-greens in mid-winter and fresh kale in December as we improve.

We have been reflecting on the aims of the urban farm business and how its goals, aims, and actions are intertwined with the social and political events regarding U.S. racial politics and the ever-pressing need to deeply examine the role of race in our society.  The alternative farm movement must confront how race and class play a role in food production and distribution in the United States and how U.S. food demand and trade policy impacts the global economy.  The “local” food economy must be expanded to envision how a just and healthy food system is manifested throughout the world.  Farm work, especially, has historically been delegated to the most disadvantaged members of society.  The exploitation of Latino farmworkers throughout the Central Valley is a modern-day manifestation of a process that has subjugated immigrants and people of color to demeaning and abusive agricultural work for centuries.  The development of small farms that are focused on sustainable food systems, the proliferation of farmer’s markets and locavore restaurants that support small farms while catering to the uber-wealthy, and the public health and education imbalances in America that reflect race and class disparities are interconnected and interdependent.  The small farming and local food movements must connect closely, collaborate, and stand in solidarity with farmworker justice movements and activism regarding racial and social justice, constantly expanding and challenging how alternative food production plays a role in these dialogues.  Ecological farming is as much a socio-political process as it is biological.  As Eric Holt-Gimenez of FoodFirst stated in light of the juries failure to indict Darren Wilson in the Michael Brown case, “We can’t have a judicial system, or an impartial law enforcement system, or build a sustainable food system [my italics] on the foundation of an oppressive social and economic system“.  The local food movement must discover how to be an inclusive, empowering space that does not allow idealisms of agrarianism, hyper-local production, and the like, to blur its capacity and obligation to develop systemic change across the food system.  While our farm does not have the answers (and believe the ‘answers’ must come from a diversity people and collaborative processes), we plan to engage in more and more conversations and activism for a more just food system.  We hope you will join us and will report on the actions we take and the discussions we have.

The farm has been discussing its focus issues in terms of food production for the coming year.  We are enthused about continuing to figure out how to produce the best vegetables using the most efficient and low-external input methods possible.  Caroline and I attended a day-long soil health workshop at Common Harvest Farm in Osceola, WI, discussing the best soil and weed management methods with many different types of farmers including vegetable producers, dairy farmers, and grain growers.  We are inspired by the work of veteran farmers who are incorporating sophisticated science to manage nutrients, cover crop, and produce excellent produce.  Our farm will continue our composting, collaborating with local breweries and landscape companies, to create healthy soil while recycling nutrient into our urban agroecosystems.  We hope to work with an intern this spring to monitor the piles, tracking temperature, humidity, and nutrient composition of the finished compost.  We also have plans to continue investing in vegetable production infrastructure including a flame weeder, walk-behind tractor tools, and wheel hoes.  These types of small-scale farm implements are essential components of intensive vegetable production that is ergonomic and efficient.  The farm will also be collaborating with our friend Andrew Pierre, a bike guru who will be starting his own farm in River Falls, Wisconsin this spring, to construct a second prototype of our human-powered salad spinner.  Our urban greenhouse should be teaming with plants by early March – please stop by the 15th Avenue farm plot this late winter to treat yourself to a respite from the cold.

After much hard work by Caroline, Eric and the support of neighborhood organizations and you all, we have secured a long-term lease on a large plot at 625 Dale Avenue in Saint Paul to create a farm hub.  We are so excited to be investing in hoop houses, perennial plants, community garden beds, and a market stand.  We hope this will “root” our Saint Paul production for years to come.  Lots of farm energy will be devoted to building beautiful urban food infrastructure.  The farm is pleased that the City of Saint Paul has recognized the necessity of permanent land for urban agriculture.  While a long-term lease does not secure the land indefinitely, we hope this is a large step in the direction of establishing increased access to permanent food production land in the Twin Cities.

The farm’s participation the producer’s cooperative, Shared Ground Farmer’s Cooperative, will continue.  Exciting developments are occurring as Rodrigo Cala has purchased greenhouse for installation on his farm and Agua Gorda Cooperative is seriously exploring securing farmland near Long Prairie, WI.  Whetstone Farm has achieved laudable stability as it purchased a farm in Amery, Wisconsin, joining an active, growing community of young farmers.  The farmers spent last Monday discussing the crop plan for the coming year.  Expect new crops such as rhubarb and improved quality and consistency.

As stated in the last post, the farm is in the process of hiring a full-time employee for next season.  As we look for good employees and think about how the farm can best honor their efforts and empower them to build agricultural skills, I must state, one more time before the year ends, how appreciative we are of the past year’s crew of employees, volunteers, and interns.  In a hectic environment in which tools break, work is dirty and stressful, tensions are often high, and perfection is crucial, a large group of people showed up throughout the season, selflessly devoting time and energy to the farm project.  Employees often worked long past their scheduled hours to clean carrots or stake an additional row of tomatoes.  A CSA member traded a few more vegetables for invaluable electrical installation help.  The farm would not exist without this multitude of selfless efforts.

In the coming year we hope to continue collaborating with individuals and organized groups in Saint Paul and Minneapolis to develop an innovative, effective, and equitable urban food system in the Twin Cities.  While our experience lies in the world of intensive vegetable production system, we take cues from and hope to learn from the wealth of social justice activism and expertise regarding urban food work in the Twin Cities.  Collaboration among seemingly disparate interests, among rural and urban food producers, community activists, and food consumers (i.e. all people) is central to building new food economies based on regeneration and resilience.  To quote Mateo Nube of the Movement Generation Justice and Ecology Project regarding the construction of new economies, “When I use the phrase ‘Oppositional economy’ I don’t mean just naming something we’re against, but by oppositional we mean creating a set of economies that are contesting actively for access to capital, labor, water, land so that it can create a new center of gravity.”

Many thanks for the support throughout 2014.  We are excited to produce vegetables in the Twin Cities in 2015 and beyond.  Our farm will be traveling to Cuba in January as part of an agricultural education trip.  We will report back and fire up the farm in February.  Have a safe and joyous holiday and don’t stop eating!

– Alex

P.S. Check the Shared Ground Farmer’s Cooperative website soon to purchase CSA shares for the 2015 season.

Stone’s Throw is hiring a field manager for the 2015 season

Farm community:

We are excited to announce that there will be a job opening with Stone’s Throw Urban Farm this coming season.  Please see below for details and we hope that you will apply:

Stone’s Throw Urban Farm LLP

3217 17th Avenue South

Minneapolis, Minnesota 55407

(612) 454-0585

stonesthrowurbanfarm@gmail.com

Request for Application: Field Manager

Farm Description:

Stone’s Throw Urban Farm is a 2.5-acre diversified vegetable operation located on previously vacant land throughout Minneapolis and Saint Paul. Our farm plots are located in the Frogtown and North End neighborhoods of Saint Paul and throughout South Minneapolis. Our goal is to create a financially viable and sustainable business that improves the ecological health of the land we farm and uses on farm education to facilitate greater efforts toward realizing a more just food system. While we have spent the last few years focusing on building the vegetable operations and sales, we remain committed to our larger goals of long-term land access for urban agriculture, changes in the city to strengthen food production, and the development of neighborhood-based farms that provide benefit to surrounding community. The farm is owned and managed by three partners, Alex Liebman, Robin Major, and Eric Larsen. Caroline Devany works as a full-time employee, splitting time between field tasks, community engagement, and organizing work. While the farm is currently organized as a Limited Liability Partnership (LLP), we continue to explore the most effective way to organize our farm business in a way that is efficient, logical, and promotes our political and social beliefs.

Job Description:

Stone’s Throw Urban Farm is looking for one full-time employee to perform duties in all aspects of the farm including fieldwork, harvest, infrastructure maintenance, composting, office duties, and marketing. We are looking for a focused, diligent, and enthusiastic worker who will confidently and comfortably perform tasks to a high-degree of completion and professionalism. Depending on past experience and skills the Field Manager will be responsible for tasks such as managing harvest crews, greenhouse duties, and fixing and building infrastructure. The Manager will be expected to routinely lead volunteer crews, manage high school workers, and coordinate work-share volunteers.

The Manager will be expected to operate with a considerable degree of autonomy and independence, with competency in tasks such as machine operation and maintenance, harvesting, and vegetable deliveries. Farming within the city provides a unique set of challenges not faced by many rural vegetable operations. The employee will need to be flexible and creative as unforeseen problems and obstacles inevitably arise throughout the growing season. We need creative input to help shape the direction of Stone’s Throw Urban Farm into a more efficient, productive, and inclusive farm that strengthens the Twin Cities’ food system and serves as a relevant amenity to surrounding communities. The Manager will be expected to play a role in actively shaping the direction of Stone’s Throw Urban Farm.

Qualifications:

  • Two years farming experience on a production farm
  • Ability to work in a fast-paced, intense work environment
  • Steadfast attention to detail and quality control
  • Experience operating and maintaining trucks, tractors, power tools
  • Knowledge of and interest in sustainable and organic agriculture techniques
  • Willingness to work conscientiously and patiently for long periods of time in potentially extreme weather conditions
  • Desire to work in a diverse, urban environment and work with neighbors, neighborhood initiatives, and other farmers to advance the goals of Stone’s Throw Urban Farm for a more equitable food system.

Duties:

  • Field tasks: bed preparation, seeding, transplanting, weeding
  • Harvest: managing Minneapolis harvest crew, washing and packing
  • Sales: farmers market, restaurant deliveries, running CSA drop-off
  • Coordination: of work-share volunteers, high school students, and volunteers

Applicants with a long-term interest in pursuing agricultural careers are strongly encouraged to apply. Partnership and/or profit-sharing arrangements will be made available to qualified and dedicated employees.

Duration: March 1- December 1

Hours: 50 hours/week (on average, hours will vary by month)

Pay: $13000 – 15000 (commensurate on experience and success of 2015 season)

Please include a cover letter, resume, and two references with contact information. Your cover letter should state: your interest in working with Stone’s Throw Urban Farm, a brief overview of your agriculture/professional/educational experience, and a few things you hope to learn and/or accomplish in working at the farm.

Stone’s Throw Urban Farm follows the principle of equal opportunity in regards to its hiring and promotion procedures. Stone’s Throw Urban Farm does not discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

About the farmer’s cooperative and a word from coop member, Rodrigo Cala

Farm friends:

As many of you know we have spent the past year working on starting a producer’s cooperative with several Latino-led farms and former Stone’s Throw owners Emily and Klaus, now of Whetstone Farm.  The Latino-run farms are Agua Gorda Cooperative, La Familia Cooperative, and Cala Farms.  Our group of five farms has worked with the Latino Economic Development Center to develop a 200-member CSA (and growing!), a distribution hub on the East Side of Saint Paul, and methods to communicate across a wide array of language and cultural differences.

Last Saturday we had a wonderful meeting in Long Prairie, Minnesota, where Agua Gorda Cooperative lives and farms.  Jose Garcia, one of the farmers, also owns a grocery store in town.  We met in the back of the store and discussed finances, logistics, improvements, and next year’s crop plan while a large pot of carnitas simmered in the back.  Another major development is that we have decided to rename the producers coop from Stone’s Throw Ag. Coop to SHARED GROUND FARMERS COOPERATIVE.  We feel that the name is much more democratic and representative of all of the members of the cooperative.

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I am continually inspired by the work that this group of people continues to do and their motivations for developing a more just regional food system.  Robin has been incredibly diligent in wrangling the farmers week after week, distributing restaurant and CSA shares, and focusing on the coop’s development.  The LEDC continues to support the coop, including us in grants, sharing warehouse space, and advising us on business decisions.  Both Agua Gorda and La Familia expanded their operations this year and will be growing increasingly diverse crops next year.  Despite traveling long distances and working off-farm jobs, Agua Gorda and La Familia are able to deliver beautiful, fresh produce week after week to the Saint Paul warehouse.  Amidst tumultuous travels, raising a newborn, and starting a new farm, the Whetstone farmers never cease to contribute with clear minds and cheery countenances.  Rodrigo Cala of Cala Farms has served as a link among the LEDC, cooperative, and farmers working tirelessly on a wide range of tasks from farm advising to financial planning to serving as a voice for the coop.  He recently gave a short interview for the coop newsletter that I wanted to share here.  Enjoy reading these words from Rodrigo:

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Describe how you started farming in Minnesota.
When we [my brother and I] started farming was because the quality of the produce from Mexican dishes.  We tried to get squash and verdolaga, a mexican herb, for a speciality Mexican dish.  We going to try to find this herb, we going to seven different Mexican grocery stores and finally we get some but it was really poor quality.  On our way home I was talking with my brother and I say “you see the quality of the Mexican produce?” and I say, “why don’t we rent a small piece of land to grow produce just for us?”.  I ask people and they say no, they won’t allow you to grow produce in the USA.  One day I was working with a lady who help me pay my taxes.  She works on a non-profit organization called “Homestretch”.  So I was talking with her about my taxes and she start talking with me about the process to pay my taxes.  So I was talking with her about my ideas and I was telling her that I want to buy a house and maybe we can buy some land.  And she says “oh, there is a program in Stillwater called Minnesota Food Association”.  She sent me there and the first thing is I get there and I didn’t know anything about organic productions.  They say they had one rule, you have to grow organic.  So I say OK and we started to grow with them.  

Our first market was with Mexican markets.  The first things we grow was mexican summer squash called “Tatuma”, squash blossom, and verdolaga.  But the market was very bad because we don’t find any contract.  Sometimes we go there with one box of produce, and then they say they want five cases and we bring five cases and they say “oh, we don’t want five cases”.  It was very frustrating for me because I feel they don’t respect us.  Then one day Minnesota Food Association ask us if we want to start growing peppers for Chipotle.  I see the difference between working with Latino business and anglo business.  The anglo business are more formal, you need to sign some contracts.  But the hard thing was was we start with $25 per box of peppers.  Then every year they pay lower and lower.  Now they want to pay $11 per box.  The first year we made $5,000 on bell peppers and we used that money to make a downpayment on a farm.  I get the farm in 2008 and I certify one part of the farm, a quarter of the farm.  Now all the farm is all certified organic.  Our next customer was Co-op Partners in 2010.  

Now we sell produce to the co-ops and our cooperative, Stone’s Throw.  

Through the LEDC (Latino Economic Development Center) you worked  with many other farmers in the cooperative, how did you work with them this season?
I help them with farm training, I help them if they have questions on productions, if they want to buy a tractor, if they want to improve the capacity of the operations.  I help from the beginning to the end with them.  I help them from farm planning to harvest planning to harvest production to ….I don’t know.  There are many different questions.  Sometimes they call me to know where they can get plastic, boxes, where they can get seeds.  I help a lot.  Even when we start working in the field, I’m working with them, not just watching them.  I put my hands in the earth with them.  

How does owning a farm business impact Latino Farmers in Minnesota?
The first thing that I see, I see the people how they can feel empowered.  They don’t work for somebody else and right now the farms are small farms really.  They don’t break even but they are in the process to doing that.  But you can see on their faces how they can feel a difference.  When I see people working for plenty of farm production, in dairies and meat plants, and they are just labor workers they don’t have any chance to succeed.  I feel that with Agua Gorda Cooperative, I feel that with La Familia Cooperative.  When I start working with new farmers, they have questions like how much money can I make?  I can own the tractor? I can own the tools? And when they start working on that process I feel the confidence in them on this process.  Even though they are really small farms, you can see the happiness of these people on their faces.  

– – Rodrigo Cala, Cala Farms – –

As you or your friends ponder CSA membership over the winter, please contact us about purchasing a share through the co-op.  This is an excellent way to support local, sustainable food and beginning farmers from diverse backgrounds.  This coming year we will be working on achieving organic certification for each member farm and the cooperative, improving our produce, and working on infrastructure developments on each farm.  Please stay tuned.

Thanks,

Alex

Winter, post from our intern, Fionn

Winter has come quick.  We are now harvesting solely from high tunnels and working (slowly, combating lethargy) on indoor office and construction projects.

Below is a post from Fionn, a current HECUA intern with our farm.  It was written solely a few weeks ago but has the flavor of a season long gone by.  Fionn has been a great help, inserting enthusiasm into the farm as our own energy levels wane.  He has been working on designing a compost-heating prototype for the greenhouse.

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Today really felt like Autumn. The endless gray sky, the wind whipping the leaves about, the constant sniffling from unacclimated sinuses. A far reach from the bizarrely beautiful days that have been the norm this season. I don’t think anyone’s really complaining about the warm weather, but this sudden brisk day is rejuvenating. It puts me back on track for the mental preparation that must precede a long Minnesota winter. Now that the weather has finally pushed me indoors, I have a chance to reflect on my past couple of months with Stone’s Throw. I ventured into this educational direction on a whim, really, lacking any and all skill sets that would make me suitable for farm work save for the use of my limbs. Not knowing most of what was going on around me, regarding the crops, I was able to hone in on certain aspects of the farm that I discovered were of particular intrigue to me. All these aspects fell neatly into a pile that I will call community, for lack of a more specific term. This multi-layered community exists in several realms. It is within the farm, but it is also a greater fabric into which the farm is carefully woven. This fabric allows the farm to exist in an environment where it would normally be considered impractical. When I explain the way the farm functions to people I am met, more often than not, with incredulity and instant skepticism.

Urban farming just doesn’t seem like a fully sane concept to those who have not been able to witness its practicality and success firsthand. On the other hand, the sight of the farm itself, with its bountiful boxes bursting with vibrant herbs and community-art adorned greenhouse is not at all foreign to the dozens of neighbors who wave to me everyday from their porches as I take a small break from hoeing weeds. These people accept the presence of the farm and, in turn, the farm performs its own neighborly duties when they are required, such as offering a fresh head of lettuce to an inquiring mother who has halfway through cooking her family dinner. I fear that the concept of community support and acceptance is also undervalued and misunderstood by those who have not had the good fortune to experience the unparallelled potential of many-supporting-one and one-supporting-many.

As a young adult who has spent most of my life living in intentional communities, I seek out these instances as a source of personal validation and mental reaffirmation. I do what I can to surround myself with people and systems that remind me of the importance of interdependence. It is of special importance when rallying resources for ecologically-conscious problem solving, such as growing food sustainably and productively in an urban environment. I think of Stone’s Throw as a wonderful example showing that similar initiatives are only and always made stronger, more durable, and more valuable by their close-knit ties to the community in which they exist.

Thanks for listening,

Fionn the Intern

Thanks for all of the letters of support and phone calls to CM Dai Thao’s office.  We are making progress in securing a more permanent site(s) in Saint Paul and will be sure to share details soon.

It is blustery outside but our winter market booth this weekend at the Mill City Farmer’s Market will be stocked: spinach, carrots, cooking herbs, lettuces, salad turnips, and watermelon radishes will brighten the table.

I promise that in future weeks we will stop outsourcing blog duties to our volunteer interns (who have excellent things to say by the way, often more eloquent than us…)  We have been doing lots of number crunching, both about the business and for a potential vision of urban agriculture in the Cities (i.e. how much land do we need to thrive?  how much land does the City of Saint Paul need to produce all of its vegetables within its city limits?  what percentage of total land mass is this?).   We are thinking a lot about how urban agriculture can (and must) mesh with housing, public transportation, education, and the large array of civic initiatives and spaces that make the Twin Cities an excellent place to live.  More to come!

Many thanks,

Alex

Goodbye/Recap from Abdul and a few farm notes

Farm community:

Abdul has been an integral part of the farm these past several months.  He came to the farm to complete an internship as he pursued his Masters in Horticulture from the University of Minnesota.  I am honored to share a piece he wrote below about his own life and experiences on the farm.


Abdul Internship Experience in the Stone’s Throw Urban Farm

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My name is Cabdulqaadir Faarax, in short call me Abdul. I am a graduate student of the University of Minnesota, majoring Horticulture with Sustainable Agriculture minor. I am concentrating Horticulture Marketing and Sustainable Food Production. I am in final year and I am expecting to graduate on fall 2014.

In my background, agriculture is my long time career as well as my family heritage. Both my father and my grandfather were small scale farmers in the South Somalia. Somalis named my grandfather “Faarax Dhulqod” which means “land digger” because majority of the Somalis are nomadic pastoralists that raise different livestock such as camel, cattle, goat and sheep and they less value land cultivation and see farmers as second class.

When I completed my middle school, my father registered me into agriculture high school instead of general high schools. Four year late, I graduated from agriculture high school, and I started working in the Ministry of Agriculture in Somalia. My job was planning and monitoring of the government funded agricultural projects. Two years late, I decided to continue my agriculture study and I registered college of agriculture in the Somali National University. My plan was to run my own farm after I finish my bachelor degree. But unfortunately it would not happen, because Somali civil war broke out as soon I finished my program.

I fled from my country to Kenya as refugee. Then, at the end of 1999, I came in the United States of America, Minnesota State. For coming and living a new place is not easy; the first thing that comes your mind is how to survive, how to feed yourself, how to get shelter and how to adjust your basic life. For survival, I started full time work in printing company which I didn’t know anything about it. I did bindery, packing, feeding and helping machine operator for 4 years. After 4 year, I feel that printing is neither my profession nor my family heritage. Then I decided to back to the school and continue my agriculture profession while I am still working full time job.

In the fall 2004, I tried to apply College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Science in the University of Minnesota. But, most programs are full time morning classes which I could not go because I wanted to pay my bills and living.

After that, I applied Metropolitan State University because it was only the place that work and study can go together. It took to me four year to get my second bachelor of biology. Finally, I graduated on May 2008.

Two months before my graduation; I lay off my printing company’s job. It was that time, when I fully decided to align my agriculture career. I applied master of horticulture in the University of Minnesota which I am currently finishing it.

Although, I had many years of agricultural schooling, but I was feeling that I am missing something in my career. Because my agricultural experience was limited to the farm demonstration, green house experiment, and lab test. I wanted changing my book studies into a real practical application”. “It is the time my hands get dirty and go into a real field experience”.

Luckily, on May, 2014, I got an internship at Stone’s Throw Urban Farms in the Twin Cities. I met Alex and Robin, members of farm owners. They welcomed me very well. When I explained my internship, they told me that their job is tiresome and dirty. But, I told that I tired learning agriculture theory books, and now I am looking for a hard work and hand dirty experience.

I remember first day of my internship at Galtier and Sherburne site in St Paul, with Alex, Eric, Robin, Kristi, and Ann, we started transplanting many heirloom tomato varieties. I knelt down on composted wet soil and I put my hands in dirty soil, whispered myself “this is what I wanted be done for so many years ago”. I left that night while my clothes and shoes were wet, dirty, and muddy and my backbone was alarming.

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After week of transplanting and land preparations in different sites, my body muscles soared badly because I didn’t have enough physical exercise and hard work like this before. However, after weeks of continues work, I became farm commandos and my body become normal.

During my internship, I worked at 14 different sites in the Twin Cities- 7 in St. Paul and 7 in Minneapolis. Almost every day when I call Alex or Eric, they were working in different sites, roaming corner to corner in the Twin Cities. Stone’s Throw team is wonderful people, if you work with them; you will not like to go another place. They taught me how to prepare compost, till soil, transplant, direct seed, weed, trellises, irrigate, harvest, postharvest cleaning, and attending Mill City Farmers market.

In my internship in the Stone’s Throw farm, I learned how to grow sustainably following vegetables and herbs; tomatoes, carrots, peppers, onions, garlics, lettuce, mixed salad, arugula, kale, chard, radish, spinach, cucumbers, basils, thymes, sages and many more.

Also, Stone’s Throw Farm allowed me to carry my little experiment for their sites in Minneapolis. I tested two varieties of cowpeas in Minneapolis site. These two varieties were preferred by Somali Communities in the Twin Cities. Therefore, I want to see how well these varieties grow in Minnesota soil.

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Back to Stone’s Throw, I had five months practical experience which is better than five year book studies. I keep my heart with Stone’s Throw Team; Alex, Robbin, Eric, Kristi, Caroline and John. Also, I don’t want to forget volunteer Anna and intern Angela for their friendly team work.

In addition, I will not forget Stone’s Throw Urban Farm for their fresh tasty vegetables and herbs. I remember I cooking kales, chards, radishes and making raw salad from mixed salad, arugula, lettuce and green tomatoes. Also, adding at evening soup for peppers, thymes, sages, basils to relieve my family cold and allergies.

My family and I had enough experience of having a nice taste of fresh food from the Stone’s Throw Urban Farm.

Finally, I want to thank all Stone’s Throw team and I hope for them to have a good season with good production. I hope for them to get more customers and more large vacant land.

In near future, I want to become a sustainable farmer, extension outreach, freelance researcher and part- time teacher in a small agriculture college in Africa.

In addition, I would like to solve world food problem for contributing what I learned and make world better place without food injustice and hunger.

Abdul

Many thanks for reading.  We hope to continue to collaborate with Abdul and are already scheming with him about ag. development plans in Somalia.  

The Mill City WINTER Farmer’s Market starts this weekend.  The market runs from 10 AM to 1 PM and is located inside the Mill City Museum.  We will have a wonderful abundance of fresh produce.

Lastly, we are asking friends, supporters, and farm stakeholders for their political support as we negotiate with the City of Saint Paul to gain long-term access to our site on 625 Dale Avenue. 

As a farm we recently received $60,000 in funding through the Knight Foundation’s “Greenline Challenge” to build an existing farm site at 625 Dale St. into a Saint Paul farm hub.  Given its large size and proximity to a commercial thoroughfare, the site has great potential to model the the benefits of farming in the city. We plan to erect 2 hoop houses, a greenhouse, a permanent market stand, and welcoming pedestrian space on site.  Our hope is to create a space that will innovate how food is grown in urban areas and also serve as an amenity to the neighborhood.

The city planning department has expressed concern with implementation of our vision, as we do not have long term control over the site.  We are working closely with the Frogtown Neighborhood Association to negotiate a lengthened lease, and possibly to put forth a proposal to purchase the site.  To help open negotiation, we are asking farm allies to reach out to City Council Member Dai Thao’s office and express support for this project. 

 We want to keep messaging fairly simple and positive at this point.  We think it would be most effective for folks to:

1. Introduce themselves (identifying their connection to Saint Paul and/or Ward 1)  

2. Express enthusiasm for our project 

3. Follow with any supporting reason that they are excited to see farming and small business in Frogtown.  

Dai Thao’s office can be reached at (651) 266-8610 or via email at: ward1@ci.stpaul.mn.us

Many thanks for reading and for your ongoing support.  We are cleaning up fields, planted garlic last week, and moseying towards winter.  As always, we love to hear your ideas, critiques, and other musings about this farm and food production in general.

Alex