The beginning of cooler fall days signals the beginning of a season of more reflection and intentional introspection. The rush of vegetable harvest and deliveries is still present but far less oppressive than the heat waves of July and August. This is also a time of year when the regularity of tending to our farm sites, greeting our neighbors, acknowledging passersby, and watching the traffic stream past starts to feel less endless. We go to each site a bit less frequently. We have begun to put some of our sites to rest – planting cover crop, winding irrigation tape onto wooden spools, removing the trellises that hold up our cucumbers and tomatoes.
On cooler, calmer mornings, I often like to stop working for a few moments to watch the hustle and bustle of the city streets right outside of our farm boundaries. Along Dale Street in Saint Paul in the early morning, semi-trucks with the emblem of Quality Grain Suppliers rush from the interstate to the Pierce Butler train yards, dropping off or filling up shipments. June, a barber at Kali Kutz and Designs, next door to one of our plots arrives early. I take a moment to stop bunching Hakurei turnips, watching him as he shuts off his Chevy Tahoe and leans back into his seat, leaving the stereo running. I offer him some of the carrots or turnips that we have picked but he refuses, jokingly telling me that he is a “carnivore”. A Hmong woman drives down the alleyway in a contractor’s van and rolls down the window. She asks me the date on which we transplanted our Chinese cabbage. She and I exchange information. She farms with her family members on a plot of land south of the cities in Rosemount. On Dale Street, cars continue to stream by, passing each other, screeching their horns, racing to pass through the yellow-light. I wonder how many people observe me? Or see our farm? Does it register through the tinted car windows, a blaring radio, the already worried or preoccupied minds of the drivers and passengers?
I often feel that our farm lies at an odd intersection between practicality and symbolism. We have staked an identity on producing high-quality vegetables in the city and designing production systems that are high yielding and improve the health of our soils. We strive to become better farmers – improving texture, flavor, and appearance of our food, increasing its yield, decreasing the amount of fossil fuels burned, decreasing labor expenditures, and increasing profitability. This is the practical side of our efforts. The symbolic side is the hopeful and defiant act of planting acres and acres of food within a developed, cemented, gridded city. Our farm sites become verdant, peaceful spaces between busy streets and boarded buildings. How do our farm sites function as large, landscape-level pieces of public art? One of my goals for the future is expanding how our farm interacts with the street and its inhabitants. I want the farm to draw people in, have them walk the rows of beets and kale, feel the dewy grass moisten their pant legs, and change their ideas about how a city feels and what is possible in an urban environment. In the coming months and years, our farm will be making a more active effort to incorporate art – printmaking demonstrations, found-object sculpture, musical performances – into the farm-scape. We work to find a harmonious balance between pragmatic and fanciful that resonates with the many different types of people in the city – from our ardent CSA supporters to the people that have never heard of kale.
My hope is that one day our farm and a multitude of other urban farms will meld into the fabric of the Twin Cities, the presence of our work becoming as regular as the University Avenue auto shop workers, the downtown investment bankers, the road repair crews. Bleary-eyed school children aboard large yellow buses will gaze distractedly outside, vegetable plots lining streets throughout the cities. Maybe an entire portion of the city will be dedicated to vegetable production. A certain neighborhood could be a destination for fresh radishes and salads. Farmers, working on nearby plots, could share information, tools, and take mid-day breaks together at a coffee shop. Collaboration would lead to improved vegetable varieties, wiser growing techniques, and innovative season extension strategies. Small-scale agricultural production and the beauty associated with it would become an intrinsic part of the Twin Cities’ identity.
For now, we will continue the fall harvest (Sweet potatoes! Potatoes!), spread mulch to protect our plots during the winter, and begin planning for next year. We will also let our imaginations and daydreams launch into the many possibilities of Stone’s Throw Urban Farm. We hope that you will all lend your thoughts as well. We are always open to your thoughts, ideas, and suggestions.
Eat your greens,
And, a pragmatic word from Emily on what’s in your share this week:
- Scarlet Turnips
- Peppers, hot and sweet
- U-pick cherry tomatoes, herbs, flowers
It’s the last week of u-pick basil, so take what’s there!