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

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