Fall time

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This week marks the last week of official farm CSA delivery. A bookend to the season of sorts. No more long Monday harvests, hundreds of rubber bands wrapped around one’s finger, bins of kale or swiss chard stacked precariously high in the back of the van. On Tuesday afternoons the farm plots will feel a bit empty, devoid of children and parents lazily picking cherry tomatoes or John (a long-time Minneapolis urban farmer and major contributor to Stone’s Throw) diligently washing out the muddy harvest totes.

In all honesty, we are also incredibly relieved to have a break from the monotony of full farm production season. In mid-April we began transplanting, tilling, and harvesting from our high tunnels. Back then, the days were short, the trees had no leaves but there was a hope, a confirmation in the air that spring was indeed coming, that long days would end in fruitful harvests. Now, the days are short, many trees have no leaves, and there is a collective desire to lay the farm to rest, to mulch the perennial herbs, roll-up irrigation lines, and eat handfuls of hardy spinach.

Late October is also often the first time for real reflection. Time to pick one’s head from the myopia of vegetable cultivation, harvest, and delivery, and attempt to see the farm in a larger context. I am immediately stricken by the amount of generosity and support the Twin Cities has shown this farm project. From institutional collaboration to neighborly advice our farm operates effectively because of the wonderful people with whom it interacts.

On a late July evening, I was furiously trying to fix an irrigation line at 12th Avenue, one of our (creatively named) Minneapolis sites. We had planted salad greens the day before but thunderstorms had dodged the city and a warm front had moved in, creating dry and dusty conditions. Without immediate irrigation, the germination of the greens would be spotty, leading to weed problems and lowered yield. After several hose repairs, replacing the batteries on the irrigation timers, and a few trips to the hardware store, water began to soak into the ground. I prepared to leave the plot and trudge home. As I stepped on to the sidewalk, the elderly neighbor next door offered me a full meal of lentil soup, fried potatoes, watermelon. She had packed it into bags, demanding that I heed her advice and heat up the soup before consuming. The woman is an immigrant from Trinidad and Tobago and wonderful gardener. When the family moved in, the husband diligently cut back the trees surrounding the yard with a large machete to allow more light. They tilled all the grass and planted eggplant throughout the front yard. They also constructed a 10 foot by 4 foot trellis to support massive, pale, cylindrical squashes, reaching up to 3 feet in length). When struggling through the summer heat and endless farming tasks, events like these become mythic, bulwarks against exhaustion and disillusionment. They far outweigh the occasional vandal or city planner hell bent on keeping urban farms from disrupting the city’s “progress”.

Generous neighbors, enthusiastic passers-by, selfless volunteers, and creative city officials all help to make the farm more interesting, more dynamic, and richer in content. CSA members, our market customers, and many restaurant and wholesale accounts help to make urban production farming a distinct reality. As warm fall days turn into cold winter ones, we will sorely miss seeing so many of your faces.

We have spent many hours this fall building a full-season greenhouse at our 15th Avenue plot in Minneapolis. We will start our baby seedlings here in late-February and continue starting transplants throughout the summer. We also hope that this structure will serve many additional purposes: a microgreens production space, a neighborhood gathering place to escape the frigid late winter winds, a place to collaborate with aquaponics enthusiasts to design farm-scale systems. Our hope is that this greenhouse space will serve as a prototype and testing ground for larger-scale year-round production spaces in the future.

This week we also received exciting news that we were one of 16 recipients of the Knight Foundation’s Green Line Challenge grant. We were awarded funds to transform our 625 Dale Avenue plot in Saint Paul into a more dynamic, long-term production and food distribution space. Our intention is to continue to develop innovative urban agriculture techniques while developing farm spaces as interactive, pedestrian-friendly gathering areas. As part of the grant we will build several hoophouses, construct seating space along Dale Avenue, plant rows of perennial fruit bushes, and erect a market stand. We will also develop curriculum that teaches scalable urban production methods. Our intention is to design trainings that are suitable for both practitioners of larger-scale urban agriculture and backyard gardeners. We are very honored that the Knight Foundation’s community reviewers have selected our farm to do this work.

As the tomato stakes go from vertical supports to laying horizontal on pallets and the days become shorter, we thank you all for making the Twin Cities a wonderful and interesting place to grow food. As always, we welcome your comments, critiques, and suggestions for how to improve Stone’s Throw Urban Farm. Please stop by our plots in the coming weeks. We will be busy cleaning up, mulching, fixing engines and sheds, and continuing the fall harvest.

Until next time,

Alex

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