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

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