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.


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.


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.


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:

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.



Fall time


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,


The late summer daze

It has been months since we last wrote.  Our heads and hands have been away from electronic communication, save for the late night frantic copying down of restaurant orders or checking the radar for oncoming thunderstorms.  We are currently harvesting a wide array of crops three times per week while preparing for a bountiful fall.  For the past six weeks (and continuing through September) we have been preparing land, planting, and weeding fall salad greens, brassicas, carrots, beets, and our last successions of basil, dill, and cilantro.  We spent a late July day in Stillwater, dismantling a greenhouse that we found on Craigslist.  We plan to erect the greenhouse in the city this fall, as a prototype for what we hope is the development of more intensified growing in heated greenhouses and hoophouses.

There is a certain repetition that begins to intensify this time of the farm season.  The sound of ice cream trucks driving by, hauntingly crying “Fur Elise” while another tomato plant is lifted from the ground, clipped, and pruned.  Afternoon chatter turns to evening barbecues that turn into nighttime walks while we often continue to pick a last tray of tomatoes, clean up the packing area, or hoe a final row of tomatoes.  I oscillate between entrapment and enchantment this time of year.  The desire to be freed from the daily toil of the farm, the incessant demands of plants and plant-eaters while also feeling deeply at peace with the glint of light passing through thousands of tomato leaves, the meditative action of lightly dragging a hoe through the soil hour upon hour.  I have been thinking about how much of human discontent comes from our internal circumstances as opposed to our external circumstances.  In years past I have allowed myself to become consumed by worry, by distraction, by wanting to leave the work for something else.  This year I attempt (however feebly), to settle into the act of farming, the inevitability of endless August days, the lived experience of crop failures, crop successes, personal failures, personal successes.   Time will tell if this outlook will increase the quality of our produce.

We have been especially grateful for the wonderful people that have kept this farm humming and singing day in and day out.  Three summer interns, Abdul, Angela, and Olivia will all be leaving the farm shortly.  Angela, a University of Minnesota horticulture student, brought tenacity and energy to each day she worked.  She made beautiful flower bouquets and worked harder than most.  Unfortunate for us, she is headed back to school.  Olivia, a McGill University student and Minnesota native, connected with us through PLACE, a non-profit housing developer exploring greenhouse integration into housing developments.  She has provided a calm, unwavering intelligence, willing to tackle unwieldy projects (the bicycle powered salad spinner) even if the results are less than promising.  Abdul, a Somali, former print factory worker, and current University of Minnesota horticulture graduate student, will be sorely missed.  Abdul worked in the Ministry of Agriculture in Somalia until civil unrest erupted in 1992.  He is now hoping to gather agricultural knowledge and skills in the United States so that he can return to Somalia to begin his own farm and teach his neighbors.  Abdul is curious, good-natured, and established a beautiful experiment of cowpeas while on the farm.  We are hoping each of the interns will keep pursuing their agricultural interests and stay connected with Stone’s Throw Urban Farm.

Plans are in the works to spend the fall building more high tunnels, harvesting hardy crops through December, and making investment decisions including the purchase of land.  Please stop by the Mill City Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings or our weekly on-site farmstands on Tuesday afternoons (3-7 PM) at 625 Dale Ave, Saint Paul and 2820 15th Ave S., Minneapolis.  We have lots of stories and lovely food.  

Many thanks for your interest and support of our farm,


Greens! An Ode from Caroline

A Salad Advocacy PSA

We’ve made it to July farm subscribers! While my ideas for blog posts are generally inspired by the political threads tying together a non-contiguous farm in the city, on this rambling Sunday I feel compelled to highlight some on the ground happenings.

The month of June has been a salad jubilee- greens bursting out of the ground, our refrigerators, and lunch boxes. While it’s temping to wait out the season for some of the more charismatic bounty of fall, I want to advocate for salad- the early, tender, and unsung hero of the season. Since the urban farm began working within the context of a larger urban-rural cooperative this past season, we have been able to focus on space intensive and perishable crops that make the most sense to grow in the city. Salad is one of these crops and accordingly a significant amount the farm routine is an ode to these lovely leaves.

 Should you be unsure of how to best ingest, here are some of the farm’s favorite preparations to prevent malaise:

• An anonymous salad and donut lunch eaten at the farm this week.

• The Larsen family PB(G!) & J sandwich.

• Breakfast salad

In conclusion: enjoy, revere, and eat your salad greens.

Arugula always,

A note from our intern, Angela

Farm friends, family, and supporters:

This week, Angela, one of our summer interns from HECUA, has written about her experience on the farm.  I just returned from an exciting and inspirational weekend at Growing Power in Milwaukee and am full of ideas for more infrastructure projects, mushroom cultivation, community outreach.  I will write more later.  We have a busy week ahead of tomato pruning and weeding after so much rain.

With further ado, here is Angela:

Hey y’all, my name is Angela, I am Organic Horticulture student at the University of

Minnesota, and intern with Stone’s Throw. As my time with the farm is just begining

I have already been exposed to the plethera of projects that occur simultaneously

literally on the soil and off the field. On the ground everything from harvest,

processing, packing, CSA coordinating, staking, composing, hoeing, and of course

weeding all goes down. It has been quite mind blowing how everyone plays to his or

her strengths to keep the organism that is Stone’s Throw moving.

With all the rain this week our focus was to weed like crazy, racing to rescue

various plots and put them in a strong condition to outcompete non-crop plants.

Grass tends to be the main target, with once being lawns the grass can come back

with vengeance. As the team weeds together quickly as possible it can boggle the

brain, yet provide therapeutic qualities with the idea we are tending to a crop that

will soon become nourishment for urban dwellers. This thought keeps floating in

my head, and how straight up amazing it is to care for and harvest fresh beautiful

vegetables in a city. It is a practice more commonly done in rural areas, raising

plants that have been crossbred for human perfection, defenseless, and delicious.

Grown within soil that is constantly being rejuvenated with compost, turned by

human hands and critters. It has helped me connect to land even when surrounded

by city infrastructure.

Constantly working outside is physically demanding but has its treasures, in

particular I witnessed pollination on a salad mix crop gone to flower. Letting

crops go is not always a negative in this case is providing much needed pollen and

nectar for environmentally valuable pollinators. While finishing up composting at

the Galtier and Sherburne site in St. Paul, I wanted to take in the wildness of the

overgrown salad greens. Walking closer to observe the clusters of yellow and white

flowers there were bees buzzing. As a lover of these pollinators it was exciting to

see them out foraging the field. Even better they where native, my best guess is a

Miner bee for it being early in the growing season, the smoky wings, and the large

amount of pollen she was carrying. With the weather really heating up and tomatoes

growing rapidly bumblebees should be in masses soon.


Angela Schuster



In this picture (from left to right) are Abdul, a University of Minnesota graduate student (you will hear more from him later), Anna, a hard-working, vibrant volunteer, and Angela, your week’s correspondent and weeding extraordinaire 

At Dairy Queen at 8:45 PM last night, covered in streaks of mud and grease, 8 hours since our last meal, Eric and I dove unabashedly into large sundaes and Mint Oreo blizzards.  We spent the day racing to beat the oncoming rains – planting long rows of salad mix, arugula, and carrots, weeding more mature plantings of those same crops, transplanting our final succession of tomatoes.  As we pulled up to DQ, stumbling upon a civilized line of girls in soccer uniforms, clean, middle-aged men in “World’s Best Dad” t-shirts, and teenage lovers, it felt like we were returning to an America that we had long forgotten existed, spending our days stooped in the dirt, dutifully weeding carrots or checking radish germination.  Such is June in the bipolar North – sensing long daylight hours and warmth for a limited time, plants take off.  We humans hold on for the ride.

Our crops our looking quite healthy after such a slow spring.  Mid-May nighttime temperatures in the mid-30s stunted many of our plants and we are just starting to see their growth response.  While we usually plan to have carrots and beets by late June or early July, this requires being able to plant in early April.  The cold, wet spring (two in a row!) mean some of these crops will be delayed by about a month.  Other crops such as salad greens, spinach, and radishes are thriving with the steady bouts of rain and mild temperatures. 

Land access remains a major issue for the development of our farm (and urban farming in general).  After spending the last several years with various lengths of tenure and lease arrangements, we are feeling more and more strongly that the farm needs to begin acquiring more permanent parcels of land.  We feel stifled by the year-to-year agreements and renter status of so much of our land.  Without land tenure, basic soil health practices such as mulching and cover cropping can feel cumbersome and pointless rather than rejuvenating and necessary.  When the farm began, we started with a basic inquiry: Can urban farming be a successful, vegetable production business that simultaneously beautifies the city and engages urban residents in on-farm education and the development of a more just food system?  We are still deep in the process of answering that nuanced questions with other questions.  What scale does the farm need to be to meet those goals?  How many people should it employ?  What is a good wage to be making?  How can we build the farm on all fronts: financial, environmental, and community?  At what points do these different aims clash and compete with each other?  Land access and long-term tenure is at the core of many of these issues and would foster the development of improved soil management and therefore high-quality, high-yielding crops, sustained community presence and relationship building, and diversification of farm plots to become more complex, ecological organisms (i.e. integration of perennials, native pollinator habitat, etc.) 

We are currently approaching the land issue in a few ways.  We continue to advocate politically that urban farming is an integral piece of the city and that land needs to be dedicated to food production for all people for diverse types of production (community gardens, production farms, experiment stations).  However, this a slow moving target, challenging many of the existing presumptions regarding urban planning and development.  Lately, we have been developing more detailed financial models of our farm plots and production and then factoring in mortgage payments and taxes into these models.  For a long time we have said that, due to the tax structure and land prices in urban areas, urban farms could never afford to own land.   With clearer data regarding increased production with hoophouses and improves soil, we are beginning to rethink that original assumption.  We believe that we may be able to purchase vacant land and, with the construction of a large hoophouse, increase revenue enough to 1) pay mortgage payments and land taxes and 2) increase overall farm income.  We hope to purchase a few spaces at the end of this year to test our prediction.  The farm is also searching for an industrial space to serve as a “home base” for the farm.  This space would house a year-round greenhouse, larger scale composting operation, processing space, and workshop.  It would root the decentralized plots that comprise the rest of the farm.

As always, we are grateful to the employees, interns, volunteers, and community members that make our rag-tag operation a reality.  This time of year we are often running at full speed with tunnel vision, focused on production, production, production.  Please make sure to give us a holler or stop by our plots to chat!  Many thanks for your support and patience as our CSA season gets underway.

– Alex


What a whirlwind spring can be!  We have spent the last weeks running through the city, popping plants into the ground between rainstorms, furiously weeding away young lamb’s quarters, troubleshooting a few soil issues, tightening bolts and fixing engines.  Days have been long as the sun is finally beating down upon our plots and warming our soils.  This coming week, we will begin to install irrigation systems at our sites and catch-up with transplanting.  Last week we planted about 4000 tomatoes, several hundred peppers, 500 feet of basil, and lots of fennel, onions, and lettuce.  We were blessed by our energetic employees, Kristi and Caroline, our University of Minnesota horticulture intern, Abdul, our HECUA intern, Angela, and a wonderful high school volunteer named Kaia.  In one day we planted over 40 trays of tomatoes by hand, thanks to all of these people.  While farming can be quite stressful and often solitary, I am continually amazed by the power of urban people to transform land into food production areas.  Our farm is supported by many, many individuals who come to help us, walk by and comment on the work, or just drive by with their trunks rattling with the latest rap beat, breaking the monotony of weeding and reminding us of the ever-present spontaneity of the city streets.

This time of year is stressful as well.  The baby plants we have taken care of for so long have now departed from the nest to live in the rougher elements.  They are not longer sheltered.  They withstand strong winds and downpours.  Cold weather a few weeks ago stunted many our our lettuces, fennel and brassicas.  Just now, they are beginning to recover.  Farming in the city presents unique challenges which can be hard to solve:  What is the best way to manage 14 different lots with different vegetables?  How do design good irrigation systems with low water pressure (often borrowed from neighbors’ houses)?  When volunteers come to help, how do we best plug them in to a hectic operation, ensuring that they have a positive time and that they are benefitting the farm?  How do we improve our soil in such idiosyncratic conditions?  Only through patience and being present with the land and people around me do I even come close to developing a clear understanding of these challenges and potential solutions.  As I slowly become a more experience farmer, I hope to worry less and breathe more.  I am lucky to have partners and employees who are patient and persistent, reminding me to do the same.

We are excited for the beginning of the CSA in a few weeks and to have more bounty at the farmer’s market.  Ginger is planted in our high tunnels and the Beez Kneez honey women (Kristy and Erin) brought two hives to our 15th Avenue plot.  Head lettuce is firming up in the field and spinach is germinating beautifully (see the picture)!  Please stop by and see us during the day and lend a hand if you would like.  Enjoy the warmth!

– Alex