Farmer Story: French Lake Farmer

French Lake Farmer
15953 47th St NW, Annandale, Minnesota

Stop by the Annandale Farmers Market on Saturdays or contact the French Lake Farmer directly for produce drop offs or growing requests. 

Tell us about this operation. 
This is our second year in operation. We've actually had the garden five years and then two years ago, a local restaurant owner had driven by and asked us if we sold our produce. At the time, we didn't but told her we could. That was sort of the spark that got us going in this direction. That restaurant went out of business (not because of our produce) but we decided that we'd like to continue to sell and expand our operation. Now we have a customer base that includes quite a few regular drop-ins/call in orders, we do the Annandale Farmers Market and we have a couple chefs that regularly have impromptu heirloom and specialty crop orders. We did consider venturing into the CSA market but aren't crazy about the business model for various reasons.  We just like the market atmosphere and being able to grow-to-order as well.

Cayenne peppers.

Cayenne peppers.

How many people volunteer or work here? 
The two of us and then Heather's Mom comes out every Friday and stays the night for the market on Saturday. The boys (we have two son's, Salvador who's 7 and Emery who is 4) help some but on a voluntary basis.  Heather does a lot of the picking and selling/marketing and I typically do most of the ground work. 

What type of farming is this and what do you focus on?
We are a no-till organic farm. The foundation of what we do is formed by soil building.  There are a ton of delicate critters in the soil and an entire little ecosystem that one can pretty well destroy with a tiller. To build our soil, we sheet mulch and never walk on the planting beds. We also have a ton of worms. For our rows, we use wood chips from our land and that eventually breaks down into useable organic material too.  The crop that is our main focus is heirloom tomatoes. 

What are you most proud of this season?
We were able to recoup all of our start up costs and also sell enough produce in order to purchase a hoop house this fall. This should extend our season by a few months and allow us to have crops from different zones and also have crops earlier and later in the season. We're not making a killing and aren't ready to quit our day jobs but the hoop house will be paid off with farm money and we're proud of that!

How can people support what you’re doing?
Come and see us at the Annandale Farmers Market.  Also - we encourage people to ask us to grow things that they want. For example, right now we're growing "peperone di senise" peppers. Heather's brother has a friend in CA that can't find them anywhere. He asked us if we've heard of them and we said "no - but we'll grow them" - and we've succeeded in doing so. Another thing would be to try new foods. 
 

Rows of veggie are surrounded by large trellises of Cucumbers and Squash, and natural mulch.

Rows of veggie are surrounded by large trellises of Cucumbers and Squash, and natural mulch.

Sugar pumpkins growing up and supported by a trellis of cattle paneling. 

Sugar pumpkins growing up and supported by a trellis of cattle paneling. 

How did you become involved with this work and why do you do it?
When we bought our first home in the city, there was a pretty decent size garden already there. I had grown up with a garden so I had experience growing food. We decided that we wanted to grow most of our produce but being in the city, we were limited on space. In order to accomplish this objective, we had to use a lot of space saving techniques such as growing up instead of out.  So when we moved to the country, we were able to build a bigger garden. I built the original fence and thought "I'm building this so big that I'll never have to build it again". Well, things kept spiraling out of control and now we have fence posts in for our new fence and the growing area will quadruple next year. We do it because we are addicted to it.

The farm is growing some beautiful Zestar, Frostbite, Honey crisp & Keepsake apples.

The farm is growing some beautiful Zestar, Frostbite, Honey crisp & Keepsake apples.

What are the biggest challenges you’ll face or are currently facing this year?

Well, I have to get that fence done. The other challenge is that people require a certain amount of sleep to function properly and society only tolerates a certain level of dysfunction. Balancing time with the kids and our other jobs has also been a challenge

What qualities do you think it takes to be a farmer? 

You have to enjoy being outside and also hard labor. You need to have a tolerance for coexisting with bugs and the elements while getting pretty dirty. You also have be comfortable taking some risks too. It's a lot of work.