Farmer Story: Tiny Diner Farm

Koby Jeschkeit-Hagen, Tiny Diner Farm Manager, Seed Sages Founder & Permaculture Research Institute Cold Climate Teacher.

Koby Jeschkeit-Hagen, Tiny Diner Farm Manager, Seed Sages Founder & Permaculture Research Institute Cold Climate Teacher.

The Farmhouse, Tiny Diner Farm
3957 42nd Ave S. Minneapolis, MN 55406

Stop by for freshly picked produce every Thursdays from 4pm-7pm, or check out their website for volunteer and workshop opportunities.

 

Can you tell me a little bit about the origin of this space?

Historically, this land was part of the sacred savannah stewarded by Dakota, Mdewankanton, and other tribes. European colonization and expansion turned this savannah land into a few large dairy farms 100 years ago.  This area was one of the last spaces to become urbanized in Minneapolis.

 

What is the scale of this operation?

This is an intensive small-scale productive farm, 3/4 of an acre of a double-lot, founded in 2013. We are in our second season.

The Farmhouse & Tiny Diner Farm Plot.

The Farmhouse & Tiny Diner Farm Plot.

Street view from inside the farm.

Street view from inside the farm.

How many people volunteer or work here?

There are a ton of people who make this place happen - mostly voluntarily. Of course there is the visionary and owner Kim Bartmann. Then there is a full-time farm manager (me) and six assistants - Mary Stade, Laura Goetsch, Martin Gordon, Kara Guerra, Emi Sogabe, Nick Cox - who all came back from last year. All of these assistants keep the farm and programs running. They are paid a small stipend and meals. All of them have full-time jobs in addition to the 10-20 hrs they work at the farm. We also have three Permaculture Institute apprentices - Osiris Nasnan, Caleb Stellmach, and Cody Mastel. Lastly, we have high school Step-up Youth who work a few months in the summer and lots of neighborhood volunteers.

Front gate of the farm.

Front gate of the farm.

What are you most proud of this season?

We are helping heal this space. This is a truly bioremediated landscape. The challenge with urban farming that any given inherited lot has had multipurpose uses happening in it, "empty spaces" with a lot of history. 

That means taking into considerations what's going on with the lead levels, and heavy metals, making sure that the area is all clear and suitable for healthy food production. If some areas aren't clear, the question becomes, "How do we still use it for growing space? It doesn't have to be wasted space." It's trying to solve these challenges that I'm most proud of on this farm.

How can people support what you’re doing? 

There are three major ways that people can support this farm.

1. Utilize it. This can be done by taking classes or giving classes. 
We are looking for people who want to teach different skills about healthy living - food, energy, art - so this can be a re-skilling space. If it's not being utilized then the main mission of this space is not being met.

2. Donate & Volunteer. We are forming a resource center and tool share with our Farmhouse co-collaborators, the Permaculture Research Institute Cold Climate
You can support our projects monetarily or by donating different books and other things that are useful. You can also volunteer to weed, water, harvest, plant, paint, etc., on Tuesdays from 3:30-7:30. Once again, by re-skilling yourself the energy will come back around to the farm and the surrounding community and that is one of our goals here in addition to production: re-energize and help add to whole communities. In terms of money donations, whatever profit generated on the property stays within the farm.  For example, our low-cost Farmstand on Tuesdays generates money for these projects on the farm. 

3. Keep putting the pressure on local restaurants to make Urban Farming a viable enterprise. 

Go to local restaurants and ask. "How many of your ingredients are coming from local farms? Are you paying farmers well?" Ask them to post statistics about food price comparison and how much their farmers earn (hourly, etc.). We have to challenge the idea that local food should be cheap at the cost of farmers. Moreover, that local food distributors (groceries, restaurants, etc.) create expensive food prices without paying farmers a fair share.

Back yard, center of the Mandala Garden.

Back yard, center of the Mandala Garden.

How did you become involved with this work?

I was raised in a single family home in south Minneapolis.  I am from the city, did not know much about farming but I have always cared about our earth.

Being from a working class family, I became a first-generation college graduate, After the intense academic workload, I chose to gain some more hands-on skills and quiet time. I dove into farming across the country in 2006, where I have worked on 6+ farms. so I have a fairly diverse farming background. At the same time, I bring with me a vocabulary to interact with different classes, races and ethnicities because I was raised in a diverse urban community. I've always gravitated toward guiding people into being more self-sufficient, more connected to nature. For me, re-skilling myself was a way to re-skill my family, a way to be less vulnerable and more independent of the changes we are facing in our national economy and government. It is one of the many ways to truly honor being a working part of this earth.

After graduate school in New Mexico, I knew I had to come home, become rooted again. I was offered this position by Kim Bartmann to be a year-round farm manager and workshop coordinator. This year-round position allows me to still make a livelihood, and not have to juggle every half year to find another source of income. I'm able to think and plan these growing spaces with more holism more so than I can do with a seasonal farming position. 

 

What are the biggest challenges you currently face?

We have lots of opportunities for improvement with this project and with farming as a whole (in this state and around the world). Most recently, the last couple of weeks, we have been coaching restaurants to adapt ordering models to be more efficient with farmers. Every week we offer an availability list and we always have excess produce due to restaurants not being used to seasonality. If all these restaurants are in such high demand for local produce, then why do we have any extra produce being right in the city? So closing the availability-and-not-wasting-any-food-gap in one challenge. Also, getting restaurants and consumers to understand why a pound of kale has to be more than 70 cents a pound if we want the growers to eat well too. 

 Another big challenge is the extremes caused by our polar ice caps melting, climate chaos/change. The weather is changing so much. Our soil, for example, was 40 degrees (The optimum soil temperature for seed germination is 55 to 75 °F) for two months this spring. While the air temperature rose to 80 degrees. We missed most of our cool season crops this spring - radishes went straight to the bolting stage. So  the opportunity for improvement is creating the space for restaurant and farm staff and community members to understand these types of crop failures so they can be more flexible and adaptive to the new era of climate chaos.

What do you think is missing from your community in terms of the food movement? 

Healthy disturbances. The city is inhibiting, instead of allowing for a whole food system design to function. There are no subsidies or benefits for people who are harvesting their rain water, and slowing it down besides getting a lower water bill. Regionally, we are not using our water right. Ordinances need to change. Maybe paying residences for keeping pollinators on their properties, instead of charging beekeepers a $100 permit fee to keep bees on their property. Allow neighborhood associations to monitor the use/abuse/implementation of whole system helpers like pollination corridors, water use, beekeeping, etc. Minneapolis is too slow at this level - we've got to inject our system with healthy disturbances - diversity of plants, animals, and skills - to adapt to the changing environmental pressures we've already been facing for 10+ years. Please, get out of our way. We are busy.

 

What are your sources of inspiration?

The natural world - hands down.. People are pretty inspirational too but I don't really have any idols. If I strongly admire people, they are usually hardworking women. My mom Cynthia J. Hagen, Isaura Andaluz, Kim Knutson, Paula Westmoreland - the list is, gratefully,  too long to list here.

Not to say guys aren't awesome too... but I've been applying my admiration of women to the biomimicry concept. I've been watching honeybees. The males are just floating around eating honey, waiting to impregnate the queen. Meanwhile all the worker bees are females, doing all of the hard work, making half of the world's food! Just these little beautiful female bees, Awe-inspiring.

Honey bee on borage.

Honey bee on borage.

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

Hard work ethic and a sense of humor.

The ability to slow down. Farm time, natural world time, is different than capital time. And if we don't all start slowing down - whether we are farmers, designers, beekeepers, insurance agents, politicians, etc., then we are just doing a make-shift build on whatever system we are working on. We are just dropping a penny in the fountain of fate and not observing and reflecting and seeing what works and what doesn't. So our individual and cultural  pace has to be slower - and it will become that way whether we want it to or not. But choosing to be more observant, more aware, more compassionate NOW - instead of waiting for crisis - will lead to a lot less pain in the future for everything. 

 

Where do you get your source of energy?

Taking care of the body, talking to our elders. Good food, good energy. Laughter.

Photography provided by Sean O'Brien.