Farm Story: Minnesota Cranberry Co.

Cranberries have been a part of Thanksgiving for as long as I can remember, and every year around this time I can't help but think of them and of that heated debate at Grandma Betty's table about canned vs. fresh. Admittedly as a kid I preferred canned, but now as a (somewhat) adult, I've grown to know that there's only one real option, fresh! 

We had the opportunity recently to tag along with the crew at Lakes & Legends brewery on a trip to the only operating cranberry farm in all of MN. Lakes & Legends has made sourcing local ingredients a priority in their brews, and these MN cranberries will star in their Cranberry Saison this holiday season (available exclusively in their new Loring Park taproom). The Forster family in Aitkin, MN– Randy, Billie, Amanda, Samantha, Shannon and Nathan, welcomed us and the Lakes & Legends crew one beautiful weekend as we arrived just before the sunset. We found fields of floating cranberries waiting to be harvested as far as the eye could see, it was a beautiful sight indeed. The Minnesota Cranberry Co. doesn't just harvest cranberries, they also produce delicious wild rice which we were lucky enough to sample for lunch the next day. 

We weren't the only ones who showed up for the harvest that beautiful weekend. Friends, neighbors and even the local school principle came to watch the harvest unfold. It was certainly a family affair and we couldn't have been happier to be a part of it. 

Minnesota Cranberry Co.
50 Maryhill Ln
Aitkin, Minnesota

 The Forster Family of the  Minnesota Cranberry Co.

The Forster Family of the Minnesota Cranberry Co.

Occupation & Growing Focus:
Randy owns Minnesota Cranberry Co. and Randy Forster Construction. Billie Forster helps in the farm and is the owner of Aitkin Quilts and Fabrics and Specialty Embroidery.

Choice of unwinding beverage after a full day in the field?
We both like good wine and flavored beer.

 Randy Forster showing us the cranberry vines before the fields are flooded

Randy Forster showing us the cranberry vines before the fields are flooded

 The berries grow on low perennial vines in sunken bogs which can grow well over 30 years continuously. They also take 16 months to grow, meaning farmers need to nurture two seasons of crops at one time–the berries ready to be harvested and the buds ready to grow for next year. For more detail on the growing process, check out  this video . 

The berries grow on low perennial vines in sunken bogs which can grow well over 30 years continuously. They also take 16 months to grow, meaning farmers need to nurture two seasons of crops at one time–the berries ready to be harvested and the buds ready to grow for next year. For more detail on the growing process, check out this video


How did you become involved with this work and why do you do it?
Randy has always farmed but started cranberry farming when we were lucky enough to purchase a farm with this delectable berry on it. We do it because it is our livelihood and makes us smile. The risk, challenge and rewards are somewhat of a high.

What is the scale of this operation?
1,800 acres rice consumes about 500 acres, beans 200 oats 100 and cranberries 44 and the rest grows beautiful children, memories and happiness.

What's one thing you think people would be surprised to know about cranberry production? 
That cranberry’s are only 1 of 3 native berries to the United States.

 The four air chambers inside are what makes it float!

The four air chambers inside are what makes it float!

 This bud will turn into a cranberry next year

This bud will turn into a cranberry next year

There vast surrounding wetlands help provide water to flood and irrigate the cranberry & wild rice crops, year round in addition to providing habitat for swans, geese, bears, wolves, etc.  

 Anatomy of the Cranberry plant. Illustration by  Rachel Rolseth . 

Anatomy of the Cranberry plant. Illustration by Rachel Rolseth

Cranberries are a food, medicine and dye. They are known for their anti-inflammatory properties and outrank many fruits and vegetables for disease fighting antioxidants. Though the a major portion of cranberries are consumed on Thanksgiving day, cranberry juice, craisins and other cranberry products can commonly be found throughout the year. 

On the day we visited, the Forster family was harvesting more than 30,000 pounds of cranberries from just a one of two floating fields, each about four acres.  Most of this cranberry harvest will be frozen and sent to a major juice maker, but plenty will still go to surrounding local markets, friends and families, not to mention Lakes and Legends where it will be turned into a specialty cranberry brew. 

What's the best part of being a cranberry & wild rice farmer? 
We definitely like growing food and the versatility that farming offers.

What's the worst or most challenging part? 
The weather, the soft markets and the long days.

This harvester machine is used to knock the berries off the vines. Amanda told me that only her dad is allowed to use this because if you damage the vines, there could be major repercussions for the next years harvest. 

What are you most proud of this year?
The effort our children have put forth on our farm and the strides we have made in the cranberry fields.

What is it like to be a family owned & operated farm on this scale?
You definitely get a sense of teamwork. With the family always together and their strengths, there are always lots of ideas.

 Everyone puts on waders as they climb into the corralled berries which are sucked into a large vacuum looking thing and up a tube where they the berries and the water are separated

Everyone puts on waders as they climb into the corralled berries which are sucked into a large vacuum looking thing and up a tube where they the berries and the water are separated

  

Are your children interested in pursuing a career in farming?
Amanda says she is interested in the family farm but not as manager. She is very, very active in FFA (Future Farmers of America). Shannon and Samantha say it will always play a part in their lives because it is part of them. Nathan says he wouldn't have it any other way.

 Randy & Billie Jo

Randy & Billie Jo

 There's always a little time for fun

There's always a little time for fun

What are your sources of strength & nourishment? 
I would say my strength and what keeps me interested in farming is my husband and his will to make it always work. Randy thrives on knowing what he is building.

IMG_2194.JPG
 This is where the water and debris is collected and then recycled back to the land 

This is where the water and debris is collected and then recycled back to the land 

Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 1.06.50 PM.png
 The berries are sprayed as they float off to the semi truck 

The berries are sprayed as they float off to the semi truck 

 And taste tested for quality 

And taste tested for quality 

 Here they are being loaded into the back of a semi, they estimated the harvest would be around 30,000lbs the day we visited

Here they are being loaded into the back of a semi, they estimated the harvest would be around 30,000lbs the day we visited

Do you come from a farming background?
We both have some farming background but not at this scale.


What qualities do you think it takes to be a farmer?
It takes a person that doesn't have to live by structure.  Everything changes all the time.

Farm Story: Little Bend Heritage Farm

For many people, Thanksgiving is a time to sit down and eat piles of turkey surrounded by family, friends, and loved ones. The catch: Most of us still have no idea where our turkey came from or how it was raised. While much of the protein world has already shifted to healthy and humanely raised meat, the turkey has lagged behind. There are however a handful of wonderful turkey farmers growing healthy, happy, tasty turkeys right under our noses. We had the good fortune of getting to know one recently. 

If you were one of the lucky ones able to scoop up a pasture raised turkey from Little Bend Heritage Farm this year (they just sold out!), not only will you know exactly where your bird came from, you can feel pretty darn good knowing your bird lived a good life. The Bourbon Red Turkey is known to many chefs as the best tasting bird around, and thanks to the nice folks at Little Bend going out of their way to preserve this special breed of heritage turkey, next Thanksgiving your carving table can feature one.

Heritage Breeds by Definition
have a story to tell

We want to congratulate Steve and Little Bend Heritage Farm for the great work they do and for selling out of this year's turkeys. You can order turkeys next year from Little Bend directly or check out the crop shares available at Cooks of Crocus Hill. 

Little Bend Heritage Farm
26352 300th Street
Chatfield, MN 55923

 Steve Berg, owner and full time farmer at Little Bend Heritage farm.    

Steve Berg, owner and full time farmer at Little Bend Heritage farm. 

 

     

 

 

 99% of all turkeys raised in the Midwest are the “Broad-Breasted White” variety, sometimes also called the “Large White.”   These birds are raised in confinement in extremely crowded conditions on factory farms. The birds have little resemblance to those found in a more natural pasture setting like these Bourbon Reds.   

99% of all turkeys raised in the Midwest are the “Broad-Breasted White” variety, sometimes also called the “Large White.”  
These birds are raised in confinement in extremely crowded conditions on factory farms. The birds have little resemblance to those found in a more natural pasture setting like these Bourbon Reds.

 

What is the main mission of your farm?
To provide a great tasting, alternative meat selection that people know were humanely raised and to help save the Bourbon Red heritage turkey which is on the watch list of heritage animals.

Can you tell us about your operation?
We started raising Bourbon Red turkeys 3 years ago. We started out with 10 hens and 3 toms. This year we had 35 hens and 5 toms and we sold 300 eggs for hatching, 400 poults (baby turkeys), and 250 turkeys for processing. Next year we will have 75 hens and 15 toms and are forecasting selling 700 eggs, 750 poults, and 400 processed turkeys.

You guys are known for your Heritage Turkeys–what else is going on around the farm?
I got into beekeeping a couple of years ago and next year we will have 15 beehives which we will sell the honey and beeswax products. Also this year we decided to grow gourmet garlic so next summer we will be selling that as well.


Let’s talk heritage Turkeys, specifically the Bourbon Red, how did you guys arrive at this breed?
A co-worker’s children had raised some for a 4-H project and he did not want to keep them so I took them as I thought they would be a good meat source for my family. But after researching them and finding out that there were not many Bourbon Red turkeys left I knew I had to do something to help save these majestic animals. With more research I found that there is a niche market for the turkeys and I believe the best way to save the Bourbon Red turkey is through promotion to get people to eat them rather than the factory turkeys.


What exactly is a heritage turkey?
A heritage turkeys is a domestic turkey which has kept it historic characteristics from turkeys that were brought to America by the settlers and bred to the Native American wild turkeys. In order to be classified a heritage turkey the turkeys must meet the following criteria: 

  1. Naturally mating: The Heritage Turkey must be reproduced and genetically maintained through natural mating, with expected fertility rates of 70-80%. This means that turkeys marketed as “heritage” must be the result of naturally mating pairs of both grandparent and parent stock.
  2. Long productive outdoor lifespan: The Heritage Turkey must have a long productive lifespan. Breeding hens are commonly productive for 5-7 years and breeding toms for 3-5 years. The Heritage Turkey must also have a genetic ability to withstand the environmental rigors of outdoor production systems.
  3. Slow growth rate: The Heritage Turkey must have a slow to moderate rate of growth. Today’s heritage turkeys reach a marketable weight in about 28 weeks, giving the birds time to develop a strong skeletal structure and healthy organs prior to building muscle mass. This growth rate is identical to that of the commercial varieties of the first half of the 20th century.
 The pasture allows the turkeys to roam and forage, increasing muscle while maintaining a happier flock. 99.5% of turkeys raised in Minnesota are not pasture raised, you can change this by supporting small heritage breed farmers.    

The pasture allows the turkeys to roam and forage, increasing muscle while maintaining a happier flock.
99.5% of turkeys raised in Minnesota are not pasture raised, you can change this by supporting small heritage breed farmers. 

 

Do Heritage Turkey’s require any specific cooking or preparation methods?
All heritage turkeys have a greater dark meat to light meat ratio and also given the fact that our Bourbon Red turkeys are not injected with a water/salt solution means that our turkey cooks faster than the standard factory turkeys you find in your grocery store. Other than the shorter cooking nothing else is different. However; the meat is more savory due to the slower growth period and the natural diet they receive. Check out their website for some of their trusted recipes.


What are the biggest challenges you’ll face or are currently facing this season?
Matching the amount of turkeys to raise to the customer demand. Unlike beef, pork, or chicken, turkey is mainly a seasonal meat and it is hard to get someone to think about a turkey until it gets close to Thanksgiving. This means we have to forecast demand very carefully as it take 6 months to grow our turkeys unlike the 3 months it take to raise a factory turkey.

Screen Shot 2015-11-20 at 3.03.39 PM.png


What are you most proud of this season?
Getting our website up and running, securing a large turkey contract to a major cooking school in the Twin Cities area, and being able to reach a large audience to teach them about our Bourbon Red turkeys but also about the simple heritage lifestyle.


How can people support what you’re doing?
The best way is to visit our website where you can buy our hatching eggs, poults, and our processed turkeys. Next year we plan to expand the store to include the honey and gourmet garlic as well. Also, people can visit our website and read our blogs and watch our videos as a way to support us and get the word out.


What qualities do you think it takes to be a farmer?
Patience, and a love of animals and farming. A willingness to put all your heart and faith into the animals, the farm, and yourself.
 

 Check out the wheels on this vintage manure spreader, no air needed!

Check out the wheels on this vintage manure spreader, no air needed!

Producer Story: Sift Gluten Free Bakery

 M olly Miller, owner and full-time baker of Sift Gluten Free Bakery. 

Molly Miller, owner and full-time baker of Sift Gluten Free Bakery. 

Sift Gluten Free Bakery 
Contact Molly with any wholesale questions or special orders.

 

Platforms like City Food Studio empower our community to make a living out of doing what they love with little risk or initial investment beyond a belly full of creative thinking. We set off for our second visit to the shared commercial cooking space to spend a Sunday with owner and full time baker Molly Miller of Sift Gluten Free Bakery. Who also happens to be a one hundred percent delightful human being.

Molly has been baking treats using her own unique blend of gluten free flours that you won’t find anyplace else. It’s this unique blend that make her baked goods a serious competitor for the conventional; whether you are gluten free or not, they really are supreme. Molly turned out the most amazing tasting cinnamon+nutmeg donuts while sharing her story and giving us a little lesson on just what gluten really is. 

If you haven’t already tasted Sift’s baked goods at one of over a dozen Minneapolis locations you can special order GF treats or visit her at the Kingfield and Fulton Farmer’s Market this summer.  

 

  From top to bottom: Pear + ginger, pistachio + chai, blueberry and lemon-poppyseed muffins. Champagne cupcakes. Cinnamon-spice donuts with a vanilla bean with maple glaze.

From top to bottom: Pear + ginger, pistachio + chai, blueberry and lemon-poppyseed muffins. Champagne cupcakes. Cinnamon-spice donuts with a vanilla bean with maple glaze.

Tell us about your operation - What do you do? How long has the business been in existence and on what kind of scale? Has the business changed scale since its initial inception?

Sift Gluten Free started at the Kingfield and Fulton farmers markets in 2013. The markets were looking to provide a gluten-free option to their customers, and I wanted to see if baking on a larger scale was something I could actually do! Muffins, scones, donuts, cookies, brownies…a little bit of everything is usually available at the markets. At the end of that season, I started working with Peace Coffee to provide gluten-free items at their Wonderland Park location. Eighteen months and countless muffins later, Sift items are now available at thirteen coffee shops.

When I started Sift, I had envisioned a quaint little storefront—not a wholesale business. I still dream of the storefront, but wholesale has been a great way to quickly provide people with gluten-free options. It’s also been a great way for me to experiment with recipes and learn the business side of baking.

 

What is your background and how did you decide to start baking commercially? 

I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at 13, and had become frustrated with my doctors’ lack of advice on what to eat and how to take care of myself. It seemed a digestive disease could—and should—be managed through what I eat. So, in 2007 I enrolled at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. My time at IIN eventually led me to experimenting with a gluten-free diet, which then led me to experimenting with gluten-free baking because I wasn’t about to give up sweets! 

Since college I’ve had various jobs in book publishing, marketing and advertising as an editor and writer. Baking was always just a relaxing hobby for me. I’d often talk about opening up my own bakery, but because I have no formal training as a baker, I just wrote it off as a dream. Over the last few years, though, I looked around Minneapolis at all the great food businesses that started as food trucks or at a farmers market, and I thought, “Why not give it a try?”. And I have to say, I’m really glad I did! 

 

What is gluten? Why would someone want to avoid it?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. People diagnosed with Celiac disease have an allergy to gluten, meaning they have a severe reaction if it’s ingested. There’s no messing around with gluten when you have Celiac disease. 

There’s a second group of people who are gluten free, and they have what is considered a sensitivity to gluten. This is the category I fall into. For me, avoiding gluten has helped control the symptoms of Crohn’s disease. I also feel significantly less bloated, more clear headed and more energetic from eating gluten free. Everyone’s reactions to gluten can differ, which is one of the reasons there’s no easy way to diagnose a gluten sensitivity. I know there are people who don’t believe gluten sensitivity is a “thing,” and it’s frustrating. If you pay attention to your body and know certain foods don’t make you feel your best, why wouldn’t you cut them out of your diet?

 

 Mixing up Sift's gluten free flour blend. 

Mixing up Sift's gluten free flour blend. 

What quality does gluten bring to foods?

Think of a classic French baguette. Gluten provides pretty much everything that defines it: the crunchy outside layer; the soft, airy inside; the holes perfect for catching butter and jam. Gluten provides all of the texture, structure and flavor qualities that make bread bread—and help hold it all together in one tasty little package. It’s not impossible to recreate this effect without gluten, but because it takes more than simply substituting flours, baking without gluten takes a little experimenting. 

 

What are good substitutes and can you simply swap wheat flour with rice flour?

Gluten-free flour substitutes require a balance of both starch and grains. I make my own mix with five different types of flour, and also sometimes bake with almond flour. There are many gluten-free flour mixes on the market that can be used as a one-for-one substitute for traditional flour, but most contain xanthan or guar gum, which I prefer to avoid. These gums act as binders and help to provide a texture similar to gluten. Some people with Celiac have issues with xanthan, though, so I decided just to bake without it from the start. I use flax seed and occasionally psyllium husk as a binder instead.

Don’t let what I’m saying intimidate you, though! If you want to take a stab a gluten-free baking, pick up a pre-made flour mix and give it a whirl on a favorite recipe. You’ll probably be pretty happy with the results!

 

  Cinnamon sugaring the   Cinnamon-spice donuts  .

Cinnamon sugaring the Cinnamon-spice donuts.

What are your favorite sources for recipe inspiration and ingredients?

I initially started by converting family recipes to be gluten free and often dairy free. Apple coffee cake, banana bread, cut-out cookies—nothing fancy, but definitely items I missed once going gluten free. Oftentimes I don’t remember what inspired certain recipes. I get a flavor idea, then stumble down a rabbit hole online, bookmarking recipes and making notes. Many times it’s gluten-full recipes that are the start, because I want to get the balance of flavors right and will use them as a guide. 

Bon Appetit and Cherry Bombe are two magazines I always have on hand. And Instagram is an endless source of inspiration. 

 

Do you have a grandparent or close elders who influenced your work? If so, how did they impact you? 

My mom always had cookies, bars or quick breads on the counter when we were growing up. Again, it was nothing overly fancy, but there was something about a homemade treat that I always loved. Her chocolate chip and M&M bars had a special following among my high school friends. It’s a simple yet thoughtful way my mom shows she cares, and I think that’s what baking is all about: sweets for those who make your life a little sweeter.

 

What were you most proud of this past year? 

Within a little over a year, Sift went from supplying one coffee shop to thirteen. There are still days when I find myself thinking, “What? How did this happen?” And then I just smile and get back to baking.  

In November 2014, I decided to make Sift my full-time job. It was (and still is) scary to leave the comfort of a traditional full-time job, but I wasn’t sure how to grow the business without giving it more time and energy. 

 

  Limited edition Champagne cupcakes available for special order. 

Limited edition Champagne cupcakes available for special order. 

What are the biggest challenges you think you’ll face this coming year? How do you plan to address them?

Balancing baking with business is a lesson I’m always learning. I try to set boundaries around my time—for example, I’ll practice bake in the morning, then tackle bookwork in the afternoon. That is a tough task for me, because I’d just spend all day in the kitchen if I could. Alarms definitely need to be set to remind me to move on. 

 

How can people support what you’re doing?

Sift items are available at the following coffee shops. Selection varies by location:

Special orders can be placed by contacting Molly directly at yummy@siftglutenfree.com

What’s next for Sift?

In addition to continuing to grow the wholesale business, I hope to start looking for a potential space for a bakery! Stay tuned…. 

 

Photographs by Minneapolis-based photographer Lauren Carpenter.

Farmer Story: French Lake Farmer

French Lake Farmer in Annandale Minnesota is a truly unique growing space with a story that will inspire. This family operated organic farm produces the most beautiful, tastiest heirloom tomatoes grown out of Minnesota soil, and employs vertical urban farming practices alongside no-till growing methods.
Yes, they are an urban family farm in a rural community, swoon. 

Read More

Field Trip: Fire & Flour Bread

 photography by Claire Campbell

photography by Claire Campbell

Ahhh, Fresh bread. Is there anything like it really? Straight from the oven, still crackling and warm, perfectly crunchy and yet soft all at the same time?! If this is making you hungry, you're not alone... We first spotted Fire & Flour's hand made, naturally fermented, community bread on Instagram where we drooled over the prospect of attending a bread drop. However, once we made contact with owner Chris Boles and heard the passion behind his description of the process, we knew we needed to meet him and watch the magic happen in person. So one sunny Saturday, we pulled up to his lovely suburban home to find kids playing in the cul-de-sac and the smell of fresh bread filling the air. 

Not only was Chris's family adorable and incredible welcoming to us, they were also super supportive of the bread factory that had temporarily taken over their kitchen that day. Chris wakes up as early as 1 am somedays (whaaat?!) to get the bread rising and ready for an upcoming bread drop. Quality ingredients, time tested processes and his commitment to freshness, all drive him to make bread that he is proud to share with his community as a way of bringing people together while also bringing them back to the slower, finer things in life. What impressed us the most (besides how seriously amazing this bread is) was Chris's dedication to his craft. Weaving it into the fabric of his life like it was always suppose to be there. Except as many parents holding down full time jobs and busy social lives know, it can be almost impossible to also pursue your own passions. Thankfully for us, Chris figured out how to pursue his. Hopefully you all are fortunate enough to catch him at the next bread drop, unless we beat you to it... in which case all the bread will be gone (JK, but seriously). Enjoy!

Fire & Flour Bread
Bread Drops & Community Bread
Chaska, Minnesota

How long have you been baking bread for? 
I have been baking bread off and on my whole life but did not start digging deep and pursuing bread until about 14 years ago.

What is your background how did you get into making bread?
I grew up in a very food focused family and my mom did quite a bit of baking while I was growing up. Instead of going to sporting events, we would tour the ethnic neighborhoods of Chicago and I remembering touring the old Italian bakeries and being amazed by the smells and the equipment.  My passion for bread did not really start until about 14 years ago when I started working at Turtle Bread.  During the few years I worked at Turtle Bread, I lost my fear of bread and started to appreciate it as a living and breathing organism.  After leaving Turtle I took some time off from bread and baking, but it was always on my mind.  For my next baking experience, I worked at Rustica Bakery and it is there my passion for naturally leavened bread took off.  After I left Rustica I kept exploring naturally leavened/wild yeast bread and with that, Fire&Flour Bread was born.


What types of breads do you make? 
Currently I have 3 loaves with one rotating special/seasonal.
Daily Bread: this is my most robust loaf with a high percentage of culture and a good amount of whole wheat and rye flour. This is the bread I eat every day, hence the name.
City: this is a mellower, buttery, milky loaf.  It has a lower percentage of culture and only 5% whole wheat flour. This is my wife and kids favorite bread.
Seeded: the City loaf with toasted sunflower, flax and pumpkin seeds.
Special/Seasonal: the rotating special is a beer bread made with an Indeed Brewing beer and the spent brewing grain from whatever beer I am using.  The Seasonal loaf I made was for 2 bread drops I did at Holidazzle 2015.  It consisted of fresh orange zest, cardamom and figs.

What makes your bread different than what's on the shelf at my local grocery store?
This is a great question with many answers. My bread has a heart and soul.  It is bread that is cared for from start to finish. All my bread is made 100% by hand and naturally leavened/fermented.   I use non-GMO organic heritage wheat and rye. All my bread goes through an extended fermentation process, anywhere from 8 hours to 15 hours.  The extended fermentation process adds depth of flavor and nuances. I look at wheat and rye as others may look at wine, beer, cheese, chocolate, etc (any unique fermented product).  

How long did it take you to really master your own slow baking process?
I have yet to master my slow baking process but over the past two to three years, I have really honed the process. It probably took me about a year to feel comfortable with it and to learn the ‘schedule’ of my leaven culture and baking out of my home.  Making bread by hand allows me to know each loaf from start to finish.  To pull out as much flavor from the grains, slowing down is the only way to go.  Mixing by hand is very relaxing and meditative.  I love feeling the mass of dough go from a loose shaggy mess to something taught, smooth and supple. 

How are you sourcing your ingredients? 
All my flours are sourced from Sunrise Flour Mill LLC.  
Any other ingredients I use I seek out organic and local.

What exactly is heritage wheat?
Wheat that has flavor, a history and personality. Wheat that has not been genetically altered .

Why is it important to you to bake with heritage wheat?
Better wheat produces better tasting bread.  Even though I am only one person, I want to do something to preserve a bit of history and to show others that wheat is not bad to consume. Modern wheat has no flavor and can be consistent from bag to bag.  Heritage wheat has a flavor profile and each 50# bag of flour I purchase will have its very own personality.  I like the mystery of each bag and finding out how loaves from each will turn out.

You describe yourself as a wild yeast wrangler, what is this and how do we start?
All I do is mix flour and water together with my starter culture and in about 4-8 hours I have a very active and happy culture. To wrangler in all the wild yeast that is floating around, all I do is provide it with a food supply and comfortable living situation.  Fresh milled heritage wheat and rye have so many vitamins, minerals and valuable nutrients that wild yeast and bacteria are very happy to take up residence. To wrangle in wild yeast and start a sourdough culture, all you need is fresh milled whole grain wheat or rye and clean water.  Starting with whole grain flour is recommended because they contain a higher percentage of nutrients, wild yeast and beneficial bacteria.  

How can people support what you’re doing?
Bread Drops are how I sell my bread and I do drops all over the Twin Cities.  Individuals who are interested in ordering and purchasing my bread can find out about dates, times and locations of future bread drops on my website or social media. Bread drops typically run as follows: date, time and location are posted, individuals can preorder bread, I show up at chosen location (1-2hrs), we can talk bread, fermentation, technique, etc and try some amazing bread.  Bread Drops are not only a way for me to sell my bread but also a way for me to educate individuals about heritage wheat, natural fermentation and all other things bread.

What’s next for Fire & Flour?
That is a wonderful question. My main goals are to increase production, sell at Farmers Markets and to teach others about heritage wheat and wild fermentation.  When I originally started Fire & Flour, my dream was to have a wood fired oven (hence Fire in the name) in our backyard and bake all my breads in the oven.  Past health codes would not permit that so I started baking out of my home oven.  Times have changed and now the option of a wood fired oven has come back to the forefront.  My hope would be to have a wood fired oven in a year or two.  Once we have the oven, my desire is to not only bake bread out of it, but use the oven as a teaching tool and have community pizza parties.  Teaching would involve hands-on classes and the parties would be a way for me to serve others in the community. I have thought about baking out of a commercial kitchen but doing that takes me away from my family and would cause me to change my licensing. 

Field Trip: Waite House


The Waite House is one of six community centers that make up Pillsbury United Communities. Their main mission is to foster resilient and self-sufficient individuals, families and communities by supporting otherwise underestimated populations. This may sound good on paper, but it's even better in practice. Not only does Waite House provide after school programs, employment, legal and crisis nursery assistance, they also focus on health and wellness through their Culinary Arts Training Program, Community Cafe, Food Shelf and several growing spaces on-site. 

We met up with Martin Brown (aka Farmer Brown), Health Equity Organizer for Waite House to pick his brain about their expanding growing program which includes indoor all season micro-greens, for use in the food shelf and community kitchen, as well their outdoor gardens which are planted and maintained by staff and community members. Not only were we blown away by the scope of what Waite House is accomplishing with limited resources, we were also moved by Martins personal story which resonated close to home and provides proof that you can always be the change you wish to see in the world, if you're willing and able to see and be it. 

Stay up to date with future Waite House Happenings here and if you're feeling inspired to help out, consider donating your extra seed trays and covers for the mirco-greens workshops, garden tools or excess produce from your gardens. Now over to Martin for some much appreciated living wisdom. 


Name: Martin Brown
Occupation: Health Equity Organizer, Waite House Community Center

Choice of unwinding beverage after a full day’s work: Keepsake Orchard Hard Cider -- my housemates are members of their Cider Club

How did you become involved with this work and why do you do it?

I've been working on farms and with food, in one way or another, since I was 12. The social piece and the political piece came later -- I was radicalized as a teenager by folks I knew who were involved with the "anti-globalization" movement, as we called it at the time. Now, we know that globalization has created a plethora of possibilities for social justice organizing across borders. Even as corporate wealth and control have increased, the infrastructure has been built for exposing injustice and working together in ways we could barely have imagined in the 90s.

The kind of activism I was involved in at that time and into my 20s was not very nourishing. We were "anti" this and "anti" that and very angry about the state of the world, but we didn't always have a vision for what we wanted instead. Working with the earth has been a very helpful outlet for the deep frustration of witnessing so much harm to the environment and people.

These days, I am driven in my work by an ecological understanding of the physical and social worlds around me. Everything is interconnected and, knowing this, I strive to optimize relationships -- between plants, people, institutions... This is the indigenous way and it can be difficult for me to access sometimes, because I was raised in a world of subjects and objects. But I believe in a deeper collective vision and my own vital connection to the earth and her many communities. I am sustained knowing that, every day, I am helping build something more healthy, more resilient, and more aligned with the natural world.  


How many people volunteer or work at Waite House?  

We have 30 employees and over 200 volunteers.

What is the mission of Waite House and which populations do you primarily serve?

Waite House is one of six community centers that comprise Pillsbury United Communities. Pillsbury's mission is to work with under-resourced populations across Minneapolis to foster the resilience and self-sufficiency of individuals, families, and the community as a whole. Waite House started as part of the Settlement House Movement, so there's always been a strong connection to immigrants. So, yes, a lot of our services are for them -- especially Latinos -- but we do serve the entire Phillips neighborhood.

 

How does food play an important role here? 

Food is important in peoples' lives. At the most basic level, it provides the sustenance that allows us to continue living, and this has been the level at which Waite House and other social service organizations have engaged people for a long time. But food does so much more than this -- it provides a sense of connection, it facilitates sharing across cultures, it creates the pathway to sovereignty. These are the levels I think we want to start engaging people on.


Where are your primary sources of food donation?

We have a food shelf that offers food to the community four days per week and a free meals program that feeds over 200 people every day. Those programs have been primarily using the emergency food system – Second Harvest Heartland and the Food Group – and they also receive donations from a handful of local farms.

Now, with the Urban Agriculture Program, they also receive food grown onsite on a weekly basis with the additional support of two PRI Apprentices in 2016. This is highly nutritious food grown where folks can see it, and it’s food that, in many cases, community members have chosen and planted themselves. That kind of connection is not very common for people using the emergency food system, and it gets at those deeper levels of meaning that food has.


How many growing spaces are on this site and how were they established?

We grow food indoors and outdoors at Waite House.

Inside, we have microgreens growing in the foodshelf and the café space. Those, we started last winter. It was our first foray into growing in the actual Waite House space, which is owned by the Minneapolis Park Board. The Park Board has never given us permission to grow here, despite repeated requests. So the microgreens were, in part, an experiment to see what would happen if we pushed the envelope a little bit. Ten months later and it’s the new normal. Now, the Park Board is getting ready to implement an Urban Ag plan citywide, and we are a part of that conversation. Hopefully, we are serving as a model of how you can grow food by the community for the community on public land.  

Outside, we have three apple trees and eight veggie beds – again, it’s a guerrilla garden. Three of them are for the youth in the youth program. One of them we use to grow herbs for the kitchen. And the other four are for the foodshelf.  

We established the onsite garden after a fatal shooting on our block this past spring. We really wanted to create more presence and a feeling of safety and care on the street in response to the violence. So, as you can see, there’s also solar lights and a peace pole there; one of these days, we’ll put a little free library out there, too.  


What are you most proud of this year? 

We’ve been trying a lot of cool stuff this year – bokashi compost, lasagna gardening, mushroom growing… But I think what I’m most proud of is that the kids in the youth program like the microgreens! If I walk down the hall with a tray of them, they crowd around me like I’m an ice cream truck. 


What unique challenges come with growing in the city? 

I’ve done most of my farming in rural areas, so for me, the number one challenge is SPACE! I like trees and animals and ecosystems in general; I hope we’ll be able to incorporate more of that into our growing systems as time goes on.

That said, we work with social ecologies in the city. What we lack in growing space, we make up for in people power. And, to shift the frame, the Phillips neighborhood is roughly 1,000 acres. It’s more diverse in plant, animal, and human life than most 1,000 acre farms are. And, if this community can get gardens growing on 2% of that land, they’ll be producing more food and providing more habitat than any farm I’ve ever worked on.

To make that level of change possible, we have to work at the policy level. Land access is the main area of policy the Urban Agriculture Program works with. I have a long list of families that want to garden but don’t have the space where they live, or don’t trust the soil where they live. We have a community garden about half a mile away, the Infinity Garden, which serves twelve families right now. The Infinity Garden is located on land that the City owns, which we lease for $1 a year. We’re trying to leverage that connection to get them to open more public land for gardens in the neighborhood, and we have some great partners in that effort.
 

What kind of resources could the community bring in to help foster this work?

We are hoping to open a second community garden in 2016, so we do have a lot of needs related to that. On the supplies end, we need clean soil, clean compost, raised beds, garden tools, a shed, a truck… But, like I said, people power is key, and once we have those things, we’re gonna need some folks to throw down and turn them into a garden.

We are working on a sales program for our microgreens right now, so I’m optimistic that that program is going to be self-sufficient in terms of supplies come winter. We can always use more volunteers for planting and harvesting – and folks come out of those workshops with the knowledge of how to grow and a nice bag of greens for themselves to boot.

There’s probably a thousand other ways we can plug folks in, too. GIS genius? We’ve got plans for you! Growing guru? Yeah, we need you to teach class on Wednesday night. Guerrilla gardener? Ha ha ha. Let’s talk about blanketing the ‘hood with wood chips and compost.

 

What has most surprised you about this work?

I had a big epiphany five years ago when I first started learning about permaculture. I had been a pretty serious environmentalist for a while then… I was biking everywhere, living in a crammed collective house, working at a food co-op, eating freegan… but I still believed that I was a “bad” organism. I was defining myself by my carbon footprint, and in that analysis, the best thing you can do is to throw yourself off of a bridge. And, living with that belief, I wasn’t very happy.

Learning about permaculture changed that for me. I came to understand that I am a beneficial organism on the planet: all of my natural behaviors benefit the environment. We, as humans, can act as stewards of the earth and her ecosystems. When you look at it a little deeper, we are actually inseparable from them, one with them. 

After that, I thought my head had popped and my paradigm had shifted, and it was a done deal. But, through my work with Waite House, I learned that I was wrong. I am not only in relationship with the environment. I am also in relationship with the earth’s people!

I feel like the last year has been a crash course in how to be a beneficial social organism. I’ve always been “nice” to other people – but that isn’t what I’m talking about. We live in systems that are every bit as damaging to us as the industrial food system is to the environment. We live in systems that commit genocide daily on the basis of race, class, gender, orientation… So, for me, being a beneficial social organism is about challenging those systems and building the new ones that will take their place over time. I was surprised to find that I am still living with a lot of “anti” sentiment in the social realm; maybe it took finding something sustaining to help me push through it. 
 

What qualities does it take to be a farmer?

Hard work and humility.

What are your sources of energy and inspiration?

It really comes down to the people, I think. I’ve had so many inspiring teachers over the last few years… Paula, Lindsay, and Sam at Permaculture Research Institute Cold Climate, Starhawk, Pandora, and Charles at Earth Activist Training, Nat at the Draw Permaculture Sanctuary, Ben and Erin at Open Hands Farm. More recently: LaDonna Redmond, Louis Alemayehu, Nance Klehm, Christina Elias, Ernie Whiteman… I have been so blessed to study with and work alongside such amazing folks.

Closer to home, my housemates, Les and Els, and my partner, Sara, are sources of strength and energy for me. These three are people who do incredible work with incredible hearts every day; the world is a better place for their being here.

Farmer Story: Tiny Diner Farm

The Tiny Diner Farm is situated in the Longfellow neighborhood in South Minneapolis, rich with it's own unique farming history. This farm produces for Kim Bartmann's latest restaurant, the Tiny Diner. More than just a production site, this urban double lot serves as a Permaculture workshop and community education space. We toured the farm and sat down with the Urban Farm Manager and Community Outreach Coordinator, Koby Jeschkeit-Hagen.

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Field Trip: Loon Organics

If there is one thing that many of the Twin Cities’ top restaurants have in common, it is serving up seasonal plates that celebrate the beauty and simplicity of ingredients being carefully and responsibly grown nearby. The name you hear again and again when talking to restaurants and chefs about their wonderful produce is Loon Organics. While touring the family operated farm last fall I couldn't help notice this same simplicity and beauty in the hands of farmers Laura and Adam's son Eli as he chowed down on a freshly picked carrot. Un-peeled and a little dirty, but packed with rich organic flavor.

Loon Organics is a 40-acre certified organic farm located 60 minutes west of Minneapolis, MN, co-owned and operated by Laura Frerichs and Adam Cullip and their 4-year old son, Eli. Their mission is to nourish mind body and soul, and they have been doing so successfully for the past 12 years.  Beginning at the Gardens of Eagan Incubator Farm in 2005, they purchased farmland in 2008 and have established a passionate and devoted 200-member CSA over the past 10 years. Loon has around 7-8 acres of certified organic vegetable production that provides for the CSA, local retailers, farm-to-table restaurants, and the Mill City Farmers Market in Minneapolis.

2016 CSA shares are still available now, but if you don't have a chance to sign up you can buy their amazing produce each weekend this summer at their booth at the Mill City Farmers Market in downtown Minneapolis.

Loon Organics
23229 200th St. 
Hutchinson, MN 55350

photography by Claire Campbell.

 Owners and operators Laura Frerichs and Adam Cullip.

Owners and operators Laura Frerichs and Adam Cullip.

What did you do before you started farming? 
In 2003, I was a year out of college with a Cultural Anthropology degree, working several office jobs and volunteering with a start-up public health non-profit in Minneapolis.  I had been exposed to a burgeoning CSA and local foods movement around Grinnell, IA where I went to school and was curious about the basic act of growing food, gardening, and sustainable agriculture.  I was lucky to get a job at Gardens of Eagan that Spring of 2003 and get my hands dirty.  I met Adam the night before I headed out to Gardens of Eagan for my first day of farm work and we began dating while I was working on the farm.  He was in graduate school at the U of MN for Public Health, but grew up doing plumbing and heating work with his dad.  He had a plethora of jobs in and after college: handyman, plumber, barista, bookmobile driver, bike mechanic, sound technician, canvasser, among others.  He would come out to the farm to visit and we were both blown away at seeing a really productive, successful organic vegetable farm in action. We went to Baja, Mexico and Southern California that winter to work on and visit some farms, and that spring Adam dropped out of Grad School to pursue farm jobs.  We lived in Minneapolis and commuted out of the city to work on on some great vegetable farms like Riverbend, Gardens of Eagan, and Natural Harvest (now La Finca).  The winter of 2004-2005 we went to Brasil and worked for 2 months on a biodynamic dairy, fruit, and vegetable farm.

Tell us about your operation - how long has it been in existence and on what kind of scale? Has the business changed scale since its initial inception?

We began Loon Organics in 2005 on 1.5 acres of rented land from Gardens of Eagan.  We were very eager to farm but didn’t have the capital or knowledge to buy a farm and start out on our own. Martin and Atina set up an “incubator” situation for us, where we were able to rent organic farmland, rent space in their greenhouse and cooler, and we also rented housing on the farm from them. Our first year we just needed to get some experience ourselves growing and calling the shots, so we did a small local farmers market and sold a few crops wholesale to the Northfield Food Co-op and Valley Natural Foods in Burnsville.  Both Adam and I continued to work at Gardens of Eagan part-time and had off-farm jobs. We were farming our plots on a very part-time basis but we got great experience and launched a small CSA in 2006, as well as got a spot at the first season of the brand-new Mill City Farmers Market in Minneapolis. 

We spent four years renting land at Gardens of Eagan and growing and maximizing our production on about 2 acres of land.  From our first years at Gardens of Eagan, we also realized that we loved farming and wanted to continue on this path on our own farm one day.  We found our current 40-acre farm in Hutchinson, MN (60 miles west of Minneapolis) in 2008 and moved here in the fall of 2008 with the goal of quitting our off-farm jobs and farming full-time for the 2009 season.  We had 125 CSA shares in 2009 plus our farmers market booth and now were both farming full-time along with employing 3 full-time seasonal employees. A huge coincidence for us was that our Hutchinson farm was already certified organic and had been operating as a small CSA farm locally, so there was a good core group of people here to support us right away and we could start farming organically immediately (not waiting 3 years to transition conventional farm land).  

We plowed most of our fields on the new farm that first year in 2009 that Spring and tripled our CSA.  It was a ballsy move in hindsight, but we didn’t really know any better.  We had a pretty good year in spite of the huge learning curve of being on new land, managing employees and a larger CSA, and just barely kept ourselves from having to get off-farm jobs that winter.  It’s been a constant building process since then, slowly adding, improving, and getting more efficient as the years go on.  We now in our 11th season farming and the 7th season on this farm with a 200-member CSA, our spot at the Mill City Farmers Market, and some select wholesale to farm-to-table restaurants, food co-ops, and the Harvest for the Hungry program where we can donate extra produce to our local food shelves and get reimbursed for it. 


Can you tell us about the land you are farming on and your operating facilities?
We are in the Prairie Pothole region of Minnesota, where the Big Woods ends and the Prairie Begins. We’re about a mile from the Crow River and this area was originally home to the Dakota people. Our farm was homesteaded in the 1860’s and from what we know from neighbors, operated as a traditional diversified farm in the same family for about a century. The 40-acre parcel that we own and farm was split off from the neighboring farmland due to a wetland in the back of the farm which prevented the new farm owners from farming ‘fencerow-to-fencerow’. That wetland saved this 40-acre parcel intact. The wetland and very low/poor drainage areas we do not farm and it provides us habitat for beneficial insects and animals, as well as beautifying and diversifying our farm site.

There is a 100-year old dairy barn on site that we have converted and expanded for part of our packing and washing facilities.  The original grainery has been re-modeled and supported, half is storage/garage area for our equipment and the other half is converted into housing for our seasonal employees with a summer kitchen for them. We added two tiny houses that Adam built for employee housing as well and have upgraded a shop for Adam to work in during winter and store equipment. There is a greenhouse for bedding plant starts and three unheated hoop houses (over 10,000 sq. ft) where we grow spring and fall greens, and summer tomatoes and peppers, and we successfully grew spinach all last winter. Our family lives in the original farm-house, also over 100-years old on the farm site. Like most old farm houses and farm buildings, everything is a work in progress but the improvements we’ve made over the past seven years are starting to feel noticeable and tangible now.  We are around 60 miles west of Minneapolis.

How many people work or volunteer on the farm?
We have a great team that help us run this farm.  This season we have had 2-3 full-time employees living and working on the farm: our farm manager, Lars Hermanson, his wife Liz was here for two months before she started a teaching job in Alaska, and Bree Lloyd. Then we have 3-4 part-time people, Katharine, Jenny, Kelly, and Liza that work with us primarily on harvest and pack days, and many of those gals have been with us for a couple of years at least. A group of five women do work shares with us, working for four hours in exchange for their CSA box each week, and we get tons of weeding done and big harvests of onions, garlic, squash, etc.  It’s like having a crop mob here every week. The work-shares have all been with us for several years now too. My mom, Jacquie Frerichs, helps us nearly full-time with child care for our 4-year old son, Eli, and that is a crucial part of our farm team and frees up Adam and I to be full-time farmers and managers. There are a lot of hands that do this work, and we are grateful for their help. 


Can you describe your approach to growing?
 Our mission is to nourish mind, body, and soil.  We are a certified organic farm and aim to leave the soil in better condition than we found it through organic and responsible land stewardship.  We grow the most flavorful, fresh, high-quality food that we can for ourselves and our eaters.  We also strive to nourish innovation, curiosity, and a deep educational experience on the farm.  While we are a production farm, we dedicate our time and energy educating our employees, as many of them aspire to be farmers or at least increase their knowledge, and we have a structured educational plan and bi-weekly farm talks that we put on with our friends, Nick and Joan Olson at Prairie Drifter Farm in Litchfield, MN.

What are the biggest challenges you’ll face or are currently facing this year?  
We have a wonderful crew this year, but all of our full-time employees will be moving on to other endeavors at the end of our season.  Finding and retaining quality employees that have previous farm experience and are passionate, committed, and hard-working is a constant challenge for a seasonal business such as ours.  We are at the point in our business when we need quality, experienced people on our team that can take on responsibility and management.  This work is detail-oriented, extremely diverse and dynamic, and needs to be done quickly and efficiently.  It takes a number of years to develop those skills and the work certainly doesn’t appeal to everyone.

 


What are you most proud of this season?
We expanded our infrastructure (pack shed, cooler, delivery vehicle), improved our employee dwellings, and added a 3rd hoop house. That expansion plus making a commitment to pay our employees a decent hourly wage and raising our prices to support their wage increase, has helped our farm take it to the next level of operation this year. It has been exciting to see the quality and quantity of produce that we can put out with the right tools and people, I think it is our best growing season yet.  Adam also converted his third tractor from gasoline powered to an electric engine running on electric batteries, thus making over half our tractor fleet quiet and oil-free.  We hope to add a solar array in the next year or two to power the tractors completely from the sun and off-grid.

How can people support what you’re doing?
People can buy produce from us through our CSA program and at our Mill City Farmers Market booth. This is the best way to support us as you are buying directly from us. We also sell select produce items through Harvest Moon Co-op in Long Lake, MN, and our produce is on the menu at several restaurants: Spoonriver, The Bachelor Farmer (specifically featured in their Sunday night dinners), 320 Northeast, and Zella’s in Hutchinson. We open spots to our CSA in early January, and folks can e-mail us to get a reminder when new spots become open to registration. I teach an Organic Gardening class for free through Community Ed. in Hutchinson every March or April. Both Adam and I will often do workshops and presentations at the local organic farming conferences throughout the winter months.

 

 Farmer and machinery geek, Adam Cullip has recently converted three tractors to run off solar electricity. 

Farmer and machinery geek, Adam Cullip has recently converted three tractors to run off solar electricity. 

What qualities do you think it takes to be a farmer?
Curiosity, intelligence, hard-work, a strong back, attention to detail, pragmatic idealism, and previous farm experience is a must. Our life is rich in many ways, from bountiful produce to a beautiful place to work and raise our family, however it’s not an easy way to make an income. Thriftiness is essential.
 

What’s next for Loon?
Continuing to build and grow our farm team, including expanding organic, diversified agriculture in our local area!
We have a wonderful community of like-minded, creative farmers out here and our vision is to transform this area into a vibrant, supportive place for more sustainable farmers to start up and join us here. The farmland here is amazingly fertile, we are close to the Twin Cities, and our local communities are more and more interested in what we are doing every year. We are interested in how we can make land more accessible and affordable to this next generation of farmers--we need them!  

On the production side, we will be exploring more four-season growing, extending our season into 10 months of the year to provide hoop house greens during the winter months. Last winter, we ate spinach from our unheated hoop house every month through the winter, and we’d love to expand and offer that to our CSA and farmers market folks.  

 

Field Trip: Fermentation On Wheels

 Photo by Nick Littlefield 

Photo by Nick Littlefield 

Have you ever met someone who is so passionate about what they're doing it almost feels contagious? We have, and Tara of Fermentation on Wheels was hands down one of those people. 

We caught up with Tara while she was whizzing through Minneapolis aboard her mobile classroom and living space (a converted vintage school bus) on her tour across the country to teach both seasoned fermenters and newbies alike the benefits and tricks of the trade of fermentation. Talk about a lady crush.... swoon! 

What impressed us most about Tara and this endeavor is how self directed and motivated she is. She's doing it because she believes in it and is living her values, in real life. We could all stand to do a bit better in that department, but luckily we have people like Tara to inspire us and show us it is possible to pursue your dreams. 

Fermentation on Wheels
Contact Tara if you are interested in learning more about fermentation and to request a tour stop. 
All events are free and open to the public unless otherwise specified. Fermentation on Wheels is fueled by donations only.

What is your name, age and what are you working on? 

My name is Tara Whitsitt and I’m 30. I’m currently working on a book project that will consist of illustrations, travelogue and roughly 50 recipes. All are based on a two year-tour I embarked on between October 2013 to October 2015 with my bus-converted-fermentation lab and workshop space. I taught charitable food fermentation workshops and held fermentation themed potlucks around the country, in 27 states.

  photos   by claire campbell

photos by claire campbell


What is the primary mission of Fermentation on Wheels?

The mission is to make fermentation education more accessible and break the myth that fermentation is difficult or dangerous. I also aim to inspire students by creating environments and organizing events that promote creativity and bridge communities.

  photos   by claire campbell

photos by claire campbell

What exactly is the process of fermentation?

Fermentation is the transformation of food from its raw or cooked state to a more preserved form that has a complex, unique flavor profile due to the microbial action that develops within the food during the process. This microbial action also creates a food that is teeming with beneficial bacteria.

  photos   by claire campbell

photos by claire campbell

How did you come up with the idea to travel around educating people and how long have you been on the road? 

In May 2013 I decided education would be my medium as an artist and activist. Fermentation happened to be the focus of my energy at the time, and food will always be a great interest of mine. This educational project is much bigger than just fermentation – it’s about systematic change. I want to be a catalyst for changing a system that has neglected real food. I’m promoting small farmers, sustainable agriculture, and the importance of nature’s cycles in my travels too.

How many cities (or miles) have you traveled in that time?  

I traveled 22,000 miles in the 2 years I was on the road.

  photos   by claire campbell

photos by claire campbell

What are the benefits of eating fermented foods?

Microbe-rich fermented foods & drinks offer a healthy alternative to the more widely available processed foods that are consumed in America today. When we introduce good bacteria to our bodies, we strengthen our gut, improve immunity, and better our digestive health. We also encourage a food culture that promotes diversity and health in our inner and outer eco-systems.

What has most surprised you about this experience? 

What surprised me most is how incredibly successful it was – I didn’t start this with the expectation that people to latch on. I have thousands of followers now, a huge community, and people are still raving about fermentation and the importance of good food. This is a wonderful time to be a food activist.
 

  photos   by claire campbell

photos by claire campbell

We love that fermentation cultures often have their own story to tell, is it a common practice to swap mothers? Can you explain to our readers how this works?

I’m not sure if it’s common to swap, but it’s definitely a thing to pass them on. Certain regions have a much stronger culture based around foods. I’ve encouraged culture swaps in my travels and I know many communities have kept doing swaps every month as a way to keep the fermentation enthusiasm going.

  photos   by claire campbell

photos by claire campbell

What's the one thing you want people to takeaway about fermentation? 

Mostly I want people to be transformed through the incredibly complex yet delicate flavors of fermentation. I’m a sensual human, and to watch someone else enjoy the flavors of these foods brings me a lot of happiness. It’s one thing to want to be healthy, but to experience happiness through food is a real game-changer.

What drew you to be a fermenter? 

First, it was the flavors, and then, it was the protest.

  photos   by claire campbell

photos by claire campbell

Do you have any favorite resources (books, blogs, podcasts etc.) for those looking to get more into fermenting their food? Any words of advice?  

I have a lot of resources – there are so many people doing incredible work in the field of fermentation. If you want reference to some of my colleagues, you can visit http://www.fermentationonwheels.com/connect/. My advice is to not get hung up on fancy kitchen tools and trust your senses – taste as you go, just like you would with any kitchen process. If you want a good article and recipe on how to get started, I recommend checking out this one I did for Food 52.

 photo by claire campbell

photo by claire campbell

Producer Story: You Betcha Kimchi

Joe and Iman are two incredible people I have had the pleasure of calling friends. Both teachers, this musician and yogi duo came together in 2013 to create - You Betcha Kimchi - a Minnesota twist on the Korean classic, adding farmers and small business owners to their list of accomplishments.

You Betcha Kimchi currently operates out of the City Food Studio in South Minneapolis where you can stop by every Tuesday night from 5-8pm and Saturday morning from 9am-1pm. Committed to high quality and locally sourced products, Joe and Iman have been able to locally source all of the produce needed to make their delicious fermented creations, bonus points for that guys! We caught up with them on sunny afternoon during a fermenting session to learn more about the process, the operation and their future plans.

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Field Trip: Haley, The Food Group

Our future is going to be BRIGHT.

We believe that whole-heartedly, especially after meeting young folks who are already taking huge strides to change the way our food system works. Like Haley, our favorite MN GreenCorps member and all around awesome human.

Haley has been working with the Food Group, a local food bank, for the past year helping to establish an on-site microfarm that produces upwards of a 100lbs of fresh produce a week for their food bank members. On top of growing for the farm, she coordinates volunteers, leads tours and hosts learning days for the community in the garden. As if that weren't enough, she also works as a Fruits of the City Coordinator and an Edible Landscape Consultant, overseeing Giving Gardens (swooon!).

As she wraps up her time with the Food Group, she'll also be embarking on a new adventure that we'll definitely be following along with on her blog. All in all, we can't really say enough good things about the work Haley is doing but we sure loved her to pieces and think you will too! Go Lady Power!!!

As a Minnesota GreenCorps member serving with the Food Group can you tell us what various hats you wear?

My main hat is Microfarm Coordinator, where I lead volunteer groups in harvest, educate visitors, and provide maintenance to keep the garden healthy. Another is Fruits of the City Coordinator, where I help match volunteer groups and orchards, organize a harvesting event, and bring the extra fruit to local food shelves. I’m also an Edible Landscape Consultant, making sure that the partner Giving Gardens we established this year are getting the education and support that they need to prosper. As of yesterday, my official AmeriCorps service has ended, and I gratefully have accepted a position with The Food Group working on these same projects through the end of the season.

What are you growing? And what methods?

On our “Microfarm” even though it is a smaller space, we are growing a wonderful variety of crops. We have a little bit of everything; lettuce, tomatoes, bush beans, sugar snap peas, tomatillos, strawberries, eggplant, okra, zucchini, cucumber, peppers, collards, kale, broccoli, swiss chard, kohlrabi, beets, carrots, onions, leeks, radishes... and a few pollinator-friendly flowers out front!

We have a newly constructed hoop house where our trellised tomatoes and squat peppers are happily prospering in their raised beds and warm environment. So far, we have been averaging over 100lbs of produce per week, harvested and donated directly to our food bank across the parking lot. Our growing methods are “organic”, although we are not certified. This is only the second year the land has been cultivated, and the lawn is trying it’s best to return and the bunnies have definitely snacked on our vegetables this season. It has been a series of learning lessons in natural controls, perseverance, and patience.

What are your favorite supply centers or resource shops?

For a small production operation like ours, whenever possible we try to utilize second-hand or recycled materials, and re-purpose old equipment. This year we even were able to start many of our crops from donated seeds! However, that’s not always possible. My favorite place to buy transplants is from the Friend School Plant Sale, which only takes place once a year on the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. They have a huge variety of plants, many unique, and reasonable prices all from local growers. From fruit trees to seed potatoes, they have everything- but get there early because they sell out quickly. Johnny’s Selected Seeds is an employee owned company, and a great place to purchase seeds and tools from. Their products are easy to use and made with a farmer in mind, and they offer many heirloom varieties and even organic seeds. We purchased our beloved broad fork from them this year, and it has been a great device in cultivating the land without fossil fuels or disturbing soil microbes.

What are your most trusted sources for growing and farming?

I discover farming wisdom dispersed throughout my friends and community.

Local urban farmers, such as the folks at Stone’s Throw Urban Farm and Alissa Jacobsen at Hidden Willow Farm, have been a great resource for any questions I may have. They have been around the vegetable production block a time or two and know what’s what. The University of Minnesota Extension  has excellent garden advice, and a Master Gardener program to connect with local garden experts and enthusiasts. Another major source of knowledge comes from my personal research; I devour farming-related articles like juicy gossip. Field trips are always a great way to explore AND soon I will be leaving on a quest via WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) to learn even more about small scale sustainable farming methods being used across the country.

What is food justice and what motivates you at such a young age to care about it?

During my studies as an undergraduate Environmental Studies student, I was searching for the most effective way to “Save the World”, like fellow optimistic youth. I eventually came to understand that food and agriculture are at the heart of many current world issues, including energy, poverty, politics, genetically modified organisms, food security, international trade, health care costs, climate change, and more.

I became engrossed in discovering these connections, decided that the current American food system was inherently flawed, and pledged my vocation toward educating others on understanding these connections and alleviating its negative effects by promoting food justice and supporting sustainable agriculture. It didn’t happen in one day, but I slowly realized that the most worthwhile career for me works toward a vision where everyone in a community has equal access and availability of nutritious sustainably raised foods.

It’s a simple vision, and the road is long and winding, but working with those who share my goal makes it enjoyable and achievable.

We think the biggest misconception is that food-shelves do not accept perishable donations, can you help us understand how fresh produce can enter into a food shelf and how do the Clients they serve access fresh produce?

It can certainly be misleading to know that food shelves accept perishable donations when most food drives request “non-perishable” items, but actually the most requested items by food shelf clients are milk, meat, and fresh fruits and vegetables. These items are the most expensive for families and food shelves to purchase, but they are also integral to a well-balanced diet. This lack of access to fresh and healthy foods disproportionately affecting lower income populations is the basis for food justice, and the reason behind many recent fresh produce policies and healthy eating initiatives across the country.

At The Food Group, more fresh produce than ever is flowing through our doors thanks to our innovative programming. In addition to the vegetables we grow in our front yard on the Microfarm, we also rescue surplus produce from the Minneapolis Farmer’s Market every Sunday,  (sometimes gathering and donating up to 10,000lbs to local food shelves in one day) and our Fruits of the City program rescues fruit that would otherwise go to waste from backyard fruit trees and orchards, and shares them with those in need. Our Harvest For The Hungry programs partners with local businesses to purchase fresh vegetables from Minnesota and Western Wisconsin farmers, offering them a secondary market and providing families facing hunger with high quality local produce.

Additionally, many home gardeners do not know that they are protected legally when donating fresh produce to food shelves by the Federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act which was signed into law by President Clinton in 1996. It encourages individuals to donate to non-profit organization for distribution for those in need, and protects you from liability when donating your veggies as long as “gross negligence” is not displayed (if you wouldn’t eat it, don’t share it). The message is, plant an extra row to drop off at your local food shelf!

Clients seeking produce can find food shelf locations using the Hunger Solutions and Ample Harvest maps, and these resources are also helpful for growers looking to donate- simply call ahead to be sure they can accommodate your crop.

What challenges have you faced in raising a hoop house this year in the burbs?

We came across the standard obstacles you face when undergoing construction; making sure all components are “up to code” according to city ordinances, making meetings with the city inspector who’s notoriously late... being sent the wrong parts and waiting for a new shipment.

Last November, when we had been optimistically planning to grow some late fall greens in the hoop house, we found out that we could not use concrete footings because it would classify as a “Permanent Structure” and had to dig 4ft deep holes in frozen soil to place long poles as footings instead. That was one of the worst days I’ve had on the farm. But it turned out to be worth it, because we are getting amazing tomato yields, and the hoop house has withstood over 70mph winds!

Can you help our readers understand what a food bank is and how this system works? (eg. food banks buys for the local shelves fresh produce)

A food bank is a non-profit organization that helps to provide nourishment to those facing hunger, but is different from a food shelf in that the items are not distributed onsite. Instead, the food bank purchases items in bulk for its food shelf partners, then delivers it to the smaller food shelf locations for distribution to clients. It’s similar to how banks store money, but people pull cash from an ATM.

Food banks make an an impact on food insecurity and provide aid in several ways; a stronger purchasing power, meaning they can get more food for less money, they have larger capacity for storage, usually an entire warehouse with refrigeration units, and they have ample infrastructure for agency support and special programming. The Food Group in particular is a special because of its fresh produce programs, culturally equity programs, healthy donation policies, and nutritional outreach programs.

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How can growers big and small donate to a food bank?

Home gardeners and community gardens are good candidates for donating to smaller local food shelves and pantries. It’s usually the perfect amount of intake for what is distributed during the week so that it won’t overload their facilities. For larger quantities from big growers, it’s better to donate to a food bank which has better storage capacity, operates on a larger scale, and can distribute equally among many smaller organizations so the produce reaches as many people as possible. If it’s donated for free rather than purchased, then it goes out for free, which means that some of the least accessible foods becomes more equally available to under-served populations.

What are your sources of strength and nourishment?

I find nourishment both physically and emotionally in growing food, and especially in cooking delicious vegetable-centric meals for loved ones. In times of stress, I bake endless goodies and share the treats with anyone closest to me, including strangers. I find joy in planting extra tomato plants in empty side-lots, reading Laura Ingalls Wilder books, dancing to The Big Chill Soundtrack, and playing banjo in the park while snacking on watermelon. I feel strongest when running fast, helping a friend, or during an adventure.

Urban Farm Story: Christina Pearson

Christina is the ultimate urban farmer.

You can take our word for it because we lived next to her in North East Minneapolis for over two years. It was really incredible to witness permaculture practices in action within a small urban setting. Christina and her husband Pete are dedicated to carving out a permaculture like homestead within their entire front, side and backyard with total fearlessness. Every inch of space has a purpose or a plan to contribute to this total food system they are building in the name of self reliance, healthy soil and good food. 

Name: Christina Pearson
Occupation: Multimedia Producer

Choice of unwinding beverage after a full day’s work in the yard
A super-dry hard cider. 

What inspires you?
Good food and watching things grow. 

How did you come up with your site design?
We hired a local company (Ecological Gardens) right after we purchased the property. Our goals have changed a little since then and we’ve made some tweaks, but it’s starting to take shape. For example, we’re adding a passive solar greenhouse that isn’t on the plan to get us growing year round. 

 

What is your overall goal with your urban homestead?
Primary goal is just to be more self sufficient. We’re a long way away from growing all our own produce, so my focus for the next couple years is to grow stuff we can either cellar, can or freeze, so that in the winter when local produce isn’t super available we aren’t having to get EVERYTHING from California or Mexico. Also, experimenting to see what works for us and what we like, so when we get there and are keeping track of a big production we kind of know what we’re doing.  I also want to help close the loop on what we do grow, so we compost and use the chicken litter so we don’t have to rely entirely on buying fertilizer and soil amendments. 

 The Frank Lloyd Wright of Chicken Coops. Built entirely by Christina and her husband Pete.

The Frank Lloyd Wright of Chicken Coops. Built entirely by Christina and her husband Pete.

What challenges are you facing this year? 
This year's actually been pretty good for what we HAVE going. We had planned on planting a handful of trees earlier in the year, but it took until now get them. Our site plan has specific varieties recommended that aren’t necessarily what you’re going to find at your big box garden center and the supply just isn’t there right now. So, little change in plans there. 

The latest addition to the homestead is a home built mobile chicken coop that allows Christina to move her chickens around to pasture and manage pests, meanwhile the chickens get a snack and a little vacay from the main coop. Genius. 

What successes have you had or what are you the most proud of?
The chickens are probably what I’m most proud of, although really they take care of themselves, so its ridiculous for me to take credit. But, a year and a half later, we have the same four-day-old chicks I brought home and they’re healthy and they crank out beautiful eggs. We also learned a lot building the coop and it’s easily the coolest house project we’ve taken on. 
 

This looks like a ton of hard work, why do it? 
Both of us had parents that had big gardens growing up, so for me it kind of never seemed like an option to NOT have some sort of garden/food production at home. And permaculture just seems to me like the “right” way to do it. 


Introduce us to your chicken flock
We have four laying hens, all brought home as day-old chicks (from EggPlant) in March 2014.
We have two Buff Orphingtons, one Silver Laced Wyandotte and one Ameraucana. The Buffs are easily the most friendly of the bunch. The Ameraucana was SUPPOSED to lay me charming little blue shelled eggs, but we’ve never gotten a single blue egg. I always planned on naming them, but as it turns out they’re kinda dumb. Never really gave me much personality to go off of for naming. 

What lessons have you learned since starting your backyard chicken flock?
Mostly that chickens are crazy easy, and even though I grew up with chickens I psyched myself out once or twice. The first time one of my hens went broody I was on my way out of town for a long weekend with friends and couldn’t figure out what was going on. She came with me. My friend happened to be towing a trailer that weekend and we stuck her in a dog kennel and took her to Wisconsin with us. I’ve unclenched a bit since then. We mostly let them have free range of the yard now during the day, and are better at recognizing when something is actually up.

What quality do you think it takes to be a farmer?
For me, and for what we’re trying to do, the big one is being flexible. The weather, the god-forsaken-squirrel-beasts, the health of your seedlings and a million things can affect your plants and you gotta roll with it or you’re gonna be miserable. Especially for people like us who aren’t doing this as a matter of subsistence; we both still work 40+ hour day jobs. I try and remind myself that if taking care of the home and the garden was what I did, I’d have more time to see problems coming or plan smarter, etc…

Can you break down how your household sources food during peak growing season?
Peak season maybe 50/50 home and CSA. I try and grow a lot of stuff for preserving so that we don’t have an overload in the summer, because of course when we’re at peak, so is the CSA.  I LOVE our CSA (Harmony Valley), but in a couple years I’d like to be getting 75% of our produce from the yard, and then the CSA probably won’t make sense and we’ll supplement from the food coop. Hopefully, the greenhouse and continued focus on soil building will get us in that range.

Who’s stronger boys or girls?
I mean, I think 'yonce had it right! We run this mother!

Field Trip: Mighty Axe Hops

 Eric Sannerud CEO and Farmer of Mighty Axe. 

Eric Sannerud CEO and Farmer of Mighty Axe. 

Mighty Axe Hops
16501 Buchanan St. NE
Ham Lake, MN 55304

Across the country chefs and consumers alike are pushing the demand for local supply chains to go beyond just your typical market produce. In Minnesota our exploding craft beer movement is reflecting this trend with many local brewers' growing commitment to sourcing local, sustainably raised ingredients in their brews. We've been anxious to get out and tour Mighty Axe Hops farm since we first noticed the stunning towering rows of Tamarack beams last summer during our tour of  Born and Dyed in Minnesota. The owner of Mighty Axe might also be a glimpse of what our next generation of farmers will look like. Savvy, college educated entrepreneurs dedicated to healing the earth and expanding our definitions of what it means to be farm to table. This generation won't be leaving something behind to clean up, they are cultivating something that will nourish generations to come. 

How did you become involved with this work and why do you do it?

We came to hops through a shared love of beer. We attended a conference where we met a small scale hops grower and off we went! Farming though for me is something much deeper. I grew up in the suburbs , Pizza Hut was my favorite food, and then, like the old saying, you can take the person off the farm buy you cant take the farm out of the person...I was called back to my roots.

 

Tell us about the land you are farming and/or about your operating facilities. (i.e. land origins, history of the site, site selection and location, etc.)

I’m the fourth generation to call this land home here in Ham Lake, MN. We started out here and will continue to grow here. Personally, hops production is my way of keeping the family farm in the family.

 

How many people volunteer or work here?

Ben, Brian and I are the founding team members. This summer we’ve welcomed three interns into the yard - Mitch, Michelle, and Nick - each with funding from the University of Minnesota.

 Write here...

Write here...

Describe your growing technique:

We grow our hops using sustainable methods, though we are not organic. Hops are a hungry plant that needs plenty of fertilizer to reach full yield. A hop yard is basically a perennial buffet for diseases and pests. On the disease front we spray to treat downy mildew. For insects we employ IPM methods. For weed control we are testing various perennial and annual living and dead mulches to compete with weeds. We are Minnesota’s first Ag Water Quality Certified hops farm, which is cool. It is a certification from the MN Department of Agriculture that our practices are above the standard for protecting water quality!

How do you source supplies:

Our poles come from foresters up north, our plants from a greenhouse in Michigan. We order most of our hardware through the internet. The internet has been a great source for much of our hardware, allowing us to buy at wholesale prices instead of retail.

 Hops are the female only flowers of the hops plant.

Hops are the female only flowers of the hops plant.

  "We aren't really hops farmers, we are more like Lupulin Farmers".   Lupulin is the active ingredient in hops that is extracted to give beer that unique bitter aroma and flavor. 

"We aren't really hops farmers, we are more like Lupulin Farmers".  
Lupulin is the active ingredient in hops that is extracted to give beer that unique bitter aroma and flavor. 

What are you most proud of this season/year? (i.e. new techniques, markets, niche products; beautiful produce, livestock, fish; business additions/growth, etc.)

We’ve more than quadrupled our acreage, fought off a disease, and survived a hail storm. Come harvest we’ll know how successful we’ve been at keeping the plants happy and healthy. Time will tell, but proud of our team no matter what the yield.

 

How can people support what you’re doing? (i.e. where can people buy your products and/or services, do you offer classes, do you have volunteer opportunities, etc.)

The biggest thing folks who like craft beer can do is to go to the local brewer and ask for local hops or even attend one our tapping parties! In addition to special tap room release parties, we host events on the farm, like August 29th’s Mighty Pick. (More info at: www.MightyPick2015.eventbrite.com) Information on all our events can be found at www.MightyAxeHops.com or at facebook.com/MightyAxeHops

 The three little pigs of Berkshire and Duroc breeds. 

The three little pigs of Berkshire and Duroc breeds. 

What qualities do you think it takes to be a farmer/local foods producer?
A significant amount of entrepreneurial drive coupled with a persistent humility. Entrepreneurial ability and humility are traits not often found in one individual. The best farmers I’ve met know that no matter how many years they’ve been farming, there is always more to learn.  

 Custom built wagon for tending to the 16 foot tall vines. Aka the norwegian Død Vogn.

Custom built wagon for tending to the 16 foot tall vines. Aka the norwegian Død Vogn.

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

We’ll always be fighting against weeds, pests and disease, while hoping for kind weather. Otherwise our biggest challenge right now is fundraising to grow our operation.

 First year plantings. 

First year plantings. 

 Hop twine or Coir Yarn, a waste product from coconut husk.

Hop twine or Coir Yarn, a waste product from coconut husk.

How would you describe our local farm to brewery system in Minnesota? Where is there room for movement?

Our local farm to brewery system is in it’s very earliest stages. There are relatively few local hops growers, very few local malt grain growers and a distinct lack of the processing and marketing organizations to help grow either industry. For hops, we’re working with several interested folks to sort out a hops hub.

What are the greatest strengths of our local brewery supply growers?

Local hops allows Minnesota craft and homebrewers add resilience to their supply chains, diversifying their sources in the face of steadily increasing demand driven by the growth of craft beer and a changing climate. Local hops also carry a unique terroir, setting them apart from hops grown any where else in the world, and lending a distinctive “Minnesotan” quality to the beer.

What breweries do you supply/where can your hops be found?

We are happy to count Fulton Brewing, Fair State Brewing Cooperative, Bad Weather Brewing, Burning Brothers Brewing, Bent Brewstillery, Excelsior Brewing, Herkimer Pub, and Day Block Brewing as our customers.

 Mighty Ax recently became one of the first participants in the  Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program , a reflection of their commitment  to good land stewardship of their farm for generations to come.

Mighty Ax recently became one of the first participants in the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program, a reflection of their commitment  to good land stewardship of their farm for generations to come.

What’s next for Mighty Axe?

More hops! Lots more hops.

What is it like being a young farming entrepreneur?

(For one, isn’t it interesting that being a “young farmer” doesn’t automatically imply also being an entrepreneur?) It is unlike anything else. My entire present and future is committed to this one tiny place on the surface of our Earth.

The risks are immense, there are many sleepless nights. Yet, I live a gift every single day.

Producer Story: The Beez Kneez

If you are anything like us, you’ve read or watched a panic-inducing documentary about the vanishing bee crisis our food system is currently facing. 

Honey bees pollinate plants that produce about a quarter of the worlds food including apples, almonds, watermelons and beans. Bee populations have been dying off at a rate that the U.S Government deems economically unsustainable, as high as 30%. 

Local heroes to us, The Beez Kneez, LLC, are one part of the solution.  We sat down with educator, beekeeper and bicyclist Erin Rupp to learn a little more about Beez Kneez and to find out just how these gorgeous honey bees can give our community a much needed dose of hope.

 

Read More

Landscape Designer Story: Ecological Gardens

  Ecological Gardens' Landscape Designers  Laura Freund,  Paula Westmoreland and Lindsay Rebhan

Ecological Gardens' Landscape Designers Laura Freund, Paula Westmoreland and Lindsay Rebhan

Ecological Gardens
4105 Washburn Avenue N., Minneapolis, MN 55412

What does Ecological Gardens do and what is your organization's goal?

Ecological Gardens started in 2000 as a permaculture design and installation company. Our goal is to build healthy living landscapes that grow soil, produce nutritious food and medicine, create quality habitat as well as connect people to the land and the rest of nature.

Over the years we’ve transformed hundreds of landscapes in people’s backyards, urban farms, rooftop farms, public spaces, rural farms, and homesteads. Our work has been about 75% urban and 25% rural.  

For the last three years we feel like we’ve been operating at ground zero of climate change; trying to build resilient landscapes in the midst of changing weather patterns, the decline of pollinators, and rapid swings in rainfall. We’ve gone through a process of re-evaluating our designs and our work focus. How can we continue to create abundance in the years ahead?  What legacy trees do we plant; which ones will be here in 300 years? How do we get even better at jumpstarting soil? How do we design for both flood and drought in the same season?  

This is leading us to shift more of our work towards broadacre and regenerative agriculture. The last 5 years have seen amazing advances in knowledge and technology in rapid soil building and carbon sequestration using intensive grazing systems and an explosion in new highly nutritious perennial food crops. There is an urgent need to sequester carbon on larger tracts of land and grow nutritious, non-genetically engineered, perennial crops for people and animals.  

 

Do environmental considerations and resources dictate your landscape designs?

Our designs are based on a careful assessment of the site and the people’s goals, vision, skills, and interests. We design to optimize the long-term health of the land but for any design to be successful it must be grounded in the capacities (time, money, skills and networks) of people living on the site. 

 Example of an Ecological Gardens' landscape design for an urban homestead with areas for edible gardens, fruit trees, rain gardens and pollinator gardens.    Image courtesy of Ecological Gardens

Example of an Ecological Gardens' landscape design for an urban homestead with areas for edible gardens, fruit trees, rain gardens and pollinator gardens. 

Image courtesy of Ecological Gardens

What scales have you worked on? Is there a specific scale you specialize in or prefer to design for?

We work at a wide variety of scales and like the challenges and opportunities each present. Over the last several years we’ve been expanding our broadacre work and public spaces work.

 

What type of clients hire you - what do they care about and what are their needs?

In the early years people were looking for sustainable landscapes and native plants. Then people began wanting more food in their spaces. Over the last 3-4 years many people have been looking for a permaculture design, they want to do what’s right for the earth (bees, birds and their land); or they want to start a farm. Some people just want a landscape design but most people also want us to implement them.

 

How many people work here and what are their roles?

Paula, Lindsay and Laura are the core of the Ecological Gardens team. Most of us have worked together since 2006.

Paula is the owner and lead designer, focused on designing large-scale urban and rural designs.

Lindsay manages the rural installation crew and is focused on regenerative agriculture work. She is also in the process of starting a perennial plant nursery.

Laura manages the urban installation crew and is focused on urban design work.

Depending on the needs of a particular job we frequently subcontract with other businesses and individuals.

 

How did you each become involved with this work and why do you do it?

Paula - I came to this work from a deep love of the land, a concern for the loss of biological diversity, and what I, as an individual, could do to change that. To me, re-patterning our relationship with the land from an extractive to a restorative one is our greatest hope for the future.  

I love designing and problem solving with the land, pushing my knowledge deeper, and creating places that show people what’s possible. By doing this work, we are healing the land and creating pathways for others to develop a deeper connection with it.

Lindsay – After studying environmental systems in college I travelled to Guatemala and worked at two permaculture farms. I became versed in how ecological farming works and returned to Minnesota to work on cold climate ecological solutions. I began working with Paula in 2005 learning design skills, working on the crew and collaborating with a burgeoning grassroots permaculture community.  

Laura – Permaculture has always had an intuitive appeal. I grew up in a family that composted, recycled, shopped locally and lived within close proximity to many of our relatives. As a young person at home, I spent more hours outside than in, and when inside I spent my hours caring for household plants and reading Ranger Rick magazines and gardening books. At school I routinely raised money to protect the rain forest. I learned about turning off lights and unplugging unused appliances to conserve energy and using water sparingly.  

My understanding was that we were all in this together and that we all had a part to play. So when I came across the concept of permaculture I couldn’t have been more delighted; here was a framework to lead us all further in exploring and manifesting a holistic connection to the world we live in. I love that at Ecological Gardens we aim to increase connections between our clients and the soil, water, plants, neighbors and the many diverse creatures whom inhabit the planet with us.  We are challenged daily in our work and presented with plenty of opportunities for creative problem-solving; every site is unique. Last, but not least, I’m able to spend my days largely outdoors, which is a source of great joy in my life.

 

Do you have a grandparent or close elders who influenced your work? If so, how did they impact you?

Paula – I grew up on a diverse family farm in northwestern Iowa with lots of plants and animals. My Mom was a major influence in my life. She was a teacher and a farmer alongside my Dad. She helped me develop an appreciation for nature, its amazing cycles and processes, and taught me how to work with the land at an early age.

Lindsay – My grandparents were not farmers or designers. I grew up with a strong influence of being in nature and gardening from my Dad. I have been influenced by many elder farmers in my life, including Bruce Bacon at Garden Farme and Audrey Arner at Moonstone Farm.

Laura – My Mom was raised on a small hobby farm and my Dad in the city on a large lot with fruit trees, berries, vegetables and flowers. This garden in the city is where I first remember having ate fresh tomatoes, rhubarb and apples. My parents likewise have always had an appreciation for diverse perennial plantings, berries and vegetables. While growing up I spent hours in our garden learning to care for and propagate the many plants. I later bought my Grandparent’s home where my Dad grew up and have since expanded the gardens adding chickens and guinea pigs.

 

Can you define the term ‘Pemaculture’? How does permaculture play a role in your business and the landscape designs you create?

Permaculture is a design system based on a set of ethics – Care for Earth, Care for People, Care for the Future – and a set of design principles developed from studying how natural systems create abundance and resilience.  

At Ecological Gardens we use this design process in our work. We believe that people are part of nature and the healthiest landscapes create opportunities for people to interact with nature. We look at the landscape from a whole systems perspective, assessing the flow of energy, people and materials through a site. We lay out the landscape in an energy-efficient design based on zones of use. We consciously position plants on the landscape to strengthen relationships between plants and animals, soil organisms and plants, plants and pollinators, and plants and people.

 

 The designers standing proud in a landscape they created at the Tiny Diner Restaurant in South Minneapolis.

The designers standing proud in a landscape they created at the Tiny Diner Restaurant in South Minneapolis.

Why would someone choose Ecological Gardens over another landscape design company? Do you specialize in any particular types of design?

We specialize in regenerative, multifunctional landscapes that produce food, function, and beauty.

At an urban scale, most of our designs incorporate annual and perennial foods (fruits, nuts, vegetables, herbs), pollinator habitat, bee lawns, unique groundcover mixes, micro-topography, dry creek beds, and rain gardens. Other features - such as natural play spaces, forest gardens, patios, chicken coops, etc. - can also be incorporated depending on client goals.

At a rural scale, our designs incorporate earthworks, waterworks, windbreaks, chemical buffers, insectory islands, fedges, animals and animal paddocks, orchards, forest gardens and kitchen gardens. Other features – buildings, crop plans and livestock plans – can also be incorporated depending on client goals.

Our approach is to create a healthy landscape that works for the people living on the property; one they can enjoy living and working in. Many of our designs are implemented in phases so we often have a long-term relationship with our customers.

Our designers are all trained in permaculture design and whole system thinking. They understand soil, plants, animals, and garden or farm themselves.

We work collaboratively with our customers. Over 90% work with us during the implementation so we can teach while we work and they get a deeper understanding of their land.

We are a business run by women. This is very unusual in the land-based industries particularly in installations. People are always surprised by this.

 Hand drawn designs created by Ecological Gardens depict a site analysis of existing conditions and landscape designs for a prospective client.

Hand drawn designs created by Ecological Gardens depict a site analysis of existing conditions and landscape designs for a prospective client.

Can you walk us through your basic design process for new clients?

Our design process varies depending on the scale of the property.

For properties of 2 acres or less:

We start with a design questionnaire and a consultation to collect a customer’s goals and vision, then we do a site assessment, looking at topography, soil, sunlight, water, wind, existing plants, pests and weed pressures. The customer’s requirements and the site assessment are the main inputs to our design. We draw a base map, lay out the flow of the site and define spaces, then we do detail design. The customer receives the design, a detailed plant list, and a design report. The design report lists soil, water, and predator strategies along with proposed implementation phases and a phase one cost estimate.

For farms and homesteads of 2 acres or more:

We follow a similar process but use some different tools and go into more depth.

As part of the site assessment, we create a set of overlays that include aerial, topography, soil, access, and existing landscape patches. After that we do a sector-zone analysis, design proposed patches and uses, and develop a staged implementation plan. The customer receives the patch design and a report that identifies sectors and zones of use along with earthworks, disturbance strategies, plant communities and infrastructure for each patch, and the proposed implementation plan. Based on this we decide next steps for detail design and implementation.  

For larger properties we are now offering a Drone Aerial and Ortho Design option:

We partner with a company that uses drones to get an up-to-date aerial video of the land and then translates it into a 3D model of the property. This can be very helpful on a larger scale, after major earthworks, and be a useful tool for monitoring changes in landscape health over time.

In addition to design we also do property assessments and consultations.


What were you most proud of this past year?

We received two awards for our work in public spaces this year and we’re just starting this work!!

We were awarded a 2014 Best Places Award through the Sensible Land Use Coalition for our Urban Flower Field project, a collaboration with Public Arts St. Paul, University of St. Thomas, Minneapolis College of Art and Design, and others. Urban Flower Field is a transitional park in downtown St. Paul that has 96 soil remediation plots and some amazing public artwork. We’re excited to be doing art-science collaborations that educate people about the environment. Movies and educational events are also happening there.

 An aerial view of Urban Flower Field in downtown St. Paul after Ecological Gardens' initial install of soil remediation garden beds.   Photo provided by Ecological Gardens

An aerial view of Urban Flower Field in downtown St. Paul after Ecological Gardens' initial install of soil remediation garden beds.

Photo provided by Ecological Gardens

We also received the 2014 Best Permaculture Garden Award from Metro Blooms for our Tiny Diner restaurant landscape design in south Minneapolis. It was great to collaborate with Kim Bartmann and Koby Jeschkeit-hagen on incorporating many elements into a public space – edible gardens, rooftop bees, integrated water management, a willow thicket playhouse for children and a community education space. We’re excited about the opportunity to showcase what’s possible in public spaces!

 An Ecological Gardens designed edible flower and vegetable garden surrounds the Tiny Diner Restaurant's outdoor patio in South Minneapolis.   Photo provided by Ecological Gardens 

An Ecological Gardens designed edible flower and vegetable garden surrounds the Tiny Diner Restaurant's outdoor patio in South Minneapolis.

Photo provided by Ecological Gardens 

We are especially excited about bringing regenerative agriculture work to the next level with larger implementations. This spring we’ll be planting 4 acres of hazelnuts, using goats and pigs to forage buckthorn, set up several multi-species grazing systems, and planting berries, fedges, and a variety of crops at several farms.  

 

What are the biggest challenges you think you’ll face this coming year? How do you plan to address them?

Our biggest challenges are:

  • Climate change; we will continue to evaluate our designs and different plant varieties to see how well they are adapting to the shifting climate and adjust accordingly.
  • Access to high quality perennial plant material; either not enough of it is available locally or it has neonicitinoids and other harmful chemicals applied. We are starting our own nursery and helping others do the same to increase healthy plant material for the future.
  • Finding earthworks and other contractors that share our values and design approach. We are actively building our network of collaborators in areas where we’re implementing landscape designs.
  • Keeping this work affordable for our customers while earning a living for ourselves. Most of our customers are middle income or have a limited income. We will broaden our products and services and continue to experiment with ways to accommodate different peoples’ situations.

 

How can people support what you’re doing?

By spreading the word about what we do! We want to grow our work and get more of it in the ground. Let us know of any good partners to collaborate with!

 

Photographs by Minneapolis-based photographer Lauren Carpenter, except where otherwise noted.

Producer Story: Tiny Diner Mushrooms

 Martin Gordon - Mushroom Cultivator and Project Lead

Martin Gordon - Mushroom Cultivator and Project Lead

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

 

We reconnected with the Tiny Diner Farm and had a chance to speak with Martin Gordon, Mushroom Cultivator and Project Lead, about the farm's cultivation plans and all things fungal-related. Read on to learn about the multiple benefits that mushrooms provide, the history of the Farmhouse, the farm's plans for building out an indoor mushroom incubator in the near future and tips and resources for growing your own mushrooms.

 

How did you initially connect with the Tiny Diner Farm?

Two years ago I think I either got an email or saw a posting for a  job at the Tiny Diner Farm in the social media sphere. I wasn’t doing much at the time so I decided to apply. I met with their farm manager Koby Jeschkeit-Hagen at a nice cafe in the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis and chatted with her about the vision for the urban farm space and the model that she and others had come up with for the Tiny Diner Restaurant's urban farm-to-table model. It sounded like a cool learning opportunity as well as a good intro to the idea of permaculture, which at the time I had little to no concept of. It was intriguing to me to put farming into an ecological context - not doing monocultures and other simple concepts that a lot of people seem to be picking up on now. I also hadn't delved much into the farming for restaurants model, which is an interesting idea. You see that happening in some cities in Europe and it seems to be pretty successful so I thought I'd see what that world looked like, and could look like, in Minneapolis.

 

How did you decide to start growing mushrooms?

Last summer (at the Tiny Diner Restaurant) we were asked to select a ‘niche’ role to explore and implement at the urban farm site that was novel and would help us accomplish something tangible. I remember having a conversation with a couple of my friends there and we talked about ways to make a bigger impact on local food. Something substantial, something hearty, something that could be easily mixed into the fold. We talked about how we could grow things that perhaps weren't represented well elsewhere. From there we came up with the idea to try out small scale mushroom cultivation. I ended up being the individual who oversees the project but everyone at the Tiny Diner Farm helps out where and when they can.

 

 The Farmhouse's indoor mushroom incubator welcomes guests with an apron depicting different mushroom types.

The Farmhouse's indoor mushroom incubator welcomes guests with an apron depicting different mushroom types.

Why mushrooms? What got you excited about them?

I think, predominately, it was that I didn't know much about them. Fungi seemed like an interesting field and something that I didn't really see the local food scene doing too much of. It seemed like something we could do pretty easily here. 

There are really low-tech, low investment ways to cultivate fungi. Subsistence farmers in low and medium income countries, predominantly in West Africa and parts of Asia, have been growing fungi in order to pull themselves above the poverty line - through the integration of fungal cultivation on their pre-existing farms. Also, in the Midwest, it's theoretically something you can grow year-round. It seems like a good way for farmers to be able to continue producing food outside of our short farming season here and a way to supplement year-round income. 

The interesting thing about fungal cultivation is that you can generally use a lot of “waste” products to do it like coffee grounds, cardboard and straw. Basically, any carbon-based agricultural waste can be used as a suitable growing medium (for species like oyster mushrooms). 

Also, similar to many older urban sites, we’re dealing with toxic legacies like soil pollution. Oyster mushrooms are the quintessential species known for breaking down toxic waste. If we're able to identify a space on the Tiny Diner Farm site that has pollutants in it we could utilize fungi to remediate the soil. 

 

We've heard mushrooms are multi-functional and can provide multiple benefits to society. Can you describe these functions?

There are three main ways that mushrooms can benefit society: as food, as medicine and as a mycoremediation tool (a form of bioremediation or the ability of fungi to degrade or sequester contaminants contained in soil).

In the food arena, mushrooms can be cultivated in relatively small spaces, making them ideal for urban areas. They also provide a rich source of nutritious protein; there's more protein in oyster mushrooms than in chicken.

In terms of medicinal benefits, fungi have a lot of really novel anti-viral, anti-microbial, anti-cancer compounds specific to their kingdom. Traditional Western medicine hasn't explored this aspect of fungi in a lot of depth yet, but there's great opportunities there for deriving useful medicines.

In terms of bio-remediation, mushrooms can break down a lot of petroleum based contaminants. Fungal remediation disassembles carbon chains that are toxic into their benign building blocks (carbon and hydrogen). Fungi are incredibly adaptive! 

 

How did the mushroom production process begin at the Tiny Diner Farm?

Last year we conducted a couple of trial mushroom phases outside on the north side of the Farmhouse building. We stacked 5 gallon buckets filled with growing medium two tall in the raspberry patch, which allowed for the right amount of humidity needed to fruit the mushrooms. We produced around 50-60 pounds of oyster mushrooms from roughly ten buckets, which is pretty good considering you can’t control the growing conditions as well in an outside setting. Once our indoor mushroom incubator is up and running we'd initially like to try and produce around 50 pounds of mushrooms a month and scale up from there. 

Ideally, at the Tiny Diner Farm we’ll also be finding a local source of fungal growing media. Then, once we’ve grown and harvested the mushrooms, we can reuse the spent fungal substrate (straw) to regrow other mushroom varieties. It can also be repurposed as mulch or as animal feed because it’s quite a bit more nutritious once it’s been myceliated (inoculated with fungal spores during the mushroom growing process).

 

 Mushrooms can be grown in a variety of setups. Seen here - oyster mushrooms growing on buckets outside of the Farmhouse.   Photo provided by Martin Gordon

Mushrooms can be grown in a variety of setups. Seen here - oyster mushrooms growing on buckets outside of the Farmhouse.

Photo provided by Martin Gordon

 Close up of oyster mushrooms - a hardy, versatile, resilient species.     Photo provided by Martin Gordon

Close up of oyster mushrooms - a hardy, versatile, resilient species. 

Photo provided by Martin Gordon

What is your favorite species of mushroom and why?

I like oyster mushrooms for their abundant versatility as food, medicine and as a bioremediation tool. There is ample data that shows it as a species with a lot of credentials in all of those areas. Plus, the species can be super forgiving when trying to cultivate in non-sterile and low-tech situations.

 

Tell us a bit about your educational background and how it has shaped you work.

I have an environmental science degree from the University of Minnesota with a focus in conservation resource management. I worked as an intern at both the Cornercopia Student Organic Farm and Native American Medicine Gardens at the University's St. Paul campus and through those gained an interest in food systems. I also worked out at Garden Farme (an organic farm that utilizes permaculture and agroecology principles) this past summer which really solidified in my mind the potential positive ecological impact that farming can have. I've really enjoyed these experiences and have been doing work on growing food every season since graduating from college. Hopefully, I'll be able to get to a point where I'll be able to grow food year round. 

 

Do you come from farming roots? Do you have a grandparent or close elders who have influenced your work?

None of my immediate family members are farmers. I think that my interest comes from a curiosity in the natural world instilled in me by my grandfather, a botanist and professor. I really think he set me on a trajectory towards biology, ecology, and ultimately food related issues. It seems to me that lots of people have some affinity towards living things. I think my personal interest has spilled over into fungi because relatively little is known about them, not just biologically but ecologically as well. We don’t fully understand how they work as individual species, let alone what their roles entail in the environment. However, new data is showing vital links to these larger living systems in which we exist. I like to think my environmental sciences background led me to food and farming, which lead me to fungi.

 

Can you tell us about the origins of the Tiny Diner Farm's indoor growing space (the Farmhouse) and why it’s suitable for growing mushrooms?

The space had been an old convenience store up until the mid to late 60’s when it closed down. We’re working on retrofitting the original walk-in cooler to withstand the high humidity conditions needed to fruit mushrooms and also providing enough fresh air because they generally need quite a bit. The cooler was once used to hold meat, milk and other spoilable products. We're planning to install some fresh air intakes and exhaust vents to adjust the humidity accordingly. It’s a cool fit because the space is insulated and self contained so it will retain a consistent temperature and level of humidity.

The mushroom incubators' current place in a functional shared office space and community room is also a great way to showcase the idea publicly to people interested in fungal cultivation. The walk-in cooler space has the potential to grow 50-100 pounds of oyster mushrooms a month. It’s a very compact space with a potentially large impact. I think it could spark interest in people wanting to try starting small personal mushroom cultivation projects or even just beginning the conversation about why fungal cultivation matters.

 

 The Farmhouse's previous life as a convenience store circa 1931. The walk-in cooler that now serves as the mushroom incubator can be seen above in the rear right-hand side behind the counters.   Photo provided by Martin Gordon

The Farmhouse's previous life as a convenience store circa 1931. The walk-in cooler that now serves as the mushroom incubator can be seen above in the rear right-hand side behind the counters.

Photo provided by Martin Gordon

What is your vision for the mushroom space?

My hope is to finish retrofitting the cooler, produce some mushrooms, and validate the project financially by at least paying off the costs and labor. My vision right now is to make a case study for how small scale fungal production spaces could be effectively used to bolster an urban farm’s economic model while benefiting local economies and ecosystems. There’s the possibility of having a network of smaller growers providing to local markets and hopefully making it financially as small urban and suburban production farms. The idea is to inspire farmers to produce year-round revenue from an operation that requires low investment costs and provides people with a nutritious, high protein food source from urban areas.


Do you plan to grow anything else in this space?

We’ve discussed growing microgreens alongside the fungi. The two would work synergistically, trading oxygen and CO2 back and forth. This is similar to what Will Allen (of Milwaukee-based Growing Power fame) and many others have done in contained indoor growing spaces. I've also experimented with growing wine cap mushrooms.


 The mushroom incubator today,  awaiting retrofit inside the Farmhouse.

The mushroom incubator today,  awaiting retrofit inside the Farmhouse.

What advice do you have for people interested in cultivating mushrooms at home? How should they get started?

Really simply. Cloning a cutting or growing mushroom spawn on a recycled source like used coffee grounds or cardboard and paper can be done with a great degree of success. It can really help to use these processes to get familiar with how things should look and the timing of the necessary steps so you know what to expect if you move to other food sources in the future. It’s kind of like learning the steps to a dance before performing it. There is a whole wide world of possibilities in home fungal cultivation and people are coming up with new and exciting ideas all the time.

Check out Tootie & Dotes' Mushrooms 101 and Mushrooms: Guide to Home Growing posts to learn more!

 

What are your favorite mushroom growing resources?

Mostly Youtube videos. You can generally find fairly sensical step-by-step tutorials on exactly what you’re looking to do as well as a number of related videos. Another good resource is finding someone who is already doing what you are interested in. Approach them and ask them what to do, spark the connection if you can. Online forums can be really good in lieu of not knowing anyone directly. Although many of them tend to focus on psychedelics, they generally have threads focusing on gourmet and medicinal mushrooms as well. There you can see conversations of what folks are doing and add your own questions. These can be pretty great resources because the forums make information from people around the globe who are cultivating mushrooms in all sorts of ways, shapes and forms incredibly accessible. The open-source nature of this information and the ability to get critiques from other growers can be a really powerful learning tool when you add in the personal experiential component. A few good online forum resources are Mycotopia and Farmhack.

 

How can people support what you’re doing?

I think one of the best thing I could hope for would be that those people who have resonated with any of these ideas would follow up and learn more about them. Fungi are really under respected but they account for something like 25% of the living mass on our planet. Start seeing fungi! There’s a lot of potential to do some really cool work feeding people, deriving medicines and repairing a highly damaged environment. All of these are things that are not commonly being done right now, which could have definite benefits to us and our communities.

Folks should consider supporting local fungi farmers who are already working here in the Twin Cities like Jeremy McAdams at Cherry Tree House Mushrooms and the folks at Mississippi Mushrooms who have an indoor production fungal grow lab. The fungal grow lab in particular is really exciting because it has the potential to grow just about any strain available en masse. That strain could be one that makes a tasty gourmet mushroom, or provides a novel antiviral compound, or helps us clean up oil spills. There’s a lot of good regionally specific work we could do with such a resource in our backyards. That’s definitely something worth supporting.

 

Photographs by Minneapolis-based photographer Lauren Carpenter, except where otherwise noted.

Producer Story: Sociable Cider Werks

 Sociable Cider Werks proprietors - Wade Thompson and  Jim Watkins

Sociable Cider Werks proprietors - Wade Thompson and Jim Watkins

Sociable Cider Werks
1500 Fillmore St. NE, Minneapolis, MN 55413

 

We recently sat down with Jim Watkins, co-owner of Sociable Cider Werks, upon the businesses' one year anniversary to discuss small batch ciders, the challenges of year-round local produce sourcing in Minnesota, environmentally-friendly business practices and why juice concentrate diminishes the quality of a great hard cider. Over the last year, Sociable has become one of the major players in the seemingly ever-expanding NE Minneapolis brewing district. 

Sociable makes three flagship ciders that are available year-round (Freewheeler, Hop-a-Wheelie and Spoke Wrench), as well as one-off infusions and barrel aged creations. Their delicious products can be found throughout the Twin Cities at local watering holes and restaurants, as well as on draft in their own taproom. Look for Sociable Cider in cans at Twin City liquor stores in 2015!

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What is the main goal of your operation?

We make great small batch ciders for the local craft beer community. We believe that hard ciders should be more than lightly alcoholic, made-from concentrate, sticky sweet apple juice boxes that currently dominate the market. We adamantly believe that fresh tasting ciders come from fresh-pressed apples, not concentrates.

 

Tell us about your operation - how long has it been in existence and on what kind of scale? Has the business changed scale since its initial inception?

We just celebrated our one-year anniversary over Thanksgiving week! It's been an absolute whirlwind of a year. We went from a two person operation to a ten person operation in the blink of an eye. We started with just our taproom, then added bar and restaurant draft accounts, and are on the cusp of firing up our brand new canning machine, which means Sociable Cider is weeks away from being available on liquor store shelves!  

 

How did you become involved with this work and why do you do it?

The business started in a garage, and we continue to do it because we love it!

I was born in Burnsville and Wade is from Rushford, MN. Wade grew up on a family farm growing corn and soybeans. I grew up on a horse farm where we leased to people who wanted to board their horses there. 

Wade and I met at Carleton College in Northfield, MN. After college, we were roommates and moved out to New York City and both worked for investment banks. I worked for Citibank and Wade worked for Piper Jaffray. We both hated it and wanted to move back home. We decided we were both pretty over wearing ties. We talked a lot about starting our own business and had no idea what we wanted it to be. Once we found ourselves back in Minneapolis we started home brewing.  We picked up cider from Wade’s father-in law who had been making it for twenty plus years with pressed apples. So we started making our own, tweaking it and developing it.

 

Was Wade’s father-in-law pretty integral to the first few home brews?

Yeah, he gave us a lot of tips and provided us with a ton of great old literature, cider-making books and ample feedback. After the initial batches, Wade and I started experimenting with adding in bittering components, including sorghum and hops.

 

Were the addition of hops to your products primarily because of the bitterness aspect that you wanted to achieve?

Yeah. Great ciders have three major flavor components – sweet, tart and bitter. The key to a really well balanced cider is obtaining that bitterness. There’s no real commercial infrastructure for bitter apples that are used in brewing in the U.S. During Prohibition there was no reason for U.S. growers to continue growing bitter apples, so they began disappearing since they aren’t good for anything except producing cider. In the industry they’re called spitters because you want to spit them out as soon as you take a bite since they’re so bitter. We’re working with Pepin Heights Orchard to develop a 40-acre plot of bitter apples that we’ll be able to blend into all of our batches. But, for the most part we’re trying to figure out how to achieve that bitterness in our products without shipping bitter apples in from the East or West coasts. For us, we really liked the idea of continuing to source locally and developing partnerships with growers who can grow bitter apples in Minnesota. 

In the homebrewing community apple graffs are really popular, where you blend apples and beer wort and ferment them together. We started home brewing graffs and had a lot of fun doing it. It really allows for a lot of flexibility.

 Hard at work brewing cider.

Hard at work brewing cider.

Tell us about your operations and business model.

Cider lives in a world between beer and wine. Our process has a lot in common with wine making, but the way people drink ciders has a lot in common with beer making. As a result, craft cider gets a full gamut of producers that fall all along that wine/beer continuum. While (or maybe because) both Wade and I grew up on farms, we built our business around a model that more closely focuses on brewing rather than growing. That said, we source our ingredients from the best growers/farmers/packers/malters in the area including our apple partners, Pepin Heights Orchard in Lake City, MN and our malt partners the Brewers Supply Group in Kasota, MN.

 

What type of brewing is this and what do you focus on?

We forsake using apple juice concentrate as a base for our products and instead use only fresh pressed apples to make quality dry ciders for the local craft beer crowd. If you like Angry Orchard, Crispin, Smith and Forge or Zima then chances are, our style of cider may not blow your hair back. On the flip side, if you enjoy drinking a wide range of craft beers and love that sour beers and lambics are just hitting the scene in Minneapolis, then we are the guys for you! 

Ciders made from concentrate are not particularly artful. Traditionally, high-end cider makers have been apple growers first. Cider brewing is much more like a wine making process - the flavor is largely dependent on when you pick the fruit, which is going to impact the acidity, and how you age it. The whole process is very similar to wine making just with a focus on the tree and its fruit as opposed to the vine.

The flip side is that we treat the process more like a craft brewing process. You’ll be hard pressed (no pun intended) to find craft brewers who also grow their own grain because it’s difficult to be a brewer and a grain farmer. So in terms of our process, the focus is on using apples that are grown by experts to make the best possible craft made product. We source all Midwestern apples.

 

Are you able to source apples for your products from the Midwest year-round?

It’s tough to do that, so we run a very seasonal business – inventory build followed by inventory burn is our style. We experimented with putting some apples in cold storage last year with middle of the road success, so we’re still working on ironing that out. The big thing is that we’re lacking the necessary infrastructure in the Midwest to pack apples year round.

Out West, the infrastructure is excellent. You can get a fresh Washington apple twelve months out of the year. The reason for that is because there’s a tremendous amount of infrastructure in place for picking and storing apples there the same way that Idaho has infrastructure for potatoes. That infrastructure doesn’t really exist here because the Minnesota apple consumer doesn’t demand local apples twelve months out of the year, so as a result you can only get them for three to four months during the harvest season. 

 The taproom on a sunny morning.

The taproom on a sunny morning.

Do you think the lack of infrastructure for year round apple growing and storage in Minnesota has more to do with supply and demand or the colder weather here?  

I think it’s all driven by demand. I think that if people demanded Minnesota produce year round, then we’d be able to source Minnesota-grown apples for our products year-round. It also has a lot to do with the weather, but there are places that have equally unfavorable winter weather that still have farmers markets operating year round. A majority of Minnesota’s farmers markets don’t operate year round even though the technology for fruit storage exists. And, because Minnesota has never been a major producer of fruit, we’ve always relied on shipping it in from the West Coast. 

The more sustainable thing to do would be to build the fruit storage infrastructure here so that we can support farmers and a harvest that will carry us through the seasons. Michigan has this infrastructure in place a little bit and Washington State certainly has it as well. Around 80 percent of the United States’ apple production occurs within three counties in Washington State. The cost impact and environmental impact of shipping apples from across the country doesn’t make sense, but for a long time it has been a lot easier because of the infrastructure. We have a great apple breeding program at the University of Minnesota where they do a lot of cross-pollination to come up with new sweet, tart, marketable apples and then those get rolled out to the small farmers around the state. But, we still don’t have the infrastructure in place to become a large apple producing state. 

  

How did you hook up with your local apple producer, Pepin Heights? 

We found out about Pepin Heights after having conversations with some people from the University of Minnesota. Pepin funds a lot of the University’s apple breeding research.

 

What are the biggest challenges you face?

Utilizing our equipment all year when access to locally grown apples has such a tight picking and pressing window.  

 

What have you been the most proud of during your initial year?

Our bourbon barrel aged Freewheeler. We are in the process of scaling up our barrel aging program. This was our first shot at it, and boy did it turn out well!  

 Bourbon barrel-aged Freewheeler.

Bourbon barrel-aged Freewheeler.

Your tag line is “Decidedly different, delightfully sociable”. How is Sociable Cider Werks decidedly different?   

There’s literally nobody in the country that does what we do. Our products don’t focus on residual sugars; instead we focus on robust flavor profiles. Cider companies that use juice concentrate tend to produce products containing very little nuanced flavors.  

 

Do you consider your business to be environmentally conscious?

One of the real decisions we had to make was whether or not to press our own apples, but we also wanted to be near people. The environmental impact of shipping apples cross-country is huge, which is why we stick to sourcing them locally. One of the reasons we work with Pepin Heights is because they do our apple pressing so we don’t have the cost and environmental impact of shipping the added weight of full apples. The spent apple pulp left over from pressing goes to feeding Lake City livestock.

We’re also planning on packaging our products in cans because urban recycling centers are driven by aluminum costs. It costs more for them to pick up cardboard and glass than they make back, whereas aluminum values are high enough that recycling them actually generates revenues for urban recycling programs.

We’ve gotten some flack for not offering customers glass growlers, which I think are highly disposable. Usually, people get three to four fills out of them before they break or are discarded. Instead, we offer stainless steel, reusable growlers. They’re a little bit more expensive up front, but they look great and are infinitely reusable. They can also be used as water bottles (when you’re not using them for cider!).

We’re also in the process of switching over from having rotating food trucks outside the brewery to only using one resident food truck (The Curious Goat) that sources all of its food products locally and provides customers with only compostable consumables (i.e. plates, napkins, utensils, etc.). In the brewery, upwards of 95% of all the waste we generate is compostable. This past summer at our block party we also partnered with Eureka Recycling to host a zero waste event. 

Finally, we’ve been kicking around the idea of switching our glycol chilling system to an open-air reservoir system that would pump glycol outside in the winter to rooftop reservoirs to be naturally cooled as opposed to using energy to run a compressor. We’ve also talked about putting solar panels on the roof, but we don’t own the building, so we’re a little hesitant to put money into that. 

 Cider flight stare down. Front and center is Freewheeler, Sociable's signature cider that tastes like an apple Champagne.

Cider flight stare down. Front and center is Freewheeler, Sociable's signature cider that tastes like an apple Champagne.

 Head Brewer Mike Willaford.

Head Brewer Mike Willaford.

What qualities do you think it takes to be a brewer focused on local sourcing and production?

An unwavering commitment to quality. The juice concentrate option is so cheap, and easy from a sourcing perspective; I can see how so many people are tempted by it. We have to be pretty hard headed to stay true to the real thing even when sourcing our fruit comes with so many more challenges.

 

How can people support what you’re doing?

Come to the taproom to enjoy our wares, and of course ask for them when you are out and about! We have a waiting list for our ciders at bars and restaurants because our fans have been so vehement about asking for us by name. To grow this category of craft cider, we have to ask that it be grown. Otherwise it is way too easy for a bar to just go with whatever low end macro stuff their distributor is slinging.  

 

Photographs by Minneapolis-based photographer Lauren Carpenter.

Farmer Story: Growing Lots Urban Farm

We sat down with Stefan Meyer, Production Manager & Founding Farmer of Growing Lots Urban Farm, on their main urban farm plot and CSA pick-up location, located in the Seward Neighborhood of South Minneapolis. Currently in their 5th year, Growing Lots serves 60 full share CSA members in the community and provides a community hub for members to pick up fresh local veggies, interact with the people who grew them and connect with a farm - right in the city! We first met Stefan in the cold winter months when he taught a Growing Under Cover course through PRI. Since then, the space has transformed into a thriving farm lot. Here's what Stefan had to share with us about their operation!

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