Friday, July 21, 2017

Your Size is Not You

First, let me say, I love the U.S., but I feel we have a problem in this country. Our culture loves big things: big cars, big yards, big businesses. I suppose it's not the bigness itself that's the issue, but this palpable sense that what's big is successful. Ladies over coffee fawning over another woman's kid whose billable hour is huge and clients are a household name drop phrases like "Wow, hasn't he made a name for himself." Neighboring farmers gawking at the 1,000,000 bushel bin put up by the ambitous guy down the road give their best Midwestern compliment, "Boy, he must be doing all right..." We judge places and organizations the same way. We're attracted to new development, more businesses of a growing community. We're dazzled with a store's bigger inventory, more products, and more and more and more.

West Otter Tail County Fair with New Barn Quilt
This thinking is quite natural. It's part of our biology to seek out abundance, just like our hunter-gatherer ancestors sought out huge berry patches. The problem, however, is how we internalize this thinking and apply judgement to our lives. I've felt this a lot in my adult life. Our 4H club is small - we're failures. Our school's enrollment fell - we're failures. Our sunday school attendance is down - we're failures. Our business is small - we're failures. I'm not alone - negatively judging ourselves in comparison to others is a pervasive and ugly epidemic in the 21st century that brings friends to antidepressents and rural communities to despair. Dollars flow to big box stores and local stores close. Everybody wants to be part of that big exciting congregation and rural churches suffer. That big school in the regional center offers more opportunity, so let's take our kids there and our district's school falls behind.

If you know me and read this blog, I don't let these feelings affect me or second-guess the direction of my life. I put my energy into the small but beautiful things that feed my soul and our community regardless of the wider world: a tiny farm, small 4H club, and small sunday school. I also log hours on the board of MANNA Co-op in Detroit Lakes, a tiny store starting up in the next couple of weeks in the age of big box grocery. If we step back, I think most of us realize that these images of bigness and success are often mirages - they're fake. If I'm feeling cynical, these images of success are part of a big con game that multinational corporations are playing on us to consume more of their stuff or show their dominance to scare off competition; I certainly won't let some corporate exec in NY define me. So, what to do? Let's let go of all of this envy and baggage and dig into the work and love of our daily lives. It's exciting to see where it takes us.

In the box:
Fresh Fennel: See recipe
A Couple Onions: The red one is a Tropea Torpedo Onion and the white is a sweet onion
Norland Potatoes 
Swiss Chard
Greenleaf Lettuce
A Cucumber
A Couple Summer Squash

Ryan's Organic Pizza Hotdish

A pint of canned tomatoes
Fresh Fennel 
Mozzarella cheese 
Olive oil 
1 lb of penne pasta 
1 cup of stock (chicken, beef, vegetable)

Finished hotdish
This is my organic take on my mom's pizza hotdish, which I love. I took a bunch of pictures like those food blogs with about 30 pictures before you hit the recipe :) 

Sylvia with combined sauce and penne
Heat oven to 350 degrees and put on salted water for pasta. Make a sauce by sauteeing equal amounts of chopped fennel stalk and onion in olive oil. When fairly soft, add minced garlic for about a minute before adding tomatoes, chopped parsley, 1/4 cup of wine and about 2T on anchovy paste (if you like the flavor). Let this simmer. Take penne out of water when almost al dente (leave will finish off in the oven).

Applegate uncured pepperoni with Organic Valley Mozzarella for topping pasta

Combine pasta and sauce and put into a 13 x 9 baking pan, cover with 1-2 cups of shredded Mozzarella, top with pepperoni, and put into oven until top browns a bit.

As a bonus, you can take some of fennel fronds and combine with basil and lettuce for an herbed salad. I topped mine with caesar and Hakuri salad turnips.

Friday, July 14, 2017

New Equipment for a Small Farm

There was a point last year when pushing a two-wheeled Vermont handcart up the hill near our house for the 1,000th time when I decided that I'd had enough. Since I started farming on my own in 2001 down in Lake Elmo, I transported my harvest bins around by hand. At that time I started I was 25; today I'm 40. I knew farming had already aged my body and continuing with this low-tech form of transportation was only going to age me quicker. 

So, this spring I fell in love in with an Italian tiller from Grillo. Sometimes called walking tractors, these glorified tillers are used extensively in Europe where farms the size of mine are much more common.  Yes, they have rototillers like any old Troy-Built, but they are designed to fit a huge range of implements from mowers to cultivators to potato diggers. Considering my need for a nimble form of transport and a tiller to fit into the little spaces on the farm where the tractor doesn't work, I coughed up the $5k to bring this beauty on farm together with a cart. 

It seems a bit funny sometimes driving around the farm on a seat behind a tiller, but with the special 'drive gear' it makes for a pretty nice ride and I'm confident will save me from early knee and back surgery. 

In the box: 
  • Fresh Basil 
  • Fresh Fennel: Big bulb with celery-like stalks 
  • Broccoli
  • Arugula: Oakleaf-shaped green banded with a red band
  • Dino Kale
  • Green or Fresh Garlic: Cloves inside just like cured could let dry down until papery in a sunny, dry location 
  • Hakurai Salad Turnips: I just love these things...they are a very mild turnip that is made to  eat raw.
  • Summer Squash: Both a zucchini and a yellow straighneck or yellow zucchini, which you use the same as green zucchini. 
Fennel Parmesan Recipe (adapted from Food Network)

1 fennel bulb, cut horizontally into 1/3-inch slices
Olive Oil
2 T Parmesan Cheese

Lightly oil the bottom of a 8 by 8-inch glass baking dish. Arrange the fennel in the dish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then with the Parmesan. Drizzle with the oil. Bake until the fennel is fork-tender and the top is golden brown, about 45 minutes. Chop enough fennel fronds to equal 2 teaspoons, then sprinkle over the roasted fennel and serve.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Extreme Weather and Vegetables

A giant wind blew across our bed at 5 am and a wind tunnel enveloped the upper story of our house for the next half hour. I initially thought it was just a front which would quickly pass over and I could go back to bed, but as the intensity increased, I knew I'd have to move and move quickly. Any passerby at the time could have caught the sight of me streaking across our yard at a breakneck speed to drop the roll-up sides of the greenhouse. You see, a hard and sustained wind like that would turn that open greenhouse into a 100-foot airplane wing, which, if I were lazy and stayed in my room, I could have watched take off into the neighbor's field like Mary Poppins leaving a party.

In my line of work, I always hear about weather, and one of the common stories I've heard this week and I've told myself is how the weather has changed.  I'm 40 years old and I distinctly remember hail being a very rare occasion - maybe once every 2-3 years. Neighbors with more life under their belt than me always talk about a time when rain came slowly. A gentle rain would give the earth its 1 to 2 inches of precip over 8 - 24 hours. Instead, each time we receive and inch of rain as of late, it drops out of the sky in 40 mintues or comes with a 40-mph wind. This was the case the evening of the 4th of July. Violent winds coupled with hail and a downpour of rain - the level of downpour I imagine one would find in the rainforest. 

This change in the weather has a signficant impact on agriculture. Although this effects all forms of ag, I think it has an acute impact on commercial vegetable production.  Certaily my friends growing corn and soybeans have issues with extreme weather and it can certainly affect their yield, but, at the end of the season, these tough crops almost always produce something to fill the contract. I've seen field corn laid flat on the ground in July which produced a decent crop by October. Hailed-on lettuce or ripped greens, on the other hand, don't pass muster with a customers and just don't get sold. Vegetable crops are delicate and fickle. In the big picture, they were bred to grow under very specific conditions and as our climate changes, I have to wonder what the future will look like in the long run. 

In the box: 
  • 'Farao' Green Cabbage: See recipe below  
  • 'Imperial' Broccoli
  • Flat-leaf Parsley
  • Spinach: You'll see evidence of the hail 
  • Romaine Lettuce: Not the prettiest lettuce I've grown...looking good until the big storm this week. 
  • Bunch of Beets
  • Green or Fresh Garlic: Garlic with the stalk still on. You can use right now (it's a bit more pungent when fresh), or simply leave out in a dry, sunny location to cure it over the next 10 days for longer storage. 
  • Zucchini
Dave's Mom's Best Slaw

6.5 cups of coursely chopped cabbage, loosely packed
1 carrot, peeled and cut into chunks (about 1 cup)
1/2 cup prepared mayo
1/4 cup sugar 
2.5 tablespoons cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup evaporated milk 
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley

2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives or scallions (optional)

Working in batches, fill a blender to the top with chopped cabbage and add cool water until 3/4 full. Whirl on low speed for about 4 seconds, just until the cabbage is evenly chopped - but not too fine - and transfer to a colander. Repeat with the rest of the cabbage. 

Place the carrot chunks in the blender and cover them with cool water. Whirl for about 8 seconds. Drain the carrots very well. In a small bowl, whisk together the mayo, sugar, vinegar, salt, and evaporated milk and set aside. 

In a serving bowl, mix together the well-drained cabbage, carrots, and parsley. Toss with the dressing and add more sugar, vinegar, and/or salt to taste. If you like, serve with chives or scallions. Tightly covered and refrigerated, this slaw will keep for a week. 

Friday, June 30, 2017

Men, Community, and Farming

"Hand me that pipe have to turn that really tight for it to hold...thinking about where the world's heading, I really want you to go to school so you can work with your mind and not your hands..."  I received many lessons about life and talked about important things in our lives while working a jobsite with my dad.

Since then, the men I've connected with the most has been through work. And I mean real work-not the two of us looking at an Excel sheet together-but physically laboring together. The act of work alone brought us together, and time working together was also the opportunity when we talked about things that matter: death and love, fatherhood, community responsibilities.

I've had similar experiences with women in my life, certainly, but I bring this up in the context of men in large part because men have been in a funk lately. Men are all worked up about their identity and their role in today's age...the path just isn't as clear as past generations. This causes a whole host of issues as men shirk their 'traditional' responsibilities as fathers and husbands and engagement with neighbors.  

Maybe it's just my blue collar upbringing, but I imagine we're in this funk because we've lost those work settings where we mentored young men and connected with each other. Since the beginning of civilation we've labored together side-by-side in this fashion and now we remotely play Playstation or watch ESPN together. In my view agriculture has and can still play this all-important role of bringing us together for real connection and giving us purpose. Instead of bemoaning the loss of farming as we often do, let's do some fencing already! Invite over some friends, get some nails, and build and create. Chase some calves together through a pasture. I think men and the world will be better for it - at the very least women will enjoy getting them out of the house for awhile.

In the box:

  • Broccoli
  • Garlic scapes (see recipe below): Small bunch of green curley things with a rubber band. You can also check out this link if you're confused about how to use them.
  • Swiss chard: Colorful green banded together
  • Greenleaf lettuce
  • Napa cabbage: This is the second week, so I hope I didn't wear out my welcome on this one.
  • Radishes 
  • Cilantro: Small bunch of banded green
  • Spinach; Loose green on top
  • Kohlrabi: Big bulbou
  • Snap peas: Edible pod
Green Surprise Dip

1 cup steamed kale, Swiss chard, or spinach
1 cup plain yogurt
1 cup cooked chickpeas
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 cloves of garlic (or use a 2-3 garlic scapes)
1/2 onion
1 tablespoon lemon juice or to taste
1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste 

Puree in blender or food processor. use as a dip for veggies, crackers, or chips. 

Friday, June 23, 2017

First Harvest of 2017 at Lida Farm

Life can throw people curveballs, and so can Minnesota weather. Weren't we all just sweating in a dry heat about a week ago? This morning I put on a sweatshirt to pick radishes in a light rain because it's 50 degrees out. 

Our wild weather ride provides me intersting growing challenges. So far I've really been striking out getting carrrots to germinate well. With the sun beating down day after day through May (when we typically seed carrots), the top of the ground just dries out too quickly and carrot seed is planted very shallow. On the other hand, hot and dry weather also keeps weed seeds from germinating, so we were able to get a fair amount of cultivating and hoeing done in May and early June. I suppose it balances itself out. 

Kohlrabi Harvest at Lida Farm

Yesterday, pulling kohrabi for the box, I hit a wonderful 'harvest flow.' Brand new harvest knife, LCD Soundsystem on my iPod and a beautiful evening...all was right with the world and harvesting was coming easy. This time of year I get excited about pulling veggies out of the ground and getting a new season rolling. There's nothing finer than getting something in your hand which took months of work. Let's just hope it's not just a flash in the pan and I can keep the energy up for the whole season. 

In the box:

  • Napa Cabbage: Big item on bottom of box. See reciple below.
  • Green Onions aka Scallions
  • Westlander Kale
  • Small Bunch of Arugula: Oakleaf-shaped green with rubber band 
  • Kohlrabi 
  • Lettuce: This is a mix of types coming in, so people received green butterhead, greenleaf, or red butterhead. We doubled up small heads. 
  • Two Bunches of Radishes: Everybody received standard red radishes and some french breakfast radishes. 
  • Snap Peas
  • Fresh Mint

Napa Cabbage Salad from All Recipes


  • 1 head napa cabbage
  • 1 bunch minced green onions
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1 (3 ounce) package ramen noodles, broken
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
  • 1 cup slivered almonds
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce


  1. Finely shred the head of cabbage; do not chop. Combine the green onions and cabbage in a large bowl, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  3. Make the crunchies: Melt the butter in a pot. Mix the ramen noodles, sesame seeds and almonds into the pot with the melted butter. Spoon the mixture onto a baking sheet and bake the crunchies in the preheated 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) oven, turning often to make sure they do not burn. When they are browned remove them from the oven.
  4. Make the dressing: In a small saucepan, heat vinegar, oil, sugar, and soy sauce. Bring the mixture to a boil, let boil for 1 minute. Remove the pan from heat and let cool.
  5. Combine dressing, crunchies, and cabbage immediately before serving. Serve right away or the crunchies will get soggy.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Getting Ready for CSA Season

Late night produce washing (fall, 2016)
What does it take to get another CSA season off the ground? Energy, money, and the right frame of mind.

Let's start with energy. Now that I'm 40 I'm pretty sure that I don't have the same amount of energy as when I started our CSA at the ripe age of 27. And I certainly don't have the grand sense of adventure of 24-year-old Ryan, who, as an apprentice at Foxtail Farm, looked forward to his second season like a new rock band firing up the van for their second world tour. Lately, all this heat and dry conditions have been testing my energy as we dash to keep ahead of weeds and weepy plants.

Next, money. Ah, yes, the dreaded thing we Midwesterners often shy away from. I think for folks from the outside, a produce farm looks pretty simple, you know, a bigger version of anybody's home garden. In many respects, it's highly complicated and certainly one the highest input or expensive farms per acre you can find, especially when certified organic.  So far this season I guesstimate that about $23,000 has gone out the door.  The big checks were for a new greenhouse (which I've yet to finish) at nearly $10,000 and a new tiller at $5,000, but a bunch of others are pretty common no matter the season:

  • $3,500: organic seeds - crazy when you think that we only plant 4 acres
  • $1,700: organic fertilizer
  • $770: organic certification fees
  • $600: propane 
  • $600: waxed CSA boxes
  • And the list goes get the idea
Lastly, and probably the most important, is getting in the right frame of mind. I think anybody can relate, whether you're running 5k or expecting 20 guests for a big holiday dinner, the ability to get your head in the game is critical to success. 

Only in the past week, over 3 months since we planted our first seeds for the summer season, have I been getting there. I almost need a little panic to give me the adrenaline I need to go 'all in'  on the season. I received my warning shot this past week as pretty much every inch of ground has begun sprouting weeds and the plants are almost screaming for water in the hot, 20 mph wind. Game on, Ryan!

Friday, April 28, 2017

Do you want to buy from corporations or neighbors?

Where you buy your food matters. Twenty years ago, if you bought organic, you were buying from family operators. Today, organic has gone corporate. Organic retailers and manufacturers are publically traded and stock market traders want their financial return.

In the shadow of well-known organic brands owned by multinational behemoths like General Mills and ConAgra stands a thin phalanx of local farms building an alternative supply chain. When you choose to buy from these families and neighbors, you feed not just your stomach but really the businesses which will grow around you. It's not only money in the pocket of the farmer himself, but how those dollars flow to other local farmers and small businesses in your backyard. 
Hugh Dufner, Hugh's Gardens
A simple example is my potato seed. Last week I drove to Halstad Minnesota to pick up 500 lbs of seed potatoes from Hugh Dufner of Hugh's Gardens. Hugh has worked the trenches of organic production and marketing for a long time, and, like many I've known in organic farming, he is more motivated by healthy foods and farming than a dream of some potato empire.

When I visited his warehouse, I was impressed by the activity. Five people were employed working the wash and packing line, a real buzz of activity in a seemingly sleepy town.   

An even more inspiring part of Hugh's story is how he is actively transitioning his business. Instead of liquidating or selling out to some of the many new large operators jumping into the organic market, he instead is training in two young farm operators to take over. They are buying a home and moving up to Halstad. This is what a true organic food movement looks like. We not only grow without pesticides, but we deliver on the promise of organics to contribute to the wealth of rural communities. 

Too often as corporations enter into organic food, they employ their same old tried and true tactics: drive down price by squeezing suppliers and cutting labor and wages. Their replacement of family-based businesses may save you 10 cents on your next food purchase, but I assure you that your rural communities becomes all the poorer for it. Instead, please seek out local producers like ourselves who are committed a local food system that benefits our Main Streets, not Wall Street.  

Fergus dropsite is filled, but we still have room in Pelican Rapids, Detroit Lakes, and Perham on Friday afternoon. See or contact for details.  

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Taking on Memberships for 2017

Crossing over the  line into February, we're just weeks away from starting summer transplants like peppers and tomatoes.  Yes, summer will come sooner than you think!  
Now is the time to make plans for your summer produce needs.  We offer two kinds of CSA shares: a full share where you receive a 3/4 bushel box of what's in season every week for 16 weeks and an every-other-week share where you receive a box, well, every other week over the same time.  

Full-Weekly Share (3/4 bushel box each week, 16 boxes):
  • Pick up at drop site or farm - $495

Every-other-week Share (3/4 bushel box every other week, 8 boxes):

  • Pick up at drop site or farm - $255
1.     MANNA Food Co-op in Detroit Lakes (Fridays)

2.     Clean Plate Grocery in Perham (Fridays)

Riverview Place  in Pelican Rapids (Fridays)

4.     Keller Williams Realty in Fergus Falls (Tuesdays)

5.     On site at Lida Farm (Fridays)

Please fill our our 2017 order form below to join for the year.  We ask for half the payment when you sign up with the remainder due half way through the summer.