What's Growin' On at the Farm

Posted 10/6/2016 6:31pm by Minnesota Food Association.

Greetings All,

Today during box packing our fingers were so cold! The only salvation was the sun rising up above the tree line and the delicate heads of butter lettuce gently nestling into the box.

For those of you with half shares in Week A (all you half-shares receiving this email) this is your last box! Full share members, you have one more week to pick up your CSA.

Fall share members your first box starts on Oct. 20th.

As we come to the close of the CSA I can't help but reflect on the larger issues we are tackling at Big River Farms. I think, after reading this article in the New York Times, I am especially honored and proud to be a part of this small revolution. I hope you feel the same.

We may not be processing 14 million pounds of produce in one week, but those numbers frighten me. The article begins by stating how industrial agriculture has allowed for us to produce the most amount of food for the least amount of money in the history of civilization. I can't help but question, what hidden costs have been absorbed by our environment, work force, social culture and public health. There are costs associated with each of those categories that are externalized and then overlooked when praising the success of a vertically integrated global food system. 

It's not as cheap as it looks. But all of you know that. $650 for 18 boxes of vegetables isn't cheap either. But it is closer to the real cost of what it takes to produce those vegetables.

14 million pounds of produce in a week! - photo by George Steinmetz 


The food you have eaten for the last four months has returned nutrients to the soil, conserved water, and most importantly supported beginning farmers, most of whom are immigrants, in starting their own business. 

If you come to the harvest party on October 16th (4-7pm at the Farm!) you will meet all of your farmers and celebrate the season with them.

In case you can't come, I'll share one success of the season. We are thrilled to announce that Aung Thin, owner/operator/farmer for Karen Family Farm is in the review process for an FSA loan to buy his OWN Farm. He is a fourth year farmer in the program and he is at the verge of graduating into ownership of his own small farm business. That is what your membership has supported. Maybe now $650 seems cheap when you realize how far it has gone. 

Aung Thin, bunching green onions at Big River Farms


What's in the Box?

Anaheim Peppers and Butternut Squash from Sebra Farms

(H)Anchotte from Rome Farm

Arugula, Broccoli, Carrots, Cilantro and Potatoes from Karen Family Farm

Broccoli, Lettuce and Radish from 1st Karen Farm

Cilantro, Kale and Onions from The Early Birds

Beets from Mhonpaj's Garden

Kale from Naima and Fagas

Pumpkins from Molly Schaus (farm manager extraordinaire!) and the students from Face to Face Academy who helped seed, plant, weed and harvest all summer long!


In the Kitchen

This week we are proud to present our final specialty crop. (H)Anchotte is a traditional Oromo vegetable. It is a tuber crop, meaning it grows underground much like a potato but it is also somewhat akin to a cucumber.

Kano of Rome Farm is a native Ethiopian and come from the Central Region of Ethiopia where the Oromo people are concentrated. He is the only person in Minnesota, likely in the midwest, growing (H)Anchotte and the Oromo population in the Twin Cities can't get enough! We are lucky to have gotten even the tiniest bit for our CSA.

It is also registered as part of The Slow Food Arc of Taste. YOu can read more about what that means here.

The best way to prepare (H)Anchotte is to boil and mash it as soon as possible. It can store for up to a week in the refrigerator. If you do not cook it immediately, it will start to dry out and become starch.

Boil and mash your (H)Anchotte and then add this Oromo butter for a tasty and traditional Ethiopian delicacy.

Oromo Butter

  • Blend 1 stick of butter with a blend of your favorite spices (cumin, cayenne, paprika, ginger, cardamom, coriander, fenugreek, salt)
  • Leave this on your counter for 3 days allowing it to ferment in a closed container. If it smells a little stinky, that is good!
  • Melt this mixture until it boils and becomes liquid.
  • Cool, but don't let it solidify (you are separating the fat out, much like Ghee or Clarified Butter)
  • Filter off the spices ussing a fine strainer. YOu will be left with liquid butter that will last 1 plus years. The Oromo people use this technique so as to preserve butter when they don't have access to refrigeration.

Kano says you can drizzle this on your mashed (H)Anchotte, maybe mix in some sauteed onions and jerky and it is delicious! Or throw it in with your mashed potatoes and taste test!

Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese

From Cooking New York Times

Because why not???


  • 1 pound elbow macaroni, cooked according to package directions
  • 1 large butternut squash
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • 7 cups milk
  • 2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  •  Salt
  •  Pepper


  1. Roast the butternut squash. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut squash in half lengthwise; remove seeds. Place in roasting pan and drizzle with olive oil. Place in oven and cook until soft all the way through, about 1 hour. Set aside until cool. When cooled, remove skin and place in food processor. Purée until smooth.
  2. Make cheese sauce. Melt butter in saucepan. Add flour. Stir to make a roux and cook 3 minutes, stirring the entire time. Add 3 cups milk and stir until thickened. Add the rest of the milk and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Add shredded cheese and stir until melted. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. To assemble the dish: Place cooked elbow macaroni in bowl. Pour half of the cheese sauce over and add puréed, roasted butternut squash. Fold together. If it seems too dry, add the rest of the cheese sauce. Place in an ovenproof dish and heat for 15 minutes at 325 degrees.

 Hope to see you all on the 16th. We'll be in touch about 2017 CSA share options in the next month so you can start dreaming of vegetables all winter long!

Take Care,






Lebo Moore

Food Hub Manager

Minnesota Food Association/Big River Farms

651-433-3676 ext.21

Posted 9/29/2016 12:57pm by Minnesota Food Association.

Well folks....

...the time for savoring the season is upon us. The gift of morning mist rolling across the fields as the cool air meets the warmth of the soil reminds us that the days are waning. It also reminds me of the Inca people who lived and farmed in and around Machu Picchu. There is a ruin in Peru, south of the Sacred Valley, south of Cuzco called Moray, where the Incans cultivated food. 

Moray sinks into the horizon. Three deep pits lined with terraces descend to a depth of 429 feet. Each terrace is connected to irrigation channels, has its own micro-climate and there is strong evidence to suggest that Moray operated as the first agricultural research station in the world. Could Incans have transplanted tropical plants, slowly acclimating them to grow in higher altitudes by planting them in a different terrace each year? How is the design of Moray situated in relation to the sun and the solstice, both significant elements of Incan culture? So many questions, such a fascinating place.

When I visited Moray I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Peru. Tasked with youth education I spent most of my time cooking, dancing and yoga-ing with kids in the Northern Department of Piura. In the Sacred Valley I became intrigued by the ingenuity of these ancient communities, especially how their knowledge for food and agriculture has been passed down from generation to generation. There are farmers around Cuzco who grow potatoes at high altitude, where the nights are cold and the days are warm. These farmers employ an age-old practice of cultivation knowing that the sun warms the soil just enough so that when the cool night air meets the land a fog envelopes the tender potato plant, insulating it against the cold, ensuring continued potato production. That is why the mist on the farm this morning reminded me of Peru and reminded me to savor and honor the waning season for all the land has provided and all the toil the farmers have contributed to the food we are eating today. Farming is as old as civilization and to think that the Incans developed agricultural techniques that are still in practice today is like, woah, super cool (or super chevere as the youth in Peru would say).

On the Farm

Farmers are beginning to clean up the fields, squash and pumpkins are curing and we had a whole host of third graders from Brimhall Elementary came on a service learning trip to the farm to clean onions, wash pumpkins and take some tractor trailer rides!

Our Harvest Party is only three weeks away. Did we tell you about the potluck yet? Thats right, its a potluck party so you can bring a dish to share and then delight in a variety of dishes prepared by fellow CSA members and farmers. There will also be a small farmer ceremony to highlight success of the season and congratulate our farmers in their training advances. 




Whats in the Box


Arugula, Carrots, Potatoes, Green Beans and Cilantro from Karen Family Farm

Green Beans, Eggplant and Onions from The Early Birds

Fennel, Lacinato Kale and Beets from Mhonpaj's Garden

Lacinato Kale from American Sustainable Organics

Hot Peppers and Butternut Squash from Sebra Farms


In the Kitchen

Beets. We haven't had many this year, but these root crops take soups, salads and roasted veggie mixes to a new level. Whether mixed with your Arugula, blue cheese, walnuts and a simple balsamic vinaigrette or cooked up in a borscht, these humble crops supply all sorts of nutrients. Plus they are a central character in Jitterbug Perfume, one of Tom Robbins quirky novels.

Jalapenos. My friends invited me over the other week for an addicting snack. 


5 Jalapenos (without seeds, or with if you like it really spicy!)

2-3 cloves of garlic

1/2 bunch of Cilantro

Juice of 1-2 limes

Salt and pepper to taste

Its that east. Its that delicious. Put it on ANYTHING!

Butternut Squash. It is the beginning of the roasting season. What more could you want than a succulent deep orange squash with cardamom from Ottolenghi? Or maybe you are looking for a hearty squash and farro main dish from 101 Cookbooks that would be delicious as leftovers for lunch.

A good farmer is a craftsman of the highest order and a kind of artist- Wendell Berry

A leader and visionary, Wendell Berry is a must read for any food enthusiast.


Lebo Moore

Food Hub Manager

Minnesota Food Association/Big River Farms

651-433-3676 ext.21

Posted 9/1/2016 1:47pm by Minnesota Food Association.

Dear CSA Members,

It is so quiet on the farm. The sky is still blue, the trees are still green, but they have that late summer green that is tired and heavy. The farmers are still in the fields, but all of us have recognized a change of pace and a slowing down.

One CSA member picked up her share early this morning and stated that this is her favorite time of year, when the summer begins to fade and the faintest cool breeze reminds us of the winter ahead. Its only three weeks till the solstice folks so enjoy these days of warmth and light.

Dates to remember:

October 13th: The last CSA box delivery for the every week members and all of you "Week B" members.

Oct. 16th: Annual CSA Member Harvest Party. Bring your friends and family for games, tours, good food, drink and live music on the farm!

Oct. 20th: The first of three Fall CSA deliveries Remember to sign-up for your share of leeks, beets, carrots, turnips, garlic onions and winter squash!!!

Nov. 17th: Support your MFA farmers on Give to The Max Day!


In addition, if you are interested in participating in other local food events around town, I recommend checking the From The Ground Up North calendar, which posts lots of family friendly food oriented activities happening around town. September 17th is Community Garden day, you can visit a variety of gardens and learn about growing in your neighborhood!

This is what Kale looks like in August. I see a tiny forest after weeks of producing nutritious leafy greens.


Farmer of the Week

Porfirio Perez, one of the Farmer Mentor's at MFA is an expert grower and jovial face around the farm.

Without Big River Farms, Porfirio doesn’t think he would be growing plants today. “For us, for immigrants, we’re working in the cities, and we can’t see any of the countryside. It’s not easy to enter, to start. Big River Farms has helped many people discover how to get out of the city and get access to land.” 

Continue reading Porfirio's story....


Whats in the Box

Bok Choy, Edamame and Potato from Karen Family Farm

Cucumber from 1st Karen Farm

Green Onions, Kale and Sweet Peppers from The Early Birds

Kale from Rome Farm and Mhonpaj's Garden

Ground Cherries, Watermelon, Cherry Tomatoes and Sweet Peppers from Porfirio Perez and Sebra Farm (our farmer of the week!)


In The Kitchen

For those of you new to Ground Cherries, these little pineapple tasting drops of heaven can be eaten raw, thrown in a salad or baked into a pie! There are some recipes here on our blog.

Braised Bok Choy with Plenty of Garlic

from Jack Bishop's Eating Vegetables Everyday

This recipe produces a side dish that captures the essence of bok choy with minimal distractions. Braising highlights the creamy nature of bok choy and garlic is a natural compliment to the earthy flavor of this Chinese cabbage. Serve this saucy side dish with meat (such as pork) or fish (use bok choy as a bed for roasted cod or snapper) that benefits from the addition of some "gravy".

Serves 4 as a side dish

1 large head bok choy (about 2 pounds)

2 tablespoons roasted peanut oil

6 medium garlic cloves, sliced thin

1 cup chicken or vegetable stock

Salt and ground pepper

1. Separate the leafy green portions of the bok cho from the white stalks. Discard the tough bottom portion from each stalk. Cut the stalks crosswise into thin stripos. Cut the leaves crosswise into thin strips. Set the stalks and leaves aside separately.

2. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over high heat until almost smoking. Add the bok choy stalks and stir fry until slightly softened, about 2 minutes.

3. Add the bok choy greens, stock, and salt and pepper to taste to the pan. Stir to combine the ingredients. Cover, reduce the heat and simmer, stirring once or twice, until the bok choy is very tender, about 10 minutes. Remove the cover, raise the heat and simmer briskly until the excess liquid has evaporated, 3-4 minutes. The bok choy should be moist, not soupy. Adjust the seasonings. Serve immediately.


I can't believe we have gone a whole season without a potato salad recipe?! Try this one from Heidi and spice up your lunch or dinner!

Smash-and-Toss Roasted Potato Salad

If you can't find jars of pickled ginger, leave it out. Still delicious!

1 pound small potatoes, smaller is better
1 1/2 cups cooked lentils, room temperature

3 tablespoons chopped sun-dried tomatoes (oil packed)
2 tablespoons oil from sun-dried tomato jar
1 tablespoon pickled sushi ginger
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
2 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
5 scallions, chopped
Juice of half a lemon, or to taste

1/3 cup toasted, sliced almonds
a handful of basil, slivered
basil flowers, to finish

Heat oven to 425F. Rinse the potatoes, and pat dry with a clean dish towel, absorbing as much extra water as possible. Place the potatoes on a baking sheet and sprinkle with a bit of salt. Roast until well-cooked through - you want them to be fully cooked, fluffy and tender. Remove from the oven, wait five minutes, take a fork, and press about half of the potatoes. You want to smash the potatoes, while still having them retain some structure.

In a large bowl, toss the lentils with the sun-dried tomatoes, sun-dried tomato oil, ginger, sea salt, garlic, most of the scallions, and lemon juice. Toss well. Add the potatoes and gently toss again. Top with the remaining scallions, the almonds, and basil.

Serves 4.

Prep time: 10 min - Cook time: 25 min


May your tastebuds linger with summer this week.


Lebo Moore

Food Hub Manager

Minnesota Food Association/Big River Farms

651-433-3676 ext.21

Posted 9/1/2016 1:36pm by Minnesota Food Association.

Written by an MFA volunteer with Photos by Laurie Schneider

Porfirio came to Big River Farms with a lot of experience in agriculture and food processing. He is originally from Guatemala, where he grew coffee, corn, and beans. “We were always working in the fields,” he said, and he was involved in all the many steps of coffee production, from preparing the land, planting and caring for trees, harvesting, washing, drying, processing, bagging, and bringing the crop to market.

When Porfirio first came to the US, he found a job in a meat processing plant in Iowa, where he lived for seven years. When fewer and fewer hours were available, he found a job with a construction company that operated all over the Midwest, including Minnesota. Eventually he moved permanently to Minnesota, after spending a year driving back and forth from Iowa for work. Porfirio has been in the Twin Cities for thirteen years now, and has been with Big River Farms for seven of them.

Porfirio hadn’t heard the term organic until he started working with Big River Farms, although he had farmed without chemicals in Guatemala. He values comida saludable - healthy food - and saw that the organic method focused on producing food that is good for people to eat. Today in Guatemala, he says, there are people that can’t produce crops without pesticides, because there are too many insects that eat the plants.

“If they don’t spray, bugs will destroy the crop in one day, and the next day there will be nothing. The seeds are coated with chemicals, when the plant emerges they release them. Then every week, chemicals, chemicals, until the pests are gone. This is why the plants are not healthy; we too, are consuming the chemicals. But if we didn’t do it this way, we wouldn’t produce anything. The system works like this.”

But it wasn’t always like this, so many chemicals, so many pests. “Before, we grew café, natural. Maíz, natural. Frijoles, natural. There were no chemicals.” But now, he says, “we ourselves, the workers, don’t know how to protect the earth.” Big River Farms is where Porfirio “discovered that we are killing the earth, and that we ourselves can give life to the earth. There, [in Guatemala] the earth is dead. It’s dead. If we plant things, we have to take good care of the earth, so that the earth has strength. If we don’t, it will not produce anything.”

And does he think Big River Farms teaches new farmers how to take care of the earth? “Sí. Sí. That is how I noticed, how I discovered this. This is where I learned to maintain the land, so that it produces.”

Without Big River Farms, Porfirio doesn’t think he would be growing plants today. “For us, for immigrants, we’re working in the cities, and we can’t see any of the countryside. It’s not easy to enter, to start. Big River Farms has helped many people discover how to get out of the city and get access to land.” There are other immigrants who would like to have access to a plot of farmland, he thinks, but many do not want to work two jobs – farming requires a lot of work! And if you don’t take good care of your crops, you’ll lose them. Porfirio works full time in construction, and comes to the farm after work and on weekends to ensure the success of his crops.

When he started at Big River Farms, he lost a lot of produce due to lack of experience. But today, he sells half his vegetables to BRF, including sweet corn, several kinds of tomatoes, unique dry beans like Black Turtle, jalapenos, cabbage, and squash, and has enough left over to sell at the Lyndale and West Side Farmers Markets. “I have learned a lot from [the instructors]” he says, starting with how to cultivate land organically, and in the process other things too, like how to bring the produce to market. “Me siento bien para estar trabajando con ellos…I feel good to be working with them.”

Posted 8/25/2016 12:06pm by Minnesota Food Association.

Dear Members,

I admit, I was nervous about this weeks box. I kept saying to myself, "No greens, how can we have a CSA box without any greens?" And then the peppers showed up next to a first picking of green beans followed by corn, watermelon and the benevolent eggplant. Oh wait and the ground cherries! Forget greens, this box will taste delicious and looks fabulous. 

Lets see, the feeling on the farm yesterday was celebratory. We hosted 30 farmers and farm trainers from across the country attending the USDA Beginning Farmer Rancher Development Conference in Saint Paul. MFA was one of the showcase farms and our visitors got to talk with farmers, learn about a specialty crop from Ethiopia (don't worry, you will get to eat it soon!) and snack on watermelon, caprese skewers and Big River Juice made special for us by the Truce juice bar in Minneapolis. Farm director, Molly and Program Manager, Laura both presented at the conference as well. 

It was a huge success and a gratifying experience to meet other farmers and farm trainers around the nation who are also embroiled in the battle for good food.


Fall CSA Share: 3 boxes for $135

Our Fall Csa boxes will be available sooner than you think. Can't you taste those roasted brussel sprouts and carrot ginger soup?

Sign-up for your share today and stock your pantry for the holidays!



On the Farm

This morning I saw these cuties (Xiaoyu and Tyler), what more could you possibly want from life than watermelon and a pepsi?!

Farmer Nay from Karen Family Farm gave great insight on food and farming for our BFRDP visitors. 



Farmer of the Week

Introducing May Lee, our farmer mentor extraordinaire!

May Lee’s story as an organic farmer begins with the story of her mother. For years, May Lee’s mother worked on a U.S. farm that daily exposed her to pesticides. She developed cancer that was linked to pesticide poisoning. As May Lee watched, she grew ill and died. This great sadness in May Lee’s life made her aware of the dangers to people’s health and the environment in the prevailing food production systems. After her mother died, May Lee resolved to make changes in her own life. 

Continue reading May Lee's story


Whats in the Box?


Green Beans, Cucumbers, Corn, Eggplant and Peppers from The Early Birds

Corn, Eggplant, Tomatoes (cherry and slicing), Ground Cherries and Watermelons from Sebra Farm

Cucumbers from 1st Karen Farm

Onions from Bhutanese Farm

Peppers from Rome Farm


In the Kitchen

A tasty bean salad for those lazy August evenings. I also enjoy a simply saute of green beans with olive oil and garlic. You can add dill, salt and pepper and top with a dollop of creme fraiche and voila....heaven. But Heidi's recipe from 101 Cookbooks is also divine.

Yellow Bean Salad

You can make this salad with yellow runner beans, but you can certainly make it with green beans! Also, if you tend to like a bit more heat, leave (all or some of) the veins and seeds in the chile pepper.

1 pound / 16 oz yellow runner beans

1 serrano chile, stemmed and seeded
5 green onions, green parts trimmed & reserved
a big handful of cilantro
1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed
3/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1 tablespoon sunflower oil
1 cup coconut milk, well mixed

1- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, or to taste

2 big handfuls / 1/2 cup toasted pepitas
1 1/2 cups tiny pan-fried tofu cubes, optional
basil flower garnish, optional

Cut the beans into 1-inch segments on a deep bias. Cook in a pot of well-salted water for just 30 seconds, drain, and run under cold water to stop cooking. Drain, and aggressively shake off as much water as possible. Set aside.

To make the dressing, pulse the chile, onions, cilantro, garlic, salt, and sunflower oil into a paste with a food processor. Pulse in the coconut milk in two additions, before adding the lemon juice to taste, a half tablespoon at a time.

Place the beans in a large bowl with most of the pepitas and tofu cubes (if you're using them). Toss well with a generous amount of the dressing (you'll have plenty of leftover), even so, as I mention up above, this is one of those salads that benefits from over-dressing versus under. Serve in a bowl or platter topped with the remaining pepitas and tofu, and basil flowers if you happen to have them. 

Serves 4-6.

Prep time: 10 min - Cook time: 10 min


Ground Cherries? Husk Cherries?

Lets call them Physalis pruinosa!

Introducing the humble, yet decadent Physalis pruinosa. A member of the night shade family, and relative of the tomatillo, this delightful fruit can be eaten raw (remove the husk first!), prepared in a salsa or added to a simple goat cheese, lettuce, vinaigrette salad. Perhaps the best way though is to dust up your counter and make a tart!

Rebekah's Plum and Husk Cherry Tart

- from Emma Christiansen author of My Three Loves food blog

Pate Brisee: 
1 1/2 c. flour 
3/4 tsp salt 
9 TBS cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1" pieces 
4-5 TBS ice water 

I'll do a longer tutorial on how to make classic pate brisee later on, but here's a basic method: 

Combine the flour and salt on your counter top. Use a pastry scraper to cut in the butter until you get pea-sized chunks of butter (you can use the tips of your fingers to break the butter, too, but be careful that the butter doesn't get too warm). Add the water one tablespoon at a time and use just the tips of your fingers to incorporate it into the dough. When you can squeeze the dough in your hand and it doesn't fall apart, stop adding water. Gather it into a ball pat it into a thick disk. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour. 

Plum and Husk Cherry Filling: 
~10 oz of tart golden plums (weighed un-cut with the stone in), cut into slices 
1 pint husk cherries, husks removed 
1/2 c. candied ginger 
1/2 c. sugar 
zest of 1/2 lemon 
zest of 1 orange 
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg 
2 TBS flour 

Combine all ingredients. Cover and set aside while preparing the dough. (The liquid in the plums will dissolve the sugar to make a thick paste. At this point, you can taste a bit and adjust the flavorings to your liking.) 

Preheat oven to 375-degrees. 

Roll the dough out into a rough, 10" circle of even thickness. Lift the dough frequently as you roll and flip it over to make sure it doesn't stick to the counter. Use a light dusting of flour if things start to get sticky. This is a rustic tart, so the exact size of the crust doesn't need to be exact. Transfer the crust onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Pour the filling into the center of the pie crust and spread it to within 4-5 inches of the edge of the crust.

Looking at the crust as the face of the clock, fold the lip of the dough over the filling at 12:00. Next fold the lip over at roughly 2:00. Then at 4:00. Then at 6:00. Then at 8:00. At 10:00, fold the lip over but then unfold the 12:00 fold partway to tuck the 10:00 fold under so that all the layers fall in the same direction. Brush the top with egg or milk thinned with a little water. 

Bake for about 40-50 minutes, until the crust is a deep golden brown. Let cool for about 15 minutes before serving. Sprinkle the top of the tart with Demara sugar (or the spiced gold sugar mix from THIS place) just before serving. Enjoy!


May your love of vegetables be overflowing this last full week of August.

Lebo Moore

Food Hub Manager

Minnesota Food Association/Big River Farms

651-433-3676 ext.21

Posted 8/25/2016 10:54am by Minnesota Food Association.

~Story by Nancy Cook; Photos by Lebo Moore and Laura Hedeen

May Lee’s story as an organic farmer begins with the story of her mother. For years, May Lee’s mother worked on a U.S. farm that daily exposed her to pesticides. She developed cancer that was linked to pesticide poisoning. As May Lee watched, she grew ill and died. This great sadness in May Lee’s life made her aware of the dangers to people’s health and the environment in the prevailing food production systems. After her mother died, May Lee resolved to make changes in her own life. When she heard about MFA, she put in an application and at the soonest opportunity made the move from industrialized farming to organic farming. Now she mentors others in sustainable agricultural methods and, along with her family, runs an independent farming operation.

Historically, farming was part of life in Laos, where May was born. She grew up surrounded by corn fields, rice fields, and rice paddies. As the second child and oldest daughter of a large family, May lived the farming life, and never went to school. She continued in this traditional life style as a young wife and mother. Then, in 1980, May’s family was among the many groups of refugees who left Laos for Thailand in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal from Viet Nam. By this time, May was married and had two children. The family spent a year in Thailand before resettling in the United States.

Everything, says May, was unfamiliar and sometimes shocking. When she first examined a stove in her new country, she looked around and asked where to get the wood for cooking. She’d never cooked with electricity.

May’s husband started school in 1981, and ten years later, after he’d completed his education, May started her studies. This was in 1992, and by now there were eight children at home. Graduating in 1996, May had hopes of entering the field of landscape design. Changes in government funding made the family’s financial situation too tenuous, though, so May instead entered the farm work force. It is a life she has come to value deeply. “I like to do things by myself,” May notes. She loves the autonomy she has, where “no one can control my time.” At the same time, May, an outgoing and sociable person, appreciates the opportunities she has at MFA to share ideas and work cooperatively with her neighbors. May puts lots of effort into helping other farmers learn skills and acquire knowledge about maximizing health and safety in food production. She can also be found interacting with the community at local farmers markets in St. Paul, Mill City, and White Bear.

As May notes, many people don’t realize what it takes to ensure that food is safe and what it takes to make people healthy. “People don’t know, children don’t know,” she says. “They only know hamburgers, pizza, hot dogs! They care about having food, good food, tasty food, but they don’t necessarily care about what’s in the food.” In part, she believes, this is a consequence of modern lifestyles: “Rush and rush and rush and work!” For May, this is a cause of concern because, more than anything, she worries about the environment of the future. She wants badly to eradicate dangers to health like those that killed her mother.

She has hope. Her experiences lead her to believe that change can start in the schools. She encourages educators to teach children about healthy living, effective uses of technology, and planning strategies. Children should be brought to the farms so they can see the process firsthand. The children, she is confident, will tell their parents what they’ve learned. That will help educate the public.

A part of May still lives in Laos. In many ways, she is a resident of two countries. She loves her adopted home: “People are honest here,” she says. “The government is well organized and fair.” She feels her children are fortunate, that they have been given a good education and many opportunities. But, she admits, she still misses the buffalo and the rice paddies of Laos. 

Posted 8/18/2016 2:52pm by Minnesota Food Association.

Dear Members,

After box packing this morning I cracked open a watermelon. Oh my gosh did the juices ooze and dribble down my face. It tasted so good. I have no advice for watermelon other than to face plant into the abyss.

This morning we also tested how many farmers it takes to unload a brush washer. Thats right, our pack shed has reached a new level of awesome. Thanks to the specialty crop block grant we have purchased four pieces of farm equipment that will impact our farmers efficiency and ability to increase production and cut down on labor (like weeding!). 

The most recent arrival has been the brush washer which will help farmers wash and process root crops at a much faster rate than the hand washing they have done in the past. Check out our facebook page for pictures of the new equipment and come to the Harvest Party on October 16th to see them up close!

While farm economics are sorted in the pack shed equally important social politics of food continue to drive our mission at Big River Farm. Last week Farm director Molly and I attended a training on racial justice in the food system, hosted by The Land Stewardship Project. The history and education we received in a few short hours made us ever more resolved in the mission of MFA to provide access to land and markets for immigrant farmers and populations that have consistently been marginalized in our society. The history of food is not pretty. It is loaded with conflict and oppression of certain people based on the color of their skin. But the hope in food system work is that change is possible. And the commitment you make to MFA allows us to provide platform and support for some of these marginalized populations.

For those interested in unpacking social politics of food, I highly, highly recommend subscribing to The Secret Ingredient, a podcast hosted by Raj Patel, Tom Philpott and Rebecca McInroy. Each episode focuses on one food item or ingredient. The hosts unpack the complexity of production, distribution and marketing of each food and how it impacts our food system. It is fascinating and introduces serious questions and insight about what we eat.


Farmer of the week

When Fagas Salah first came to Big River Farms he told staff, “Sign me up, I’m born for this.” But it has been winding path that brought Fagas here. He grew up in the city—Mogadishu, Somalia—and for the last nine years has worked as a long-haul truck driver, crisscrossing the U.S. But, with his children getting older and missing him more on his long trips, and with a growing interest in farming fueled by watching YouTube videos, Fagas decided it was time to make a change. “I was getting bored, living in a box. I saw a video of a man from Somalia that has his own farm now in Minnesota and wondered, wow, is this possible?”

Continue reading Fagas and Naima's story

Whats in the Box?

Cilantro from Xie Cha

Corn from Sebra Farm and The Early Birds

Cucumber from 1st Karen Farm

Garlic from Bhutanese Farm and 1st Karen Farm

Onions from 1st Karen Farm

Bell Pepper from Karen Family Farm, The Early Birds, Rome Farm

Hot Peppers from Sebra Farm and Jackie's Roots

Potato from Bhutanese Farm

Grape Tomato and Slicing Tomato from from Sebra Farm

Watermelon from Sebra Farm


In the Kitchen

The following recipe comes to us from Farm Director Molly.

And for those brave souls....a hot sauce recipe from Bon Apettite!


  • 1 pound stemmed fresh chiles (such as jalapeño, serrano, Fresno, or habanero; use one variety or mix and match)
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups distilled white vinegar


  • Pulse chiles and kosher salt in a food processor until a coarse purée forms. Transfer to a 1-qt. glass jar, loosely screw on lid, and let stand at room temperature for 12 hours to ferment slightly.
  • Stir in vinegar and loosely screw on lid. Let chile mixture stand at room temperature for at least 1 day and up to 7 days. (Taste it daily; the longer it sits, the deeper the flavor becomes.)
  • Purée mixture in a food processor or blender until smooth, about 1 minute. Place a fine-mesh sieve inside a funnel. Strain mixture through sieve into a clean glass bottle. (Hot sauce will become thinner and may separate after you strain it; shake vigorously before each use.)
  • Do Ahead: Can be made up to 4 months ahead. Keep refrigerated.

Enjoy the week of vegetables!


Lebo Moore

Food Hub Manager

Minnesota Food Association/Big River Farms

651-433-3676 ext.21

Posted 8/17/2016 3:56pm by Minnesota Food Association.

Story by Mike Rollin; photos by Lebo Moore & Laura Hedeen

When Fagas Salah first came to Big River Farms he told staff, “Sign me up, I’m born for this.” But it has been winding path that brought Fagas here. He grew up in the city—Mogadishu, Somalia—and for the last nine years has worked as a long-haul truck driver, crisscrossing the U.S. But, with his children getting older and missing him more on his long trips, and with a growing interest in farming fueled by watching YouTube videos, Fagas decided it was time to make a change. “I was getting bored, living in a box. I saw a video of a man from Somalia that has his own farm now in Minnesota and wondered, wow, is this possible?”

That farmer connected Fagas to MFA—he checked out the Facebook page on a Friday and saw that the annual harvest fair was the next day. He packed lunches for himself and his kids and they all came out to the farm. Right away, he signed on for the next year’s program.

While his enthusiasm is boundless, Fagas is clear about the challenges of farming. “I thought truck driving was hard work until I did this. I have so much respect for farmers now. You have to decide, how much can you handle? I’m a beginner, I want something small, I don’t want to get disappointed.” The training MFA provides has been invaluable. “Now I think about succession planting, making the most of the plot and the growing season. I think about how to save water, how to protect against weeds and bugs.” Tall and lean, Fagas says some days he practically lay down next to his beds to finish planting. He came home (to Eden Prairie, a 65 mile commute one-way) dead tired. When his wife asked if he was ready to quit, he remembered life on the road. “I was sitting 16 hours a day driving a truck. This is healthier—I want to be working with my hands.” His farm plot is the proof, the long rows planted now with a vibrant mix of tomato, bell pepper, onion, Swiss chard, cabbage and kale.

Working at the farm has become a family affair. During the winter months MFA offers classes for beginning farmers. When Fagas is out driving (he still drives, for the added income), his wife Naima Dhore attends in his place. She also comes out to the farm to water when Fagas has had to be out driving. His children also visit the farm some weekends when he is working. “They love to run in the open spaces here.”

Fagas is planning his future step by step. Next year, ¼ acre, the following year, ½.

When he’s certified as an organic farmer,he’d like to buy his own farm. The MFA training has him well-prepared. “They teach you record keeping. Every receipt, every seed packet. When I go for a loan, the bank needs a picture. I’m compiling a story that will tell them, this guy is serious.” He can also draw on his own experience in the trucking industry, growing from a driver to owner of his own truck. Longer term, Fagas is also thinking of bringing his knowledge back to his native Somalia. “These skills I’m learning will be useful there too—crop rotation, water-saving techniques, interplanting. Desertification is terrible in Somalia now. I’d like to maybe build an institution there to teach better farming.”

For now, Fagas is preparing his first batch of succession plantings. “These Minnesota seasons, only four months to farm!” There’s no doubt Fagas, and his family, will make the most of them 

Posted 8/11/2016 8:54pm by Minnesota Food Association.

Hiya folks!

Its hard to believe that with eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes, sweet corn, onions...all theses treats coming off the farm, that the sentiment in the air speaks of Fall and the slowing down of the season. In the fields we see the slow transition as first plantings wane and second plantings beginning to take shape. The multitude of farmers in the fields sweat in this heat and work harder than ever to ensure good food in on your plate. 

In the office staff is already planning for the Fall harvest party (October 16th!) and even starting to organize the Immigrant farm conference that will take place in January at the U of M. Our farmers continue to reach out to a variety of markets on their own and through Big River Farms. We are excited that some of our farmers are pioneering their own delivery routes using an EBT machine. Their commitment to distributing healthy and organic produce to communities that so often lack access to diverse food supplies. 

THis week we were also excited to participate with United Family Medicine during their #HealthyWest7th Block Party. Farmer Maisian set-up a veggie guessing game to spread the veggie love!

As always, we so value your commitment to supporting local food and local farmers. Eat on!

Whats in the Box

This week we are excited to present our second and third specialty crop of the season. Welcome Daikon radish and Asian Eggplant. Though your tastes are on complete opposite ends of the spectrum, you are both unique in flavor, use and cultural significance. Thanks to Sebra Farms for the Daikon and The Early Birds for the Eggplant.

Looking for recipes to try with Daikon. Saveur magazine has a great series of Daikon recipes from Kimchi to Curry.

In addition the box includes:

Sungold tomatoes, slicing tomatoes and sweet corn from Sebra Farms

Potatoes, carrots and onions from Bhutanese Farm

Cabbage from Karen Family Farm and 1st Karen Farm

Green Peppers from The Early Birds

Basil and Cilantro from 1st Karen Farm


In the Kitchen

Now is the time of year to make loads of ratatouille. Enough to share, freeze and eat fresh! I invite you to explore the "secret to perfect slow-cooker ratatouille" or try this recipe from The Smitten Kitchen

Ratatouille’s Ratatouille
As envisioned by Smitten Kitchen

1/2 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
1 cup tomato puree (such as Pomi)
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 small eggplant (my store sells these “Italian Eggplant” that are less than half the size of regular ones; it worked perfectly)
1 smallish zucchini
1 smallish yellow squash
1 longish red bell pepper
Few sprigs fresh thyme
Salt and pepper
Few tablespoons soft goat cheese, for serving

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Pour tomato puree into bottom of an oval baking dish, approximately 10 inches across the long way. Drop the sliced garlic cloves and chopped onion into the sauce, stir in one tablespoon of the olive oil and season the sauce generously with salt and pepper.

Trim the ends off the eggplant, zucchini and yellow squash. As carefully as you can, trim the ends off the red pepper and remove the core, leaving the edges intact, like a tube.

On a mandoline, adjustable-blade slicer or with a very sharp knife, cut the eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash and red pepper into very thin slices, approximately 1/16-inch thick.

Atop the tomato sauce, arrange slices of prepared vegetables concentrically from the outer edge to the inside of the baking dish, overlapping so just a smidgen of each flat surface is visible, alternating vegetables. You may have a handful leftover that do not fit.

Drizzle the remaining tablespoon olive oil over the vegetables and season them generously with salt and pepper. Remove the leaves from the thyme sprigs with your fingertips, running them down the stem. Sprinkle the fresh thyme over the dish.

Cover dish with a piece of parchment paper cut to fit inside. (Tricky, I know, but the hardest thing about this.)

Bake for approximately 45 to 55 minutes, until vegetables have released their liquid and are clearly cooked, but with some structure left so they are not totally limp. They should not be brown at the edges, and you should see that the tomato sauce is bubbling up around them.

Serve with a dab of soft goat cheese on top, alone, or with some crusty French bread, atop polenta, couscous, or your choice of grain.


Farm Director Molly has also introduced this delicious recipe stating " unless I can use the whole cabbage in one recipe, I wont choose to make the dish"

Check out this Japanese style pizza aka Okonomiyaki from 101cookbooks and use your whole cabbage in one fell swoop!

Okonomiyaki (Japanese Pizza) Recipe

Leeks are notoriously gritty. To clean them well I typically slice them lengthwise and then submerge them in a big bowl of water - where I rinse and swish them to loosen up any dirt. Drain and repeat if needed. Then chop/slice.

2 cups cabbage, finely shredded
1 cup leeks, well washed and chopped (see head notes)
2/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or apf flour)
a couple pinches of fine grain sea salt
2 eggs, beaten
1+ tablespoon olive oil

Garnish: toasted slivered almonds, chives/ herbs

Combine the cabbage, leeks, flour, and salt in a bowl. Toss until everything is coated with a dusting of flour. Stir in the eggs and mix until everything is evenly coated.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add a generous splash of olive oil. Scoop the cabbage mixture into the pan, and using a metal spatula press it into a round pancake shape, flat as you can get it. Cook for 4-5 minutes, or until the bottom is golden. To flip the okonomiyaki, slide it out of the skillet onto a plate. Place another plate on top and flip both (together) over. If you need a bit more oil in your skillet, add it now, before sliding the okonomiyaki back into the skillet. Again press down a bit with a spatula and cook until golden on this side - another 3 -5 minutes.

When you are finished cooking, sprinkle with toasted almonds and chives, and slide it onto a cutting board to cut into wedges. Enjoy immediately.


Lebo Moore

Food Hub Manager

Minnesota Food Association/Big River Farms

651-433-3676 ext.21

Posted 8/4/2016 7:25pm by Minnesota Food Association.

Its here!

Finally, the time of year when the CSA box looks and smells like summer. We have tomatoes, eggplant (!), jalapenos, and arugula, oh and beets! 

There are so many options for cooking, feasting and sharing with friends. Speaking of friends, I wanted to draw your attention to a fun local food resource. From The Ground Up North is a great local food clearing house of sorts. They write stories about farmers, non-profits and local food business. They publish a calendar of local food events, Hint: The Garlic Festival in Hutchinson, MN is happening soon! And they are engaged in a variety of research projects regarding different barriers to building local food systems. 

Big River Farms will be featured as one of the farms later this year, but this month there is a great story about one of our partner organizations Urban Oasis. I highly recommend checking it out and plugging into the local food scene.

p.s. Urban Oasis has hosted an Edible Streetscapes project this year planting all sorts of traditional food crops along East 7th st. You can sign-up for a walking tour! In addition, there will be a gallery opening of photos taken by East Side residents of gardens in the neighborhood. The photos present a new understanding of what urban space looks like and how food can be part of urban design. 

Farmer of the Week

For Chairesia, a guiding principle in her life has been the dictum, “Let thy food be thy medicine” (Hippocrates). For her that means building bridges between health care and healthy eating. “How can food prevent illness? How can we get the most nutrients from food? I think organic farming is one way to do that.”

Continue reading Chairesia's story....






 Whats in the Box

Summer in a box??!!!

  • Arugula, Beets, Potatoes and Zucchini from Karen Family Farm
  • Green Beans, Beets and Eggplant from The Early Birds 
  • Green Beans Kale and Zucchini from Bhutanese Farm
  • Cilantro, tomatoes, sungold tomatoes, Jalapenos and Cucumbers from Sebra Farm
  • Cucumbers from Mhonpaj's Garden
  • Kale from Rome Farm
  • Beets, Cucumber, Onions and Zucchini from 1st Karen Farm

In the Kitchen

I have been waiting with anticipation to put a recipe for beets in the newsletter. Not only is this dip delicious, but it is also magenta in color, looks fabulous on the dinner table and will wow your friends.

Here is a recipe from Lucky Peach ( a great food journal) for a beet yogurt dip.



  • 1 lb cooked beets (not in vinegar)
  • 3 T ground coriander
  • 1/2 oz mint, leaves finely chopped
  • 16 oz Greek yogurt
  • 1 t nigella seeds
  • + olive oil, for drizzling
  • + flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper



  1. Drain the excess juice from the beets and blitz them in a bowl using a handheld blender until they are broken down to a coarse purée. Add the ground coriander, a generous seasoning of salt and pepper and the chopped mint (reserving a generous pinch of mint for garnish) and mix well. Now stir in the Greek yogurt until it is evenly incorporated.

  2. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Serve with a sprinkling of nigella seeds, the chopped mint and a drizzle of olive oil.


If I was meal planning, I'd likely drift toward mediterranean cuisine this week on account of the beet dip and the eggplant. Are you familiar with the glory of the Jerusalem cookbook? If not, I'd say it is a pantry staple. Here is a recipe that can use your eggplants, onions and even jalapenos as a subsititute for the green chilli.


2 large eggplants (about 1 2/3 pounds)
2/3 cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper 
4 onions (about 1 1/4 pounds), thinly sliced
1 1/2 green chiles
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. sumac
1 3/4 ounces feta cheese, broken into large chunks
1 medium lemon
1 clove garlic, crushed




Preheat oven to 425. 

  1. Halve the eggplants lengthwise with the stems on. 
  2. Score the cut side of each eggplant with a crisscross pattern. 
  3. Brush the cut sides with 6 1/2 tablespoons of the oil and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Roast on a baking sheet, cut side up, for about 45 minutes, until the flesh is golden brown. (A tip: Place a shallow pan of water at the bottom of the oven to prevent the eggplants from drying out.)
  4. While the eggplants are roasting, add the remaining oil to a large frying pan and place over high heat. Add the onions and 1/2 teaspoon salt, and cook for 8 minutes, stirring often, so that parts of the onion get dark and crisp.
  5. Seed and chop the chiles, keeping the whole chile separate from the half. Add the ground cumin, sumac, and the whole chopped chile, and cook for a further 2 minutes before adding the feta. Cook for a final minute, not stirring much, then remove from the heat.
  6. Use a small serrated knife to remove the skin and pith of the lemon. Coarsely chop the flesh, discarding the seeds, and place the flesh and any juices in a bowl with the remaining 1/2 chile and the garlic. Transfer the roasted halves to a serving dish, and spoon the lemon sauce over the flesh. Warm up the onions a little, and spoon over. Serve warm or set aside to come to room temperature.

May your meals be shared and delicious! And start planning your dish for the CSA harvest party!


Lebo Moore

Food Hub Manager

Minnesota Food Association/Big River Farms

651-433-3676 ext.21