What's Growin' On at the Farm

Posted 5/9/2012 11:56am by Minnesota Food Association.

We have waited long enough to get planting and now is the time! While we farm out here on Big River Farms, many of us, like me, are backyard (and frontyard) gardeners. Without our current farmers, we could not get the wonderful produce that we all love in the season. Without the future farmers, we will be in a real hungry dilemma. But the conclusion is in now, the frost is gone till October in my opinion, and we need to get planting! With the mild Winter and the warm Spring, it was tempting to plant early, but being wary and nice Minnesotans, sort of set in our ways, we held off in planting. You never know, you could have snow on Mother’s Day. But it’s not going to happen this year, so now is the time to get out there and plant and grow! Be fruitful! We can help.  Minnesota Food Association will have it Annual Spring Open House and Plant Sale on Saturday May 12 from Noon – 4 pm at our Big River Farms site. Come out and enjoy an afternoon on the farm. Meet the many farmers in our training program. Learn more about what we do to promote a more sustainable food system. Buy some seedlings for your garden. We have over 2,000 plants just aching to get in the ground. There are over 35 varieties of Certified Organic vegetable, herb and flower starts ready for you to plant. This event is free and open to the public so please bring your friends and family! We will have food – an eclectic community potluck table that ebbs and flows as folks bring in food and others eat it up. So bring a dish if you can.

See you this Saturday!


Glen Hill

Executive Director

Minnesota Food Association

Email: glenhill@mnfoodassociation.org

May 9, 2012

Posted 5/8/2012 12:02pm by Amber Stenson.


What’s in your Gardener’s Special?





White Sweet Alyssum

Cayenne Pepper

Sweet Pepper

Heirloom Tomato





Sweet Marjoram

Anise Hyssop

Tromboncino Summer Squash


Get ready for our Plant Sale and Spring Open House…

This Saturday, May 12th from 12-4pm at the farm! Bring a dish to share to this open house and potluck event. Bring your friends and family to visit the farm, meet new folks, and stock up on organic herbs, flowers and heirloom veggies!


Have you signed up for our CSA yet?! There are still shares available.

Visit our website at www.mnfoodassociation.org to sign up for a summer or fall share and see our drop site list!

Here is a preview of what might be in our first box:

green onions
garlic whistles
spring turnips
broccoli raab

A photo of a CSA box from last season!


Upcoming Events at MFA & Big River Farms

June 2nd—Work Day

June 12th—First week of CSA deliveries

August 19th—Dinner on the Farm

September 23rd—Slow Food MN presents a Slow Food meal at Big River Farms!


Notes from the Field

The Gardener's Specials are packed and ready to go!  This e-mail is being sent to you because you have oredered a Gardener's Special.  We have taken the nicest looking things from our greenhouse and made an enticing flat of plants for you to put in your garden.  

We hope you enjoy them for the whole summer.

The greenhouse is in full bloom mode this week and we are gearing up for our Spring Open House and Plant sale this Saturday May 12th from Noon until 4:00 here at the farm.  We designed the Gardener's Special to be picked up here at the farm on the day of our plant sale.  There are directions here.  If this does not work for you please let me know and we can make other arrangements.

I am looking forward to seeing you all on Saturday!



A Guide to your Gardener’s Special


Thank you for purchasing a Gardener’s Special! 

We hope you find much enjoyment watching these plants grow through the season.  Below you will find a list of everything included in your flat, plus any special care instructions for over-wintering.



Marigold (A): Annual, full sun,  spacing 8”, pinching makes plants bushier (1 Durango Outback Mix)

Violas (B): Biennial, full sun/partial shade, spacing

6-9”, deadheading encourages blooms all season

2 Majestic Giants

Nasturtium (C): Annual, full sun to partial shade, spacing 12”, edible flowers are delicious! (1 Jewel Mix)

Peas (D): Full Sun, spacing 3”, cool weather tolerant, trellis for easier picking and better yields (2 Sugar Snap Peas)

White Sweet Alyssum (E): Annual, full sun, spacing 1-3”, tolerant of both cool and hot weather, ideal for edging and ground cover, the aromatic flowers attract hoverflies and other beneficial insects!

4” pots

Hot Pepper, Ring of Fire Cayenne (F): This is a hot pepper! Matures to fire-engine red, dry peppers after harvest to grind and make your own chili seasoning, full sun, 12-18”

Sweet Pepper, Gypsy (G): Matures to deep orange and then red with increasing sweetness, full sun, 12-18” spacing, give enough dry-down time between watering

Heirloom Tomato, Great White (H): Full sun, spacing 18-24” apart, before transplanting harden plant off by reducing water and temperature for a week, may stake plants, harvest ripe fruits regularly

2” pots

Sage (I): Perennial (Zone 4-8), sun/part shade, spacing 12-18”, see box on over-wintering herbs

Thyme (J): Perennial (Zone 5-8), sun/part shade, spacing 6-8”, see box on over-wintering herbs

Oregano (K): perennial (Zone 4-9), full sun, spacing 12”, great pizza herb, see box on over-wintering herb

Basil (L): Annual, full sun, spacing 6”, will show signs of stress at 45° and lower, likes warmth (2 Italian Large Leaf)

Sweet Marjoram (M): Tender perennial (Zone 9-11, spacing 6-8”, grows well in pots, place in a sunny window over winter or treat as annual

Anise Hyssop (N): Tender perennial (Zone 6-9), full sun, spacing 6”, makes a great bee plant, leaves & flowers are edible with an anise flavor, flower tops make a lovely infused hone

Tromboncino Summer Squash (O): Full sun, spacing 36” apart, this summer squash likes attention from pollinators so plant it near bee attracting flowers, transplant no more than 2 weeks after taking home





©2012 Minnesota Food Association, 14220 B Ostlund Trail North, Marine on St. Croix, MN 55047 

651-433-3676 ph.  651 433-5050 fax


Posted 4/10/2012 3:14pm by Minnesota Food Association.

It’s a little side track but Burma is fascinating to me, and I am sure the MN-based Karen community are surely intently watching events unfolding in their home country. In Burma, in recent parliamentary by-elections, Aung San Suu Kyi (democracy activist and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate) and members of her National League for Democracy party, won 43 of the 45 seats being contested. This is one of the more significant steps the country has made in decades. The story is deep and complicated, but a quote from her shows her grace and dignity and could be applied to any of our life’s pursuits.

"Passion translates as suffering and I would contend that in the political context, as in the religious one, it implies suffering by choice: a deliberate decision to grasp the cup that we would rather let pass. It is not a decision made lightly -- we do not enjoy suffering; we are not masochists. It is because of the high value we put on the object of our passion that we are able, sometimes in spite of ourselves, to choose suffering."



 Glen Hill

Executive Director

Minnesota Food Association

Email: glenhill@mnfoodassociation.org

 April 10, 2012

Posted 4/10/2012 3:10pm by Minnesota Food Association.

In 1992 biotech seed and chemical giant Monsanto convinced the FDA that foods genetically engineered in laboratories were “substantially equivalent” to traditionally bred plants and animals.  Americans are denied their right to know what is in their food because the FDA is basing flawed decisions on corporation-based research.  Today, about 80% of processed foods in the US contain ingredients that have been genetically modified in laboratories, and Americans do not realize this.

Does anyone notice a significant increase in food allergies in the past 20 years? I never realized how many people are allergic to peanuts. I don’t remember any kids allergic to peanuts when I was a kid.  We talk about the increase in diet-related diseases in the past 20 – 30 years, and we talk about the need for “good, real food”. But it is about both the food and what is in the food. What’s wrong with taking a drought resistant gene from a nut in Argentina and a pest resistant gene from a nut in Tanzania and splicing them into the good’ol peanut grown here in the US? Maybe we are finding out now.

Numerous studies and surveys show that people want to know if there are Genetically-Modified Organisms  (GMOs) or Genetically Engineered (GE) components in our food, and they want it labeled as such.  Hawaii, California, Vermont and even Minnesota all have state legislation pending that would require it for food products sold their states. Large Agribusiness, specifically Monsanto, is lobbying hard against this.  Despite overwhelming public support, and support from a clear majority of Vermont's Agriculture Committee, Vermont legislators are still hesitating to bring a proposed GMO labeling bill to the table. The reason is that Monsanto has threatened to sue the state if the bill passes. It’s probably going to hinder free commerce or something, and the Vermont doesn’t want to spend it’s resources on a legal battle with an Agri-Giant. You can read more here http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_25180.cfm

California is an even bigger player in this movement. As the 8th largest economy in the world, forcing the labeling of GMO foods would have a hugely significant impact on the labeling of GE foods. Food manufacturers and food retailers in California know that when they are forced to admit and label GE components in their food that it's only a matter of time before people stop buying GE food. And then food manufacturers stop making it.


The European Union, the largest agricultural market in the world, requires GE Foods to be labeled, so there are essentially no genetically engineered crops under cultivation. Oh, you can grow them, but people won’t buy them. More than 50 countries, including Japan, Russia, Hong Kong, Australia, South Korea and China, have either passed mandatory labeling laws or outlawed GMOs altogether. Why hasn't the US? Don’t we pride ourselves in being at the forefront of the world? A world leader? Whya re we dragging our feet on this?  It’s because the US also has one of the most corporate influenced political systems in the world and the Big Ag and Big Food companies are more concerned about protecting their profits than the safety of our food supply.  So when Monsanto threatens, you listen. Did you know that 194 countries in the world have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and only two countries have not? Somalia and the USA. Why would the USA not sign this; because of strong political lobbying

How about Minnesota? Well, Minnesota recently tried to pass legislation requiring the labeling genetically engineered foods. Rep. Karen Clark authored a bill (HF 2808) requiring Genetically Engineered Food Labeling to the MN State House of Representatives. It was denied a committee hearing in the House Agriculture Committee. She then offered a stripped down amendment to the House Omnibus Agriculture Bill to create a genetically engineered food labeling study committee which would have reported their recommendations back to the 2014 legislature. This was defeated 81 – 44, almost exclusively along party lines.  It appears that the message at the legislature was, we don’t want this and we don’t want to spend time and money on some “study” either. The Senate companion bill, SF 2563 is still active.



Glen Hill

Executive Director

Minnesota Food Association

Email: glenhill@mnfoodassociation.org


April 10, 2012

Posted 3/30/2012 4:26pm by Minnesota Food Association.

May Lee and Chu of Mhonpaj’s Garden (www.mhonpajgarden.biz) have been farming in the Big River Farms training program for 5 years. They are excellent vegetable farmers. The first Certified Organic Hmong vegetable farmers in Minnesota. The first Hmong farmers to set up their own CSA.  They sell their produce a couple of farmers markets, their own CSA, a few restaurants, to Big River Farms CSA, to St Paul Schools and many places. They give hundreds of pounds of produce to food shelves each year. From their own greenhouse, they produce most all of their Certified Organic transplants and also sell some. In March, they put up their first hoophouse, where they planned to grow tomatoes, beets, late season spinach and other crops. They invested many dollars and many days and hours putting it up, not to mention dreams of what could be from their 70’ x 30’ hoophouse.

Disaster really struck on March 27. There were high wind advisories across Minnesota and the Midwest, and their hoophouse got the unlucky fortune to be hit by and unusually strong blast. That was all it took. The wind must have got under one point or edge and once it was in, it just lifted, separate some pipes, and proceeded to twist and tear and bend the living daylights out of the whole structure. May Lee and Chu were away for a couple of days and arrived back on the morning of March 28, ready to begin planting, only to find it destroyed.  They were heart-broken. We were heart-broken.

They are now making adjustments to their plot plans but are not really sure what to do about the hoophouse. The first step is to take it all down and assess what is salvageable and what is not, and then to assess what would be need to rebuild it. But probably 30% of the pipes are crimped or bent beyond repair. It will require all new plastic and many other materials to rebuild it.

As any small business owner knows, it is hard enough to make the investments and get your operation up and running, but to take such a huge hit before you even get things going for the season is really difficult, financially and spiritually.  Our hearts go out to them. We will stay in touch with them and see what they plan to do, or not do, and we will assist them in anyway that we can. We’ll keep you posted.




Glen Hill

Executive Director

Minnesota Food Association

Email: glenhill@mnfoodassociation.org


March 30, 2012

Posted 3/23/2012 4:21pm by Minnesota Food Association.

March is the new May, what does it mean?

 Seems to be the hot topic these days …  the mild winter, the early ice out and the warm weather we are having. So for farmers and gardeners, what does this mean? It surely depends on a variety of factors: Do you grow for home use, for hobby or need? Do you farm for market? What do you farm, vegetables or crops? Raise livestock? Fruit trees, berries or bushes? What are your markets? What is your risk assessment level? What is or was your plan for this season? There are more questions and within each question are other questions.

We got a call at 4:30pm the other day from WCCO TV wanting to do a story on what does the early heat up mean for crops and farming and they want to interview someone here now, for the 10 pm news. They were getting in the car and coming out to the farm now. But apparently they were more interested in what it meant for fruit tree and fruit growers (and livestock) and we just didn’t have that to show them, so we called a neighboring farm that specializes in fruit and they went over there. Don’t know the outcome of that, but even the news media is thinking about it.

We are thinking that weather and climate are different. Farming is already a risky business and to try to roll the dice on the weather just adds another risk that you don’t need. We are going to plant on schedule this season and are telling the farmers in our training program to plant on their normal schedule. Maybe a week early is OK. Am I preaching to the choir, but don’t we know that MN weather can be fickle? We can get snow in early May.

If we look at it another way, if we plant 2 weeks early, what do we gain? Not really a higher price because our prices are set. We can start the CSA sooner and end earlier but is that a great advantage? So if our broccoli comes on 2 weeks earlier, it doesn’t help the CSA and we can not increase the price to the wholesale accounts. Maybe if we were selling at a farmers market, and we were the first ones with broccoli (or whatever) we could increase the price. But when you add that increase times the amount that you actually sell, how much more profit did you actually get?

What about looking at all the other things that need to happen on the farm? All the other projects that one has planned to do since last year, or 2 or 3 years ago but never got done?  We have some Spring projects. We want to put in an extension to our irrigation system to reach new fields. We feel that we should use this nice weather to do that project and other projects, because if we ‘take advantage’ of the nice weather and start planting, there is the ‘opportunity cost’ of what we give up. We only have so much time, muscle and money. If the weather does change, and we lose a crop, it is lost time and money. Seed is apparently cheap this year, but time it time. You can buy more seeds but you can’t buy more time.

As a training farm and organization, we should try to teach farmers to plant on a schedule based on averages and keep records of temperature, planting dates, transplanting dates and so on. The natural tendency of both people new to Minnesota and those who have lived here for years, is going to be plant as soon as you can. Hey, you get excited; it’s understandable. ‘Winter’ is over; but the reality is that “Spring’ is not really here yet. Most farmers don’t have a large buffer for risk and loss. If we wait, we can let our over-winter cover crop reach new heights before tilling it in. We will get more biomass (i.e. green manure / organic matter) into our soil. We can get our Spring projects done. Putting in an extended irrigation system is thoughtful risk management. We have 60 degrees, sun and rain now but who knows what June, July, August will bring, and vegetable farmers need water. We can start our CSA and wholesale sales on time and end on time. That’s our plan.

So it’s a crap shoot. It’s up to you.  My take is to do what you have experience in doing. You should feel right in your heart about what you are doing. Use the early warm weather to do projects that you want to or have been putting off. And keep records throughout the season. If you have a stable system that works for you, then stick with it. Farmers have enough stress and risk in their lives already. Don’t add to it by trying to guess what the weather will be. In Minnesota?


Glen Hill

Executive Director

Minnesota Food Association

Email: glenhill@mnfoodassociation.org

March 23, 2012

Posted 3/13/2012 11:17am by Minnesota Food Association.

In our circles of friends and colleagues in the sustainable agriculture community, we love to talk about what it takes to get over the hump, to build entrepreneurship and sustainable farming enterprises and what are the limitations and challenges. This is probably not much different that other business or non-profit sectors, or even our own families and communities. Being a small business entrepreneur is a venture full of risks that takes courage. Building your product, developing stable markets, ensuring capital and financing and cash flow, and management and communications all are critical factors.  Farming is an artisan skill, a craft and an art that must work within the ecological laws of nature. To make it work, you still have to be a business person. Farmers farm the soil and which grows the plants which can be grass, forage, vegetables, trees, etc.  Craftsmen and women develop their skills and product by working with a certain medium over the course of many years or decades, even generations. The more you work with a certain wood or types of wood, or canvas and paint, or climate, the better you get. To do this you need stability; to have stability you need security. When you have security, you can invest your time, efforts and thoughts into your craft and create your endeavour.  When farmers have security, they can produce the best food in the best quality that we could ever imagine. I am not a farmer but I will go out on a limb here and say that I think what farmers really love to do is be the best stewards of the land that they can be, with the best soil they can build, and then work at the art of growing and watch it blossom. Farmers know that to create these conditions it takes a lot of work over many years on the same space of Earth.

We talk about issues of concern in farming. Heavy use of chemical inputs as pesticides and fertilizers, soil erosion, planting fence-row-to-fence-row , lack of hedgerows or windbreaks, building soil fertility, allowing time for cover cropping and fallow fields, and so on.  At last month’s Annual Immigrant and Minority Farmers Conference, it was pleasantly surprising to see the huge upsurge in interest in sustainable and organic farming. Both experienced and new immigrant growers are intently interested in learning how to farm these ways. When the conversation turns to the long-term, progressive and intentional process that is involved in developing and strengthening the soil that is the foundation of these farming methods, you tend to see some disappointed faces. It is not the effort or the money involved; nor is it the time, the long days and months and years. It is the recognition that without a long-term secure land base, either leased or owned, it is not a practical reality for most farmers in these communities. Most of the small-to-mid-scale immigrant growers in our region are renting land on an annual or short term basis with no real guarantee that they will be able to return next year. While the land owner may not be pleased with the treatment of his land, the farmer is also not pleased either but he is trying to get a year’s worth of produce grown within the parameters he is facing. 

The land owner loves his land and would love to see soil fertility and conservation practices on his land, and you know what; so would the farmer. We need to continue to work with farmers and land owners to develop a mutually secure situation where both land owner and the farmer benefit, because then we all benefit – the land, the neighbors, the passersby, and the consumers.

What’s the greatest thing you can give a child? A sense of security and real security. Farmers are not children. But as children are just young human beings beginning their life’s journey, young farmers are similar in beginning their farming journey. And what they need is security and then we all benefit. Building land security for farmers is a critical component of the foundation for building our food security and building a more sustainable food system.


Glen Hill

Executive Director

Minnesota Food Association

Email: glenhill@mnfoodassociation.org


March 12, 2012

Posted 1/3/2012 1:07pm by Minnesota Food Association.

7th Annual Immigrant Farmers Conference

For farmers and those who work with farmers, it is officially conference season! The growing season ended a few months ago. Hunting season is over. You could go ice fishing. But for farmers, this is mainly the season for learning, sharing, planning and preparing. How can I better get my costs under control? Should I switch varieties of potatoes, broccoli, beans? Is there a better way to rotate or interplant my crops to get better production or decrease my pests? How can find more markets and what do those markets want? What is this “Organic Certification” and how can work towards that?

While there are numerous, excellent conferences coming up in January and February, the Annual Immigrant and Minority Farmers Conference held in St. Paul, MN stands alone as a conference that is planned and geared for immigrant and minority farmers.  Hosted by the Association for the Advancement of Hmong Women in Minnesota, Minnesota Food Association, USDA-Farm Service Agency and USDA NRCS, the two-day conference provides education and connections to resources for small farm and beginning growers. The 7th Immigrant and Minority  Farmers Conference will be held on February 3-4, 2012 at the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters Event Hall, 710 Olive Street, St. Paul, MN. The theme of the 2012 Conference is “Planting Seeds for Success on your Farm.”

What makes this conference special?  In February 2011, we had a total of about 240 participants of which 170 were immigrant farmers from 8 different ethnicities from 6 different states. The planning committee is made up of about 15 people from 7 or 8 organizations and 5 – 6 farmers, who work together to determine the program and topics. It is very diverse and inclusive. We have simultaneous interpretation into up to 6 languages through an extensive set of earphones, microphones and transmitters. All workshops are presented, or co-presented, by actual practitioners, meaning farmer market managers, distributors, farmers, chefs, etc. Interpreters accompany the participants as they visit the exhibit tables so to facilitate discussion and exchange. Interpreters and presenters meet before the conference to review the presentations and discuss language and cadence. Workshops and conference evaluations are mainly a brief facilitated verbal question and answer after each session. A highlight the past 3 years has been the lunch time story telling. After everyone gathers up their lunch plates (again catered by Sen Yai Sen Lek Thai Restaurant from Northeast Minneapolis), we gather in the main auditorium and we share stories about where we come from, farming in our native country, farming in our new country, peculiarities of life in America, and life’s wonderful happenings and challenges. It is an amazing collage of perspectives and insights into our burgeoning diverse farming culture.

The highlight for me is the atmosphere. It’s a farmer’s conference. The farmers are foremost and prominent; it’s their conference. While it may start out slow, by the second day, the farmers feel empowered and are very at ease to ask their questions and pursue the knowledge they seek.  Farmers from wide ranging heritages (Kenya, Liberia, Somalia, Laos, Cambodia, Bhutan, Burma, Vietnam, Mexico, Guatemala and so on) are sharing and learning together, and meeting people from other organizations, businesses, universities, the MN Department of Agriculture and USDA agencies. This conference brings together people who would not otherwise meet each other in their normal lives and creates long-lasting bonds and networks.

Registration is on-line at (http://www.mnfoodassociation.org/content/12915 ) or by calling MFA at 651-433-3676, or the Association for the Advancement of Hmong Women in Minnesota at 651-222-0475. The conference is free to farmers. The cost for other interested parties is $50 per day.


 Glen Hill

Executive Director

Minnesota Food Association

Email: glenhill@mnfoodassociation.org

Posted 11/16/2011 10:10am by Glen.

Some of you may know, some not, but I lived in Thailand for 16 years and in Rangoon, Burma, for 5 ½ years from 1985 – 2006. I met the Karen people (a large indigenous group in Burma and Thailand) in 1992 when my now dear friend came to Thailand looking for support in setting up a wildlife sanctuary in Tennaserim Division of southern Burma. There are about 150,000 refugees (mostly Karen) living in camps along the Thailand/Burma border due to the ongoing civil conflict in Burma. Some have been there for 25 years or more. For about 10 years now, many Karen are now choosing to resettle in other countries. It is a very difficult choice to leave one’s country, then to leave one’s region, and to settle in a completely new culture, society and climate. I believe that the main reason they choose to resettle is for their children. With children who are 5 years old, 10 years, 15 years old or more, with most of them knowing nothing but life in a refugee camp, with no end in sight to the political and military conflict, what are your options? We in Minnesota are truly fortunate to have the Karen people come to our state. The Karen people, culture and values will make our state a better place. I truly believe this. It saddens me to see how they struggle to get started here when I know how ‘rich’ they were where they came from. But they bring such warmth and caring with them. Minnesota is a better place and will be a better place because of them. I believe that.

We have had a number of Karen people in our farmer training program in the past two years. Recently I talked with Htoo Lwe who with her husband A Bee (his parents named him Abraham, after Abraham Lincoln, but then shortened it to just A B, and then added the ‘ee’ to B) farmed in our program for the first year in 2011. She is a health worker for the Karen Organization of Minnesota as her full time work.

I asked her why do you farm? You have so much to do with work, family, community, adjusting to America, so why do you farm?

“The first one (reason) is that is it organic, the way we always farmed. In America, you need to produce for yourself if you want organic produce. As a health worker, I see that we need organic produce for our people. We need to eat many varieties to get the nutrition that we need. As a farmer, I can give to my people for free or a cheaper price. Many of us refugees are coming here when we are old and our elders need good food. When I give them vegetables, they say to me ‘Oh, your vegetables are very good’ and this makes me happy and I know that I am doing a good thing. So part of it is economic. We don’t really make money, but we save money. We save money as a community. And it is social, for our community, our people, our elders’

 We find this common thread among many new immigrant/refugee communities. I imagine that the ‘immigrants’ of 100 or 150 years ago also thought that way. We do it because it is the right thing to do. We shared for a common, larger good. Because strong and healthy individuals make a strong and healthy community which makes a strong and healthy nation. Many of us ancestors of old immigrants seem to have forgotten or lost that. I hope that our new citizens can hold on to their deep roots in community. We need it.

 Glen Hill

Executive Director

Minnesota Food Association

Email: glenhill@mnfoodassociation.org

Posted 11/16/2011 10:07am by Glen.

Rodrigo Cala and his brother Juan Carlos come from a family farming tradition in their native Mexico. They participated in the Big River Farms Training Program for 3 years from 2006 – 2008 and have now bought their own farm in Wisconsin. They are amazing farmers with great dedication to their crops and their customers and a clear focus on their goals. MFA taught them Organic Certification and GAP certification and they now continue this on their own farm. They continue to sell green peppers to Chipotle, together with other large food distributors, as well as their own CSA for the Latino community this season. Both brothers continue to hold down full time day/night shift jobs at factories as well.

 What makes you happy farming, Rodrigo? Why do you do this?

“ I have a connection with my farm and a connection with my soil. It is different than going to a factory job. Farming is a business but it is not just like that. This year production may be bad but it does not mean that farming is bad or the farm is bad. We can still eat well.  The risk and fault this past season is the weather, but it is not me, the soil or my plants. Some farmers say ‘Oh, I didn’t make any money’, but for me, I feel different. I think, ‘is my soil making progress?’ and if it is then my stress is gone. It’s not just money. The best food in the world comes from your own farm. You have many different recipes, but any chef will tell you that it starts with a good raw product. For me, I like the best food in the world. If you care where your food comes from, then it is worth it. I have a friend, all her kids are overweight, she doesn’t understand it is the type of food they eat not the amount. I feel bad for her.

 My mind has changed. If we want to help our community then we have to go to our community and not just to the distributor. I need the distributer to make my farm work, but if I want to make change, I need to go to my community. I want to help make change. When I changed to organic, everything changed for me. When I first started talking about organic and the way I farm, people did not trust me, did not believe me, so I said ‘fine’. I will just keep doing and less talking. When I eat only organic, right away I can feel the change in my body.  If farming is just a way of making money, then maybe you will not be happy. You can be rich in other ways, like your health.

 My blood is very good. I eat the good stuff. “

 We see the reoccurring theme that farming has a higher value for farmers. Organic vegetable farmers feel it is the right way to grow and to eat, and they are happy to share it with you. If you feel it is false or over-righteous, then they’ll just be quiet and go back to work.  Another common theme we see regularly is the balancing act between the desire to give to the community and the need to make the farming operation viable. But I can feel the passion and commitment of Rodrigo, like others, to farming the way he wants to farm, pride and honesty in his product and a sense that there is also a greater purpose to all this.

 Glen Hill

Executive Director

Minnesota Food Association

Email: glenhill@mnfoodassociation.org

 PS – Farming is full of risks as a career venture, yet so very attractive to so many of us and absolutely imperative to a specific group of people. They just know that this is what they want to do with their time and life. So there must be some happiness, joy or contentment in farming for some people to take to it with such convicted passion. So over the past month or so, I asked some of the farmers in our Big River Farms Training Program: What makes you happy when you are farming? Why do you do this?