The place: Acorn Ridge Farm of Mel and Lorna Wiens in Staples, Minnesota. The weather: steamy and sticky. The event: the 3rd annual Festival of Farms, hosted by Sustainable Farming Association (SFA) Central Chapter. Drop the title and formalities and you have a gathering that felt more like a beloved family reunion than an event open to the public.
Just about 2 1/2 hours northwest of the cities, foodies and farmers alike headed out to partake in the fun. Tents were set up across the farm to offer attendees activities like a petting zoo with farm animals, hay rides, canning demonstrations and shuttle tours to other farms in the area. Local Amish vendors were also in attendance on site offering a variety of fresh baked and canned goods and an array of vegetables (I couldn't help but grab a jar of pickled beets and a few onions).
As I began to explore with my farm map in hand, I had the great luck of running into Mel, the owner and one of the main organizers for the festival. We stood next to a corral of ducks who were wandering and snacking on buckwheat while he gave me a quick introduction to the day's events and shared his passion in education and activism. He then pointed out that his farm is completely surrounded by a very large potato producer, which creates an even tighter drive for his like-minded community members to thrive in their endeavors.
While Mel runs his own farm, CSA program and multiple community farmers markets, he is also finding time to try and incorporate area farm foods into the local hospital's kitchen, Lakewoods Health Systems of Staples. "We hear about a lot of things going on, and we want to be to doers," the former professor-turned-farmer stated regarding his initiatives. Mel provided his perspective from the farm-view, that in turn, provided me with a truly inspired state of mind and reinforced my passion in the connection of urban good food ideals.
We, the food loving public, have been quite aware of an increase in interest about food sourcing as well as asking that it be not just local, but sustainably and organically produced. The next step in this evolution, or re-evolution, that we are witness to, is the idea that we understand food from the ground up. "People want to get dirty," Arlene Jones, SFA Central Chapter Chair, said of her CSA members who are opting to come to her farm for pick-up instead of the drop-off locations available. One of the biggest compliments that she has received is when a member drops their Farm on St. Mathias CSA share to grow their own produce. A risk that Arlene is willing to take by welcoming folks to her farm with open gates.
An event, like farming, is hard work. No matter if you have planned a friend's surprise birthday dinner or a full-on catered benefit, events have a certain essence that is not unlike herding cats. The event in Staples was only one of many occurring across the state as part of the festival of farms and Minnesota's Sustainable Agriculture Day, as proclaimed by Governor Dayton. Each of the hosting farms and community participants also hold a variety of other fantastic events throughout the year, their biggest hurdle being awareness and getting the word out. Even at the event this past weekend, Mel pointed out that everyone knew someone (except for me, of course). These gatherings are community supported but the real need is to draw outside interest.
This is where urbanites enter the picture. There are many wonderful opportunities to support projects like the Land Stewardship Project, for example, through in-town initiatives for awareness. As a highly populated center, we can do much collaborative good. Our wonderful co-ops and farmers markets help us make this farm-to-table connection fairly easy, but there is so much more treasure and value to be discovered by going directly to the source. There is an experience to be had and friends to make, whether your visit is for a festival or a random excursion.
Obviously, it may not be possible to make the voyage to a farm for dinner ingredients on a Tuesday night between after-school activities and taking the dogs for a walk. However, we urban dwellers, need to look to visiting these farms outside of pumpkin-patch season. Our local farms are the main reason that our food-based communities exist at all. Certainly we are aware that food is all about community and it would be a shame if we forget to acknowledge where this community starts.
The day ended with a stroll through the garden and a barefoot horseshoe game while enjoying the stylings of a bluegrass band under the main tent. The clouds became heavier and I left with my onions and beets in hand. Moreover, I left inspired and ready to plan my next farm visit. I am honored to have shared this experience with you and I can't wait to hear about your own adventures at any of our beloved local farms.
Rachel Huntzicker is a writer, practitioner of yoga and clean foodie with an evolving desire to learn more about sustainable whole living and the food-to-mood connection. From her evolving and ever present desire to learn, she came to conclusion that growing her own quarter acre organic garden was a must. Follow her journey on her blog, the Woodland Garden.