I’m writing this from Good Turn Farm’s home office. About a month and half ago, we finally completed the majority of the house renovations, received our occupancy permit, and moved into the farm house! We’re so happy to finally be living here – on our farm! I can look out the window and see our fields and imagine what will be growing come spring.
Getting here was a long and bumpy road and we could not have made it with out the help of so many of our friends and family. Kevin’s dad, Pat, and stepmother, Lorna, did a majority of the carpentry work on the house and I am grateful for the quality of their work every day I am here. Kevin’s moms Patricia and Renee invited us to
live with them in Red Wing after our daughter Hazel was born last July so we wouldn’t have to spend the first several months of her life sticking it out in our 400 sq foot apartment in Saint Paul. Besides their house being a beautiful stone cottage out of a fairy tale, it was filled with love and laughter and I am grateful to have spent those 5 months with them. My own sister, Angela, generously moved back to the Midwest to spend the summer farming with us and living out of camper on our land so she could be my right hand lady while I farmed until I was ridiculously pregnant. My parents, Amelie & Anthony, temporarily adopted our dog, lent us that camper for the summer and made the 3 hour trip down from Duluth almost every other weekend over the summer to help with harvest, work on the front porch windows, make delicious food for us, and help with the baby. We had friends brave a giant rainstorm last May to come stay for my birthday party and help freshen up the old barn with a coat of paint. My Auntie Viki came down from Duluth many weekends in August, September, October and camped out in her Prius to help with the farm and the house renovations. My brother, Aaron, flew here from Taos, NM to spend a week helping us build back stairs, hang doors, and install trim.
Turns out it takes a village to start a farm, re-build a house, and raise a baby and we’re looking forward to expanding our “village” as we find our place in our new community.
To our great excitement and slight worry we’re expanding the Good Turn Farm operation this year and taking serious steps in our transition to making real income from farming. We’ll lay out our approach and reasoning here for those who find it useful or interesting.
Good Turn Farm has been developing in our minds and on the land for several years, our moving into farming full time is delayed by Kevin being in the middle of a graduate program in sustainable agriculture at UMN studying cover crops, which, along with Annelie’s work in non-profit sustainable agriculture education in Minneapolis requires us to be in the city for much of the time. We’ve tried making progress in spare time and on weekends, but even keeping up with weeding the garden and mowing the lawn this way is overwhelming; let alone farming for market.
This year, Annelie will be cutting down her workload and spending part of her workweek farming. To make this happen, we’ve done a lot of planning and preparation since this fall. Our approach began with some tips from holistic management, in which we established our personal goals for the farm and decided which types of operations support those goals. We then looked at our situation- you could think of it as a SWOT analysis: what Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats are specific to Good Turn as it exists now? Well, we have land, access to tractors and conventional farm implements, a decent amount of training and Annelie is an experienced gardener and floral designer. We don’t have much capitol, labor resources, or vegetable production equipment/infrastructure. We have a big opportunity for customer exposure due to the Little House wayside being across the road, a fairly busy county road passing through the farm with high visibility. We’re challenged by not living at the farm full time or having a livable home there.
With all those in mind, we decided to set out with a few enterprises. We’ll play on Annelie’s strengths and grow organic market vegetables and flowers, which we’ll sell at a farm stand in the barn and a few other venues. As we’re able, more enterprises will be added. Right now, we have our eye on mushroom production and U pick organic berries.
We’re laying out the farm enterprises based on some ideas taken from permaculture design. We’re putting things that need lots of attention close to the areas where we’ll be most often so they’re always up front in our minds. Therefore the vegetable production will be located near the barn and the hoop house. The method we’re adopting for vegetable production is based partially on Jean-Martin Fortier’s design in the Market Gardener, which uses permanent raised beds which are carefully managed with succession crops, multi-year rotations, and small scale equipment. Because we have larger scale equipment to work with, we went with 4 foot wide beds and 4 foot wide aisles between them, rather than Jean-Martin’s 30 inch beds. A tractor can easily straddle the beds, and a cart can be pulled down the aisles, which will be planted with a grass-legume cover crop. All our beds are 50 feet long so that seeding, cover, and labor can be easily calculated and tracked. This will also allow us to see how well each individual crop is holding up financially.
The layout of the beds follows ideas from keyline design in which they’re arranged parallel with contour lines to prevent erosion and shallow swales are used to move water from valleys where is collects out to dry ridges to soak in. We started this fall with my grandma’s old garden plot, which we’ve been working on for two seasons. We dug the entire garden with a chisel plow and used a bed shaping implement that Kevin whipped up out of an old plow frame and some 4 by 4 lumber to rough out the beds. We finished the shaping by hand and amended all the plots with a bit under a pound per square foot of composted manure from Cowsmo, and a half cup of azomite for micronutrients. We’ll be doing the same in the hay field in front of the barn this spring as soon as we can get in the field.
Below is a list of some of the tools we used, and some alternatives.
Chisel plow or field cultivator for digging; other options- ask your neighbor, it’s an hours work and every conventional farmer has one, rototiller, double digging or broadfork .
Raised bed shaper (we used a few 4 by 4s in a funnel shape): other options- use a moldboard plow to throw soil into beds from walkways, or make the beds by hand shoveling. Hand shaping takes about an hour per bed with two of us, but we only managed three a day before getting worn out.
Cover crop mix- bunch grasses
Google earth pro which is now free, to get high resolution satellite images, and a visual program for making overlays we’ve been using power point, but an illustrator or GIS program would be more professional.
Good Turn Farm is just sprouting but the history of my family on this piece of land goes back five generations. At the age of fifteen, my grandpa’s grandpa Oscar K. “OK” Andersson (pictured left with Great Great Grandma Emma) emigrated to the area with his parents and two brothers in 1875, losing an s along the way. They came from the Närke province of Sweden, which is I believe where nearby Nerike hill got its name. OK began working on farms shortly after arrival and later became a brakeman on the Canadian Pacific Railroad. When he returned, he bought one of the last available parcels of land and founded Oak Wood Farm where my family has continued to work the land. OK was active in local government, and owned one of the first cars in the area (a Buick). He had four children with his wife Emma, the youngest of which was my great grandfather Merritt Anderson. OK retired to Pepin when Merritt took over the farm; my grandpa Merlin once told me of how he imitated his grandfather OK’s protruding stomach and swagger when he was walking with him around town. Great Grandpa Merritt and Grandpa Merlin were both born in the same house which I came home to after being born; my dad and stepmom lived there until 2000 when they built a new house next to where the old one stood.
Merritt recalled helping his father disassemble the cabin that had been the Little House in the Big Woods where Laura Engalls Wilder was born and spent her youngest years. The cabin is now memorialized across the road from our place. Merritt was a soldier in WWI, operated a threshing machine as his father had, and also had a saw mill. My Grandpa Merlin inherited the farm from his father and ran it as a dairy operation. He eventually bought the parcel where Good Turn Farm is located along with several others in the 1960’s and 70’s when farms were expanding and increasing production. The craftsman house that we’re now renovating was built by my great uncle Ed in the 1930’s who operated a machine shop across the road. My grandparents eventually moved into the house when my father took over the farm in the 80’s. Growing up, I spent a lot of time with the two of them in this house even though my parents divorced when I was young. My father spared me from milking by converting the farm to focusing on cash crop production in the mid 80’s, a hard time for dairy farms. The farm is now run by my father and stepmom, who have both worked other jobs for most of their lives to support their farming habit.
This farm has gone through changes as each generation brings their best ideas onto the land and will continue to develop through my life and beyond. I’ve always had a strong connection to this piece of land and I’m grateful to all the Andersons (and Anderssons) who made it part of my heritage. The way I see it, this farm belongs to my grandparents and my grandchildren and it’s my place to honor the memory of those who came before me and leave something worth being proud of for those who come after me. The acorn you see in our logo represents the connection of Good Turn Farm to Oak Wood Farm; it shows that we are an offshoot of something well rooted and carry great potential for growth.
It’s been about a week since our second MOSES (Midwest Organic Sustainable Education Services) Organic Farming Conference in La Crosse, WI and I’m starting to feel like I have recuperated from the marathon of networking (I am an introvert by nature). In spite of and in part thanks to all the networking, the MOSES Conference is like a wonderful, 3-day carnival ride for Organic Farmers. My employers, Women’s Environmental Institute (WEI), rode in at the last minute and offered to pay my way at the conference (yay!) so I ended up transferring my volunteer registration to Kevin. It worked out beautifully with most of Kevin’s shifts falling on Thursday while I was at Organic University. I’ll give a quick run-through on my favorite workshops and why it applies to our farm. Because WEI was paying my way, I did my best to choose workshops that would benefit their organization but there was, of course, a lot of overlap as we are both organic farms.
High Yielding Berries and Brambles (Jim Riddle of Blue Fruit Farm and Tom Galazen of North Wind Organic Farm): We’re planning to incorporate a variety of perennial fruit crops into our operation starting this year with strawberries. Kevin ordered 500 ‘Evie 2’ day-neutral strawberry plants so looks like we’re going to give it a try. I’m a little nervous about weed control but thus far we’ve done some mechanical weed management (allowing weeds to grow a little and then killing them with a harrow and rotary hoe to reduce the weed seed bed) as well as a clover cover crop (a secondary ‘crop’ planted before, after, or along side your cash crop) last summer and a rye cover crop last fall. We’ll see. This workshop covered the experiences of two berry farmers who both grow the basic berries as well as several up-and-coming berries (Aronia, Elderberry, Honeyberry, Gooseberry, etc) that we are excited to try.
Savvy Marketing (Karla Pankow and Elizabeth Millard of Bossy Acres): I’ve followed these ladies via the interweb for sometime and have enjoyed their virtual charm but the real thing is even better. I learned a few new tricks ( I have been in charge of the social media for WEI over the last year and I also play on facebook a lot so I feel like I’ve got a lot of savvy already) but it was inspiring to see their enthusiasm and love for farming. I also talked with Elizabeth after the presentation and she made me feel good about the fact that we are jumping head first into the branding/social media part of our business while sort of just dipping a toe into the actual farm production aspect (we are fairly limited in what we can physically grow/market while we are living in St Paul and the farm is in Wisconsin). Apparently, Bossy Acres went a similar route and it definitely seems to have worked for them.
Get Started in Native Seed Production (Eric Lee-Mader of The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation): My excitement for Native Seed Production stems (pun) from my love of flowers, floral design, and conservation. Our plan is use native perennials as a quadruple benefit:
1) They will provide food for native pollinators and other beneficial insects.
2) We can collect and sell the native flower seeds from the plants we grow and sell them to local native plant nurseries and conservation programs (DNR).
3) I hope to find species that will serve well as cut flowers so I can use them in my on-the-side wedding flower business (local + organic+native flowers = beautiful & sustainable bouquets).
4) We can propagate our flowers and sell native starter plants to our customers.
Nothing to it, right? That’s the plan anyway. A couple important tips in this workshop included the fact that you have to scout and harvest your own original seed collection from the wild (you only harvest about 10% of the seeds from any given flower so as not to deplete the population’s seed) and keep track of where you found them. This is very important to the buyers of native seed because they are trying to match the ecotypes of the seed produced with the restoration project at hand. It is also important to know who those buyers are in your neighborhood so you can ask them specifically what kind of species they need. Next on my to-do list: call Prairie Moon Nursery and the local DNR office.