Lida Farm

17 08 2009

by Meredith Hart

Picking in the Morning - by Meredith HartThe morning woke listlessly, decked in a heavy fog. A thick silence hung over the rolling hills and dew winked from every blade of grass. It was like October in August on the Lida Farm near Pelican Rapids, Minnesota and Ryan Pesch was picking vegetables for the Farmers’ Market. After filling and delivering 21 CSA boxes the previous day, Ryan was collecting all of the extras for customers at the market. While the shiny and shapely zucchini created a mountain in the bed of Ryan’s wooden cart, overripe zucchini soared by overhead as he heaved them off to the side. “Why do I plant so many?” he wondered aloud.

This laborious routine is performed every Saturday morning at the Pesch’s, where they grow two acres worth of vegetables, raise 15 North Country Cheviot sheep, 28 chickens, and perhaps the most challenging, two kids. Ryan and his wife, Maree, are constantly busy as they represent a small part of the agricultural community: the young farm family with day jobs. Ryan’s career in community development sends him around the region aiding community groups with various initiatives while Maree teaches nutrition part-time at local schools. The two hardly have time to breathe between slicing fruit for their two-year-old son and helping their four-year-old daughter with a princess gown, but their inherent positive dispositions make every task seem easy.

Beet - by Meredith HartStarting a CSA (community supported agriculture where people buy shares of food in early summer in exchange for fresh produce straight from the farm) was not the goal when they first moved onto the 20-acre parcel of land but after a test-run with a couple of friends in 2004 they decided they could handle adding a few more people to the table. A few turned into 21 and now Ryan is the president of the Detroit Lakes Farmers’ Market as well. During a two-year apprenticeship at Foxtail Farm near Osceola, WI it seems he soaked in more than what it takes to grow healthy produce and his formal graduate education at the University of Minnesota taught him how to nurture community while doing it. The Peschs have formed a community of friends all over the Lakes area of Minnesota including restaurants that appreciate whatever they can get from them.

“I use as much as I can whenever he has it available,” said Terri Gray of Riverside Coffee in Pelican Rapids. That day the special was a grilled chicken wrap with Lida Farm grilled vegetables including squash, onions, peppers, and zucchini. Every Friday night, the homey café turns on its burners to cook an entirely local meal, many times including Pesch produce. This, of course, depends on if they have any to spare. With the CSA, the farmers’ market, and their own mouths to feed, extra vegetables are rare.

The Pesch Family - by Meredith HartJuggling the demand for local produce is something that takes practice to perfect and when your customers have already paid for their share of produce perfection is the goal. Ryan is constantly learning from the process.

“The name of the game with the CSA is that you want to have as much variety as possible with the most stuff as possible for as long as possible.” You also want to give people what they want. “You want the staples so people know how to cook with them and then each week a surprise.” That week the staples were lettuce, broccoli, potatoes, and onion. The surprise: fennel.

To have these staples and surprises available in early summer and late fall, farmers have to start planting before the winter coats come off and continue planting after they are pulled back on. It’s hard to imagine, but things can grow during the frosty northern winters especially when using an emerging new technology developed for this very purpose, a high tunnel.

“People want local food and to make that last you need one of those bad boys,” said Ryan, pointing toward a covered, white structure near the barn. A high tunnel acts as a greenhouse except that it does not have mechanical heating and the seeds are planted straight into the ground. Although theirs is small it is still a valuable asset and they plan on taking greater advantage of it in the coming years.

Custard - by Meredith HartAfter returning from the Saturday market the couple begins to turn the miscellaneous unsold produce into a hot and appetizing family dinner. This time it was very diverse. From their own produce they made a salad of cucumbers and onions soaked in vinegar, smashed potatoes with garlic and parsley, onion and garlic yellow beans, and a dessert custard with eggs from their own chickens and honey from Dan’s Honey whose hives sit on the Lida Farm property. “It’s such a great thing sitting down for dinner and knowing you grew it,” said Maree, moving swiftly around the kitchen.

Additionally, a pork roast from their neighbors Marvin and Kim Kratzke was served, as was a creamy pasta dish with snow peas from fellow market vendor Dallas Flynn. To top off the custard, edible flowers from Kendra Ferencak were popped off their stems and artfully placed in the center. The meal was fantastic, a menagerie of flavors all derived from a 45 minute radius of land.

Willem Pesch - by Meredith HartRyan and Maree seem to have it down. They work hard at their jobs, take loving care of their farm, have fun with their kids, and enjoy a beer in the evening. As little Willem, their two-year-old lingered near the ducks, Ryan asked, “Do you want to feed them, Will?” The three-foot, curly-haired blond with a healing wound on his nose, turned toward his dad, and squealed. Ryan brought out a small cup of feed and crouched down with his son. As Willem filled the metal tray, the ducks waddled over quacking and began to eat. For a moment everyone watched them, smiling without knowing it. The next generation was learning the way its parents had, one meal at a time.

To view more photos of the Lida Farm, please see the Flickr slideshow.

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