Forest Glen Farm

23 09 2009

Dallas Flynn - by Meredith HartBy Megan Hines

Dallas Flynn comes to the Detroit Lakes Farmer’s Market every Saturday, proudly displaying his vegetables with Minnesota Grown signs, the same logo that is on his trailer and on this rainy Saturday, his shirt. Forest Glen Farm has been selling produce at the farmer’s market in Detroit Lakes for six years, often selling out of produce within the first hour of setting up.

Dallas has been retired for 18 years, but as we walked on to his hidden 150 acre property, it is clear that he stays so busy that retired is more of a way of saying that he finished up with a standard day job. Leaving the manufacturing industry where he created patents, traveled worldwide and kept long hours, it is hard to understand how becoming a farmer made sense as a retirement plan, until Dallas explains how he farms his land.

Five years ago, Dallas was given the opportunity to construct a high tunnel through the University of Minnesota’s Central Region Partnership, making him one of very few farmers in the state to try out the relatively new technology. They weren’t sure if it would work or how long the growing season would be, but as an inventor by trade Dallas enjoyed the opportunity to try something new out and decided to test it out. Growing in a high tunnel is definitely a learn as you go (or grow) process, and as the seasons went by, Dallas began to slowly perfect it with long and abundant seasons.

High tunnels are unheated greenhouses that can help market gardeners extend their growing season so that they can improve the profitability of their farms. High tunnels are constructed by covering PVC with a thick opaque plastic film, which keeps the soil and air inside warm by trapping as the UV rays from the sun beat down on the plastic. To effectively grow crops, warm soil is more essential than direct sunlight so creating an environment free of frost can extend the growing season for several months. (To learn more about high tunnels, see http://www.hightunnels.org)

Tomato Vine - by Meredith HartWe walked into the first 20 x 24 foot high tunnel, instantly feeling as though we had stepped from the cold and rainy 60 degree Frazee day into the tropics. Lush, green, fragrant plants hung from the floor to the ceiling with large, ripe produce seen from all areas of the enclosed space. A ladder stood tall in the middle of one of the rows so his wife, that he jokingly refers to as his ‘migrant worker,’ can reach the plants.

Dallas told us that he can get up to 1,400 lbs of cucumbers from one row of plants, with 25 plants in each row and that the numbers are about the same for tomatoes. If those numbers alone aren’t astounding enough, he then told us that his first crop of spinach was ripe in March this year, and that his last harvest came in December. December? In central Minnesota? He is seriously on to something here.

Being an inventor made the high tunnels appeal to Dallas initially and after three seasons, Dallas started to think of ways that he could improve the process and came up with a very clever idea: using solar power to help heat a high tunnel. He submitted a proposal for funding, which he has nearly matched in his own investments on the project, and constructed the high tunnel on his land last summer. By using an elaborate construction of tubing, foam, sand, and drain tiles Dallas can generate up to 200 degrees of solar heat that can be distributed throughout the soil.

Forest Glen Farm’s solar powered high tunnel is the first of its kind in the nation, and though the interiors are near identical, the logistic productivity improvements he made hold potential to dramatically increase the production of Midwestern crops. He Mushroom Forest - by Meredith Harthosted a field day in June that had close to 200 people in attendance, and out of that day he expects 8-10 more high tunnels will pop up in the state.

From the high tunnels, Dallas walked us through a misty haze to an area further back in his property where he grows shitake mushrooms in a forest of 9,000 trees that he personally planted on the property. With two other friends, he has a system of drilling precisely spaced holes in pieces of wood that are then filled with mushroom spores and sealed with vegetable wax. The logs are then stacked in a square pattern for a year to allow the spores to spread under the bark, which eventually will form a visible white circle on the cut ends. The second year the logs are stacked upright learning against one another against a rod pipe used to water them one inch every week, keeping them moist so the mushrooms can continue to grow. He then dries the mushrooms and sells them with his produce at the farmers market each week and they go quickly.

Aside from his inventions on the farm, the property has a smoke house, a clay oven that he constructed from memory, a smoke house, a small guest house, a small herb of grass fed Scottish Highlander cattle and an additional acre of an outdoor garden. And this is retirement.

Scottish Highlander - by Meredith HartAs Dallas walked us back towards the main, the elements of his story that seemed confusing and disconnected to us all started to come together and make sense. Being ‘retired’ gives Dallas the flexibility to have such large scale projects that he says, ‘Is a lot of work, its like milking cows, its 7 days a week’. Retirement also has provided him financial security, because though he expects the payback period to be about 3 years, his initial investments for his high tunnels won’t make or break his livelihood as it could for people making their living farming. His life in manufacturing and inventing clearly connected to farming, though it seemed like a stretch when he had first started explaining his past.

“There is NO reason to bring our vegetables in from California in the summer,” Dallas reminded us several times, and with creative entrepreneurs like him in our state, the availability of fresh, local produce could dramatically shift in upcoming years.

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

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One response

2 10 2009
Chuck Anderson

Dallas;

You continue to amaze me! Thanks for sharing!

Chuck

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