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.





Kendra Ferencak

21 08 2009

By Meredith Hart

A sharp tanginess hits the tongue shortly after the first bite and each subsequent chew brings out an abundance of flavor as the petals release their oils. Dill, calendula, bee balm, and bachelor’s buttons are all edible flowers and they are sold at the Detroit Lakes Farmers’ Market by a woman named Kendra Ferencak.

Kendra Ferencak - By Meredith HartThe tall, lanky woman, carrying a knife from her belt, looks powerful. Hailing from Texas, Kendra harbors no Minnesota accent but has the type of determination necessary for being a Minnesota farmer. The goal: grow as much as possible while the season lasts. She does not however, take the same route as most growers, loading the soil with vegetables. Instead, she grows flowers, 30 different kinds, including some that are edible.

Like a secret hideaway, seven rows of colorful flowers stretch out behind a thick wall of trees. The land for this endeavor is kindly donated by a neighbor with whom Kendra trades flowers and vegetables. She believes part of his motivation for letting her use it is to see the land his mother once filled with flowers become a garden again. With all the blues, purples, and reds painting the soil, he must be happy.

Edible Flowers - by Meredith HartNearby, a small inlet from the Otter Tail River provides water for the plants, saving her money and hassle. Although seeds are cheap, flowers are not, so any cut of expenses is appreciated. “I’m not ready to go into debt for this yet,” she said, laughing a bit. Going in debt over flowers would surely take away some of their beauty.

When not working her day job rehabbing affordable housing, Kendra makes the short trek from her wood shingled one-room home to tend to the buds. Twice a week she heads to both the Detroit Lakes Farmers’ market and the Pelican Rapids Farmers’ Market to sell bouquets. “A lot of people come by the table to appreciate the flowers, but not that many buy them yet,” said Kendra. “But, this is my first year, so mostly I am trying to get myself established as a high quality flower grower and hope that my business will grow from there.” She has also established a bouquet subscription program with 12 members to whom she delivers one bouquet a week from mid June to mid September. Although most people grow some type of flowers on their own, rarely are they as varied and elaborate as the bouquets from Kendra’s farm. From Kendra's Farm - by Meredith Hart
While traveling around Australia through a program called World Wide Opportunities in Organic Farming, she traded labor for the knowledge of permaculture and how to raise kelp and vegetables. After returning to the United States, she served as an apprentice on a flower farm in Virginia called Wollam Gardens and interned at a vegetable farm in Colorado. Her extensive hands-on farming education made it possible for her to start growing flowers soon after she landed in Minnesota, eventually growing enough for her own wedding.

Kendra working - by Meredith HartAs she explained the nuances of each flower variety, it was clear that she knew what she was talking about. Each growing point, post-harvest technique, and shade requirement was first-hand knowledge that she is now passing on to an apprentice, a young woman with an interest in farming.

Kendra’s life outside of the annuals has the same sort of whimsy as a flower garden. Deep in the woods behind her home sits a picturesque tree house built by her husband, a timber-framer. Sitting inside it was definitely a treat, no mosquitoes, two thrift store chairs worth much more than she paid, and a few cut flowers on the table. This was the perennial life.

To view more photos of Kendra Ferencak’s flowers, please see the Flickr slideshow.





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.