NEW FARMER JOURNAL: Loon Organics, Eagan MN

Good neighbors
A new farmer takes the plunge under the watchful eyes of good friends and seasoned mentors.

By Laura Frerichs

Farm-At-A-Glance

Loon Organics
Eagan, MN

Farmers: Laura Frerichs and Andy Cullip

First season: 2005

What they raise: Specialty vegetables and herbs

Marketing strategies: Local food co-ops, neighbor’s established roadside stand, plan to start a CSA next year.

April, 2005. Hi all! I am quite pleased to be writing for the lovely New Farm page and to share my beginning experiences with you. Here is a little background on how I got to be here:

Loon Organics (L.O.) is made up of me and my partner, Adam Cullip. This is our first year independently farming together, and we are lucky enough to have the support, mentorship, and land of neighboring organic farmers Martin and Atina Diffley. The Diffley’s farm, Gardens of Eagan, is a 100-acre certified organic vegetable farm and one of the major organic vegetable suppliers to the metropolitan Twin Cities area. Of their 100 acres, L.O. will be renting a 2-acre “gently rolling” field right outside our back door. We will be growing specialty vegetables and herbs to sell to two local food cooperatives, as well as the Diffley’s roadside stand. Next year we hope to start a CSA.

Loon Organics will be a separate farm entity from Gardens of Eagan (GOE), but will be able to reap the benefits of GOE’s already existing infrastructure, equipment, materials, and most importantly, their vast 30 years of accumulated farming knowledge! Additionally, to the benefit of all, Adam and I will both be working for Gardens of Eagan at different points in the season, taking a little bit of the financial burden off of us. It seems like it will be an almost ideal beginning farm situation for us, while providing the Diffley’s with experienced labor and creating more of a sense of community on their land.

Not only is Gardens of Eagan a support system and resource to us now, but it is where I had my initial education in organic farming. In the 2003 season, I was a Gardens of Eagan apprentice, previously having no practical farming (or even gardening experience). Although lacking experience, I did have a burgeoning consciousness about the worldwide institution that is conventional agriculture. These seeds of consciousness were planted at Grinnell College in Iowa, where I was an anthropology major. Sustainability was often a topic of discussion in my anthro classes, and professors and friends were involved in various projects connecting community members to local, organic food sources. I think the exposure to these ideas and actions formed my awareness of the power and importance of local food systems.

Originally though, when I began at Gardens of Eagan, my intentions were never to be a farmer myself. I had been a Spanish medical interpreter, but this profession did not align with my dreams at the time. What I really wanted was to learn how to grow food, to take this knowledge and work in urban gardens, to go work with sustainable development in Latin America…You get the idea. I really did not plan on being back on their farm two years later trying to start my own small farm. Apparently though, Gardens of Eagan has had many interns that have ended up farming without initially having those intentions.

Needless to say, I really enjoyed my apprenticeship and I found working as a farm laborer to be one of the most satisfying jobs I had ever had. After the Minnesota season ended, I continued on an organic date ranch in California for the winter and came back last season to work on a couple other area organic farms—a CSA and another mid-size organic farm that grows for restaurants and cooperatives—while still working at the Diffley’s roadside stand. Just over three weeks ago, Adam and I returned from southern Brazil, where we managed the gardens of a biodynamic dairy farm. After all of this experience on multiple organic farms, Adam and I were beginning to realize that our farming knowledge would not continue to grow exponentially working for others. We needed to be the one calling the shots.

So it was absolutely perfect when we started brainstorming with the Diffley’s last fall and they were open, even excited, about the possibility of us renting land from them, living adjacent to their farm, and pestering them every other day with a million questions about how to do this, that, and the other thing. The farming knowledge that they have is invaluable to beginners such as us. It increases our chances of success tenfold upon tenfold. The Diffley’s are great, and I am sure I will toot their horn a lot over the coming months. But we have also had a lot of great teachers at the other farms where we have worked, and they have given loads of advice over the past months (even disclosing favorite varieties--oh my!). I only hope that someday we will be able to repay these favors to some other hopeful kids just looking for a way to begin.