NEW FARMER JOURNAL: Loon Organics, Eagan MN

Despite golfball-sized hail and long days, this first-year farmer still finds the inspiration to get up at dawn and do it all again.

By Laura Frerichs
Posted July 14, 2005


Loon Organics
Eagan, MN

Farmers: Laura Frerichs and Adam 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.

July, 2005. It is truly a fruitful and prodigious time of year in nature. Right now in our silty clay loam vegetable gardens, the lavender Japanese eggplants, heirloom tomatoes, green beans, and patty pan squash are flowering and maturing into lovely young fruits! The bees are buzzing happily from flower to flower, burying their faces in the squash flower pollen. Just across the way, the farmers and interns at Gardens of Eagan are picking cucumbers, kale, and cabbage, with melons, sweet corn, tomatoes, and peppers all steadily reaching towards maturation. From our field, Garden’s of Eagan’s verdant green acres spread out before us and have been an especially bright contrast to the dark, stormy skies passing overhead these past few weeks.

In mid-June, one such thunderstorm popped my balloon of idealism regarding farming, and any grand illusions I had about the ease of our first season deflated into hard reality. We had an incredible thunderstorm, complete with golfball-sized hail and driving winds, that, as you can imagine, or maybe even have experienced (God forbid!) really does a number on those newly developing crops. At the time, I thought it was the most devastating thing that could possibly happen to our fields, as well as to my hopes and dreams. Our neighbors at Gardens of Eagan, the Diffley’s, who have weathered their fair share of storms, were hit just as badly as us, but on a much larger scale, and yet they were the ones giving pep talks and telling us we would look back and laugh at this. Of course, ten days later, just as Atina Diffley predicted, things had healed right nicely and we were even able to harvest and deliver the majority of our lettuce and greens. Looking at our tomatoes now, one would have no idea each plant had once-upon-a-time been reduced to a stem stripped of all its glorious branches. Amazing.

After the hail storm, the weeds and the work began. As always, a million different jobs are waiting to be done in the back of the mind, and I seem to only have time for maybe two or three a day. But already we have learned so much! The mantra on our lips is all about next year: Next year we will put all of our rows on 36-inch centers; then we can cultivate everything with a tractor, even our salad mix! Next year we will plant straight rows—no hooks to right field. Next year we will plant earlier, and we will plant more, more, more! I think we are setting ourselves up again to have a whole fistful of illusionary balloons, but we need to think that someday, somehow we can figure out how to make completely straight rows…and all the rest of it. Otherwise, it would be too overwhelming, and we would never get out of bed at 5 a.m. to harvest and sacrifice ourselves to the mosquitoes.

The major task we are dealing with at the moment is selecting and planting the appropriate cover crop for parts of our unused field. The hairy vetch winterkilled last fall, and so many fields were left without vetch this spring and early summer. A somewhat local source of organic seed is difficult to come by, and also finding a cover crop that will actually grow in the heat has proven hard. We seeded some winter rye this spring, with some success, although we are battling pigweed and lambs quarter in the patches. Eventually, we will probably plant soybeans for their drought and heat tolerance.

We are also preparing for our organic certification inspection. Our inspector will come in the next few days to inspect and check our progress. I hope that inspection goes smoothly and that we will be certified soon, especially because we have begun to sell regularly to the co-ops and farmers' market!

The list of things going on here continues, but we do have worthwhile moments. Tonight over dinner, I sweetly savored the first red beets of the year (finally), thinking of the fifteen families who may be eating these same beets they snatched up at the farmer’s market today. After a chaotic spring and a stressful day, these beets and the thought of others eating them as well, actually makes me want to wake up tomorrow and do it all over again. It is the simple act of growing and eating healthy, fresh food that is the most basic and satisfying motivation of all.