Designers visit MN farms for inspiration

Team designers Blaine Merker and John Bela (along with John’s brother Paul, a farmer in Kentucky) spent the day after the October 12th Community Design Workshop touring local farms for inspiration and lessons to bring to Frogtown Farm.

First stop was the University of Minnesota student demonstration garden, run by design team member Courtney Tchida. While the season was done and had left just a few tomatoes clinging to the vine (as frost still lingered in the furrows), there were a few tasty strawberries still to be had.

Courtney orients us to her plots.

Courtney orients us to her plots.

Still a few tasty berries to be had.

Still a few tasty berries to be had.

Later that day, we drove out to Big River Farms just by the Wisconsin border. Big River has an interesting model: there is a large production field and hoop houses for the CSA they run, as well as training plots for immigrants who are learning to farm, who can also contribute to the CSA’s produce. The farm manager helps train the immigrant farmers, each of whom may be in a different phase of expertise and entrepreneurship around farming.

The high tunnels at Big River Farms.

The high tunnels at Big River Farms.

Big River's farm manager explains the layout to John and Paul.

Big River’s farm manager explains the layout to John and Paul.

Managing new farmers to produce goods for a CSA is difficult business, but as the farmers become more experienced, they are able to commit to producing more and more for the CSA. Setting prices, proper handling and washing of the produce, as well as marketing are all areas that Big River helps train these new farmers in. After a year or so at Big River, the new farmers go on to farm their own plots.

This farmer had been working at Big River for a few seasons and was doing quite well.

This farmer had been working at Big River for a few seasons and was doing quite well.

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