Dan Guenthner of Common Harvest Farm, along with his wife Margaret Pennings, has been a CSA farmer since before CSA was even really a thing – 1990, to be exact. With twelve acres of vegetables and a 200-member CSA in Osceola, Wisconsin, just outside of Minnesota’s Twin Cities, Dan and Margaret take a thoughtful approach to how they engage with their CSA membership, the farming community, and their farm’s land and production systems.
Dan reflects on the CSA movement, and how it has grown and changed since its inception, and the challenges that even CSA farms with a deep focus on community have faced as local and organic produce has become more widely available. We discuss some of the ways that Dan and Margaret have built their CSA on community organizing and shared values in an effort to break out of the marketing paradigm, and how they are working to get even deeper into this heart of the CSA movement now.
Dan also digs into how he has built the production system at Common Harvest Farm, including a foray into draft animal production, and the investment strategy that has supported the development of a highly efficient farm, in terms of both labor and energy use.
Pictures, show links, and more at farmertofarmerpodcast.com/episodes/guenthner.
Susan and Harley Soltes of Bow Hill Blueberries raise five acres of high-bush blueberries on the northern edge of the Skagit River Valley in western Washington. Susan and Harley bought the oldest blueberry farm in Skagit County in 2011, transitioned the farm to organic, and launched a new line of value-added products along with their fresh and frozen berries.
Harley shares the details of organic blueberry production, from weed control and management of mummy berry and spotted wing drosophila through the GAP-certified harvest that provides access to institutional markets. Bow Hill’s blueberry bushes were mostly planted in the 1940s, which provides a great marketing opportunity – heirlooms! – but also presents challenges when it comes to keeping the harvest crew happy, and Harley and Susan dig deep into how they work with their labor crew to maximize the harvest and keep worker satisfaction high
Susan walks us through how they market their fresh and frozen berries to institutions including Microsoft’s food service and the Seattle Seahawks, as well how they created their unique line of value-added products, and how they have established a differentiated presence in the marketplace, even though Washington State is the United States’ largest producer of organic blueberries.
We also discuss how Bow Hill has developed and enhanced their u-pick market and on-farm sales, as well as how they’ve turned purslane to their advantage.
Pictures, show links, and more at farmertofarmerpodcast.com/episodes/soltes.
Janaki Fisher-Merritt owns Food Farm with his wife, Annie Dugan, and operates it with his parents, John and Jane Fisher-Merritt, and long-time employee Dave Hanlon. Located in Wrenshall, Minnesota, 25 miles southwest of Duluth, Food Farm raises about thirteen acres of vegetables, and sells them over an extended season by storing crops in their high-tech root cellar. In 2010, they were selected as the Organic Farmers of the Year by the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service.
Food Farm was started by Janaki’s parents in the late 1980s. Janaki shares the story of the farm’s development in the late 1980s and early 1990s, how they developed a market for local food and CSA in their area, and Janaki’s gradual assumption of responsibility and eventual ownership of the farm.
In addition to 200 summer CSA shares and a significant amount of wholesale sales, Food Farm packs about 150 CSA shares all winter long. We dig into Food Farm’s amazing root cellar, which combines traditional techniques with modern technology to create a facility that is practical and efficient. Janaki walks us through the development of their root cellar, the creation of a second-generation version, and the nuts and bolts of how they keep storage crops fresh into March and beyond.
Janaki also explains their wood-heated transplant production system, and the steps they’ve taken to make that energy-efficient in a climate where heating bills in March can be much more outrageous than on the average Minnesota vegetable farm.
We also delve into Janaki’s involvement with his local non-farming community through the school board and a film festival, and how having something outside the farm – including, recently, a couple of children! – has enriched and balanced Janaki’s life, and the life of his family.
Pictures, show links, and more at farmertofarmerpodcast.com/episodes/foodfarm.
Josh Slotnick has farmed at Clark Fork Organics on the outskirts of Missoula, Montana, with his wife, Kim Murchison, since 1992. With about eight acres in vegetables and eleven acres of total crop ground, Clark Fork Organics is a pillar in the Missoula local foods community, and is well-known for their salad greens. They sell at two farmers market, through a local health food store, and to restaurants in the community.
In 1996, Josh and a few others founded Garden City Harvest, a non-profit in Missoula that builds community through agriculture. Garden City Harvest does this by providing community education while managing ten community garden sites and four neighborhood farms in Missoula. Josh is the director of Garden City Harvest’s largest farm, the PEAS Farm, which is a partnership between Garden City Harvest and the University of Montana’s Environmental Studies program.
Josh digs deep into how Clark Fork Organics builds and maintains relationships with their restaurant clients, both during the short, intense growing season and over the winter, when the farm doesn’t operate. We also discuss how these same techniques spill over to the farmers market, and how they’ve used those relationships to keep a marketing edge as the local foods scene has grown up around them. And, Josh shares the many ways that the PEAS Farm and Garden City Harvest have contributed to the overall social ecology of Missoula.
We also talk at length about salad mix production at Clark Fork Organics, as well as their irrigation tools and strategies – and about how Josh juggles two farms, family, and friends.
Pictures, show links, and more at farmertofarmerpodcast.com/episodes/slotnick.