Home Grown Stewards Program

homegrownstewardslogodraft3For over a decade, we’ve been home to the sustainability-based children-focused Eco Camp. It’s our favorite time of the year, to be honest. Getting to interact with kids just discovering the wonder and awe that is found on our planet is definitely a highlight.

Unfortunately, with considerations to distancing guidelines, we have decided to give our in-person programming a break while everyone is able to socially distance.

However, that leaves us with an opportunity to try something we haven’t done before:

We’re very excited to introduce our new virtual summer programs: Home Grown Stewards.

We’ve put together three programs that can best help you on your sustainability journey, and they all can be done remotely, virtually, or digitally.

We’ve been working hard on designing an alternative to our in-person programming. We want you to be able to continue to explore our great outdoors, create that delicious feast from your own garden, and learn all about our wonderful planet, from the safety of your own home.

Program Coordinator Michelle Hoefs describes how difficult making the change was for her and the rest of our staff, “Obviously, we would so much rather be spending the summer with campers in person. Kids need interactions with other kids and also adults that aren’t their parents. It’s good for their development. So, we designed programming that allows for a small part of that interaction.”

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The New Farmers Market

Minnesota residents craving fresh produce won’t have to wait long, as farmers markets are beginning to open across the region — with some coronavirus-related restrictions in place.

According to Governor Walz’s stay-at-home order, farmers markets are deemed essential, but in more ways than one. They are a direct line to your producer. Short of heading out to the farm itself and buying right out of the barn, farmers markets are the most direct way to talk and learn and create a relationship with your local farmers.

According to the Minnesota Farmers Market Association (MFMA), markets are not included in the partial closure of Minnesota restaurants and bars and are encouraged to resume opening for business. However, there are a few caveats, as providing a safe environment for everyone is still paramount.


New guidelines are implemented for farmers markets this year.

The MFMA suggests alternate delivery routes, such as drive-through options or single-direction flow. Food sampling is banned and social distancing of six feet is required. Additionally, hand-washing stations must be available and are encouraged to be used with gusto.

Markets across the state have been brainstorming ways to make sure that both farmers and customers will be able to continue this positive relationship all the while ensuring both parties will relatively safe during this pandemic.

Some methods include one-way traffic flow for people walking through the markets, creating layouts with stalls facing in opposite directions, and even adding empty tables between vendors and customers to ensure that social distancing takes place are all being considered for markets as they begin opening up.

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Farm to Home During Stay at Home

Some bad news has arisen concerning food production. As the coronavirus pandemic has supply chains disrupted, farmers and producers are being forced to destroy their crops, dump milk, and butcher livestock. The reduction in commercial demand is mainly due, among many other reasons, to fewer people eating out, going to restaurants, and fewer school lunches being produced.

However, that doesn’t mean that people are interested in eating less often. (Personally, I’ve been eating more often while working from home). See, people are less interested in eating at these food establishments and there are many reasons for this.

Simply put, because of a shortage of safety gear and preparation and also through an abundance of caution and a powerful need to still eat, consumers have been going straight to the source to ensure their own food supply.

NPR has a great article on the phenomenon. 

There are a lot of benefits to purchasing directly from the producer. Buying from local farms means fewer hands on your produce, which, incidentally, leads to fresher produce since the food is grown nearer to the purchase point. Buying directly from the producer is utilizing a distribution method that is perfectly geared towards a time that encourages social distancing. It’s been in place for generations!


Using food from your own garden is best, but CSA is the next best.

Through CSAs, customers get the weekly or bi-weekly deliveries at open-air pickup stations or directly at the farms with little interaction needed.

People are coming to the realization, I think, that fresh food is one of the most essential elements to survival, and with news that food supply chains are now becoming stressed, purchasing food from local producers may be more essential than ever.

Under normal conditions, many local CSA farmers say they operate under tight budgets, especially in the spring, before the harvest (and purchasing) occurs. That’s changed in recent weeks, because the pandemic has brought with it heightened awareness of quality food, and more specifically, from where a consumer’s food originates.

But, where do you start? What are your options? Let’s take a quick look at what you can do locally, and why it’s important.

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Fighting Food Insecurity at the Local Level

Food insecurity is already more widespread in this country than most know. On a daily basis, one in seven households with children are affected by the lack of access to food, or food insecurity. The majority of these children depend on meals that they receive at school from the School Breakfast Program and the National School Lunch Program. There are over 14 million children that benefit from the school breakfast program, and almost 30 million children benefit from the National School Lunch Program.

Moreover, now that schools are wisely closing their doors in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, these programs are no longer a viable way to ensure food insecure families are able to procure the much need nutrition.

Even during this economic and public health crisis, the US is making more than enough food to feed all its residents. Getting as much of it as possible to those in needs is the challenge, but one that can be met with swift and creative action.


Full Tummies is an effort in the Brainerd Lakes Area to feed families.

Food banks, food shelves, and charitable food distribution centers are ramping up to fill that gap. Unfortunately, these food banks are already reporting increased demand while seeing operational challenges, such as fewer volunteers being able to step up and fewer donations from retail sources. Demand for charitable food assistance is expected to remain at elevated levels for the foreseeable future.

So, what can we do about it now?

If you have the ability, volunteer at your local charitable food assistance program. They need the help. If you have the means, donate spare food or dollars. They will have the ability to make it spread as far as it can go.

Locally, I’ve found no fewer than four organizations in our tiny community that are putting together food distribution services for families in need and they all need help.

Check out Full Tummies, organized by The Baxter Cafe and teamed up with The Raboin & Francis Law Firm, Pan-O-Gold Bakery, and Hubbard Radio to get food to kids who need it. They offer pickup on the weekends at the Baxter Cafe during the hours of 8am-11:30, but you need to call first (218-829-1739). What a tremendous effort!


Another organization doing its part to help in the area is The Journey North’s Ruby Pantry. The next Pop-up Pantry food distribution is Tuesday, May 12 at the church’s parking lot. You’ll want to show up early to avoid the crowds as it is always a busy time. They are looking for volunteers, as well. So if you’ve healthy and looking to give time during the pandemic, here’s a way to make a difference.


Operation Sandwich more than sandwiches!

One more program called Operation Sandwich, organized by Bridges of Hope, is offering one meal a week to families in need. Simply go and pick up at the Sharing Bread Soup Kitchen on Oak Street. In the past, they have offered daily pickups during the summer for children without lunch, but have pivoted to helping entire families in need.


The PR-B Community Meal has had to change up it’s service to a delivery and takeaway program, but it’s meeting the needs to an increased clientele base. What a service!


One program that has been offering hundreds of meals for months (even before the pandemic became widespread) is the Pine River/Backus Community Meal Night. Increase in demand has risen four fold in the tiny area, but this organization is meeting the need. Delivery to isolated people in need has been added to the already busy take-away efforts. If you are able to volunteer to this worthwhile endeavor, give Chef Brian a message at the local Facebook group.

If you are looking for more ways to help, check out this flyer for food options in the Brainerd area. 

Food insecurity doesn’t have to be an issue in our abundant country. We just need help in packaging and distribution. One good way to make sure our surplus of food gets into the system is by buying local. Shop through your local farmers and producers. CSAs and Farmer’s Markets are opening up now and can use your support, as well. Close that loop Keep the food close. We can all get through this.

Spring Birding for Conservation

Looking for something to keep you busy? Birding is the perfect activity to enjoy while social distancing and your observations can help scientists and conservation efforts across the world! While spring may not be the easiest time to become a birder, it certainly is the most exciting! New birds arrive daily from warmer southern locations, birds are singing loudly to find mates and defend territories, and they’re busy snatching up insects and gathering materials for their nests.  According to a survey by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, 47 million Americans consider themselves “birders” whether it be in their own backyard or somewhere away from home. If you’re not already in that 47 million, consider joining us! Bird watching has many benefits. You spend more time outside (and there are tons of benefits from spending time in nature), it can keep you active, it can be a solitary activity or a community/family building activity, you’re constantly learning by observing, it leads to new experiences and the exploration of new places, it can give you “feel good” sensation, you can help scientists all around the world, and most importantly, it’s a fun hobby that can be done while social distancing! 

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I typically recommend that folks join the bird watching realm during winter, for a couple reasons. 1 – We have a LOT less birds. It’s easier to focus on a few to learn, rather than the greater summer variety. 2 – The birds that remain here in winter may have a hard time finding food and are all too happy to take a free meal at your feeder, giving you a nice observation spot! While you’ll certainly still have birds visit your feeder in the summer, the return of the insects has diverted many of our regular feeder birds. Most song birds, even ones who primarily eat seeds/fruits the rest of the year, need the high-protein food source insects provide during the breeding and nesting season. But don’t fret. Our bird population soars in the spring, as birds return to nest here for summer or pass through on their way to more northern locales. There are plenty of opportunities to find and identify birds, you just have more possibilities! So, where should you start?  Continue reading