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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

Arbor Day 101

Arbor Day is an international holiday that encourages celebrating participants to plant and care for their trees. Did you know that the word arbor is the latin word for tree. The first Arbor Day celebration was organized in a small town in Spain in 1594, but the first recognized celebration in the United States was in the Kansas Territory in 1872 where an estimated 1 million trees were planted.

Across the world, Arbor Day has been celebrated at different times due to the rotating nature of the seasons affecting the prime date for planting trees. For example, New Zealand honors Arbor Day on June 5, while in Namibia, the holiday isn’t celebrated until October 8.

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Jim will be the first to tell you the importance of trees, whether they’re incorporated in your farm via agroforestry practices or simply providing shade on a hot day.

In fact, Arbor Day was only considered a regional holiday in the US until 1970, when, of all people, Richard Nixon initiated a national observance to take place on the last Friday in April (for this year, April 24, 2020).

*On a local note, late April is a perfect time to plant trees in Minnesota.*

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The Plant-Based Burger’s Soul

Plant based protein is all the rage.  Given the state of our current agricultural system, one that delivers us unhealthy concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) meat and degraded water, animals make an easy target.  Livestock are living beings, much like our pets who become part of our families. If we just stop eating meat, no animals will suffer and die, we’ll reduce our environmental footprint, and we can put people to work extracting protein from legumes and grains. And because we, as eaters, aren’t exposed to the dangerous saturated fats, cholesterol and other harmful ingredients in meat, we’ll all be healthier.  The world will be saved and we will all live healthy, happy lives. 

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CAFO is a very efficient system, but maybe doesn’t take into consideration the soul of the animal.

One of the first replacements they went after was the iconic hamburger.  If they could make a burger from plants that tastes like ground beef, it would serve as a powerful example of the potential of science. Next they went after the existential, versatile egg, extracting protein from mung beans and turning it into an egg substitute.  As these products have advanced, consumer interest has grown. Economists and agronomists are tracking dollars and trends. Environmentalists, vegans, and investors are touting their support and backing this technology with their dollars.

But nobody asked the cow, the chicken, or the bean.

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Growing Indoors: A Revisit

Trying to stay safely distanced from everybody is the name of the game nowadays. But, don’t worry! We’ve got a few ideas to help you stay productive, energized, and positive. March is the time where getting the garden started sounds like a good idea. However, with cool temperatures and snow still on the ground in Minnesota, you’re choices to get started are limited to pretty much indoors.

In the hope of using your self distanced time for something constructive, here are four past blog articles that can help you with some ideas on creating your very own indoor garden.

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Our first blog post features some easy DIY indoor gardening ideas. Purchasing seeds is still available through catalog and online, so don’t let self-quarantine stop you from getting your green on.

Indoor Gardening Ideas Part 2

In the second blog post, we touch on how to improve the gutter system and why it’s beneficial to add an automatic watering system.

Windowsill Gardens

In this article, we give some tips on the most easy indoor gardening systems to build: the windowsill garden. While they are tiny, but effective, you can make some delicious meals with your sill herb garden and also add a touch of color to your kitchen by adding orchids with almost zero effort.

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If you’re still looking for some help on making your own indoor garden, check out our last article, which covers 5 very easy methods to green your indoor space. From adding zero effort succulents to entry level veggie pots, you’ll find something to get you going.

That’s what we’ve got for indoor gardening ideas, but if you have anything you’d like to share with us, we will make sure to let everyone know about it. We love spreading the love of gardening!

 

Hydrogeological Data

 

What do isotopes in water have to do with soil? One of my go-to podcasts is Down to Earth hosted by The Quivira Coalition.  The Quivira Coalition is a non-profit organization based in Santa Fe, New Mexico dedicated to building economic and ecological resilience on western working landscapes. According to their website, the coalition was formed to preserve the region’s rich agricultural heritage. It states: 

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The Quivira Coalition is based in New Mexico and is dedicated to building ecological and economic resilience in the arid southwest. A tricky idea, indeed!

In 1997 two conservationists and a rancher who believed that a ranch that supported wildlife and a healthy ecosystem could also support a viable ranch business, came together to create the Quivira Coalition.  Then, in 2003, twenty ranchers, environmentalists, and scientists met for forty-eight hours to figure out a way to take back the American West from the decades of divisiveness and acrimony that now truly jeopardizes much of what we all love and value. But we also met to take the West forward, to restore ecological, social and political health to a landscape that deserves it and so desperately needs it.” 

One of their recent podcasts, titled The Science of Water, features the work of Dr. Kate Zeigler, a geologist/ hydrologist. 

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Dr. Kate Zeigler

Dr. Zeigler’s work has focused on groundwater recharge rates in the dry southwest where the average annual rainfall is seven inches. The soils in this region recharge very slowly, often percolating through the soil at the same rate your finger nail grows. She goes on to explain that not all water is the same.  As groundwater ages, the isotopes in it change. By studying the changes in protons versus neutrons in the individual atoms in the water, they can determine how old the groundwater is and how fast the aquifers are recharging, or how fast they are being depleted. With the philosophy that knowledge is power, they share this information with farmers and ranchers as a tool for decision making.    

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Get a Head Start on the Growing Season with Soil Blocks

Don’t look now (and I would hate to jinx it), but it seems that winter is loosing its grasp over central Minnesota. The ravages of winter snow storms and below zero temperatures are being replaced with sun showers and melting snow.

However, that doesn’t mean you can just start planting into the (frozen) ground. Your little seedlings wouldn’t stand much of a chance and you’d break your tools digging a hole.

What we do around here is create our very own soil blocks to help the little seeds get a head start to the growing season. With a giant atrium in the Mani Shop, we’ve got a good place to let them stretch their baby root legs.

Dave W. (our Food Production Coordinator) likes to use the following formula to build our soil blocks for the little seedlings.

  • 4 Parts Peat Moss
  • 2 Parts Compost/Soil
  • 1 cup Perlite/Vermiculite (helps prevent soil compaction)
  • .5 cup Pel Lime (helps balance pH of soil)
  • .25 cup Green Sand/Azomite Clay (adds micronutrients)
  • .25 cup Humate
  • .25 cup Kelp

This recipe is good for 4-5 trays that can hold 50 or so 2in blocks. All in all, you can make about 300 blocks, which is a good place to start if you’re just getting into it.

It’s a fun process, but can be a little dusty, dirty, and muddy. There’s a lot of mixing by hand and sifting of small sticks and other larger bits so it can be best used for the block mixture.

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Here, Dave sifts the detritus from our homemade compost to get nothing but nutrient rich soil.

Once you’ve got the mixture down, add a little water and to make it nice and sticky (this is so it will hold its blocky shape. We have several types of soil blockers, but for the majority of our uses, we prefer the 2 inch model.

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These soil blockers are good for 2in cubed cubes. They’re good enough size for most starting seedlings.

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HDT’s 2019 Top Ten

Who doesn’t love to occasionally look back and see from where they’ve come, and reflect on where they’re going? 2019 was a year we tackled new topics and connected with new partners, yet, we also wrote about things near and dear to our hearts. So, we thought it would be fun to look back at our most read posts written in 2019.

1) Get Your Trek On!

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Every summer we love to encourage kids to get outside. So, for the last few summers, we’ve hosted camping trips to local and state parks throughout Minnesota. Michelle writes about the fun had on these trips in the most read article of the year.

2) Holiday Gifts – Made from the Heart

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Just posted a few weeks ago, Nora’s article on using your skills and time to make gifts seemed to resonate. (Plus, it’s not too late for some last minute gifts before the holidays are over for this year). 🙂

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We Are Water MN Summit Review

HDT was recently invited to attend the We Are Water Summit, part of a statewide traveling interactive exhibit led by the Minnesota Center for the Humanities and statewide partners. According to their website, “We Are Water MN” explores the connections between the humanities and water through an exhibit, public events, and educator resources. Visitors reflect on local stories and the meaning and experiences of water in Minnesota with space to add their own stories. By creating relationships around water, we are creating networks that can promote positive social norms, and share a vision for and participate in water stewardship. 

Here’s a short video on the exhibit:

 

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