Some of my fondest memories as a kid were created during summer trips to my grandparents’ home place near Rush City, Minnesota. Grandma knew how to present a multi-course meal featuring homegrown or freshly-caught delicacies.
From sunfish fried in butter to sweetened coffee with an ample dollop of cream from a nearby dairy farm sipped from a saucer to fresh baked bread… dinner was the highlight of a day spent playing hard with siblings and cousins.
Grandma Hilma canned the produce that Grandpa Fritz grew in their garden. Grandpa’s homemade sauerkraut was the stuff of legends in my family.
To supplement their income Fritz also packed up his old truck on weekends and sold his organically grown vegetables door-to-door to the folks who lived around a nearby lake.
The Food Farm
I thought about my grandparents during a recent visit to the Fisher-Merritt Food Farm. The certified organic farm was honored in 2015 with a Minnesota legislative proclamation for “its commitment to community agriculture, sustainable food production, and the Wrenshall community.”
The Food Farm has 15 acres in production. It offers summer, winter, preserving, poultry and egg shares, enabling share-holders to receive fresh local food most of the year. They deliver to 16 locations in Duluth, Superior, Cloquet, Esko, and Wrenshall and supply produce to Whole Foods Co-op, Duluth Grill, Chester Creek Cafe and other outlets.
When Timothy Soden-Groves and I visited the farm on December 6th workers were busy filling 176 boxes of winter shares, destined for dinner tables across the area. The farm’s founder, John Fisher-Merritt, gave us a tour of the high-tech root cellar and packing room. The cellar was stocked with carrots, spuds and a variety of organically grown produce.
As we gathered around the Fisher-Merritt dining table John talked a bit about the history of the Food Farm. He and his wife Jane started farming in the Wrenshall area in 1973. Year after year profits were plowed back into the farm. The couple didn’t start paying themselves until 1994 (a whopping $10,000), after they jumped feet first into the farming model known as Community Supported Agriculture.
Today the farm is owned by Janaki Fisher-Merritt and Annie Dugan, and operated by Janaki, John, Dave Hanlon, Karin White, Teri Sackmeister, and a hardworking cast of seasonal employees and volunteers.
Community Supported Agriculture
The United States Department of Agriculture defines a CSA as:
“a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes, either legally or spiritually, the community's farm, with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production.”
We often hear about farm-to-table agriculture and the benefits of locally produced and marketed farm products. The CSA model is a win-win for farmers seeking to work in harmony with the land and their neighbors eager to enjoy organically grown, nutritious food.
Five Year Plan
The Fisher-Merritts are members of the Land Stewardship Project. Its mission is to foster an ethic of stewardship for farmland, to promote sustainable agriculture, and to develop healthy communities.
4,000 members strong, LSP recently unveiled its Vision for the Future, a five year plan at a time of much hardship in the farming community. The plan proposes several strategic initiatives which are guided by LSP’s core values of stewardship, justice, democracy, health and community.
The plan’s strategic initiatives are worth embracing. To learn more about the Land Stewardship Project, its plan and how you can become a member of this vibrant and dedicated group of farmers and allies follow this link.
Everything Old is New (and improved) Again
As we drove away from the Food Farm I couldn’t help but think about our state’s historical cooperative system which was critical in the success of the family farm. There is no doubt in my mind that my grandma and grandpa would have approved and embraced today’s CSA model and the Land Stewardship Project.