Recap of events from July 12, 2014
Festival of Farms™ is an opportunity to learn about sustainable agriculture, network within the community, and have fun at various farms across the state. The Festival is unique to each chapter, but the goal is the same—to build a unified sense of SFA’s presence in communities across Minnesota and tighten connections within the local food community.
Cannon River Chapter
By Mary Ellen Frame
Last year, our Festival of Farms tour was cancelled at the last minute because of flooding, so we rescheduled the same two farms for this year, and Just Food Co-op sponsored a free bus to take people there. The first that morning was Waxwing Farm, owned and operated by Anna Racer and Peter Skold.
They have a 70-member vegetable CSA and participate in the Fulton Farmers Market, where Anna had gone that morning. Peter showed us some of the vegetable fields and the hoop house, which gives them the advantage of being able to sell spinach at a winter farmers market, and other vegetables much earlier than the field-grown ones. They have about 50 laying hens, in a movable coop out on pasture. They also raise a few pigs, one for their own use and the rest are sold to CSA members.
Peter talked about using the pigs to work up weedy ground very effectively. He quoted an old-timer describing pigs as having “a bulldozer on the front end and a manure spreader on the back end.” A new feature of the farm is their very large greenhouse which enables them to get a lot of plants off to a good start. It’s heated by a wood burning furnace at some distance from the greenhouse, using hot water in pipes under a couple of feet of crushed rock which is the floor of the greenhouse.
Sweetland Orchard is owned and operated by Mike and Gretchen Perbix. They’re in the process of renovating an old apple orchard as they operate it. They do have a U-pick business, so that customers can visit the farm and learn about apple growing. They also sell apples and cider wholesale.
Mike took us out in the orchard and showed us some of what they’re doing there, including establishing cider apple trees. He told us that we wouldn’t enjoy eating cider apples; they taste awful, but they’re good for hard cider. He also showed us his flail chopper in action. Every winter the trees have to be pruned, then the prunings are typically either piled up and burned, or hauled off somewhere to be chipped. The flail chopper, pulled behind a tractor, chips the branches in place, and leaves the chips where he wants them, between the rows of apple trees.
It was just beginning to rain as we made our way back to the cidery, where Gretchen and Mike explained the various machines for washing, sorting, chopping and pressing the apples, and the process of making hard cider. Gretchen explained that there are three kinds of cider: the fresh, raw cider, which will only keep a few days in the refrigerator; pasteurized cider, which is good for longer; and the hard cider, which has an alcohol content of 6-8 percent. They bottle some of the hard cider and sell it from the farm and wholesale. Some is sold in bulk to restaurants. It’s becoming quite popular. Then we got to taste samples of four kinds of hard cider.
Thankfully, the rain had held off until we’d gone inside, but then there was a tremendous downpour, roaring on the tin roof.