Archive | Spring 2010


My Friends, the Backyard Farmers

By Zach Hawkins

The late summer sun streams into the room, warming up the blankets on the guest bed. I push them off and swing my feet to the floor, rested—as rested as one can be in the middle of a road trip full of late nights and long drives. It feels good to wake up in Minneapolis. It’s been a few years since I moved away, but as a musician I have the pleasure of passing through every now and then to visit old hangouts and catch up with friends. I creak down a case of wooden stairs in search of Sam and Marja, who are graciously putting me up in their home near Lake Nokomis.

I find Sam in the backyard, sitting on a lawn chair, reading the Sunday paper and sipping coffee from a mug. He relaxes in the morning sun by ten garden beds that line the north side of the yard, each one heavy with harvest: basil, beans, eggplant, onions, zucchini, and heirloom tomatoes. Near his feet, four heritage-breed hens—Black Australorp, Ameraucana, Barred Rock, and Silver Laced Wyandotte— scratch and peck at the grass, clucking softly. Not exactly a sight you’d expect to see just off the Minnehaha Parkway.

Inside the house, Sam and Marja brew coffee and make a quick breakfast of toast and fried pullet eggs, fresh from the chickens in the yard. I sink my fork into an orange yolk and savor the rich, lingering flavor. We talk about their little backyard farm. In addition to constructing a small chicken coop, Marja and Sam spent the summer expanding their gardens. They tell me about their successes (they tried cuke-nuts for the first time with good results) and failures (they just can’t seem to get the bell peppers to thrive). I bask in the kitchen smells, the garden stories—the pleasures of being at home. But all too soon it’s time for me to hit the road. My friends send me off with a jar of homemade pickles to snack on in the car, waving goodbye from the front steps.  

I met Sam and Marja in college. In one of my first memories of Sam, I see him standing over the flower bed outside our freshman dormitory, plucking a few weeds from a clandestine row of radishes he’d covertly planted among the landscaped flowers. By the time we were seniors, Sam and I were working with other students to tend an on-campus garden and organize “local food nights” in the cafeteria. We also both signed up for a seminar on Agrarianism. There, we encountered Wendell Berry’s essay, “The Pleasures of Eating,” which contains his oft-repeated proposition that “eating is an agricultural act.” As I crunch on a homegrown pickle in the car, I think about how seriously Sam and Marja have taken Berry’s words, how genuinely they strive to answer the same question that prompted Berry to write the essay: “What can city people do?”

Sam and Marja got engaged within a year after graduation (during which Sam and I shared an Uptown apartment and failed in our attempt to coax vegetables from the shady backyard). After getting married, they moved into an apartment building in St. Louis Park. “We tried to container garden,” Marja tells me, “but we only had north light so it was really pathetic.” Sam chimes in, “I planted some stuff in the parking lot… against the fence where it got good sunlight. It was all sprouting and getting ready to go and then, you know, they mowed it.” Experiences like these made Sam and Marja all the more grateful when they purchased their house in the Keewaydin neighborhood, a two-story bungalow with a good-sized backyard.

In their effort to grow some of their own food while living in an urban setting, Marja and Sam are living out the proposals Wendell Berry makes in “The Pleasures of Eating.” At the end of the short essay, he composes a list—“probably not definitive,” he adds—of ways to eat responsibly.

First off is a directive to “participate in food production to the extent that you can.” Berry explains, “Only by growing some food for yourself can you become acquainted with the beautiful energy cycle that revolves from soil to seed to flower to fruit to food to offal to decay, and around again. You will be fully responsible for any food that you grow for yourself, and you will know all about it. You will appreciate it fully, having known it all its life.” In talking with Marja and Sam over the years, I understand that their motivations are deeply rooted in this principle. Marja tells me, “I think it’s kind of an empowering feeling to be able to provide for yourself … but also to know so much—to know everything, really—about the way your food was grown and produced. I think that’s kind of comforting.”  

Also, it’s fun. Sam and Marja admit that they didn’t get their hens simply to know more about their breakfast. “The chickens were mostly for pets,” says Marja, laughing. “You know, eggs as well. And it’s worked out really well with the fertilizer they provide.” But she and Sam both bring attention to the “entertainment value” of the small operation in their backyard. “We enjoy gardening, and we enjoy futzing around with the chickens,” says Sam. “So, it saves us from having to purchase entertainment elsewhere. A night spent puttering around the garden and eating a meal outside is cheaper than a movie.”  

I enjoy watching my friends take such pleasure in raising food. When their hens (named Shirley, Hazel, Olive, and Pearl) first started laying eggs, Marja posted a picture to her Facebook profile of Sam and herself each holding an egg, their faces beaming, almost like proud parents. Shortly after taking the picture, they ate the eggs. “We poached ‘em,” says Sam. “We wanted to make sure we could just taste the egg.”

“Which is funny,” adds Marja, “because we had really never poached an egg before!”

By growing their own vegetables and keeping a few laying hens, Sam and Marja have entered into what Gene Logsdon calls “the little red hen economy.” In his book, The Contrary Farmer’s Invitation to Gardening, Logsdon imagines a national “garden economy” nurtured by the “spare time, recreational labor, small and inexpensive tools, and land paid for as part of the homeplace and lifestyle” of homesteaders. Instead of resigning themselves as passive consumers in the industrial food system, Sam and Marja take an active role in the entire food cycle: production, consumption, and the return of nutrients to the soil. They don’t produce all of the food they eat, but many of their meals come from the garden during the summer, and their chickens lay eggs for a large part of the year. In addition, Sam and Marja compost their kitchen scraps and chicken manure and use it to fertilize the garden beds. It’s a modern take on what Berry calls, “the husbandry and wifery of the old household food economy,” and it all happens in their backyard, within the city limits.

Now, spring is upon us. Sam and Marja are making notes in their garden journal … Read the rest

Continue Reading 0

Notable Edibles: A Far Cry From Tater Tots

By Emily Freeman

mary_andersonWinter squash with Jamaican jerk seasoning. Steamed beets in an orange sauce. Root vegetables roasted with herbs and olive oil. A far cry from the tater tots of yore, these are some of the ways that winter vegetables are served in the Wayzata School District, where for the past three years the lunchroom menu has included produce, dairy, and meat sourced from area farms. The local items are marked as such on the cafeteria menu, and streaming videos in the classroom show students the food’s journey from growth to plate, helping them to understand where their lunch comes from. The incorporation of fresh and local food was an easy sell, according to Culinary Express Supervisor, Mary Anderson, with students and parents readily embracing the idea. Having grown up on a farm, Anderson understands the way the program’s benefits reach far beyond the school grounds, helping farmers and the Minnesota economy overall. She attributes the program’s success to years of hard work by a dedicated group of individuals and organizational partners, and takes little personal credit, in spite of her recent national recognition by the School Nutrition Association. She says simply: “It’s the right thing for us to be doing.” And she’s not alone in thinking so; across the state, school districts large and small, rural and urban, are doing the same thing. Interested in seeing fresh local food in your own district? Contact your school nutrition department, or check out the University of Minnesota’s Farm to School Toolkit (… Read the rest

Continue Reading 0



By Teresa Marrone

To winter-weary Minnesotans, the sight of a patch of chives poking through the damp, bare soil is a spring tonic of the highest order. Once they appear in early spring, chives can be snipped and used until covered by snow the following winter, making them one of Minnesota’s longest harvests. And chive season can be extended even further. Simply dig up part of a healthy clump and plant it in a pot; placed in a sunny window, it will provide fresh seasoning through the long winter.

Chives are part of the venerable onion family; with a flavor that is both oniony and grassy, they work well in most savory dishes. Fresh, uncooked chives make a wonderful garnish or seasoning, contributing both flavor and color. If used in cooked dishes, they’re best when added as a finishing touch. Their flavor blooms with just a little heat, but if they are cooked for too long, they lose their bright notes.  

It’s best to snip chives with a sharp kitchen scissors; chopping with a knife on a cutting board can bruise the delicate, hollow leaves. To snip chives, hold a cluster in your left hand (for a right-handed cook) over a measuring cup—or the dish to be garnished—and simply snip off the ends to whatever length you like. You’ll get more even pieces if you snip fairly close to your hand, where the chives are tightly bunched, so let only a small amount extend out from your closed hand, moving the cluster outward as needed.

When chives are fresh from the garden—which is the best way to enjoy them—you’ll often see small beads of water forming on the cut edge after you snip them, an indication of freshness. If you don’t have a chive garden and need to buy chives from the market, look for firm, bright green leaves. Pass by limp or yellowish specimens, which will have lackluster flavor and poor texture.

Dried chives retain some of the onion flavor, but lose their distinctive grassy notes. If you wish to preserve a bounty of chives in the fall, it’s better to freeze them. Simply snip washed chives into whatever length you like, spreading them in a thin layer on a baking sheet lined with waxed paper. Freeze overnight, then pour into a tightly sealed container and return immediately to the freezer. The chives will be soft when thawed, but will retain most of their wonderful flavor.

Here are a few quick ideas for using chives, as well as a delicious pasta dish that can be made with just a few pantry items—and of course, a whopping amount of fresh chives.

Classic baked potato: Split a baked potato and fluff it a bit, dust with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, then top with a dollop of sour cream. Snip about a tablespoon of chives over the sour cream. (For a delicious, crisp-skinned baked potato, heat oven to 425 °F. Scrub whole baking potatoes and prick each a few times with a fork. Place potatoes, unwrapped, directly on the oven rack; bake for one hour.)

Chive oil:
Combine equal parts of chives (cut about one inch long) and olive oil in the blender. Process until smooth, then strain through cheesecloth. Drizzle the strained oil over soups, eggs, fish, chicken or anything you like; it would be delicious over a grilled grass-fed steak.

Chive spread: Mash some soft goat cheese or other soft cheese until spreadable. Stir in a generous amount of snipped chives, a bit of coarse black pepper, a little grated orange zest and a drizzle of honey; mix well. Serve with crackers or toasted bread.

Chive eggs: Add a generous amount of snipped chives to beaten eggs before scrambling them—a classic flavor combination.

Chive cornbread: Stir two tablespoons of snipped chives into the batter when making cornbread or muffins.

Chive-blossom salad: Pull one or two chive blossoms apart into clusters of two or three petals, then sprinkle over a salad made of tender mixed greens. Garnish the salad with a whole chive blossom, but inform diners that it is decorative only (or that it needs to be pulled apart before eating); the flavor of a whole chive blossom is very intense.

Fettuccine with chives and toasted breadcrumbs

Read the rest
Continue Reading 0

Local Heroes 2010

Local Heroes

By Emily Freeman

The vitality of our region’s local food scene can be attributed to various factors. We live in a part of the country with a longstanding economic and cultural relationship to agriculture. Our network of food co-ops is unrivaled. We have truly gifted chefs and farmers and small-scale producers whose reputations in many cases stretch beyond the boundaries of the Upper Midwest. And perhaps most importantly, there’s an ethos of camaraderie and mutual support that serves to strengthen the local food scene as a whole, rather than just elevating the status of a few individuals.

Nevertheless, there are indeed individuals who stand out as true leaders, consistently turning out the kind of high-quality gastronomical products and experiences that we’ve come to expect or rely on. Who among us hasn’t stumbled on a locally made product so good that it effectively ruins you for every other brand’s version of the same item? Or dined at a restaurant that raises the bar so high that you’re forever slightly disappointed by subsequent dining-out experiences? Or attended an event that fills you with such fervor for sustainable agriculture that you can no longer pass through the average supermarket produce department without an acute awareness of their pumped-up, unseasonable inventory? We are often permanently altered by our education about food, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing.—the Local Heroes don’t seem to think so.  

The votes have been counted, and we hereby present Edible Twin Cities’ 2010 Local Heroes, individuals and organizations declared to be the best, most inspirational, or most influential in their fields. These Heroes have helped elevate the Twin Cities food scene to new and amazing heights, have been instrumental in altering our taste buds and food philosophies, and remind us that caring about our food is not simply an indulgence, but perhaps a necessity.

Farm / Farmer: Riverbend Farm • Greg and Mary ReynoldsGreg and Mary Reynolds

Riverbend Farm’s CSA shares are beautiful, the vegetables washed and bundled and perfect-looking. While this might not seem like a big deal at first, when you’re several weeks into your CSA experience you’ll realize how much you appreciate not having to go to great lengths to remove dirt and moisture from the product before you can snack on it or stow it in the fridge. Riverbend distributes through its CSA program, as well as selling directly to Twin Cities restaurants and food co-ops. In springtime, their greens are some of the first to arrive on co-op shelves, delicate bundles of peppery arugula and tender mizuna, perfect in a salad or gently cooked. Their delicate nature bears testament to the short distance—about 30 miles—they’ve traveled from field to store. These are not crops grown to withstand transcontinental trips in refrigerated semis, and that’s why we love them. Greg Reynolds’ newsletters—sent to CSA members, produce buyers, and chefs, as well as archived on the Riverbend Farm website—are informative, well-written, and provide clear evidence of how much Reynolds cares that his various stakeholders
understand what goes on behind the scenes and under the soil.

Even a short conversation with Reynolds makes it abundantly apparent that he cares just as much about what happens off the farm; he’s excited about the growing Farm to School movement, which brings sustainable local food into school cafeterias and benefits students’ health both physically and mentally. He weighs in passionately about industrial ag and the push back small farmers are feeling from them as the local food movement gains momentum. And when it comes to his newly acquired Local Hero designation, he’s honored yet humble: “It really is nice to be recognized as one of the Edible Twin Cities Local Heroes. I’m surprised and gratified that that many people thought that we were the best farm in the area. I hope people chose us because our produce tastes good and for what we have been doing to raise local awareness of food issues.”

It’s safe to say it’s both those things. You’d be hard-pressed to talk to a chef, look at a food blog, or chat up a co-op produce worker without hearing about Riverbend Farm. The Reynolds’ reputation for excellence is well-established, and every bit deserved.

Non-Profit: Land Stewardship Project
George Boody  of LSP

Land Stewardship Project (LSP) is one of those organizations with a lofty mission statement and a multi-limbed program base. But talk to anyone who’s familiar with LSP and you’ll quickly discover the ways in which it’s making tangible differences to sustainable agriculture in our region through the lives of the people involved. The Farm Beginnings program provides education and mentoring to new farmers or to those simply exploring sustainable farming as a possible career; students learn both on the farm and in the classroom, covering everything from calf care to putting together a business plan, and qualified graduates of the program are eligible for no-interest Livestock Loans.

LSP also helps connect farmers to consumers, producing a yearly CSA directory as well as guides to retailers and restaurants that feature sustainably produced local food. And they work closely with state and local policy-makers to encourage the passage of agricultural legislation that impacts positively on people, animals and the land.

Says Executive Director, George Boody: “High-quality food needs to be accessible not only to those who can afford to pay more for that quality, but also to those who can’t afford the higher prices of good food, or even find it, whether in rural or urban areas.”

To this end, LSP recently partnered with a south Minneapolis neighborhood association to negotiate access to open space for a new community garden, and they’re forging relationships with groups like the Indigenous People’s Green Jobs Coalition, helping to ensure that access to clean food and a stake in the new green economy are accessible to as many people as possible. LSP’s reach is broad but not diffuse, their goals ambitious, but by no means out of reach.

Food Artisan: PastureLand Cooperative
Farmers of PastureLand

At the Twin Cities food co-op where I used to work, my co-workers were crazy about PastureLand butter. I couldn’t figure out what the deal was, why people on limited budgets were spending upwards of $6 on butter. I mean, butter’s just butter, right? But then I tasted it, and realized how wrong I had been. Not all butter is alike, and PastureLand’s cultured butter is so unlike the average butter as to deserve its own category entirely. It’s truly a butter than can be eaten on its own, like cheese (though I wouldn’t recommend such indulgences on a regular basis). Its flavor far surpasses the simple fat-plus-salt equation that I’d long thought as having defined butter. It tastes instead of the sun-warmed grass of Southeast Minnesota, of happy cows ambling slowly through the fields, casting occasional glances toward the barn where their doting human stewards patiently await their return.

Suffice it to say that any company that makes a butter this good performs equally well with cheese. Their cheddars, goudas, and “Alpine Sisters” varieties are handcrafted by stars of the local cheese-making scene, and have received numerous accolades from the American Cheese Society. PastureLand products can be purchased at better local groceries and co-ops, or ordered from the company’s website and … Read the rest

Continue Reading 0

Spring 2010 Table of Contents


By Emily Freeman

By Zach Hawkins

By Brian DeVore

By Steve Young Burns

CSA Directory

By Kelli Billstein


By Kris Woll


By Teresa Marrone

By Teresa Marrone

By Emily Freeman

Read the rest
Continue Reading 0