A magical summer farm weekend

I had the opportunity to participate, and plan, a Farm Buds trip at the beginning of August. For a couple of years, this initiative has taken place informally, in the spare time of a now good friend, Matt Barthelemy. It’s really a pretty cool setup. Folks from the Cities and locals come to a farm (or two) over a weekend, volunteer their time to help out with projects on the farm, share a couple of meals together, and usually end up building meaningful relationships in a short time.

I attended one of these trips last year at Chengwatana Farm and had a blast. Having moved to West Central Minnesota just one year prior, I still felt pretty isolated and not able to connect with others my age, let alone with anyone in general because of the pandemic. I hit the road and drove through scenic upper Minnesota to arrive at a gorgeous homestead and working farm, embraced by the authenticity of other attendees and their passion for sustainable agriculture, engaging in political advocacy, and a desire to be more connected to the land. I felt like I was surrounded by the people that I hoped my business would eventually serve. Little did I know that the trip would be just one of the many extra ‘pushes’ I needed to take the plunge, leave my full-time job, and commit to my work with Mezclada – for real.

Having had such an incredible experience, I felt compelled to ensure that some of the farms I knew about in West Central Minnesota would get ‘on the map’ this year. In the sustainable agriculture community in Minnesota, people are pretty tight-knit. I’m new to the state, but I feel like I have a strong network with those on the North Shore, down in the Rochester area, the Twin Cities, and many places in between. That’s pretty unique and not something I ever saw in the farming community in Kansas. West Central Minnesota, from what I can tell, doesn’t really have the same kind of reputation that other parts of the state do with their initiatives. And I think part of that could be just that people haven’t wanted to invest the time in communicating what they’re doing, or perhaps people’s capacity to participate in statewide networking groups just hasn’t been there.

Regardless of why this part of the state isn’t as well known, I’ve been fortunate to meet some of the most innovative and big thinkers in our region, and I saw Farm Buds as a chance to pull back the curtain, if you will. What’s going on here? Why would someone want to start their farm here?

While we originally had two weekends planned at four different farms, we ended up organizing just one weekend, where those visiting could volunteer first at PRAIRIE, and then the following day at Doubting Thomas Farms. I don’t think anyone ever knows how things will go – there will always be hiccups and improvisation – but I was firm in my belief that it would be a magical weekend. Why? Cool people, good food, and farming. What more could you ask for? 🙂

Our trip started out at New Roots Incubator Farm, where we got to meet Parsu Ghimerey.

Parsu lamented about the challenge of managing his plot alone – one of the biggest on the whole farm – because his brother and sister were busy with their full-time jobs and his mother was not in good health. I sensed a certain darkness in his energy. Perhaps from working so much, or perhaps from how the season had turned out. His ambition to continue on despite the lack of extra hands was inspiring.

That afternoon, about fifteen of us split up into various tasks, mulching, cleaning garlic, building low-tunnels, chopping up whole chickens, and harvesting produce for dinner. It was one of the most glorious days of the summer for me. First and foremost was probably hearing one of the farm owner’s sister burst into tears of joy when she saw how many young people were out at the farm helping. “This is what you’ve been working towards, Verna! And it’s finally happening!”

It was hard not to feel my heart swell in that moment. And of course there were other standout moments – getting to see kids come out and enjoy themselves, roasting a shit ton of chicken and improvising when we didn’t have all the supplies we needed, roasting s’mores over the fire and losing a big chunk of chocolate on the ground, being reminded of why I set out to become a farmer myself.

The next day was even sweeter, in part because I didn’t have to do much planning on the back end, and also because the sense of gratitude pervaded the whole morning and afternoon. We munched on granola with oats from Noreen Thomas’s farm and coffee for breakfast, then spent most of our time at Noreen’s seeding a cover crop strip around a field for a research project. The walking tour of the farm was filled with botanical bites and lessons in herbal remedies, a fascinating discussion about silphium flowers and the importance of sunflower production in Ukraine. Lunch was divine. An eggplant bake, breads and sweet breads made from Noreen’s flour, tortilla chips made with their corn…

Something I wasn’t expecting to take away from the weekend was realizing how powerful it is to have such strong female leadership right in my backyard. Noreen and Verna are total badasses in their own way. They have such dynamic and varied interests, and are both committed to growing in a radically different way than all the farmers around them. I can imagine that it’s isolating at times, but I also believe that for all of the women who attended this trip from Fargo-Moorhead, the Twin Cities, and beyond, hearing from both of them provides some level of encouragement to keep pursuing this dream of farming.

My heart is still full from that weekend, and I am so grateful to the farmers that hosted, all of the people that supported us being there – the interns, the supportive family members, the farmers with New Roots, and more – for all of the time that they put in to planning the weekend.

I’m hopeful that more people will see the value in this experience and the model and find ways to support some of the administrative costs associated with it. And I’m hopeful that Mezclada will get to be a part of that process!

If you’re interested in learning more about the Farm Buds trips in Minnesota, please do not hesitate to contact Matt Barthelemy with Renewing the Countryside at matt@rtcinfo.org. 

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