Growing innovation in Afton
With an April like this where winter is refusing to leave, Minnesota farmers are struggling with being able to harvest their crops.
However 10th Street Farm and Market, operated in Afton by mother-daughter team Lisa and Hallie Talbott, hasn't had trouble. In fact they've been harvesting since the end of February thanks to greenhouses.
"The growing season here in Minnesota is very short," Lisa said. "We just felt that we could push the seasons and make produce available all the time for people in Minnesota."
Currently, 10th Street Farm and Market is harvesting about four weeks ahead of traditional farms.
Extending the season
A traditional harvest season for Minnesota farms is around five to six months, Lisa said, but 10th Street Farm and Market is able to extend that to nine to 10 months thanks to its extended farming practices.
A typical harvesting season for the Talbotts, originally from Hudson, Wis., runs from the end of February through the middle of December.
Lisa and Hallie utilize two unheated movable high tunnel greenhouses, which are able to capture the natural heat of the sun to warm the soil.
The vegetables that are planted in the high tunnels during the winter include standard cold weather crops such as lettuce, spinach, kale, radishes, turnips, Swiss chard and arugula.
"As long as we get sun, we can grow crops," Lisa said.
The Talbots will be installing a third high tunnel May 1 since they have such high demand.
Even with the high tunnels, the Talbots face challenges with long winters, like this year, because there are a lot of days without sun.
"The crops still grow," Lisa said, "they just take longer to do it."
"A huge part of farming is patience and faith," Hallie said.
In addition to the unheated high tunnels, the business also utilizes a heated greenhouse for many of its warm weather crops - tomatoes, peppers and other traditional summer vegetables - which can then be transplanted into the high tunnels.
As the temperatures rise, the Talbotts are able to roll their movable tunnels off the cold weather crops and over to a new field.
In total, the Talbotts are able to harvest about 50 different varieties of vegetables.
In conjunction with their high tunnel methods, the Talbotts also use organic practices.
Even though the Talbotts have just over 18 acres at 10th Street Farm and Market, they only farm about one-third of an acre of it thanks to their intensive succession planting, which allows them to plant the same number of crops in a smaller area.
Giving back good food
Hallie and Lisa Talbott decided to start 10th Street Farm and Market last year because they had a passion for what they call "real food."
"We believe the baby carrots that you see at the grocery store are not real food," Lisa said.
In addition to its onsite market, which opens for the season Thursday, April 25, the Talbotts also sell their crops at several local co-ops including the Golden Fig in St. Paul, Spiral Foods in Hastings, Whole Earth Grocery in River Falls, Wis., and River Market in Stillwater.
"We believe that when people get reconnected to their food, everybody benefits," Lisa said. "It tastes better and they get a better understanding of nature."
10th Street Farm and Market's micro-greens can also be found at the Heartland restaurant in St. Paul.
"We want to re-educate people about their local farmer and their local food," Hallie said.
The business also offers a few unique opportunities including Community Supported Agriculture, which allows people to purchase a share of the farm and in turn receive a portion of the weekly harvest.
10th Street Farm and Market also offers Kids Supported Agriculture, which allows families to rent a plot and grow their own crops.
Lisa and Hallie said they hope 10th Street Farm and Market continues to grow.
"We love being able to be outside and enjoy the natural gifts we are given every day," Hallie said. "Our goal is to grow with the needs of the community.
"We want to feed people good food and see the health of our community rise."
10th Street Farm and Market, located at 13197 10th St. South in Afton, will have an open house May 4 from noon to 3 p.m. More information about the farm can be found at www.10thstfarmandmarket.com.