Seeds Farm in Northfield raises much of the produce TC Farm offers for our weekly produce CSA and they were one of the farms TC Farm had on our member farm tour in the fall. We asked Becca Carlson, who started Seeds Farm, to share more about the farm.
Well, long story is it stands for Social Entrepreneurship, Environmental Design, and Stewardship. It's a hefty goal that we work towards, and sometimes I feel bashful because we are in not there 100%! But it does help direct our daily and yearly goals.
Plus, it's just magical when you plant a seed and watch it grow as it transforms the soil, sunlight, air, and nutrients into something magical that feeds our bodies.
I am a first generation farmer who started farming 12 years ago with the support of my family, especially my dad, Greg, also who shares the same vision of the farm as a tool for community development. When we started we immediately made 4 goals to use the farm as a place to:
My dad does not farm :)
I recently fell l in love with a non-farmer and am getting married this winter! His name is Lee, and he's a high school chemistry teacher in Northfield, an avid outdoorsman, and a strong environmentalist. He helps me out from time to time on the farm, but most of our farm related activities we do together is working in our garden.
I started farming because I didn't make the tennis team....
That's the short story. The long version is that when I didn't make the team, I was crushed (tennis was a large part of my life growing up). I had all this free time in my academic schedule during college and filled it by going to the student club, Environmental Coalition at college. I went to St. Olaf College in Northfield.
The more I learned about our environment the more I realized one of the biggest ways we interact with our environment is through agriculture: we all have to eat and all that food has to be grown. It can be grown in environmentally positive or negative ways. The choices we make as to the food we buy and how its grown directly impacts our agricultural landscape and therefore environment! We vote with our dollar!
I was hooked after volunteering on some farms and you can say the rest is history.
When I started farming I did it because I loved working outside and working hard. Now that the farm has grown and I have a crew of 6-10 people working on the farm, I didn't anticipate how I'd work myself out of the fields some days to work in the office. Managing a business comes with managing a farm, and the 20 year old Becca never realized what she was getting herself into...
Farming vegetables organically for 12 years and being intimately involved with the food system, I have learned a lot of intricacies of how it works. Some leave me hopeless, but most of them leave me hopeful. It has made me even more passionate about working hard in this sphere and more passionate to connect with eaters (like you!) who are seeking out this food. The more I learn and the longer I'm involved, the more I realize how important it is to eat locally and organically!
I love problem solving. I love creating new systems. I love fixing things (when I have the time). I love being creative. Working outside. Getting dirty. Working with the crew together to accomplish a goal. The seasons. Feeding my community. Living a life that aligns with my values. Building relationships with customers, the crew, and people who eat our food. Being in charge of my own schedule.
....I can go on and on and on!
I started the farm when I was 20. It was a small "glorified garden" at that point, with 5 CSA members and the local farmers market. Each year it doubled until now, we're up to 18 acres! Back when the farm was smaller and I had my winters off, I would work as a dogsled guide leading guests on winter camping trips through the BWCA out of Ely, MN. It was a lot of fun and a lot of hard work!
I also worked over four winter seasons on obtaining my masters degree from Green Mountain College in Sustainable Food Systems. My final project for my degree was to create a curriculum in sustainable agriculture, which I now teach as a spring semester course at St. Olaf College. I also serve as the advisor to their student farm, STOGROW.
Becca shares more about raising winter produce crops for TC Farm
We work so hard to be efficient on the farm because if we're not, our cost of production exceeds what the "market" is able pay for the product we grow. But there are many things outside of our control that can erase all of our hard work overnight. In my 12 years farming, we've had a tornado hit our farm, two 500 year floods in years back-to-back flood our fields, droughts, and pests/diseases take entire crops overnight.
Organic vegetables have no crop insurance like conventional commodity farmers do and we have no safety net. There are so many things outside of our control that we have no protection or insurance over.
This is why our vegetables cost more, and we are so thankful to work with customers who understand the true cost of buying local and organic vegetables in a state that has snow half the year!
We are certified organic, have our certificate of Good Agricultural Practices (a food safety certification), and Real Organic Certified.
We farm this way because it's how we believe we should treat our soil and landscape. It also happens to align with these certifications.
We do everything by hand! Every onion seed is planted by hand, transplanted out into the field, topped by hand, picked up and put into a bin by hand! We plant 300,000 onions-and they are all touched individually at least 6-8 times! Everything we harvest is handled by a human being, not a machine.
It's pretty incredible the amount of food that comes from a small piece of land. Last year we harvested over 400,000 lbs of produce!
We are the largest woman-owned organic vegetable farm in Minnesota. We pay people a living wage.
Being part of the sustainable farming community makes a world of difference. I live and farm in Northfield, where there are the most Organic Vegetable Farms per capita in all of Minnesota. I have neighbors who do what I do, who I can ask advice of, commiserate with, collaborate with bulk purchases, etc. I also have customers who value what I do and support my business allowing me to be financially sustainable.
Sustainability is three fold. The triple bottom line of sustainability includes not just environmental sustainability, but financial and social sustainability as well. We are able to farm our land in environmentally sustainable ways because we have a business that is supported by our customers (financial sustainability) and a community which believes in us and our way of farming (Social sustainability). Being a part of a group of likeminded individuals gives us the courage to dream of a career farming and the confidence to undertake such an endeavor!
When I first started farming I had my own CSA. At our peak, we had 150 families we delivered a weekly box of vegetables to. However, with just me and a seasonal crew, I did not have the capacity to do all the farming, administrative, packing, and delivery all myself. I needed a partner, which I didn't have. In 2017 I decided to no longer do CSA, and sell my produce exclusively wholesale to grocery stores, distributors, etc. My produce would be distributed pallet on top of pallet on semi trucks all around 5 states.
But I missed the intimate connection with my CSA members, knowing who I was growing vegetables for, who was eating them, who they were sharing a meal with, and who was being nourished by them.
Then I started working with TC Farm and I am back involved in a CSA type distribution! It brings me so much joy and purpose to know that what I am growing is nourishing my community.
I look forward to continuing to grow with TC Farm.
When I sell wholesale, I focus on fewer diversity of crops. I miss the fun crops! With TC Farm, I'm able to grow the smaller crops, which is a lot of fun.
I love working the the TC Farm crew, it's been a joy working with like minded people.
TC Farm is able to accept my product on a bin scale. Most of my customers I have to pack in non reusable waxed boxes, which can't be recycled and have to be thrown away. Delivering product in a pallet size bin that is reusable cuts down on a lot of waste!
I believe in what TC Farm is doing.
I am also excited to continue to grow with TC Farm! I'd like to grow more food for TC farm next year than this year, more diversity of crops, longer season, and larger quantities! I'd also like to work towards value added products with our veggies. I've long had the dream of not just selling veggies but value added products from our veggies but have lacked the capacity thus far to do so. Farming on its own takes all the time so far!
In our region our climate is projected to be warmer, with more sporadic heavy rain events. Therefore I have invested in four high tunnels over the last few years to help diversify our crops against a changing climate. I hope to also use these high tunnels to grow in the 'off' season and offering fresh veggies more year round.
Seven Songs Organic Farm in Kenyon (just south of the cities) raises produce for our weekly CSA as well as the amazing Garlic Scape Pesto we offer our members! They were one of the farms TC Farm had on our member farm tour in the fall. We asked Melissa Driscoll, who started Seven Songs, to share more about the farm.
The Seven Songs represent the energy that feeds the farm. The four directions, the soil (the earth), the sky, and the farmer herself.
Also: I love to sing.
My husband Jay Hambidge has his own consulting business, based on the farm. He also is the farm delivery-person.
I very much enjoy working outside, for myself, and I think farming is healing for me. It reminds me of all of the people that loved me as I grew up.
I farmed while working my off-farm job for 10 years. So when I quit my off-farm job to farm full time I just did more of what I had already been doing on the farm. Also, I was able to hire less people since I had more time to do the work myself.
I think one of the big surprises was how my mode of selling kept changing, and I finally ended up selling primarily wholesale. I would not have guessed that when I started farming.
Being outside every day. I also like watching my bottom line in my Quickbooks program.
Most recently I working in the Scientific and Natural Area Program of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. I helped the state buy land that harbored rare plants and animals. I am most drawn to that place between Ecology and Agriculture.
Finding reliable labor that sticks with you year after year is challenging. Finding land to farm initially can be very challenging. We looked for 2.5 years to find our farm, and it is not the perfect farm. We often feel politically and socially isolated because we are pretty liberal, and a number of our neighbors are not. Sometimes mental health issues are a struggle on our farm.
My goal is to grow amazing food. My goal is to have a very diverse set of plants and animals on this land I steward. So when I see a "weird" bug I am curious, not afraid or angry. The solutions to our problems are more wholistic. There is not a chemical to apply that will "deal" with the problem. I spend time thinking of my whole farming system and how I can tweak it one year to change things in one to 2 years. My thinking is long term.
I like selling lots of one thing to one place. I enjoy the good communication I have with TC Farm's staff. I do feel supported by TC Farm. I want to make my living farming - and my agreement with TC Farm is helping me do that.
This year the big project is a passive solar greenhouse. I have some help set up but could always use more.
I host garlic harvest, garlic planting, and ginger harvest days where my friends come and help with harvest (or planting) in exchange for some veggies and a catered free lunch.