All natural: Loon Organics provides a variety of vegetables
The fields at Loon Organics are a lot browner than they usually are this time of year. Pea shoots that would normally be hip high are just peeking out of the ground. Salad greens, carrots and other vegetables are barely visible in the dirt.
A cool, wet spring can be a scary thing when you make your living growing vegetables.
Adam Cullip and Laura Frerichs don't seem too nervous, though. This is their fourth growing season as owners of Loon Organics, which they run on 2 1/2 rented acres in Eureka Township. Assuming the weather cooperates, they will spend the spring and into the fall sending boxes of fresh produce to the 60-some families who have signed on as members of their community-supported agriculture operation.
CSA farms sell subscribers shares in what they produce. Loon Organics subscribers get 18 deliveries of vegetables each year along with a newsletter with information about what's growing and information on how to use some of the less common vegetables included in each shipment.
Loon Organics grows 25 to 35 types of crops and about 150 varieties. The vaguely Oklahoma-shaped farm plot, surrounded with electric fencing to keep out deer, is planted with heirloom tomatoes and eggplant. There is kale and celery root. The farm has 12 types garlic alone.
Frerichs said the idea is to grow as many different vegetables as will flourish in the Minnesota climate.
"We continuously trial varieties," Cullip said. "We're always trying to do new things. People who do CSAs like the experience of getting something you can't buy in the supermarket."
Sometimes providing that kind of variety requires educating people on vegetables and how to use them. Subscribers get a survey at the end of each year asking them what they liked and what they'd like to see in coming years.
Neither Cullip nor Frerichs has a background in agriculture. Cullip studied biology in college. Frerichs studied cultural anthropology. But when she graduated she found herself curious about the origins of food. She got a summer job at an organic farm. She figured she'd satisfy her curiosity and move on with her life.
But things didn't quite work out that way. Frerichs got hooked and she continued to work on organic farms in Minnesota and around the country. She likes the variety of skills the job requires -- from soil science to weather to writing to marketing. Cullip tracked down information to convert one of the couple's gasoline tractors to an all-electric machine that runs on eight batteries and could one day be recharged with solar power.
The couple enjoys planting crops each spring and watching them come up throughout the year.
"Every spring it kind of seems like a miracle," Frerichs said.
Frerichs met Cullip through a mutual friend while he was in graduate school. The couple worked together at Diffley's Garden of Eagan, a 100-acre organic farm on which they currently rent their land for Loon Organics, until they decided they were ready to strike out on their own.
"I think we both kind of felt like we had gotten to the point where we'd reached the maximum capacity we could working for other people," Frerichs said.
With land and a home available to rent, they figured they had a no-risk opportunity to try their luck.
So far, it looks like they made the right move. Loon Organics sells out its subscriptions each year and has a waiting list of interested customers. Cullip and Frerichs sell vegetables at the Minneapolis Farmer's Market each week and sell mixes of salad greens to area restaurants. They advertise mostly by word of mouth and with listings on local web sites dedicated to community supported agriculture.
The odd weather-related stress aside, they're having fun, too. CSAs encourage subscribers to get involved and help out in the fields during harvests or other busy times. Frerichs said many subscribers, most of whom are from urban or suburban areas, like coming out and getting their hands dirty every once in a while. And Frerichs enjoys the kinds of relationships that involvement creates.
"You definitely get to know people if they come out and help and work with you," she said. "We have a lot of friends with our members.
"It feels like we're building community."