Who Are the Growers?
Lots of different people! Specialty crop farmers include people who have lived in Minnesota their whole lives, and immigrants from other countries. What they all have in common is their love of growing plants. They also have a lot of knowledge about science (and often engineering) in order to successfully grow these crops. Today they are educated in how to sustainably farm to keep farmland healthy for years to come. Let's meet some specialty crop growers!
Pepin Heights Orchard, Lake City
Pepin Heights grows apples on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. This area is especially good for apples because of its climate. For example, gentle springtime breezes through the valley reduce the risk of early frost damage. Pepin Heights sells fresh apples. They press apples to make apple juice and apple cider, too.
They grow many apples developed by the University of Minnesota, including HoneyCrisp!
Workers pick and inspect every apple by hand before packing them for shipping. The apples are sold to retailers and distributors from Minnesota all the way to Texas.
Loon Organics Farm, Hutchinson
Laura Frerichs and her husband Adam Cullip own Loon Organics. They grow 50 types of vegetables, including tomatoes, peppers, lettuces, beets, carrots, and Romanesco Cauliflower (do you know what that is?). The three most valuable crops are tomatoes, broccoli, and lettuces.
They sell nearly 75% of their crops through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), which is a membership program. There are 250 members who buy a share in what the farm is going to produce each year. In return, they get boxes of organic vegetables every week throughout the growing season.
The farm also grows crops like red clover, oats, peas, and buckwheat. These crops are not harvested to sell and eat. Instead, they are tilled back into the soil. That provides nutrients to the soil for seeds that will be planted in the future.
Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA) Farm, Vermilion Township
The HAFA Farm is part farm, part school. Its members are Hmong immigrants from Laos and Thailand. At HAFA, they grow over 160 varieties of fruits and vegetables. Instructors teach sustainable practices that will help farmers improve their land so they can grow on it for many years in the future.
HAFA's top three crops are potatoes, carrots, and ground cherries. They sell their produce through farmers markets, wholesale, and CSA shares in the Twin Cities.
The Hmong culture is deeply rooted in agriculture. Many families farmed in Laos and Thailand for the sole purpose of feeding their families. Today members grow many mainstream crops (potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, etc.), but they also grow more ethnic produce such as bitter melon, bok choy, Thai basil, and Thai chili peppers.
Keith Marti, West of New Ulm
Keith Marti's top specialty crops are peas and sweet corn. He also raises commodity crops such as soybeans, Sudan grass, and winter rye. He plants seeds with an air seeder. An air seeder uses a strong air current to place the seed in the exact location where the farmer wants it to be planted. The air seeder lets Keith plant seeds in a wider area, faster than he could without the seeder.
Once the peas and sweet corn are harvested, they go straight to the Del Monte food company in Sleepy Eye and are canned within hours of harvest. They are then distributed across the U.S.
Activity: Farming Math
Imagine that your garden has 5 rows growing peas. If each row yields 6 pounds of peas, how many pounds of peas do you produce each summer?
Activity: If You Were the Farmer
Which specialty crop would you most like to grow? On a sheet of paper, write about the crop, why you would want to grow it, and what you could do with the crop when it is grown. Then draw a picture of the crop.
How does the food get from the farm to you? Check out the Follow Your Food videos.