The summer of 2010 was a “watershed moment” for Featherstone owner Jack Hedin, in terms of understanding the immediate impact of global climate change on agriculture. He wrote an excellent essay that was published as an op-ed in The New York Times (I recommend reading it; excerpt below) indicating that even his great-grandfather, a pioneering farmer, would be surprised by the erratic weather of the decade. He pointed out that a Minnesota climatologist concluded that three “thousand-year rains” had occurred in the area in seven years.
The Featherstone Farm CSA
Featherstone Farm has been Certified Organic since 1997, and offers Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares to 30 drop-sites (see Twin Cities locations below), with produce for 29 weeks in 2015. It is based on 140 acres of farmland in the bluff country of southeastern Minnesota, between Winona and Lanesboro.
The farm produces around 70 varieties of fruits and vegetables for distribution to natural food stores, wholesalers and CSA members throughout the region. It offers CSA Shares for summer, fall and winter, and is already more than halfway to its summer membership goal for 2015.
Featherstone is distinguished by its connections with members and long sustainable business practices (see “An Ancestral Focus on Sustainability” below). It offers a weekly newsletter from the farm, a membership to a CSA menu-planning service (Local Thyme), and social media feeds, including blogs and Instagrams. If you want to vicariously live the sustainable farmland experience, this is a good place to start.
2015 Minneapolis CSA Pick-Up Locations
(some sites fill quickly, because of limited space to store shares, so members should sign up soon in order to claim a spot at their choice pickup site; pickups to CSA members are on Wednesdays and Thursdays)
(more than 30 available regionally; find other locations here)
- Birchwood Cafe South Mpls: 12:30pm-9pm
- NEW: Calhoun Square’s Peoples Organic Cafe: time tbd
- Dunn Bros 50th and Xerxes South Mpls: 3pm-8:30pm
- Eastside Food Co-op NE Mpls: 1:30pm-9pm
- Oxendale’s Market Nokomis Mpls: 3:30pm-10pm
- People’s Organic Cafe (Galleria) Edina: 12pm-9pm
- Seward Co-op South Mpls: 12pm-9pm
May 16 Open House and Plant Sale
On May 16, Featherstone will offer an open house and plant sale, with starter vegetables and herb plants to set spring into gear. Take a walk on the grounds, tour the greenhouse, bring kids for activities and snacks. Plants generally for sale ($2 each or $10 for a 6-pack) include:
- Salsa pack (3 paste tomatoes, 2 sweet peppers, and 1 jalapeño)
- Several varieties of Tomatoes, Peppers and Eggplant
- Basil, Kale, Cauliflower, Parsley, Cilantro, Broccoli
On June 20, it will open its farm to a u-pick Strawberry Social.
The Impact of Climate Change
A series of storms in August 2007 produced a breathtaking 23 inches of rain in 36 hours, essentially erasing Hedin’s farm from the map because of flooding. This is what inspired his op-ed published in The New York Times. Here’s an excerpt:
We found butternut squashes from our farm two miles downstream, stranded in sapling branches five feet above the ground. A hillside of mature trees collapsed and slid hundreds of feet into a field below. The machine shop on our farm was inundated with two feet of filthy runoff. When the water was finally gone, every tool, machine and surface was bathed in a toxic mix of used motor oil and rancid mud.
…If global climate change is a product of human use of fossil fuels — and I believe it is — then our farm is a big part of the problem. We burn thousands of gallons of diesel fuel a year in our 10 tractors… I accept responsibility for my complicity in this, but I also stand ready to accept the challenge of the future, to make serious changes in how I conduct business to produce less carbon….
But my farm, and my neighbors’ farms, can contribute only so much. Americans need to see our experience as a call for national action. The country must get serious about climate-change legislation and making real changes in our daily lives to reduce carbon emissions. The future of our nation’s food supply hangs in the balance.
Modern Sustainable Practices
The most visible and ambitious of Featherstone Farms investments was a 38kv photovoltaic array, which was installed on the machine shed in Fall 2011. This system produces over half of the electricity consumed in the farm’s packing shed, machine shop, offices and irrigation plant.
Featherstone received a USDA grant to upgrade pastures at the Peterson Farm in 2011, to reduce runoff and protect the Root River watershed. Featherstone has transitioned more prime acres to organic management, and allows a longer, soil-building crop rotation to take root. The farm has simply grown much more efficient over the years, allowing more vegetables to be produced per gallon of diesel fuel consumed.
An Ancestral Focus on Sustainability
Founded in 1994 by Jack Hedin and Jenni McHugh, Featherstone Farm draws its name and focus on environmental sustainability from the Featherstone Township homestead (80 miles upriver), where Jack’s great-grandfather Alexander Pierce (AP) Anderson farmed and planted trees in the 19th century.
By the 1920s, Anderson was farming nearly 500 acres, and experimenting with conservation tillage and grain cultivars. Generating its own energy and fertility and feed, this original “Featherstone Farm” was highly sustainable.
Anderson saw the destructiveness of pre-dust bowl agriculture in the area. He was keenly sensitive to the richness and diversity of the high-grass prairies and woodlands that he had helped to plow and chop in his youth. As a botanist who trained at the University of Minnesota as a young man, he learned about the vastness of what had been lost. He became an early conservationist. When he returned to Featherstone Township in midlife, he planted tens of thousands of trees and shrubs on his farm “to replace what [he] destroyed.”
He self-published in 1932 a memoir, “The Seventh Reader,” a collection of verse and writings on the prairie homesteads of his youth. It was this memoir that became a huge inspiration for his great-grandson Jack Hedin, who discovered it during his college days.
The book is full of musings on nature and agriculture and humanity’s place in the environment. As his great-grandson later wrote: “Above all, it gives a rich glimpse into this man’s curiosity and generosity of spirit… qualities which we try to bring to the present 21st century Featherstone Farm.”
- GreenBiz: good short article about sustainable farming, and why big and small have an important leadership role to play
- MPLS Green Guide: Why Local Food Is Important — a Climate Change Reality
- MPLS Green forum notes: 10 Steps for Sustainable Living
- Giving Tree Gardens: How Our Urban Center Is Vital