As a history graduate and Milwaukee librarian, California transplant Jason Riess discovered the writings of Wendell Berry and Michael Pollan. Almost instantaneously inspired, he decided, “I have to do something.” In 2009, he quit his job and joined a farm in western Wisconsin. [For a similar tale of inspiration, see the MPLS Green Guide “Why Local Food Is Vital.”]
While working at Foxtail Farm, a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operation near Osceola, Wis., he transplanted eggplants and weeded onions alongside Juli Montgomery, a Twin Cities native who had organized around tenants’ rights issues in the Bay Area. Within a few months, he popped the question: “Do you want to farm together?”
They married that year on Foxtail, a week later than planned so they could take the first class in a Farm Beginnings course — a Land Stewardship Project (LSP) initiative that, since 1997, has provided future farmers with training in innovative business planning, marketing and goal-setting.
In a profile about the couple on the LSP website, the author wrote that the couple laid out a five-year plan in their final Farm Beginnings class presentation in 2010 that actually shocked some of their classmates. The order they mapped out: “work on a few farms, buy a house in Minneapolis, start a family, sock away more money, and in general put off buying a farm until they were good and ready.”
As Juli said, some classmates thought they should start right away. “We did have a lot more practical experience than many of our cohorts [both had worked at several farms by then], but the bottom line was we just didn’t feel right rushing into farming… We learned that making mistakes can cost a significant amount of money. People were losing their marriages over their differences as they farmed together. There were many voices saying ‘make sure that you keep coming back to your values and checking in with each other.’ That planning piece was really important.”
“It wasn’t just knowing how to put seeds in the soil and plant them out in the field and pick them and deliver them,” said Jason. “There were a lot of business dimensions, and there was a quality-of-life dimension to this work we wanted to get right.”
And thus… Steady Hand Farm was created — after deliberative planning and training that included Jason’s work as field manager for Wozupi, the organic farm of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community in Prior Lake.
The farm is situated in the mixed pine birch forests and lake country of Polk County near St. Croix Falls and Amery, WI, with the Apple River to the south. Steady Hand is a founding member of Hungry Turtle Farmers Cooperative, which offers produce at Twin Cities Natural Food Co-ops, farmer’s markets and restaurants.
As the couple conveys on its website: “We come to this work with a passion for messing in the dirt, growing safe, clean food, and with a concern for the food system. We want food that is safe to eat for our family and community. That means food raised without synthetic chemicals, and mindful of all the inhabitants of our farm – humans, animals, bugs and smaller bugs. We also want our food to reach all kinds of people. Healthy, safe food ought not be a luxury. As our business progresses we will look for opportunities to expand our markets to neighborhoods with less access to fresh produce.”
To that end, the 70-acre Steady Hand farm not only offers 18 weeks of produce, for full and half CSA shares (see details below), but offers add-on shares to support two food causes:
- The “Seedlings for Change Share” sponsors a flat of vegetable starts for Project Sweetie Pie’s (PSP) program, which empowers youth by raising food in North Minneapolis urban gardens. Specifically, they are making healthy, safe food available on the Northside, where organic fruits and vegetables are more scarce. Steady Hand will raise some of their vegetable starts for the 2015 growing season.
- “The Bee Share” helps establish an acre of permanent habitat for honeybees and wild pollinators on the farm, in partnership with Pollinate Minnesota.
More than half of its 2015 shares are sold; find details about 2015 membership here.
Minneapolis Pick-Up Locations
delivered Wednesdays; some locations are limited in capacity for holding shares, so choose your preferred site before it fills… other locations here
- Mother Earth Gardens
- Peace Coffee in Wonderland Park
- Sovereign Grounds Coffeehouse
- Sun Street Breads
- Seward Cafe
- Mother Earth Gardens
- 41xx 10th Avenue South
- 47xx Oakland Avenue South
- 23xx Minneapolis Ave
- 43xx Xerxes Avenue South
- 5xx 2nd Street Northeast
- Lakewinds Food Coop awarded Steady Hand a Lakewinds Organic Field Fund grant for a greenhouse heating system. This in-floor heating system delivers heat to the roots of growing transplants. Jason indicates that though the system is expensive, costs savings should be realized over time, with some analysis showing a 50% reduction in fuel use. As part of its grant, the farm will evaluate its heating costs compared to the more common forced-air furnace.
- On the labor saving side, Steady Hand is using a paperchain pot transplanter. “In this system, we raise seedlings in specially designed paper pots in the greenhouse. Once the ground is ready, and the plants are mature enough to set out, we will transplant them using a specially designed contraption. Crops like onions, lettuce, even beets and spinach, which can take quite a bit of time to transplant for a whole crew can be laid out in minutes.”
- A flame weeder will be used on crops that can be difficult to weed and are susceptible to weed pressure. “You can run a flame weeder over empty beds, or over pre-emergent, slow-to-germinate crops, like carrots and beets, and kill the weeds a day or two before the crop springs out of the ground.”
- Steady Hand will use dairy manure-based compost on some of its acres. “We use Cowsmo compost, from Cochran, Wisconsin. Compost adds some fertility, but more importantly builds the soil environment.”
Cover crops also will be used to build resilience into its soil. “The tillage practices required for annual vegetable production can wear out soil — breaking up structure, removing nutrients, and leaving the soil bare. By using cover crops we are feeding the microbial community, and building and feeding the soil. We will use a buckwheat, sorghum sudan grass and a blend of peas and oats.”