By YES! Coordinator Jim DeVries
A blustery day in January is not the ideal time to tour farms to learn about local food production, but with the right combination of people and places it can be an awe inspiring event. On the 22nd of January, five students from Carlton High School’s YES! team and two adults did just that. We started the day at the Food Farm in Wrenshall, MN. The Food Farm is an 18 acre organic farm which operates as both a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm with over 190 members and a production farm supplying restaurants and food co-ops within 100 miles of the farm.
Janaki Fisher Merritt was our tour guide and second generation owner/operator of the Food Farm. We toured the fields first, learning about the benefits of crop rotation and why that is critical in organic farming for pest control measures. Janaki also gave us a “PhD level” course on soil composition and what are the simple yet organic things that can be done with poor soil to increase yields. We then traveled into the greenhouse to learn about seed starting and see some of their reclaimed “junk” that was turned into seed starting chambers. Here millions of seeds are germinated that will be next year’s crop.
One of the recent additions to the Food Farm is a state-of-the-art root cellar that allows them to store thousands of pounds of root vegetables for their winter CSA shares and production sales. The YES! team from Carlton had some good questions and was truly inspired to start a school garden after this tour.
Following the Food Farm tour, the group met with Brian Bluhm, Executive Director of the Iron Range Partnership for Sustainability (IRPS) who led us through a role play of a school garden committee. Each student took on the role of a key player in the community that would have a vested interest in the school garden and had a discussion on the benefits and concerns of starting a garden. It was a great exercise to see the different perspectives and how they may impact the project. From this activity, key players were also identified that would be necessary to gain as allies to make this project a success.
Lunch was a local foods event provided by Jim-N-Jo’s Northland Katering at the Cloquet Forestry Center. The carrots, potatoes and parsnips we had for lunch came from the Food Farm. Pork chops and chicken were raised on a farm just south of Cloquet and the wild rice bread was hand harvested by the Fond du Lac tribe five miles up the road. It is truly amazing that you can have a fantastic meal of local foods in the frozen north during the month of January.
After lunch we traveled north five miles to visit with the gardeners at the Fond du Lac Ojibwe School. The school currently operates seven gardens on their school grounds. Each garden serves a specific learning objective for the school. The one that was most talked about was the “Journey Garden“ where students obtained use of a 4X4 raised bed that they are responsible for all summer. Many of the students created enough produce out of these beds that they were able to sell the surplus at the Cloquet Farmers Market in August.
At the end of the day, everyone who attended was looking forward to spring when the seeds would be planted for the new school garden at Carlton High School. Here’s to healthy soil, ample rain (at night of course) and sunny days this summer, so high quality food can be served in the Carlton High School cafeteria next fall. Good luck Carlton High School YES! team members!