Assessing & Planning
After closing on their new farm in the fall of 2008, plans and preparations for the next season began in earnest. Laura and Adam nearly tripled the amount of land they farmed, from just over two acres on the rented land to six acres on the new farm.
The current fields occupy a relatively small proportion of this gently rolling 40-acre farm. Adam and Laura estimate that their maximum tillable area is 15 acres of clay loam, and they don’t anticipate putting more than 10 acres into vegetables. The remaining tillable area is earmarked for eventual perennials and fruit crops. The rest of the farm contains mixed grasses, woodland, and wetland. The wetland complex presumably prevented this particular section corner from being easily integrated into the adjacent fields of conventional row crops (Figure 6).
Farmers seeking land need to know what kind of soil they’ll be dealing with. To get a map of soil types for a specific property, contact the local Soil and Water Conservation District or USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. Click here for an office locator. Soil data are also available through the Web Soil Survey.
Once farming is underway, SARE's1 Building Soil for Better Crops is an essential reference. This one-of-a-kind, practical guide to ecological soil management was updated in 2010.
1Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, a program of the USDA
Figure 6: The general layout of Laura and Adam's farm overlaid onto a 2007 aerial photograph from McLeod County GIS.
Although Laura and Adam’s new farm had been operating as a CSA under the previous owners, the CSA was smaller and some of the farm’s infrastructure needed updating to accommodate Loon Organics. Laura and Adam added a lean-to onto the north side of the existing barn to serve as a packing area (Figure 7). They also made other improvements to the barn, including addition of an 8’ x 12’ cooler, a concrete floor, shelves, and an electrical system upgrade (Figure 8). The irrigation system and irrigation pond did not require any improvements, but they did purchase a pump from the previous owners.
The house on Adam and Laura’s new farm was relatively small and built in the early 1900s. It had been partially remodeled and was in relatively good condition (Figure 9). Although it needs work, Adam and Laura found it provided them the necessary balance between functional living space and the overall affordability of the farm. If the home had been larger or newer, or if it had needed major improvements, it could have been a deal breaker for them.
Figure 7: The new lean-to provides Adam and Laura with an area for post-harvest handling and packing.
Figure 8: Adam and Laura also added shelves and other improvements to the barn to enhance post-harvest handling and packing.
Adam and Laura quickly started becoming a part of the surrounding community. In 2009 they had 55 local CSA members, many of whom were subscribers of the previous owners. Most of the local CSA members came to the farm every week to pick up their share of produce. Laura and Adam also hosted a few gatherings during the season (Figure 10). (Note that in 2009 they had an additional 70 CSA members, some of whom picked up their weekly boxes at the farmers market in Minneapolis [see Marketing Models] and others at a drop-off site in Chanhassen, a suburb southwest of the Twin Cities.)
Other nearby farmers have pastured livestock and use organic farming methods, so Laura and Adam automatically had some peers in the neighborhood. They have found that even among their conventionally farming neighbors, to whom their crops may seem a little eccentric, respect is given to anyone who works hard.
Figure 9: The farmhouse meets Adam and Laura's needs and helped to make the farm affordable to them.
Figure 10: Adam and Laura help put the "community" in "CSA" by hosting on-farm gatherings.