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Couple gives new life to old farm

Now that Mike and Jody Lenz bought the farm of their dreams in Stanton Township, they plan to share their bounty with the community.

By early this spring, the Lenz family hopes to have 30 local members committed to reaping the harvest of fresh vegetables all summer without having to do any gardening.

The couple will do all the work in the gardens of their 10-acre Threshing Table Farm, and offer shares to area members as a community supported agriculture (CSA) farm.

"It takes a huge time and financial commitment to start a farm," Mike said. "Most young farmers can't afford to do that. This (CSA) is a way we can get into a farm. We did a lot of research before making this decision. CSA supports local farms."

Generally, a CSA is a community of people who pledge support to a farm, with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the benefits and risks of food production.

There are many variations on this theme. Some CSAs deliver produce weekly to their members in nearby cities, while others invite their members to come to the farm and pick and/or pickup their produce.

Mike and Jody plan to have a box of fresh vegetables (to feed a family of four) available weekly to members with recipes and a newsletter containing helpful information.

Mike visualizes CSA members bringing their families to the farm and having picnics under the shade trees on nice days.

"We want to keep the produce here and have members come to the farm whenever possible," Mike said. "We want members to experience the farm, to see where their food comes from and meet the farmers that grow it."

Jody expressed the CSA concept as "an opportunity for members to reconnect with the land."

There will also be weekly pick-up sites in Dresser, where Mike works as an engineer for Tenere.

The Lenzs completed a Farm Beginnings class, which was sponsored by the Land Stewardship Project, a non-profit organization based in Minnesota.

Mike laughed that he went "kicking and screaming" because he was concerned about the financial aspects of committing to a CSA.

"I was hooked after the first class," Mike said.

After taking the class, the Lenzs did a trial CSA last summer using their yard and a few neighbors' yards. They had nine members and said they "learned a lot."

As part of the Farm Beginnings class Mike and Jody were able to spend last summer mentoring with Dan Guenthner and Margaret Pennings who run the successful CSA Common Harvest Farm in Osceola.

Mike and Jody feel confident that CSA is a life-style they can embrace and maintain.

"He'll (Mike) do the paperwork and help in the field," Jody said. "I'll run the farm day to day."

All natural harvest

The Lenz farm "will strive to bring locally grown, natural and sustainable food to our members' tables," Jody said.

While the Lenz farm will garden organically, they will not be certified organic growers, Jody explained.

"In order to be certified organic you need three years of growing records, which we obviously won't have in the beginning," Jody said. "It's also a lot of paperwork to get certified. We are 'all-natural' and will be growing organically, but not certified organic."

Jody explained that there are three parts to sustainable farming.

"The first part of sustainable farming is to treat the earth so it will be there for generations," Jody said. "We do that by not using harsh chemicals and by using all-natural fertilizers and compost. We also make sure erosion is not an issue."

The second part of sustainable farming, according to Jody, is to be financially sustainable.

"In the CSA program memberships are paid up front to give the farmers operating costs," Jody explained. "The members pay a fair price for the food and work which keeps the farmers going."

Third, is lifestyle, said Jody.

"We need to be sure we can continue doing the work without burning out," she said. "We are choosing to have 30 members at this time because we feel that number will fit into our life right now."

Local, local, local

Mike and Jody, a former elementary school teacher, have long dreamed of raising their three children, (Claudia, 5, Malcolm, 4, and Jonas, 1), on a working farm.

The Lenzs did quite a bit of research before determining where they would locate their CSA.

"There were no CSAs in the New Richmond area," Jody said, "although there are several in Osceola who mostly supply to the Twin Cities. We took that as a good sign that there may be a need here."

"CSA supports local farms," Mike said. "This is our way of re-establishing a dormant farm and not letting 10 acres be developed.

"We're putting another Wisconsin farm back into production," Mike said. "It's all local."

Mike said the money they make from the farm will be spent in the local economy. The Lenzs buy their seeds from two suppliers, one in Wisconsin and one in Woodbury, Minn. The fertilizer they buy is natural and comes from Cannon Falls, Minn. Even the potting soil they purchase is from providers either in Pepin or Minnesota.

Jody and Mike agree their new home is a "great community" and they are pleased at the warm reception they have received since moving in.

"We have met more people here in a shorter time than in several years living elsewhere," Jody marveled.

"We'd like to keep it local," Jody said. "We want this to be a community farm where people feel free to bring their kids and grandkids and reconnect with the land."

How does it work?

"We raise the kind of food that your moms and grandmas may have raised and a few they didn't," Jody said with a smile.

The initial list of produce includes potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, peas, peppers, eggplant, some herbs, and a variety of beans. Some things take time to establish

"Wednesdays will be our busiest day because we will be picking vegetables. Thursday will be pick up and delivery day. We also have a U-Pick program where people can come pick bulk amounts.

"The shares (regular memberships) are meant for eating right away, the U-Pick program is more for saving for the winter - canning and freezing."

If neighbors or friends want to go in together for memberships, the Lenzs said they are willing to work something out.

"A couple acres have been fallow for some time," Jody explained. "We will plant those two acres this spring. The soil there is rich and free from chemicals."

Before purchasing the farm, Jody and Mike had the soil in all the fields tested.

Organic or sustainable farming methods are major components of CSA farms, which have been steadily growing in numbers and popularity across the U.S. for the past 20 years.

The Lenzs will concentrate on farming the land that is already "natural" while working the other fields with compost and organic fertilizers to prepare them for future seasons.

Anyone interested in memberships for the summer of 2008 is encouraged to sign up by April 1.

Threshing Table Farm may be reached by calling 248-7205 or via e-mail at threshingtablefarm@frontiernet.net

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