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Garden Fresh Farms

Garden Fresh Farms

Posted on 10 April 2015 by Calvin

Garden Fresh FarmsSomething fishy is happening on Pierce Butler Rd.

Reporting and photo by MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN

A few years ago, Dave Roesser and his wife DJ had a problem: what to do with a warehouse they owned in Maplewood that was sitting idle? The business they’d run there had been sold and, in Roesser’s words, “We were looking at a clean slate.”

As a former executive in finance and accounting for Hewlett-Packard, Roesser considers any business challenge from a dollars and cents standpoint. “First I evaluate all the parameters and then I ask myself, will this make financial sense?” he asked.

These veteran entrepreneurs (the Roessers have built and sold three successful businesses) had a vision that their next venture should follow current social trends. In the brainstorming period, they kept coming back to the same four words—green, fresh, local and natural.

According to their website, “In 2010, we embarked on a mission to change urban agriculture,” which is no small undertaking. The vehicle they chose as their agent of change was aquaponics: the combination of aquaculture, or fish farming, and hydroponics, the growing of plants in water instead of soil. They named their new venture Garden Fresh Farms (GFF), and went on to create a business model that would soon win major sustainability awards in Minnesota and beyond.
Though Roesser doesn’t care to fish or garden, he “just got hooked on aquaponics.”

“I figured we could buy the right equipment, install it in our Maplewood warehouse and be up and running—but it wasn’t quite that easy. The available equipment was expensive and inefficient; in other words, it didn’t make financial sense,” he said.

Believing that problems are opportunities for learning, Roesser, along with son Bryan (now Chief Science Officer at GFF) set out to build their own aquaponics equipment. “We wanted,” Roesser said, “to increase production per square foot while using substantially less energy and water.”

They found innovative ways to farm fish and plants together in a symbiotic system, where each is helping the other. Simply put, waste water and organic matter from the fish break down to create nutrients the plants need, and the plants act as a filtering system to keep the water clean and the fish healthy.

GFF has outgrown their original Maplewood facility and built a second indoor farm in Hamline-Midway at 875 Pierce Butler Rte. The space measures 45,000 square feet, or slightly more than one acre. Roesser explained, “We divide our farm into 5,000 square foot sections, employing 2.5 full-time employees per section. We’re re-vitalizing an old industrial building, paying taxes, feeding people and creating jobs in the neighborhood.”

Roesser and his team believe that the future of farming lies in changing the food supply chain—growing affordable, organic produce right in the heart of the city. They harvest about 2,000 plants per day, five days/week, and work with distributors and sellers within just a few miles’ radius. The morning harvest is brought to the distributors early in the afternoon, and sitting on grocery shelves within 24 hours after being picked. Nutritional value is high, because the produce is fresh. Prices are competitive, as no long-haul trucking is involved.

Look for GFF products at Mississippi Markets, Nature Valley and Whole Foods stores.
GFF also has a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) option, with a pick-up site next door at Sunrise Market, 865 Pierce Butler Rte. Other pick-up sites stretch across Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Theirs is the only CSA in the Twin Cities that offers fresh food from the farm year-round, and memberships are available in 12 week increments. Because GFF’s selection of micro greens, herbs and lettuce is consistent throughout the year, they augment their CSA shares with products from other farmer/growers. Examples are Sunrise Market’s organic, gluten free pastas, fresh honey from Bare Honey, and an assortment of vegetables grown by nearby farmers.

Also, watch for a sign outside the Sunrise Market announcing the next Community Fish Day. The tanks at GFF optimally hold about 1,000 two lb. tilapia. Just like with any other kind of farming, when the “herd” get too numerous or too large, it needs to be culled.

Anyone who has ever visited a farm knows the joy of looking out over an expanse of productive land. The experience at GFF is different because you’re looking up at the rolling, green fields. “With our one acre farm,” Roesser said, “we’ll eventually be able to produce as much as we could on a 100 acre farm. We grow on the vertical plane as well as the horizontal. It’s a floor to ceiling operation with tall growing racks for seedlings, giant orbiting gardens and vertical sliding panels for established plants. The system is designed to optimize energy by placing plants very close to their LED light source. Energy efficiency will be optimized further with the future installation of roof-top solar panels.

Water consumption for GFF is a fraction of what conventional farming methods take. Roesser estimated that five gallons of water are required to grow one head of lettuce in California’s heavily irrigated Central Valley, and as little as one pint is used for the same at GFF.

All of these factors combine to make GFF’s business model highly sustainable. Roesser commented, “I like to say that the first environmentalists were probably accountants.” By his own admission, this man who still wears button-down collars seems to have found a current social trend he not only can follow, but even stay ahead of.

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Bounty + beauty: the art of Night Owl Farm

Posted on 09 March 2016 by Calvin

By JUDY MALMON
All Photos provided

As I look out the window at the colorless winter landscape, I find myself dreaming of spring and colors and weekly deliveries of fresh, seasonal vegetables.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a concept that has always appealed to me. I’m a bit of a lame gardener myself, yet I love veggies fresh from the ground, in rich abundance and variety. The anti-capitalist in me also likes the economic structure of democratizing investment costs at the start of the season and the shared risk. As a member of a CSA, I share the risk of both the rampant disasters that can befall attempts to tease food from a mercurial earth, as well as the generous bounty equally possible. In a single growing season, you can even have both.

For years I have sought out the right combination of inspiration, convenience and value from a CSA, and for a variety of reasons, we have shopped around and had occasion to try some the farms in our area. I’ve eagerly anticipated the ritual of each week’s box of surprises, and I’ve generally been pleased with the quality and breadth I’ve received. Fresh, seasonal, organic produce—what could be bad?

But I didn’t realize there could be even more. Until last year.

In 2015, we completed our first summer with Night Owl Farm, a joint venture of Midway artists Susan Andre and Rosie Kimball. They started their farming adventure in 2014, on a 20-acre tract of land near North Branch. Both were avid gardeners, and had organized community gardens, but neither had experience growing for a CSA in the past. With an abundance of enthusiasm, they jumped in. The first season, they experimented with a limited group of family and friends. This year, Night Owl Farm CSA officially launched, opening up the field to the broader public.

_MG_2685Photo left: Midway residents and artists Rosemary Kimball (l) and Susan Andre co-own Night Owl Farms near North Branch.

I signed up and quickly learned what happens when you have your food grown by artists: it becomes an exercise in transcendence. Most local CSAs deliver a standard cardboard box to their weekly customers, typically a 5/9 bushel. There are all kinds of reasons for this, like that it’s economical, and that you can stack the boxes in the truck and at the pickup site. Also, you can close them, which keeps everything inside, and protects delicate produce from getting squished. Makes sense. But also, the boxes are innately limited, in that when they’re full, they’re full, and if you need to close them to stack them, there’s no way to fit more inside. Plus, well, they’re just a box.

Artful Bounty 6768I have no problem with any of this. Only, this year, we got sprinkles, and now, those plain boxes look a little vanilla to me. Like when you get cupcakes, and some of them are undecorated, some have colored sprinkles on top. The undecorated one is good, delicious; you are so happy until you see the one with the sprinkles. Then you realize you could have more, something beautiful and special, as well as delicious. This is what Night Owl gives you.

Artful Bounty 5040Susan and Rosie eschew the traditional white cardboard box, in favor of a wicker basket. This might sound impractical, but each week’s basket is more than a random assortment of vegetables—it’s an installation! The basket is lined with a drape of colored fabric, and the veggies arranged in a visually thrilling display. And because it’s not a closed box, but an open basket, as the summer goes on and the harvest grows more copious, the basket fills to overflowing. There were a couple of times I could barely lift the thing (thank you, conveniently handled sturdy basket!), so packed it was with eggplant, cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, and other assorted delicacies.

But that’s not all; there are little touches. Every week throughout the season, we also received a small bunch of flowers, stems carefully wrapped in a wet paper towel and rubber-banded into a plastic bag, to ensure they are fresh and beautiful when we get them home. All summer long, I had a vase of these flowers on the shelf over my kitchen sink, a little wink of color and happiness every time I rinsed a dish.

Artful Bounty 7142Also, instead of the more typical emailed list of the week’s items and recipes, Rosie and Susan insert a rectangle of parchment-colored printed cardstock. It’s like getting an invitation to a gala event each week! Or a menu at a fancy restaurant, with the lineup of the day elegantly listed on the front, each item an italicized showcase. On the back—which you might not notice, as I didn’t at first, so it feels like even more of a bonus—are two recipes. The ones that I have tried have been unique and awesome.

But wait, there’s more!! Night Owl partnered with one of its neighbors, who has chickens, and offered shares of fresh, pasture-raised eggs. Even the eggs are specially packaged, like a present, in a bag with a satin bow. There also were sweet surprises, like the bag of hand-harvested wild rice, or the bunch of tiny, wild apples.

When the final basket arrived, it was a masterful finale to what had been 16 weeks of pure,
understated delight. I set the basket on the kitchen table and had to call my family into the room, to behold the breathtaking beauty of this last offering. So gorgeous, the array of colors and textures and shapes, all tucked into its enormous wicker nest. I didn’t want to unpack it, even though of course I did, to savor the feel and taste of all this magnificence. This is the transcendent moment that Susan and Rosie give from their hearts: vegetables, and nature, and color, and form, and scent, and feel, and taste, and abundance, and love. The effect is exponentially more than the sum of its parts: exquisite. Make no mistake, this is art!

As if that weren’t enough sprinkles to send anyone into a sugar coma, there is yet a final gift. I didn’t discover it until this morning, when I noticed the baggie sitting on the table, containing a rolled up scroll of paper. I’d cast it aside in my orgiastic unpacking, thought it to be the request for feedback referred to in Night Owl’s final email. Picking it up, I thought, how odd, that they would print their evaluation questionnaire on such heavy paper. And tie it with a piece of sisal. Wow, they can make even a survey a beautiful thing. They’re artists!

I rolled off the tie, pulled the paper from the bag, and gasped. I actually gasped. I unrolled a full-size print of Susan Andre’s woodcut of the Night Owl ‘logo,’ a luscious, color-saturated image of an owl and a farm, signed by Susan. I’m not exaggerating to say it brought tears to my eyes.

Artful Bounty 7093I am so filled up by this experience. It is multi-sensory, it is joyful, it is the most lovely, astonishing representation of all that life can be. I thought I was signing up for a CSA, but Night Owl Farm is so much more. It is CSA, elevated. And I am grateful, for such unexpected grace.
Congratulations, Susan and Rosie, you have created a true masterpiece!

The Midway pickup location is 1689 Hubbard Ave. To find out more about Night Owl Farms CSA program, go to their website at http://nightowlfarm.com.

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Seeds for Edmund Edible Alley germinating in Hamline Midway

Posted on 14 January 2016 by Calvin

NCFA’s alley garden will be a place neighborhood residents can forage for berries, plums and more

Article by TESHA M. CHRISTENSEN
Photos submitted

IMAG0131It may be cold outside, but the seeds for the Edible Edmund Alley are germinating.
The Edible Edmund Alley along Edmund near the intersection of University and Snelling will be a mini-forest garden.

Set in this high-traffic area of St. Paul, the garden will provide a source of free fruit to hundreds of food insecure people living in the neighborhood.

“The Edible Edmund Alley is the perfect synthesis of our garden and foraging programs. It will provide a resource that will demonstrate how to build and maintain a forest garden, teach how to identify and harvest wild foods, and grant free fruits to low-income people,” said North County Food Alliance (NCFA) foraging coordinator Maria Wesserle.

Founded in 2013, NCFA is a non-profit organization based in the Twin Cities that seeks to increase access to food and share food with people in need. Increasing access is accomplished through weekly foodshares, wild food foraging workshops, community gardening, and community meals.

“Fresh fruits and vegetables are vital to a healthy diet,” pointed out Wesserle.

“Unfortunately, a diet rich in fresh produce is more expensive than one high in processed foods, making it cost-prohibitive for many people. Fresh foods (which spoil easily) are also more difficult for food shelves and soup kitchens to carry.

“This is why North Country Food Alliance focuses on providing fresh produce to low-income communities.”

IMAG0672Berries and plums
NCFA has rescued tens of thousands of pounds of overstock food from farms, grocery stores, and distributors and donated it to people in need.

NCFA also builds gardens in urban areas in the Twin Cities. According to Wesserle, the produce from these gardens is donated to organizations that serve low-income people, such as homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and food shelves. There are currently gardens in St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Richfield.

“So far, these gardens have grown only annual vegetables – things like kale, tomatoes, and beets. However, since the start of the program we have been looking for plots that would be available for long-term projects so that we could grow perennials such as fruit trees,” said Wesserle.

In the winter of last year, a community member (who wishes to remain anonymous) approached NCFA about building a mini-forest garden on a piece of property owned by her and her husband. “After visiting the parcel and meeting with the community member, we at NCFA decided it would be a great project to invest in,” stated Wesserle.

NCFA began fundraising last fall and raised $850 for the project. The organization also hopes to receive a $400 grant from SeedMoney.

The newest garden will be located on 800-square-feet bordering an alley. Before planting commences this spring, unwanted trees such as Siberian elms need to be removed. Once that is complete, workers will amend the soil and plant seedlings.

“We plan on planting native fruit trees and shrubs such as juneberries, wild plums, and aronia berries,” said Wesserle.

Neighborhood benefits
This garden will serve the needs of the community in several ways.

NCFA will provide free educational opportunities for residents to get involved in the process of planting and maintaining fruit trees and perennials.

Donation-based foraging workshops will be offered that explain how to identify, harvest, and prepare wild foods.

The garden creates a location where passersby will be free to pick the edibles.

Plus, fruits will be donated to the Keystone Community Food Shelf based in the neighborhood.

“NCFA makes nearly all of its money from door-to-door canvassing. This is an effective way to let people know what’s happening in the area, and to recruit volunteers,” observed Wesserle. NCFA informs people about activities through social media, email lists, and flyers.

Benefits of foraging
IMAG2892Wesserle doesn’t know of any other foraging forests based in alleyways but pointed out there are several public edible forest gardens throughout the U.S., specifically one in Seattle, WA and one in Asheville, NC. There is also a permaculture plot at the Tiny Diner Farm in south Minneapolis that is privately run for the Tiny Diner restaurant.
What are the benefits of foraging in a city?

“The main benefit is accessibility. You don’t need to own a car or travel long distances to state forests or parks,” said Wesserle. “Most likely there are delicious edibles right outside your doorstep!”

Safety is a substantial concern of Wesserle’s when teaching foraging, be it in an urban or a wild environment.

“Ingesting the soil and dust of contaminated areas is the primary way people are exposed to dangerous chemicals,” she noted. “Reduce the risk of exposure by washing harvested foods, peeling roots, and peeling off the outer layers of leafy foods. Fruits tend to absorb fewer contaminants than leafy vegetables or root crops.”

NCFA typically holds six foraging workshops a year, one each month from May through October.

“The program has grown substantially in the past year, with registration overflowing and people being put on waiting lists,” said Wesserle. “From this, I would say there is a large interest in learning to forage.”

For more information, call 612.568.4585 or email info@northcountryfoodalliance.org.

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Frogtown Farm 02(1)

Frogtown Park and Farm is one of a kind

Posted on 09 September 2015 by Calvin

Frogtown Farm 043(1)Grand opening scheduled for Oct. 3

Article and photos by MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN

Now a busy inner-city neighborhood, Frogtown was once a wetland where frogs were so numerous that the area was named for them. While large numbers of frogs may not be coming back anytime soon, it’s pretty certain that birds, bees and butterflies will start to see an uptick in numbers there.

On Sat., Oct. 3 at 10:30am, the Frogtown Park and Farm will have its official dedication and grand opening. The 12.7-acre park and farm is the first of its kind in St. Paul, being both a park for general use and enjoyment and a soon-to-be, full-fledged, working urban farm. The event celebrates the culmination of years of hard work by neighborhood volunteers, staff, City of St. Paul officials, and community organizations.

To understand the significance of this event, consider that the Frogtown neighborhood has long been recognized as having a dearth of green space. No neighborhood in the Twin Cities has less. And, green space is known to contribute to the overall health of a community.

Seeing this need, long-time residents Seitu Jones, Soyini Guyton, Patricia Ohmans and Anthony Schmitz put their heads together and started to dream. Eventually, they would become known as the founders of Frogtown Park and Farm.

The new park and farmstead include the area bounded by Minnehaha, Victoria, Chatsworth, and Lafond avenues. The Sisters of the Good Shepherd had their ”Home for Wayward Girls” there from 1863-1967. The massive Gothic building that housed their order was torn down in 1969, and The Amherst H. Wilder Foundation began construction of their main campus on the site.

The foundation put their headquarters up for sale in 2008, with a strong desire that the land be purchased and used for a good purpose. Unfortunately, foreclosures were hitting Frogtown especially hard, and no one expressed interest in putting that kind of money into the community.

The founders approached the Trust for Public Land and the Frogtown Park and Farm soon became one of their first urban projects. A collaborative was formed between the community, the Wilder Foundation, the City of St. Paul, and the Trust for Public Land.

The collaborative was able to raise $4.2 million in a capital campaign. A portion of that went to purchase the land; the rest was set aside for eventual design and construction.
The land transfer took place in 2013, and a six month period of community discussions followed. All of the partners involved were committed to this being a community-led project. According to Eartha Bell, executive director of Frogtown Park and Farm, “more than 1,000 people attended the community discussions and offered up their thoughts.” The San Francisco firm Rebar was contracted to facilitate the design process.

Frogtown Farm 038(2)Photo left: Frogtown Park and Farm will cover 12.7 acres in the heart of Frogtown. Once completed, there will be a 5.5-acre farm with working gardens, demonstration gardens for education, a produce stand and more. The 7.2-acre park will include green space, an amphitheater for public programs, walking paths, sledding hills and some of the best views in town.

“We’re starting at the most basic level,” Bell continued, “and are building this farm from the ground up. We’ve had more than 100 semi-truck loads of good, rich dirt brought in from Dakotah Roots, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community’s organics recycling facility. This will give us 12” of healthy topsoil to start with, and soon we’ll be able to amend our soil on a continuous basis with our own compost.”

Frogtown Farm 02(1)Photo right: Eartha Bell, executive director of Frogtown Park and Farm, stands in front of one of the more than 100 semi-truckloads of compost brought in to get the farm started.

The park and farm are a work in progress, and development will continue in stages over the next three years. By the grand opening, one of the three formal entrances, the one at Milton St., will be completed. Local metal artist Gita Ghei is creating all three of the entrances, using input from neighborhood residents about what they would like to see.

The basic design infrastructure for the land will be in place by Oct. 3, including all walking paths. A 96’ X 36’ hoop house will be erected, with late-season vegetables in the ground. Staff will be available to discuss next steps, such as an on-site market stand selling produce to local restaurants and co-ops, and the farm’s crop rotation plan. Neighbors will be able to learn about gardening in the Farm Commons next year, exchanging labor for shares of fresh produce.

Events on opening day will start at 10:30am with a blessing of the land. Dakotah elders, Sisters of the Good Shepherd, and representatives from neighborhood cultural and religious groups will represent the many faces and beliefs of Frogtown. At 11am, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and Councilmember Dai Thao will address the audience. At noon, near-by restaurants will provide a free mini-taste of Frogtown. Tours of the land will be given continuously from 12-2pm.

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2015 Hamline Midway Spring Festival planned June 16

Posted on 09 June 2015 by Calvin

By KYLE MIANULLI

Gather your friends and family and join your community for the Hamline Midway Spring Festival Tues., June 16, 4-8:30pm in the fields behind Hancock Recreation Center and Hamline Elementary, 1599 Englewood Ave.

Come explore and enjoy all that makes Hamline Midway such a vibrant and thriving urban community. Fun and festivities for all ages and interests will abound. The event is free and open to the public. Explore, discover and connect with more than 60 exhibitors at the Community Expo, including area businesses, nonprofits, schools, artists, neighborhood groups and more.
There will be three opportunities for you to do some good deeds at the festival:
—bring a non-perishable food item to donate to the food shelf with the Franciscan Brothers of Peace;
—scrounge up your old electronics to donate with Tech Dump; and
—drop off your old shoes for Shoe-Away Hunger.

Whether you bring one or all three, you’ll get a voucher for a free hot dog donated by Clayton Howatt of Verus Builders, LLC.

Music
The main stage will be alive with music all evening. Ashley DuBose will headline the performances from 7:30-8:30pm. A St. Paul native, DuBose gained national recognition as a contestant on NBC’s The Voice in 2013. She has since gone on to build a local and national following and continues to bring her image-positive R&B, funk and jazz stylings to fans.
Other performances will include:
—the Irish Music Group Tipper Road, known for bringing new life to traditional songs from the Emerald Isle;
—the award-winning Americana powerhouses Urban Hillbilly Quartet;
—African drumming and dance from Babatunde Lea;
—the neighborhood all-star jazz and Brazilian duo Mira and Tom Kehoe with Maliya Gorman Carter Juggling and performing;
—spoken word and performing artists with the CANVAS Teen Arts Center, and more.

Acoustic blues-folk singer and guitarist Daniel Rumsey and the Arborators will also be roaming the festival grounds with even more music to enliven your evening.

Food
Bring your appetites and sample the traditional Spanish cuisine of A La Plancha food truck. Seasonal and fresh ingredients are the backbone of the fair from this truck. Just look for the orange truck featuring a picture of a Mexican Wrestler, or “Luchador.” With vegetarian, as well as meat-eater options, A La Plancha will satisfy all appetites.

Fry Mama’s Fry Bread—the only food truck owned and run by Midway residents—brings a delicious twist to traditional native fry bread. With both sweet and savory options, you’ll have a choice of delicious toppings to adorn your fluffy flying saucer of fry bread. Owned by Barbara Ritt, former proprietor of Cookie’s by Barbara on Snelling Ave., Fry Mama’s Fry Bread bridges the old world with the new in a delicious fusion of Midway and Native pride.

Urban Farm & Homestead Fair
Whether you tend a plot at a community garden, keep a window box of herbs, or are just looking for new ways to bring the best of the country to your own urban oasis, you’ll find tons of resources and information at the Urban Farm and Homestead Fair.

Plant some seeds and watch them grow with the North Country Food Alliance. The University of Minnesota Bee Squad will be on hand with information about pollinators and what you can do to help make the Midway a “pollinator paradise.” Learn everything you need to know to start your backyard chicken coop with resources and supplies from Eggplant Urban Farm supply, who will bring a couple of their feathery friends for you to meet. You can also bring a soil sample to have tested by the University of Minnesota Soils Lab.

Catch up with all that’s happening at the urban farmstead over at Frogtown Farm. Ramsey County Master Gardeners will be on hand to answer all your home gardening questions. The Midway Green Spirit Community Garden will also be present with tips and tricks and to share what’s up this year at the garden. Are you trying to reduce your waste? Try your hand at the Zero Waste Sorting game from Eureka Recycling!

Kids Activities
The parents of our two community schools, Hamline Elementary, and Galtier Community School, have teamed up to host enough kid-friendly activities, crafts and games to keep every member of the family busy and creative. From arts and crafts, to face painting, lawn games and more, everyone is likely to leave with at least some glitter in their hair and big smiles on their faces. Get your bounce on in the bouncy house, provided by St. Paul Parks and Recreation, or test your mettle on the Climbing Tower and grab a glimpse of the community festivities from on high.

Issues & Opportunities Forum
Hamline Midway is full of passionate, informed and hard-working people who want to see our community and city thrive. What better way to discuss the issues that matter to you, and the opportunities to address them right here in our community, than in an outdoor living room. This space is specially designed to be conducive to passionate and constructive dialog focused on solutions and education.

Pull up a seat and hear what’s happening to alleviate the risk associated with train cars carrying Bakken Oil through our communities. Learn about the work being done to advocate for high-speed fiber optic internet as a public good in the city with Connect St. Paul. Connect with the Hamline Midway Environmental Group, and learn about the exciting environmental initiatives they have underway in the neighborhood. Learn more about the Hamline Midway Neighbors for Peace, and the Midway Progressive Women’s Network, as well.

Movie Theater Showings
If you’re looking to take a break and cool down during the festivities, hop inside the Hancock Rec. Center gym and pull up a seat for select neighborhood documentaries by Hamline University Students in David Davies’ Visual Anthropology Class.

And then, at 8:30pm, unwind with a special movie theater showing of the hit movie, “Paddington.” which will play on the Parks and Recreation Movie Theater Screen in the gym.

Bake Sale
After you fill up on dinner from one of the delicious food trucks, head to the Hamline Midway Community Bake Sale. Expert home-bakers, as well as area businesses,  will have a wide variety of delectable sweets for sale. Gluten-free, or gluten-full—there will be baked goods for all! Proceeds will be donated to a fund for next year’s festival and to support various neighborhood initiatives and programs.

Our Sponsors and Partners Make this Event Possible
This year’s Hamline Midway Spring Festival is made possible entirely by the generosity of our sponsors and the dedication of our partner organizations. Special thanks go to our major sponsors Hamline University and the Turf Club. The partnership of St. Paul Parks and Recreation and the CANVAS Teen Arts Center in organizing and producing this event has been integral to the scale and success of the planning process, as well.

This event would also not be possible without our Neighborhood Supporter sponsors: Neighbor Works, Greg’s PC Repair, the Melo Family: Mim, Fred & Baby Zoe, Chuddwerks, Verus Builders, LLC, The Friends School of Minnesota, Hamline Elementary, Galtier Community School, Tech Dump, Lloyd’s Pharmacy and the UPS Store.

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River of Goods 3

River of Goods, Terrybears helping to renew neighborhood

Posted on 09 June 2015 by Calvin

Two businesses share site with urban farm and community garden

Reporting and Photos by TESHA M. CHRISTENSEN

River of Goods 1Photo left: Twenty-five years ago, Terry and Margie Commerford began selling teddy bears and brass items out of their truck in the Twin Cities. Today they’re established in the Midway area with two thriving businesses, and they’re helping renew the neighborhood.

When Terry and Margie Commerford considered where they wanted to locate their businesses, they knew one thing.

They wanted to be where people live.

Their companies, River of Goods and Terrybears Urns and Memorials, had been housed in a commercial area in a suburb at one time, but they didn’t like it.

“We made a choice to be in a neighborhood instead of an industrial park,” observed Terry.
In Jan. 2015, they marked three years at their 946 W. Pierce Butler Rte. facility.

Over the past 25 years, they had rented warehouse and office spaces throughout the Twin Cities, including the Midway area, and were ready to own, recalled Commerford, who lives in South Minneapolis. Their realtor connected them with the St. Paul Port Authority, which was working to revitalize the property.

According to Terry, it had been a swamp, then a dump. Then it was filled in. A bowling alley was built. The seven acres became crime-ridden, and the Port Authority stepped in. They cleaned it up and sold it to the Commerfords for $1.

Stipulations of the agreement are that they employ at least 60 and hire from the neighborhood.
“I really believe in urban renewal,” commented Terry.

River of Good 2In addition to housing their two businesses, the property is home to the Our Village Community Garden on the southeast and Stone’s Throw Urban Farm on the west.

Photo right: In addition to housing the two businesses (River of Goods and Terrybear Urns and Memorials) owned by Terry and Margie Commerford at 946 W. Pierce Butler Rte., there is a community garden and urban farm on site.

“It’s nice to have the community here,” Terry remarked. “I truly enjoy the neighborhood.”

Using land for more than lawns
“This plot is an example of taking advantage of land that would otherwise just be lawn,” stated Sarah Garton of Stone’s Throw. “It supports a local business. It would otherwise just be a chore for someone else.”

River of Goods 3Photo left: Sarah Garton of Stone’s Throw Urban Farm harvests red oak leaf lettuce from the 1-acre plot at 946 W. Pierce Butler Rte. “This plot is an example of taking advantage of land that would otherwise just be lawn,” stated Garton.

Stone’s Throw expanded this year, and now uses about one acre. In all, they farm two and a half acres at 14 different lots through South Minneapolis and Frogtown. A wide variety of fresh greens, heirloom tomatoes, and herbs are grown and sold through CSA shares and farmers markets. It’s a for-profit farm that also engages in community work, according to Garton, which makes it different from many other farms.

Terry pointed out that another benefit to having the building at 946 W. Pierce Butler Rte. is the increased efficiencies they get from combining two businesses in one building.

River of Goods supplies local gift and floral shops with unique decorating products and light fixtures. They serve catalog buyers, retail shops, corporate buyers, TV shopping networks and more.

Terrybear Urns and Memorials designs and provides handcrafted, affordable cremation urns. Customers include distributors, funeral homes, families and pet owners.

They were like cowboys
In some ways, Terry and Margie are a long way from where they began.

“We started selling stuffed animals out of trucks on street corners,” recalled Terry.

When they began importing brass items from Korea and India, they continued hawking items on the streets. “We had this weird combination of brass giftware and stuffed animals,” said Terry.

They decided to move into the Eden Prairie Mall, and then opened a brass store in Burnsville. What followed was 15 years where they opened and closed about 400 retail stores. During one holiday season, they set up and took down 22 stores. Malls liked them because they helped fill space and looked permanent, noted Terry.

They had two stores that were the exception: the Tiffany Collection Store at the Mall of America and the River of Goods store at Hwy. 280 and Como.

In time, they had to make a choice to continue in retail or become wholesalers.

They opted to focus on being wholesalers.

For Terry, managing a workforce that was constantly turning over wasn’t what he wanted to do. He prefers to build a team and nurture a stable workforce.

They also decided to hire someone else to serve as CEO and president 13 years ago.

“That was the best thing I’ve ever done because it brought a lot of discipline and professionalism to the business,” Terry said. “We were like cowboys running around opening businesses and working on street corners.”

Today, Lavina Lau is the CEO of both River of Goods and Terrybears (which split into separate businesses about 15 years ago). Margie is the on-air talent for Shop NBC. Terry is the sourcing specialist and frequently travels to India and China, where they have 15 full-time employees.
“I’ve got 2 million miles on Delta alone,” Terry observed.

“I love it because I love it”
He has fun doing his work, and greatly enjoys the various facets of his job. “I love it because I love it,” Terry explained.

He especially enjoys traveling to work with vendors in India, some of whom he has worked with for 25 years.

He also appreciates the design component of his work.

Recently, they moved the manufacturing of their lily lamps from a facility in China to one inIndia that can produce a higher quality product at a lower cost. “Now the customer will end up with items at a lesser price, and they will be delighted,” said Terry.

“I love delighting a customer with an item that is the best in its class.”

Downton Abbey Lane
In January 2015, River of Goods launched a new line at the Atlantic Gift Show, one based on lighting found in the PBS television series Downton Abbey.

The line includes 25 original designs, including decorative floor and table lamps, wall sconces, accent lamps, pendants, and chandeliers. There are one-of-a-kind and hand-crafted stained glass, crystal pendants and chandeliers, elaborate shades with tassels and fringe, and ornate bases.

“Everyone kept saying we have lamps that look like Downton Abbey,” explained Terry. So they reached out to the show and embarked on a one-year process to create lighting fixtures that closely resemble those on the show.

“They’ve been really good to work with,” observed Terry. “It opened a lot of doors for us.”
He pointed out that their number one concern when it comes to lights is always that they are safe. Next come good designs and pricing that fits.

“We don’t carry lamps you’ll find in the big box stores,” said Terry.

As wholesalers, they primarily sell direct to businesses, but individuals can purchase some of their items on their website: www.riverofgoods.com/.

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IOC3_15BigNews

It’s CSA Share season!

Posted on 16 March 2015 by robwas66

IOC3_15BigNewsHave you ever wished that you had access to the freshest produce available? Thought about how you would go to the Farmers’ Market more if you just had the time? Or, wish you would get that garden that you have had planned for years, actually off the ground–but you never seem to get around to it?

Well then CSA Shares might just be for you. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Community Supported Agriculture is an arrangement where consumers “choose their farmer” by buying shares in a farming operation on an annual basis. In return, the farmer provides a weekly supply of fresh, natural produce throughout the growing season (approximately June to October).

Participating farms choose locations within the metro area  where they bring their shares every week and the consumer goes to a specific place, at a designated time, to pick it up.

Most of the farms focus exclusively on fresh produce, although a growing number also offer shares for other food items such as meat or eggs. Different farms also grow different produce, and the selections change each week as the various options come into their season.

One farm that has a drop off in the Hamline Midway area is the Brown Family Farm.

The Brown Family Farm was started in 2012 by Ben Brown. They participate in a couple of farmers markets and they also have a couple roadside stands, in addition to their share program, which is their main focus.

They deliver a box of produce every week for 17 weeks from the end of June through the middle of October. An additional service is to provide recipes and storage tips in weekly CSA newsletters, to aid in using produce and herbs that may not be as well known.

A “share” refers to a box full of produce, with two box sizes available: a half or a full share. Each week different produce comes into harvest, and whatever is harvested is what you can expect in your box. So, throughout the season the selection will transition from the early cold weather crops like sugar snap peas, lettuces and kale to warmer season crops like cucumbers, corn, potatoes, tomatoes, and peppers, back to cold weather crops like squash, cabbage and pie pumpkins. Every week the variety and quantity of produce will vary; this is one of the perks of a CSA share.

To extend the season, they have second plantings of zucchini, beans, and pickles so that our produce continues longer in the season.

In the case of the Brown Family Farm, for example, a Full Share (a box holding approx. 2 grocery bags full of produce) is $575 for the entire season…in other words the equivalent of about 34 bags of produce. You can purchase a half share for $375. The drop off spot is a location in Midway, on Hubbard Ave. near Hamline University. There are a limited number of shares, so if you are interested, sign up soon. Shares are often all gone by the end of April or before.

The Brown Family Farm is actually located in Big Lake, in Sherburne County. The soil in Big Lake is more like sand, so they plant rye in the fall and the spring to till under and provide essential nutrients to the soil. Horse and cow manure is also used to amend the soil. A no-herbicide farm, they weed by hand or with a hoe.

CSA shareholders get first priority in the distribution of the produce. Once all of the CSA boxes are filled, they use the remainder for roadside stands and farmer’s markets. They donate squash for thanksgiving suppers and if there is a surplus of produce, it is brought to their local food shelf (CAER Community Aid Elk River).

If you are interested in learning more about the Brown Family Farm, or are interested in their share program, you can get more information through their web site at www.brownfamilyproduce.com. You can fill out a Share application on the web site, or you can call Jodi at 952-836-5263 or Ben 612-666-2181 for more information.

There are more than 50 family farms that have CSA Shares and distribute in the Twin Cities metro area. However, it is sometimes difficult to find out how close their delivery is to your home. Some farms do cooperate closely with co-ops, so that is one location to check if you want to find a CSA distribution point near your home. Another option is to check out www.landstewardshipproject.org for more information about CSA, and a listing of some of the farms that serve the state with CSA shares.

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