They might be up a creek, but farmers Jonathan Stensgard (28) and Jordan Flynn (30) are doing just fine at Pine Creek Farms.
The cousins followed through on a scheme they hatched while through-hiking the Appalachian Trail to start a sustainable, high-yield, low-impact organic farm. They now raise more than 20 crops, from sweet corn to kale, while also bottling their own water kefir on a 1.3-acre, USDA-certified organic farm near Peterson, Minn. They’ve launched a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, built a greenhouse, and purchased new land near Elgin. Their produce and kefir have a presence at the People’s Food Co-op in Rochester, the Bluff Country Co-op in Winona, and at the Rochester Downtown Farmers Market.
The farm’s best feature might be the lifestyle it creates, one both cousins were "pining" for. "I think we both wanted something that would give us a feeling of being free…while helping the environment as well," says Stensgard.
What was the process of becoming a certified organic produce farm like?
Jordan: We arranged for an inspector to come to the farm so they could assess things such as our borders with conventional farms and potential run off and erosion problems. They asked us for some kind of paperwork or statement showing that the fields haven’t been farmed conventionally for at least three years. … An inspector comes out to the farm every season for a yearly evaluation.
In 2016, you had 23 CSA members. How important were they to your success?
Jonathan:[It] was very helpful. With that money we built a movable hoop house that we put our tomatoes under. We saw a giant jump in our tomato yield, but more importantly the quality. The CSA program is very important for small local farmers because it gives them an income at the time of year when they need it most.
What are some of the pertinent details about your 2017 CSA?
Jonathan:Our CSA runs for 21 weeks straight starting in June and ending in the later part of October. Every week we deliver a box full of produce that we harvested either that day or the day before to a delivery point. Our drop off points this year are at the People’s Food Co-op in Rochester, Bluff Country Co-op in Winona, and the Rochester Farmers Market on Saturdays. We offer a full share for $399 and a half share for $200. We always try to include the staples veggies that everyone loves such as tomatoes, onions, peppers, sweet corn, lettuce, and potatoes, but we also try to include a more interesting variety such as eggplant, leeks, and Napa cabbage.
One of the products Pine Creek Farms has built a reputation on is your water kefir. Can you describe it?
Jonathan:Water kefir is a carbonated probiotic drink that is known to help aid digestion as well as your immune system. Your body needs this beneficial bacteria to operate correctly. It is fermented with fresh fruit for taste. I would say that our original flavor tastes similar to an iced tea or lemonade. We have started making a new flavor that we plan on trying out at the Farmers Market this spring. It’s cranberry lemonade.
What are some of the ways your farm reduces its environmental footprint?
Jonathan:Being a farmer to us means being a steward of the land and with that comes caring for it with the respect it deserves. This includes minimal tillage practices, irrigating with drip tape so that there is no water being wasted, heating our greenhouse with a woodstove, using ground fabric for weed suppression instead of plastic, and not using harmful pesticides or fertilizers that end up in our rivers and well water.
Jordan:Another ongoing challenge for us is finding ways to reduce the amount of outside inputs we use on the farm such as gasoline and compost. Some of the ways we do this are, reducing the use of the tractor, using our chickens manure and compost we collect from a restaurant we sell produce to as a source of fertility, and growing all of our own transplants from seed.