Cultivating Community: St. Croix Valley Food Swap

Cultivating Community: St. Croix Valley Food Swap

Last fall I read an article in Taproot Magazine about the Portland Preservation Society.  The goal of the society is to provide a forum for swapping homemade food — in their case, mostly canned goods.  They meet monthly; usually in people’s homes, in each other’s gardens,  and even sometimes at local businesses to talk food, food preservation, support each other’s efforts in living sustainably and go home with a variety of things that they probably wouldn’t have made themselves.

It made me want to move to Portland and join.

And since I actually like Minnesota winters and have a community and little piece of land that I am extremely grateful to call home, it seemed like the next best thing to moving across the country to swap homemade food was the start a local group.

Enter the St. Croix Valley Food Swap.

The plan in my mind is to gather a loose collective of St. Croix Valley (eastern Minnesota and western Wisconsin along the St. Croix River area) food/sustainable living enthusiasts to meet monthly to swap homemade goods — though participation is certainly open to anyone who wants to join, regardless of geographical area.  So, if you live in Portland and want to travel to Minnesota to swap, you are most welcome. Continue reading “Cultivating Community: St. Croix Valley Food Swap”

Shopping With Integrity

Shopping With Integrity

How do you feel about visiting your local large, big box grocer? I don’t know about you, but I tend to dread most things about such an act: from driving to its location perched just off the highway to piloting the car (and a car’s a must…these establishments are typically not pedestrian friendly) through the football field sized parking lot to dodging traffic on foot to get to the front doors to navigating a cart through isle after isle of brightly colored packages, searching in vain for something that fits with my family’s organic, non- processed food preferences and then scanning what I do find through the automated check- out line while the people behind me wait impatiently because my apples are rolling around because I don’t like to put them in the plastic bags the store provides. In short, it’s stressful, over stimulating and isolating all rolled into one “convenient” experience. I typically leave big chain stores feeling depleted even though the goal upon entering was to procure some nourishing, life sustaining food. I leave feeling like a consumer; like just another one of the numbers on an economic check list.

Matthew Matheson, Flickr/CC
Matthew Matheson, Flickr/CC

Yesterday I had a few unexpected hours to myself in the afternoon, so I figured I’d use the time to get some things done that are easier to do without a toddler in tow. I needed some flour, some broccoli (our toddler’s veggie of choice these days) and some cream. I needed to clean the bathroom, do the laundry and bring in some firewood. I thought about heading to the local chain store on my way home from dropping Eva off at her grandparents’– it is right on the way and the act of going in and purchasing a couple items would have been a quick detour. It would have been over and done in 15 minutes, and I would have been on my way to the next thing on my list.

Continue reading “Shopping With Integrity”



Trays of yellow, red, orange, green and pink tomatoes shine under the morning sun. Bell peppers of the same colors are piled high and purple eggplants and beets peek out from around wooden boxes of long, slender green and purple beans. Carrots the color of a sunset fill more trays. Leafy bunches of basil, oregano, thyme and parsley provide an aroma to inspire any aspiring chef. The display table of a farmer’s market vendor in early September is much like a work of art– and it is a sight that tells a story of hard work, dedication to a piece of land and the love of a simple and sustainable lifestyle.  And it provides plenty of ingredients for a weekend of putting up the harvest.

There is something undeniably real about taking plants that were grown from local soil , chopping them up, mixing them together, cooking them down and putting them into jars to be enjoyed in the depths of winter. In an era where one can get any type of food at any time during the year, there is something more real about not indulging in the “get it now” attitude and the unsustainable way of living that punctuates so much of the “developed” world. What if growing (or knowing the grower) and perserving food ourselves was our default, much going to the grocery store or Target tends to be? What if shopping meant waking up early to get first pick of the produce on Saturday morning? What if food meant gardens, pastures, and a freezer full of frozen fruit, veggies and sustainably raised meat?  What if convenience food meant popping open a jar that spent time in a pressure cooker or snacking on fruit that once lined trays of a food dehydrator?

This past weekend was our annual food preservation family gathering – the goal each year is to preserve most of the fruits and vegetables we will need to get us through the winter and early spring before things start growing again in the Midwest. This year we succeeded in canning jar after jar of beets, salsa, tomatoes,  and apple sauce; we froze peppers, basil pesto, raspberry and plum jam and zucchini bread; we dehydrated eggplant, more tomatoes, peaches, hot peppers and herbs. The work was simple-harvest, chop, mix, jar and boil, freeze or dry. But through this simple work, a rhythm that is missing from a world of offices, supermarkets and interstates is always rediscovered. A sense of belonging to the earth, gratitude for what the earth can provide and appreciation for the hands that cultivate it is rekindled. As the shelves fill with jars, relationships deepen, feelings of accomplishment settle on tired bones and living a simple but authentic life becomes more of a reality.

What if every weekend was like that?

Farm Fresh

Farm Fresh

It’s summer in Minnesota, where I live.  And summer in mid-west America means that farmer’s markets, CSAs, roadside stands, u-pick berry farms, and community gardens are in full swing.  We tend to celebrate the re-engagement with fresh foods around here because in this part of the world, winter is long and the growing season is short.  Some of us have greenhouses and high tunnels and grow lights to extend the season, but the days when tomatoes and peppers and lettuce thrive outside with only the sun above and the soil below are days to savor.

Where are you getting your produce this summer?  What takes you into the field to pick berries instead of down a grocery store isle?  What helps you wait for market day to restock your crisper drawer?  What makes you prioritize weeding your home garden over watching television in the evening?  How do you support your local farmers?  If you ARE a farmer, how do you take care of yourself as you care for your farm?  And most importantly, perhaps, what recipes do you look forward to making when things growing outside start to become abundant? (some of my favorites are found in this Prairie Grown recipe series)

Share your wisdom, and may we all enjoy the fruits of the season as we support a sustainable way of being on the earth.



Growing Season

Growing Season

Sometimes I need only to stand wherever I am to be blessed.

~Mary Oliver

As February gives way to March, I start thinking about seeds. Which leads to thinking about soil, planting the seeds, tending the plants, and the resulting harvest. Most large grocery stores in Minnesota, where I live, have fresh produce stocked all the time- even in the depths of winter. But that produce comes from Mexico and California and New Zealand and isn’t so “fresh” by the time it arrives in Cub Foods. So despite the convenience of being able to walk into a store and get whatever I want, whenever I want it, I choose to embrace the benefits of sourcing fruits, vegetables and other food items from places closer to home. Or at home, in some cases. I try to do the bulk of my shopping at farmer’s markets and a small locally owned grocery to supplement what is harvested from the garden. If I didn’t have the space or time or desire to tend a garden, I would probably be a member of one of the many CSAs (community support agriculture) that serve my community.

There’s nothing like going out to your yard or patio (or even windowsill) to pluck a juicy red tomato from a vine or pick some lettuce for a salad. Anyone can do it-you don’t need a green thumb or years of experience or a 30 acre farm. All you need are some basic tools, a pot or spot in the yard with good soil, some seeds or seedlings, light, water and patience.

For help in getting started with your own growing season, check out this growing guide, or head to your library to borrow a book on gardening. Many community education programs offer gardening classes, as do local extension services, through the master gardener program. But your best bet? Plant something and see what happens. Some things won’t grow. Last year none of my hot pepper plants came up. And some things will grow and then wilt before ripening, or get eaten by bugs. Or deer. But some things will grow and thrive, and it will be amazing. Trust me.

Need some seeds? Seed Savers Exchange, located in Decorah, Iowa, is a non-profit dedicated to saving and sharing (non-GMO) heirloom and open-pollinated seeds. I get most of my seeds from them, in addition to the seeds that we swap with neighbors and those that are gifted by my organic veggie farming family.

Gardening not a good fit? Most communities have some kind of farmer’s market where fresh vegetables, eggs, honey, meats and all sorts of other local products can be found.

And better yet, consider becoming a part of a CSA (what’s involved in CSA membership?) to directly support a farm or garden in their mission to provide healthy food to the community.

To learn about your CSA options, farmer’s markets and other sustainably produced food in your area, visit Local Harvest or the Eat Well Guide.

There is such abundance to be found right where we are. Down the road at the market. In the neighbor’s chicken coop. Or in the yard, in about three months.

I invite you to join me in the garden, or in supporting your local farmer this year!

Earth is here so kind, that just tickle her with a hoe and she laughs with a harvest.

~Douglas William Jerrold, A Land of Plenty