Twin Organics: Cultivating Wildness

Twin Organics: Cultivating Wildness

Prairie Grown

Eva, my four year old, and I took a little field trip last week 50 miles to the south of our home in the St. Croix River Valley to my family’s other organic farm.  Twin Organics is located just outside River Falls, Wisconsin and is owned and operated by my twin brothers, Jacob and Andrew Helling.  Jacob and Andrew were instrumental in helping Hillside Prairie Gardens resume larger growing practices in 2010 and are now branching out to their own place to grow organic veggies for restaurants in the Twin Cities area.  They’ve rented 5 acres these last two years on what used to be a grass fed cattle operation, and they share space with a group of jovial Kenyan farmers wielding hand tools to the north and Clover Bee Farm, an organic CSA and market grower, to the east.   They won’t stay here forever, but for now, it’s the home of Twin…

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Homestead Spring

Homestead Spring

Red Brush Farms

If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.
~J.R.R. Tolkien


Eva, my three year old, and I spent this past weekend at the family homestead.  We packed up Friday morning and made the five hour trek across Minnesota to the eastern plains of the South Dakota prairie.  Waiting for us were fields of freshly tilled dark earth, young seedlings firming their roots into the earth, and welcoming arms strong from spring planting.   We found garlic fields inching toward the sky by the day and peas and turnips and beets content to drink up moisture by the minute, ever anxious to grow into their full potential.  Life on the farm picks up speed as the month of May winds down.  Summer is coming.


Hillside Prairie Gardens, the family farm, has been in operation for upwards of 30 years, but in the last few  things…

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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?

Eat your veggies.

Eat your veggies.


I talked to a grown man last week who, when asked how he felt about his nutritional habits, responded with, “Well, I don’t eat vegetables. They make me gag and throw up.”


There is a lot of brokenness in the way first world countries interact with food today. At this point, that pretty much goes without saying. But being able to say you don’t eat vegetables? (a staple of the human diet since the beginning of the human experience on earth) Ever? Because you don’t care for them? It’s like saying you don’t brush your teeth – ever – because you just haven’t found the perfect shade of turquoise toothbrush. It doesn’t make sense. How did we get to this place where a human being can be say, “I don’t eat vegetables” and still be alive to tell about it?

Perhaps planting an organic garden, or supporting someone who does and who will share their harvest, should be required. Kind of like taxes. You pay your taxes. You plant your garden. You eat your veggies, and you learn not to throw up. Because that makes sense.

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

A good mantra to live by, I think.  Thanks for the wise words, Michael Pollan.


If you need more ideas on how to change your eating habits to include more plants, check out the following:

Healthy Eating Plate – Harvard’s take on what to eat.

Wellness Today – The Institute for Integrative Nutrition’s nutrition article online library.

Healthy Eating Education, in the form of recipes – From The Edible SchoolYard Project.

Shop at the farmer’s market.  Plant a garden.  Learn to cook.  Avoid food that has a barcode…but if it does come in a package, make sure the ingredients list is short and recognizable.    In short, eat your veggies.  And if you can, know where they came from and how they were grown.