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Apr 02, 2023

Deconstructed: Agege Bread from Solomon's Bakery

Yeah, sports teams are cool, but have you tried being a farm superfan?

by Stephanie March

June 7, 2023

6:50 AM

Photos courtesy of HAFA Farm

Colossal cucumbers from HAFA (above) are often made into the delicious Hmong cucumber refresher Dib Kaum.

Given the thickness of our past winter, we might have to adjust our normal excitement for the early days of the farmers’ market. We Twin Citizens love to cram in on those first warm(ish), heady days, forgetting that almost nothing has had a real chance to grow. I can honestly say my mind expects to see tables bursting with greens, but my heart will be happy with tiny radishes and some spring lettuce, maybe even just hothouse hanging plants, as a teaser for what's to come.

We are three years beyond the pandemic shutdown, when farmers lost their restaurant clients and market stalls, forcing many of them to become marketers and e-commerce businesses overnight. Since farming isn't something you can open and close on the whim of a politician, the ramp up to some form of normalcy for farms was always going to be a bit longer than for other small businesses. But this year feels, dare I say, promising.

There's an excitement around farms and farming that I haven't really felt since the early-aughts days of the farm-dinner explosion. Maybe it's farmers being able to trust the market, maybe it's the fuller grasp of tech and how they can connect to the consumer, maybe it's just time for farming to be the cool thing we like about our state.

The Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA) is cool. It estimates that Hmong farmers make up more than 50 percent of all vendors at metro farmers’ markets. The grassroots organization, which is a collective of family farmers, had been renting 155 acres of land in Dakota County since 2013. Just last October, 16 families purchased the land, making it the first Hmong-owned-and-operated farm in the country.

"As many of you are aware, long-term land access has been the greatest obstacle for Hmong and BIPOC farmers to build wealth," the organization posted on social media last October. "The purchase of the HAFA Farm is a significant milestone for HAFA, not only does it provide land tenure for our current HAFA farmer members, but it will ensure land tenure for future generations to come."

HAFA is already a part of some very cool initiatives. It supplies a program called Veggie Rx through M Health Fairview, which puts fresh food into the hands of patients in need. It also provides healthy and culturally appropriate produce for in-home early care providers, teaching young kids about agriculture and where food comes from.

CSAs are cool again! Community-supported agriculture is the OG subscription box. Common Harvest in Osceola, Wisconsin, was one of the first to offer prepaid produce boxes to the metro area back in 1989. Interest soared through the ’90s and early 2000s but eventually waned. The pandemic drove interest up again, but many feared it was a flash reaction instead of a reignition of the movement. But the folks at The Good Acre, a hub for local farms, are thinking outside the box. While CSA shares have evolved from merely veggie hauls to include perhaps an egg share or some farm-raised meat, The Good Acre is the first I’ve heard of to include a book share. Thanks to a partnership with local Milkweed Editions, you can now opt to have a monthly book about food or farming added to your box.

Being in a relationship with your farm is cool. I remember reporting on multiple CSA fairs back in the 2000s where you could speed-date a whole room of farmers and choose the one that fit your family. There are still a few out there; the annual Seward Co-op CSA Fair (on April 29 this year) is still going strong. But there's a new generation of matchmaking happening at Greener Pastures. The local nonprofit has started a pay-what-you-can concierge service for farmers and eaters. All you do is give a little information about what you’re looking for in a farm, meet virtually with the organization's local food and farms specialist, and they will get you connected to local, humane, sustainable farms from which you can purchase food directly. It's easier than actual dating, and at the end, there's rhubarb.

Yes, it's early, and there are a lot of things still waiting to push up into the sun, but I’ve planted optimism this year—that's a local crop I know.

Food and Dining editor Stephanie March writes and edits Mpls.St.Paul Magazine's Eat + Drink section. She can also be heard Saturdays on her myTalk107.1 radio show, Weekly Dish, where she talks about the Twin Cities food scene.

June 7, 2023

6:50 AM

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