Shadowing organic farmers

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October 11, 2010
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie
Some days when I’m sitting behind my computer, I fantasize about being an organic farmer.

I picture myself picking gorgeous heirloom tomatoes in the sunshine and then taking time for an afternoon nap before feasting on an amazing dinner. In my fantasy, it’s a somewhat leisurely existence that involves lots of snacking and hanging out with my farming pals.

A few weeks ago I paid a visit to Tiny Planet Produce, an organic farming operation near St. Croix Falls, Wis. The farmers live in my grandparents’ old farm on Highway 8 — a discovery I made last summer when I met them at the Kingfield Farmers Market.

The folks behind Tiny Planet Produce — Andrea and Benjamin Hopper, a husband and wife team, and their friend July Rauls (aka Country Lou) — recently gave me a tour of the farm. It didn’t take long before I decided my little daydream about life on the farm did not square with reality. I quickly discovered that I’m far too lazy for such a lifestyle and much better suited for my desk-bound job in the city.

During the growing season, the Tiny Planet Produce farmers are essentially working nonstop. They sell produce at a farmers market on Saturday and another one on Sunday, work on wholesale orders Monday and Tuesday, harvest for their CSA on Wednesday, deliver produce for the CSA on Thursday and then prep for the farmers markets on Thursday. Most days they get up around 5:30 a.m. and work until 9 in the evening.

Besides the Kingfield market, the appear at the St. Croix Falls Farmers Market and recently served the Northeast Minneapolis Farmers Market. They also provide produce to Open Arms, the Red Stag Supperclub, the Chef Shack and Anodyne Coffeehouse.

So how do they keep up their energy for all this work?

“Lots of veggies and Red Bull,” explained Benjamin Hopper during the interview a the farm.

The most challenging aspect of the organic farming business for Tiny Planet Produce this season has been dealing with all of the weeds. They use a hoe and their hands to pull out most of the weeds — a tremendously labor intensive and time consuming task for the farmers.

Despite the physically tasking work, the Tiny Planet Produce trio finds their work very satisfying. “[Organic farming] is something completely necessary and crucial to our survival,” said Rauls, who joined the Hoppers this summer at the 17-acre farm near Deer Lake.

According to the farm’s latest blog post, they have big heirloom tomatoes available by the bucketful and melons “ripening to perfection with the sweet taste of summer.”

They recently opened a small roadside stand to sell their produce. Other fall offerings include eggplant, green and red peppers, other types of tomatoes, corn, storage onions, winter squash, garlic and some other produce available earlier in the season, too — broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, mixed greens and spinach.

In July, Tiny Planet Produce got a shout out from Rick Nelson in the Star Tribune for some of the more unusual vegetables, such as lilac-tinted cauliflower, lemon cucumbers and torpedo onions.  

The Hoppers and Rauls have worked on organic farms all over the country. The three met in Port Townsend, Wash.

When asked where the idea for the name Tiny Planet Produce came from, Andrea Hopper said: “Everywhere we move, someone is from where we’re from. It’s such a small world.”