On Saturday, September 28th, a group of 30 people from Fargo-Moorhead area toured some of the small farms and local foods highlights of northern Big Stone County, thanks in part to a mini-grant from Minnesota's Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program of the USDA. I think that this might be a first for our county. Even some local folks were surprised that the roads go both ways from Fargo and that a busload of people would spend an entire day checking out our small farms and local foods. It was a great day- organized by the tireless farmer Noreen Thomas from Doubting Thomas Farms in the Moorhead area.
The tour began at the Russ and Theresa Swenson farm just east of the Big Stone County line. The Swenson's grow garlic on a market scale as well as raising both milk and meat goats. They make a variety of goat cheeses on their farm including mozzarella, garlic and chive flavored hard cheeses, and soft ricotta type cheese. In Minnesota you can produce and sell cheese from your farm, but the only way to purchase it is to take a trip to the Swenson's farm. From our experience, it is worth the drive!
From there the tour went to The Cabin Café where Doreen Winston provide a lunch of homemade barbeque pork sandwiches and salads made from local produce- cabbage for coleslaw, fruit, local tomatoes, zucchini, and peppers. The lunch was served as a picnic at The Apple Ranch on Big Stone Lake, where the group had the opportunity to tour the orchard and buy locally grown apples, namely the Honeycrisps and Haralsons that are currently ripe.
From there the tour went to the Dan and Michelle Moberg vineyard, named Juanita's Vineyard after Dan's mother the late Nita Moberg. The delicious and cold-hardy Marquette grapes (from the University of Minnesota) are at perfect ripeness and the group had the opportunity to spend time walking in the vineyard and harvesting grapes to eat on the spot and to take back home with them. In addition, the Mobergs had samples of the wines they have made as well as grape jellies.
The final stop was the Mike Jorgenson family farm. The Jorgenson's have put a portion of their farm into pasture and are raising grass-fed beef, both Irish Dexters and Lowline Angus. They also have a University of Minnesota organic edible bean variety trial on their farm that includes both market classes like kidney and pinto beans, and specialty beans like cranberry and eagle's eye. Two U of M graduate students were there to both explain the field experiment and to begin harvesting some of the plots. The trial is to help select heirloom bean varieties that grow well in Minnesota conditions.
One aside from this trip, noted by this author, is the role of the University of Minnesota in the crops on these farms. Bette Johnson, owner of the apple ranch, made a point of telling the crowd that all of the nine varieties of apples in her orchard were developed by the University of Minnesota (though she did note that the more recent varieties that the U has released are not as accessible as past varieties). Likewise, the Moberg's noted in describing their vineyard operation that the three grape varieties they grow were develop at the U of M. The Jogenson's demonstrated first hand how the U of M continues to work with farmers to develop new crop and hopefully new markets.
Overall, the day was a success and many in the group hope to return. Already some have asked the Moberg's to invite them to help harvest grapes next year. They found the vineyard peaceful and the work "therapeutic" and would like to volunteer. Upon leaving, the group asked if there were places in Big Stone County where they could hold retreats and stay for more than a day. With places like the Beardsley Lodge open, it is hoped that more tourists will discover the hidden and not hidden treasures of Big Stone County. It is gratifying to see outsiders appreciate the beauty and the local foods that our area has to offer.