Karl Foord, Extension Educator - Horticulture
Photo 1: Some of the plastic tunnels that provide optimum growing conditions on the Untiedt Vegetable Farm
If you are not already a member of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), I highly recommend that you consider becoming one. To be a member one pays an up front fee and receives weekly a box of currently maturing vegetables for 17 weeks of the season. This prepayment helps the farmer to achieve better cash flow for the operation and the member/shareholder gets a greater understanding how their local food is produced here in Minnesota.
To better understand where my food comes from I attended my CSA Farmer's field day. It was an enlightening experience. Not only did I see where my food comes from but also listened to Jerry Untiedt discuss how he handles various issues such as pest control and water management. I was especially impressed with the system developed for water management. All the water that runs off Jerry's plastic tunnels (Photo 1) is channeled into a natural wet area that acts in a holding capacity. When Jerry needs the water back, he pumps it back from the wet area and waters his crops.
You can see from the photos that Jerry's soil is quite sandy. With the amount of rain we have had this spring a great deal of applied fertilizer would simply have been flushed through the system and end up in our waterways. Note the sweet corn field (Photo 2) and the green plastic under the crop. This has been placed there to avoid such a loss for the farmer and then pollution for those downstream. I was very proud to know that the food I am eating is produced in a system that has been developed to avoid such problems.
Most of the vegetable acreage is under plastic providing optimal conditions for growth. This being among others: 1) lack of rain water falling on the leaves and potentially creating disease problems, 2) protection from the strong winds that buffet and damage the plants, 3) an enclosed space permitting the use of beneficial insects to control pests - in an open field they are more likely to disperse than protect your plants, and 4) keeping the plants within an optimum growing temperature - especially critical given Minnesota's unpredictable weather patterns.
To make optimal use of space, a number of the crops are trellised such as tomatoes (Photos 3 & 4) cucumbers (Photo 5), as well as cantaloupe (Photo 6). Other crops that cannot be trellised also do extremely well in the tunnels (Photo 7).
Jerry has honeybees (photo 8) and bumble bees on site to provide pollination services.
Jerry has realized that the winds in Minnesota can play havoc with plastic houses. To provide protection he has surrounded the farm with fast growing trees that slow the wind down (Photo 9). In my opinion, Jerry has been extremely innovative and environmentally sensitive as he goes about producing superior produce.
Adopt a farmer and get a first hand experience of where your food comes from.