A great weekend & a promising future

Last Saturday was a PRI day for me. In the morning I bussed over to the U of M’s Student Organic Farm to attend the Harvesting & Handling Produce practicum of PRI’s urban farming certification program. We got a comprehensive tour from Student Programs Coordinator Courtney Tchida and learned just the right way to harvest different crops.

Some of my favorite useful tidbits:

Marjoram should be snipped off with scissors; other herbs, like cilantro and dill, can be picked off the plant throughout the season, and more leaves will grow back.

You’ll know turnips, radishes, onions and beets are ready to harvest when they start bulging out of the ground.

Urban farmers watching Courtney harvest lettuce

Most greens, like spinach and lettuces, can be cut off with a harvest knife at the growing point, so that more can grow back.

The leaves of kale and chard (and brussels sprouts, if you don’t want the whole plant) should be twisted off the stem.

To harvest carrots, fennel, potatoes, and leeks, a pitchfork should be used to break up the ground before pulling out the root.

Melons will sometimes just fall off when they’re ready to eat! Otherwise, you can smell the blossom and know it’s time to harvest.

Calendula: an edible flower that serves as habitat for beneficial insects

We also got to taste some delicious things — sun gold tomatoes, which I now believe are the most delicious tomato, nisturtium, a spicy edible flower, and pea shoots, which taste shockingly like peas.

The concept of edible flowers is new to me, so I thought it was neat that the Cornecopia farm had a few varieties.

I learned about some edible weeds, too: Pineapple weed, which is like chamomile and can be used to make tea, lamb’s quarters and pig’s weed, which can be used in salads.

Courtney offered a lot of post-harvest advice as well, encompassing the whole spectrum of successful farming. She uses buckets full of cold water to soak the harvested plants, in a process called hydrocooling.

Hydrocooling an unusually small amount of lettuce

This eliminates the field heat and allows the produce to stay fresh. Greens should be harvested earlier in the day, so that they have less field heat to begin with.

She told us how she packages the produce for the farmers’ market, wrapping rubber bands around green onions and putting them in plastic bags, using containers for collards, etc.

I loved that Courtney was giving us such practical advice — throughout the morning, we really got a look into the workings of a small organic farm that’s been in operation for seven years. Courtney, who’s been there the whole time, has been through a lot of trial and error, has learned what works and what doesn’t.

Now, she’s sharing what she’s learned and spreading organic farming practices to us. How great is that?

Cat mint: a perennial that bees love. Lining the row is the Dutch white clover that the farm uses for many of the paths -- their best material so far, as it works well for weed competition, supporting beneficial insects, and nitrogen fixation.

And in the afternoon, the PRI June Gathering at Concrete Beet Farm proved stimulating and delicious! We showed up in the rain, snacks ready, skeptical that anyone else would show up. In the end, it was fabulous.

The excitement at the gathering, the people, the ideas, the cheesy kale chips, were contagious. I talked with Alissa about her raw food website, which I  simply can’t fail to direct you to, with the concrete beet farmers about their season (going well!), and with Jo and Jerry Brandt, whose farm I can’t wait to visit.

The permaculture community here in the twin cities is growing, and I couldn’t be more excited about it. We’ve been coming up with ideas to keep the energy going.

Here are some of them:

1) Work and learns: Getting people out there. I’ve really found, through my part-time job on a farm this summer, that hands-on work is the best way to learn. We’ll be collaborating with operations throughout the area to get interested people learning by doing.

2) A farm tour day: A day of farm tours, caravans, and awesome opportunities to connect with the local sustainable ag community.

3) A harvest festival! We’ve got plans in the works. Think: sweet concert meets fresh produce. Stay tuned.

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About PRI Cold Climate

PRI Cold Climate is an organization centered in Minneapolis that promotes permaculture throughout the region, fostering sustainable lifestyles and communities. We design and demonstrate permaculture systems specific to colder climates like ours, and provide leadership and resources for the permaculture community.
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