Every farm has a story and an objective. Some hold their purpose in raising a family, maintaining traditions, or feeding their communities. Some are old, stretching back generations in the same family, while others are quite new, supporting a yearning to return to the land and its rhythms. Our farm gains much of its particular uniqueness in focus and objective from my mother Ann, who is a family physician.
Engaging in farming from a medical perspective means focusing on the roots of health — nutrition, environment, and lifestyle. It’s why our vision is a healthy planet and all its inhabitants. As we find ourselves in the midst of a serious pandemic, this vision becomes especially poignant yet also an incredibly tall order. With knowledge comes responsibility, and with responsibility comes critical choices.
Between the pinch of food shortages and the risk of shopping at large stores, finding a local farmer you can trust becomes an imminent priority, especially if you or your loved ones are high-risk for COVID-19. During what would usually be quiet months of the year, we found the phone ringing off the hook and our fresh aquaponics greens completely sold out. Each day I pack orders for curbside pickup at Farmstead Creamery, and each day I am greeted by folks who are so grateful to have a clean, healthy source of high-integrity food they can trust during these difficult times. I am honored to be able to do this work — do my part of making a difference for the community during this struggle — but it can also be overwhelming. As a source for approximately 250 families, we must be extra vigilant to stay healthy, safe, rested and making good choices.
Here are some of those choices, grounded in our vision and ethic, that I would like to celebrate and share with you.
Aquaponics greenhouse expansion
Several years ago, as we partnered with NorthLakes Community Clinic to provide CSA shares for patients who would benefit from dietary change, we expanded our aquaponics growing space vertically with a new array of NFT (nutrient film technology) channels above one of the raft beds. We had bought enough channels to add a second array over the other bed, but there hadn’t been enough demand to warrant the expansion and investment in the steel structure and extra grow lamps. When your maxims include no debt, you have to grow smart. But now, with a sold-out CSA season ahead and heightened local and regional interest, it was time to expand again.
The scaffolding arrived last week, and Mom and Steve have been busy in the greenhouse setting up the new system, which will allow us to grow an additional 350 or so heads of lettuce a month. It’s both exciting and daunting to be expanding the operation during a pandemic, but we know that having access to clean, healthy foods is the first line of defense, as it helps support a healthy immune system. So, grow little plants, grow!
Within a few days in early March, we ceased serving meals, shut public access to inside our farm store, and built an e-store as a whole new matrix for shopping and ordering. We were all behind the transition, working long hours to make a complete business operations makeover in a remarkably short amount of time.
Our focus to this point has been on offering access to clean, healthy, high-integrity foods to take home: produce, eggs, dairy, essential pantry items, pasture raised meats and ancient grains baked goods. Chef Kara has added frozen prepared foods like soups and pasties to help people stay stocked and well fed.
But as May is here and gloriously sunny days beckon us to enjoy the beautiful outdoors, we know that some are really missing parts of the Farmstead experience that don’t fit into the scene of the new normal. Different businesses will choose different responses moving forward, as they weigh the risks and repercussions or pursue a hope in finding normalcy. While I’m sure that many are wishing they could enjoy a breakfast at Farmstead again, we must remain cognizant that we are a farm first, giving priority to maintaining the health and safety of our diverse heritage livestock and our need to stay healthy in order to continue to supply essential foods.
So, while we’re not offering breakfast to eat at Farmstead, we’re now offering new ways for you to bring the Farmstead experience home, with new to-go choices. Kara’s beloved artisan sheep’s milk gelato is back (both in cups and pints), and as of Mother’s Day, you can now pre-order select breakfast items on Sundays for pickup. Mom’s likely been doing more cooking at home lately, so this can offer a thoughtful farm-fresh treat.
Embracing the new normal
In order to move forward with vision and purpose through these trying times, we must first be willing to admit that 2020 will not be like last summer. In the wake of this reality, all of us are offered an invitation to craft our thoughtful response to the new situation. What now needs more attention and rigor than before? What can fall away? These are all critical points for choices as we move forward together for fostering health and wellness. This process will not always be easy or even accepted, but keeping our vision in the forefront, we at Farmstead remain committed to those tough choices for a healthy planet and all its inhabitants. Stay safe and healthy everyone!
See you down on the farm sometime.
Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715.462.3453, www.northstarhomestead.com