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Rushford Village grows rural progress


Thu, Jan 26th, 2012
Posted in All Progress Edition

CSA food share assortment.



Begun in 1997 in the southern Winona County area of Wiscoy Valley, Featherstone Farms is a key component to rural progress. Certified Organic in 1999, the farm began leasing land in the heart of Rushford Village in 2005. As fate would have it, the flood of 2007 "wiped the farm off the map." In recovery, the farm moved its base operations to the current Village location and proceeded to expand, little by little, and now has two full-length seasons under its belt.

"We're incredibly lucky to have landed in this particular area," says company co-founder Jack Hedin. "It's one of the most remarkable horticultural areas in the whole state, if not the country. The soil and hydrological features... I've never seen anything like it," he enthuses.

Providing what Hedin calls "bread and butter crops," along with several years of experience and knowledge in the industry, Featherstone has brought certain recognition to the Village. As it continues to expand, both geographically and in new ventures, it is fortunate to have found a foothold at a time when organics, sustainability, and eco-consciousness are fresh ideas for American consumers.

With the desire to raise healthy food through diversity and with sustainable methods, Hedin has found great joy in both the growth of the farm and the strength of the relationships with its customers.

The farm currently offers CSA (Consumer Supported Agriculture) shares in the crops it produces. "CSA is a model for cooperation between farmers and consumers, in which households 'subscribe' to a season's worth of fresh produce with a single investment in the spring." In addition to receiving a wide array of fresh fruits and vegetables, which stood at more than 50 crops in 2010, members are invited to participate in educational and community-building events at the farm.

In 2010, Featherstone hosted both an open house and a plant sale in the spring. As the year progressed, local residents and CSA members were invited to participate in such happenings as the Strawberry Social, the Fall Festival, and Thursday farm market days. Selections of their product were also commercially available on the shelves at Rushford Foods. Featherstone is serious about its commitment to the community in which it thrives.

As if that wasn't enough, in 2010, Featherstone embarked on a partnership with the American Food Shelf Network and the Harvest for the Hungry program. With donations from around the region, the program is able to purchase locally and organically grown produce which is then distributed free of charge to those facing hunger in the Twin Cities area.

The staff at Featherstone has grown to match the seasons. While it employs many locals, it is typically half comprised of a family from Mexico who lives in the community, beginning each spring and continuing through the fall. "They are our foundation," explains Hedin. "They have years of experience and provide a foundation of field work and understanding of fresh-market produce." Hedin is equally proud to share that the farm has become one of only four farms in the nation to be certified domestic fair trade, a move that he hopes speaks to the overall values and ethics of the farm.

In late 2010, Featherstone purchased the former Dennis and Ruth Peterson farm, just 2.5 miles from their current location. The farm boasts 118 acres, 35 of which are prime "vegetable land." The farm also presents growth opportunities to Featherstone in the form of woodlands and pasture. Hedin is enthusiastic about the possibility of pastured livestock, such as beef and poultry, as well as orchards. "Diversity is a key component of sustainability," he adds. "In essence, we need to be smarter and think sustainable with things like cover crops and pasture."

More progress is on the horizon for Featherstone as Hedin is excited at the prospects of adding both a Winter Carnival and the possibility of a pick-your-own option for consumers. What's more, Featherstone hopes to repay some of what it's gleaned from the offerings of their location and its people. "This is an agricultural community. I'd like to think we're helping to broaden what happens here."

For more information about Featherstone Farms, visit www.featherstonefarms.com.

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