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Earth Dance Farms

By Kirsten Zoellner

Fri, Feb 8th, 2013
Posted in Spring Valley Health & Wellness

This is just a sample of the many fresh foods available from Earth Dance Farm. Photo submitted

Just under six miles north of Spring Valley, among the patchwork fields of our county, sits a small family farm rich in color, vision, and consequently, flavor. Founded in 2005, by Norm Gross and Laurie Nelsen, Earth Dance Farms is a sustainable CSA farm annually producing more than 60 varieties of vegetables, greens, herbs, and fruit, as well as honey and eggs.

“The land is a gift to be cared for and nourished before it is passed on to the next steward. It is a relationship where there is a communication and kinship,” notes Norm. “It is with joy and good, honest sweat that we work these fields to produce the most nutritious and flavor-filled vegetables and fruits that you can find.”

Surprisingly enough, the farm wasn’t always something that Norm longed for. Growing up on a 160-acre farm near Harlan, Iowa, he and his twelve siblings were used to the life. “We milked, raised chickens and had large gardens,” he says. “We seemed to do just fine. But I didn’t want that for the longest time.” He credits his wife, who grew up on a hobby farm in Eagan, for helping persuade him to make the change. “I think she just needed to get away from the stimulation of the city.”

Living and working in the Twin Cities for 20 years, the duo would often reflect in conversation, looking at how they were raised and how they were raising their own children, Noah (19) and Adriana (16). Then, in 2004, Norm’s best friend was killed tragically. “It made me think about life. It was somewhat spiritual and I finally came around,” he adds.

The seven-year process to begin the farm has been a smooth transition, but there have been hurdles along the way. “To get established, it’s hard just to find and buy land,” says Norm. “You have to have a good economic base to kick off.” The couple eased into farming, floating the plan for several years with Laurie working first at the university and now Mayo and Norm retaining a 25 percent ownership in a Twin Cities business.

The family had been familiar with the concept of CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), which sells a particular number of shares to members in exchange for a certain amount of fresh, locally grown food and products. Share members of Foxtail Farm in Osceola, Wisconsin for ten years, Norm worked one day a week for a year, all the while with notebook in hand researching, at the farm. “I wanted to get a handle on it,” he says. “Confidence matters in making it happen.”

By June of 2007, the family offered up its first CSA shares to eight eager members. The member numbers more than tripled in 2008 to 27, nearly doubled again in 2009 to 66, and rose to 128 by 2010. The farm now offers 150 annual summer shares, an 18-week span, which is primarily directly marketed to the Rochester/Twin Cities area. While the memberships are always shifting with sustaining and new members, Norm is fond of the families that enjoy the bounty of the farm. “Some of them have been with us from the beginning. They’re the ones I bring eggs to in the winter and stop with to talk about their kids.”

The family now has 10 acres in vegetables, herb, and fruit and the conservancy of the land is just as important to the family as the production. The farm uses no synthetic chemicals or fertilizers in growing crops, instead relying on compost, green manures, and some organic fertilizers to supplement the soil sustainably. The soil is also managed with cover crops, crop rotation and fallow times, a dry land farming technique where the land is plowed and tilled but left unseeded during a growing season.

During the 18-week summer season, which runs from mid-June to mid-October, members can choose either a full share and receive ¾ bushel of fresh, local, chemical-free food including 9-13 different seasonal crops. Half shares with 6-8 crop are also available. This includes popular foods such as beans, peas, and tomatoes, but also some unique crops such as Broccoli raab, Celeriac, Popcorn, and Garlic scapes.

The CSA has been so successful that the family has added spring, fall, and egg shares. The spring shares include a ½ bushel box of early greens, spinach, radishes, rhubarb, chives, asparagus, and honey, three times from mid-May through mid-June. The fall shares include three bi-weekly deliveries of a full bushel box of late season crops, storage veggies and hardy greens and herbs. There are also 32 annual egg shares available, provided by the farm’s 100 pasture-raised, organically-fed Rhode Island Red hens. Exclusively marketed through the CSA, the farm goods are either delivered to 16 current neighborhood drop sites in the Twin Cities and five Rochester sites. Individual drop options and on-farm pickup is also available.

“CSA farms are beginning to spring up in communities around the United States as consumers demand a different kind of food. More and more people are looking at the produce in stores, and it looks perfect, but where did it come from? Who was picking those vegetables? And what was done to them to make them look so flawless? That is what we as consumers need to start asking more often. Our produce may not look perfect, but it was planted by hand, it was weeded by hand, it was picked by hand, and it was packed and delivered to you by hand. A lot of sweat and hard work was put into getting those vegetables to your kitchen table, and it was done by a farmer who wants nothing more than to provide his or her community with high quality produce,” he enthuses.

“The transparency and openness are important. They know who we are and how we do things and they know they can come any time and be in the garden with us,” notes Norm. “CSA puts a face on the farmer so consumers can have a relationship with their farmer and the land that grows their family’s food and direct marketing gives farmers the fairest return on their products while providing consumers with a reliable source of locally and naturally grown produce.”

Earth Dance Farms hosts several events for its members throughout the year including camping weekends on the farm, member workdays, a fall harvest gathering complete with food, hayrides, pumpkin picking, hiking, and a bonfire. In addition, they offer educational opportunities and group day trips for youth such as 4H, scouts, and daycares, to visit the farm, tour the fields, and learn about the animals. Youth farm experiences are also offered to children ages 12-18 who wish to participate in the daily life at farm, including helping with tasks, enjoying the woods and stream, feeding the animals, and helping to cook a meal.

The future of the farm seems prosperous. “I can’t say we won’t branch out, but it’s a big undertaking,” adds Gross. “We have 25 acres of the farm tillable and I can’t see we won’t add pastured meats of some kind. For now, we want to continue to build up our memberships.”

Earth Dance Farms can be found on the web at www.earthdancefarm.net. You can also connect with them on Facebook to see what’s happening on the farm on daily basis, see photos, and join the conversation about produce, the process, and the harvest. For those interested, sign up for a weekly newsletter which gives a list of that week’s produce, details about the “veggie of the week,” highlights farm articles and recipes. A recipe blog is currently being developed to highlight recipes for all of the items produced at the farm, as well as a forum to ask questions, post your own recipes, and for helpful suggestions. For more information on CSA shares, contact Earth Dance Farms at norm.the.farmer@gmail.com or at 507-378-4252.

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