At Bluebird Gardens in Fergus Falls, Minnesota, Mark Boen farms 320 acres with his wife, Diane, and a crew of ten employees. Starting with six acres in 1978 selling produce at a farmstand, they grew Bluebird Gardens to over 2,000 CSA members and 80 drop sites in far northwestern Minnesota and the Fargo/Moorhead metro.
Mark is an enthusiastic farmer, and his zeal for the craft shows when he shares how he has transitioned the farm to include a year-on, year-off rotation of cover crops and vegetables. We get into the nuts and bolts of the Bluebird Gardens cover crop system, including the challenges, planning techniques, and the tools he’s using to establish and manage the cover crops.
Bluebird gardens is also in the midst of a marketing transition, and we delve into the changes Mark is making to make his food accessible to a wider swath of the population than just the customers who are able to make CSA work for their lifestyle. Plans include marketing Bluebird Gardens produce in local grocery stores and increasing agritourism opportunities.
We also get into some of the harvest mechanization Mark has used to manage so many vegetables with a small staff, as well as irrigation and crop planning.
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Quotes from the Show
If you’re not selling it all, your farm is lacking.
The CSA appeals to such a narrow band of people, disciplined eaters who really want to be connected to the farm. The problem is that 85% of food is eaten within two hours of purchase – people are flying by the seat of their pants.
People want three things, they want choice, they want convenience, and they want connection to the farm.
They can go to Walmart and fill their fridge with produce, and if that gets wasted they don’t blame Walmart. But if they don’t use all the CSA produce, they do blame me.
Each year, we’ve looked at what’s backwards. If you look at what’s backwards, you can problem solve and find a better way. Sometimes it’s easy to bump along and deal with those backwards things year after year, but [it’s better to] take a look at them and see what’s making them backwards.
The secret to farming is cover crops, and it is organic matter in the soil, and it’s allowing the biology to flourish.
All the problems that are in agriculture , the hypoxia zone the size of the state of Massachusetts in the Gulf of Mexico… happen because we haven’t covered our soils with cover crops that scavenge the nutrients and hang on to them there.
Especially with the CSA, when you’re committed to produce a crop, you’ve got to minimize every risk you can.
That’s the nice thing about vegetable growing: you have such big windows of time spring and fall for planting and growing things. It’s not like one crop takes the whole season on every strip.
Anything that feeds you can also bite you in the butt.
So many of those things you learn the hard way and learn by doing. You have to always have your eyes open to learn from those things, so that it never happens again. The bigger the pain the better.
Every learning you make, you learn it that season. And you can’t apply the learning until the next season. And you realize that in your life that you don’t have that many seasons to do. So you want to avoid any bad thing before it even happens.
You want to read the future, and definitely learn from any mistake.
I plan to die here when my walker tangles in the carrots and I fall down.
[On marketing] It’s not that easy. Over time, you pay your dues enough that you create the following.
[On attending conferences] If you can bring at least one thing back that changes your farm it’s a royal success.
The important thing for each of us is to find our niche and what is your talent that’s going to connect people to your farm.
There’s no need to try to get bigger. That’s just what we evolved into doing.
Williams Tool Bar Weeder
Organic Weed Puller