Farm experiencing organic growth [UPDATED]Published 4:49pm Friday, July 29, 2011 Updated 5:09pm Friday, July 29, 2011
In small, rolling hills east of Fergus Falls lies 200 acres of Mark Boen’s Bluebird Gardens. As you drive along Highway 18 toward the gardens, signs that welcome you to “your” farm are followed by a large sign with the letters “CSA” on it. About 150 acres of crops surround you. There’s a windmill right by the side of the highway, but in an agricultural town like Fergus Falls, this scene is too common. Bluebird Gardens, on the other hand, falls on the other side of normal.
Boen, a Fergus Falls native, has lived and worked on a farm almost all his life. In conjunction with his teaching career, Boen began Bluebird Gardens in 1978, changing it from a dairy to a vegetable farm. Since then, Boen has transformed what it means to grow organically. Recently retired from teaching, Boen has been able to put full attention to Bluebird Gardens, expanding and developing its two main goals.
The first aspect of Bluebird Gardens that differs from many farms is its philosophy in biological farming. This type of farming involves close study and treatment of the soil. Boen said adding certain elements missing from the soil enhances not only the soil’s performance but its life. This life is instrumental in creating nutritionally dense vegetables high in the correct vitamins, and taste great.
The changes after adding these elements can also be seen as the soil becomes softer and more porous. Cover crops are also a main component to biological farming. They maintain soil fertility and manage the biodiversity within the soil.
“Did you know that there are 10,000 species of life in 1 gram of soil?” said Boen. “It’s amazing.”
The second goal of Bluebird Gardens is its fairly new Community Supported Agriculture. This model of farming is growing worldwide. It first appeared in Japan and Germany where development and urbanization worried the agricultural community. It spread to the rest of Europe and made its first appearance in the USA in 1984.
The CSA program at Bluebird Gardens consists of members who sign up to be part of the farm. They buy shares where, in return, they receive a box of produce every week from June to mid-October. In total, members receive 20 boxes of fresh vegetables and fruits that will last them through winter.
Additional to the box of produce are harvest events where the gardens open up to all members. The idea of the harvest events is to make a connection between the members and their farm. They get the opportunity to not only know their farmer but understand where their food is coming from, an aspect of farming that has somehow disappeared with the rise of large food corporations and processed foods.
Members of the CSA program at Bluebird Gardens benefit from each other too. A community has formed with the members where they’re able to share recipes and discuss what they got at harvest events, a major accomplishment in the eyes of Boen.
Bluebird Gardens has changed a lot in the past year. As a result of the CSA program, Boen had to make a decision to stop the vegetable stands outside K-mart to put more focus on the farm. While many customers were confused with the decision, it has played out to Boen’s favor where he has 788 more members today, reaching a total of 1240 members, than he did when he was managing stands.
Another interesting feature of Bluebird Gardens is the internship program. Young adults from all over the globe find a home at the gardens for seasons at a time. Boen currently has interns from New Jersey, Ohio, Wisconsin, Texas, and even from far away places like the Ukraine and Brazil.
“I like it here. I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve met great people. Mark is a great boss,” said Jacob Isenberg, an intern from New Jersey who has worked at the farm for the past two and half months.
With 70 percent of members from the Fargo/Moorhead area, Bluebird Gardens covers a wide region and has bright hopes for expansion and development. Boen wants to include as many people as possible in its mission for good eating and connecting people with their farm and food.
Boen has some of his own plans too. Along with growing Bluebird Gardens, Boen is teaching a class at M State and planning on writing a book about his experiences and what he knows about farming.
While the majority of American food lacks quality and becomes more artificial everyday, there are farmers like Boen who believe that, with the right knowledge, Americans can get back on their feet and begin to eat healthy again: “Start out small but a little whisper turns into a roar.”