Farm Fresh Family [UPDATED]Published 4:50pm Monday, August 12, 2013 Updated 4:51pm Monday, August 12, 2013
Lida Farm is a small sustainable vegetable farm between Vergas and Pelican Rapids, in the lakes district of Minnesota. Maree and Ryan purchased the 20 acre farm from Kenny and Margaret Kratzke in June of 2004. Their goal was to start a small, family owned and operated, farm that would be supported by local people, businesses and communities.
Maree grew up in Lake Elmo, Minnesota. She along with sister, Nikki, and brother Kyle, learned the joy of farming at an early age as they helped their grandfather on his traditional crop and dairy farm. Her grandfather would plant the sweet corn, and when harvest time rolled around, the kids would pick and sell the corn. And every year, they’d attend the Great Minnesota Get Together (MN State Fair) with their own hard-earned money; an early lesson in financial management for young Maree and her siblings.
After graduating from Stillwater High School, Maree went on to university at Gustavus in St. Peter. There, she graduated with a degree in geography and political science. One of her early jobs after college was working in the library at the University of St. Thomas. One of the benefits of being employed by the university was that she could take classes at no cost. She first obtained her teaching certificate for special education, and continued to work toward her master’s degree. Maree taught for two years before she and Ryan made the big move to Otter Tail County.
Maree met Ryan, the “city kid from East Grand Forks” while at Gustavus. Ryan became interested in sustainable farming and the local food movement during his undergrad work in St. Peter. In 2002, while interning with West Central Initiative, he fell in love with the area, and applied for a job with the University of Minnesota Extension Office in Fergus Falls, and got it. Family is important to Maree and Ryan, so Lida Farm’s location was a good one because it is about half way between their parents’ homes. When asked if she ever thought she’d have a farm of her own, Maree responds that she knew she always wanted to live in a rural area, and could see herself on a farm, but never really thought about it. “It seems really natural to me”.
The Pesch’s have come a long way since the summer of 2004, and this is no hobby farm; it’s a full-time, family operation. With their workforce increasing by three; their children Sylvia, age 8, Willem, 6 and Graham, age 3, these youngsters are already learning the business of running a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm. They manage over 60 crops, 250+ chickens, pigs and sheep. They have 55 families as CSA members and sell to several local businesses including Riverside Bistro in Pelican Rapids, Spanky’s Stone Hearth near Vergas, the Pioneer Retirement Community and Forget-Me-Not Flower Farm in Fergus Falls.
One of the things that sets Lida Farm apart from other CSA’s is they deliver the boxes of produce to their member’s doors. Each week Ryan and Maree split the 2-3 hour delivery route which covers the lakes district between Pelican Rapids, Detroit Lakes, Vergas, and Cormorant. They also hit many of the lakes such as Pelican Lake, Long Lake, Lake Melissa and Little McDonald. Maree jokes that they’d like to have the first boat CSA! (Maybe it’s no joke).
In addition, they pick, wash and haul produce to the Lakes Area Farmers Market in Detroit Lakes every Saturday morning. Maree notes Sylvia went to her first market at 6 months of age, and the kids have never missed a market yet. New this year are the flowers that Sylvia and Willem are selling. It won’t be long and Graham will get in on the sales too. Maree says the kids also help bag up the produce and are learning to add up the cost for market customers. And that’s not all – they also have a food stand at the end of their driveway where they use the honor system, and even accept IOU’s!
You may be wondering if they ever get a vacation. Yes, and their biggest break is in November and December. January they start ordering, in March it is germination time and April is lambing season, and May through October is CSA work every week. The family loves to travel and usually do a getaway during MEA weekend in October. Last year, Ryan’s parents watched the kids while Maree and Ryan went on a trip to Mexico for a long-awaited vacation, and the first one the couple has had since starting the CSA. She says the neighbors and friends all help each other, so when they do go away, the farm animals stay fed.
I asked Maree what her favorite part about Lida Farm was. “Because of what we do, we have a nice garden, and I know how the food was raised, I know there were not pesticides or herbicides and I like finding a home for everything we grow. There are not a lot of businesses where you can directly benefit from the product that you sell”.
About having a deep appreciation for her work:
Maree shared there is one member who is home-bound and she really believes the work her family does on the farm is helping to support that member’s health and well-being. She loves the positive feedback they receive from the members. Some leave them notes, while others have kids meet them at the door because they can’t wait to see what is in the box that week. When members sign up again from year to year, it really speaks to her passion for the work Maree and her family do on Lida Farm. After all, if they didn’t enjoy the product, they wouldn’t sign up year after year.
Another inspiration to Maree is that she knows the harder they work, the better season they will have. When trying new products, they start out small, and try them on themselves and on their friends first. They are constantly learning from their mistakes, but they do not give up. Perseverance carries them through. When they’ve established a process that works, their members and the farmers market shoppers reap the benefit.
So what would Maree be doing if she was not an owner/operator of a CSA? After a long and very thoughtful pause, she said she’d still be a stay at home mom, and she couldn’t imagine what she would do with her time if they were not farming. That sounds like a true definition of comfort and happiness to me.
Maree loves to answer questions about Lida Farm, and other suppliers in their network. So if you are in Detroit Lakes this Saturday, stop by the Farmer’s Market and visit with Maree and her family.