Lida Farm continues local market focus nearly two decades after it began
Lida Farm grows for Community Support Agriculture customers, farmers markets and food stands, with a little going to a local food co-op. Since 2004, the west central Minnesota farm has changed how it operates to keep up with the times and what they can handle.
PELICAN RAPIDS, Minn. — A lot of picking goes into growing vegetables for local markets.
For Lida Farm, near Pelican Rapids in Lida Township, Ryan and Maree Pesch pick for their Community Supported Agriculture venture over the weekend and Monday. The boxes go out on Mondays and Tuesdays. On Tuseday, they're picking for the farm stand at a bakery in Fergus Falls. Thursdays and Fridays they pick for the farmers market in Pelican Rapids. And along the way, they might pick some for the Manna Food Co-op in Detroit Lakes and their farm stand at the farm.
Their method of vegetable distribution has changed over time since they started the farm on 20 acres in Lida Township in 2004, with the only constants being the growing and the picking.
"Us vegetable people are kind of squirrely," Ryan laughed, reflecting on the iterations of his business. "Or maybe I’m the squirreliest of them all."
The Minnesota Grown website lists 178 summer farmers markets and 34 winter markets held throughout the state. The site also lists 80 CSA farms with 160 pickup sites around the state.
Lida Farm will be part of an event to spread the word of sustainable agriculture. The farm will host the Lake Agassiz Chapter of the Sustainable Farming Association's second annual Deep Roots Festival on Sept. 10 from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m.
“The whole idea of the Deep Roots Festival is to invite the public to celebrate the harvest season with the local farm community. It’s for everybody. You don’t have to be super into organic food to enjoy the festival…just bring your family out to the farm for the evening to take in some farm-to-table tacos and music,” Ryan said.
The event will feature a farm tour of multiple local operations, educational workshops, kids activities, live music, and foods and goods from local farms. A feature of this year’s festival is the premier of a photo exhibition by local artist, Jon Solinger. Titled “Deep Roots: Sustaining a Living Community” Jon’s work depicts the sustainable farmers of our region who are working each day to grow food while caring for the land.
Tickets cost $20 per person and include a meal and access to all activities. Kids 12 and younger are free. To purchase tickets in advance and for a complete schedule of events, go to www.deep-roots-festival.com . All proceeds go to sustainable agriculture promotion and education in the region. For more information, contact the Lake Agassiz Chapter at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Ryan Pesch became interested in the local farm movement while attending Gustavus Adolphus in Saint Peter, which also is where he met Maree.
"I'm not from a farm background. I'm a town kid from East Grand Forks," he said. "It's just something I wanted to explore after I graduated."
After college, he worked as an apprentice on a farm near Stillwater, Minnesota. Ryan took a job as a University of Minnesota Extension educator for community development, which brought the family to Pelican Rapids in 2004. They bought a 20-acre parcel of rolling farmland near Lake Lida. He already had a few years of commercial growing under his belt and expected to sell some produce at farmers markets.
That was until a couple people asked him if he'd be interesting in starting a CSA. That first year, they sold two subscriptions to the venture, in which people pay upfront to receive in-season produce throughout the season.
"And then we've just kind of grown it ever since," he said. "So two random CSA members in 2004, and we got up to, last year we had 124 members."
The number is back down to 100 this year, Ryan explained, “just because last year I got tired.”
They've sold at different farmers markets and at their honor-system food stands, and now they sell a little at the Manna Food Co-op in Detroit Lakes. In the past, Lida Farm has sold to restaurants, but he dropped that years back.
"I like a whole bunch of different ways of selling," Ryan said.
The operation has continued to evolve since it began, and that involves more than just where they sell. They started with half an acre and eventually got to 6 acres of production. That's down to 3 acres now, but Ryan said the production is about the same.
The farm used to be certified organic, but Ryan dropped that during the pandemic. The amount of paperwork required was getting to him, and since he direct sells the majority of his produce, he didn't think he was seeing a benefit. He hasn't changed his farming practices since then, though, he said.
Like other farmers, Lida Farm got things planted later than usual this year, which has pushed back the CSA season.
"We like things in sooner, but what can you do?" Ryan said.
But the people who are members in CSAs tend to understand they are buying in for more than just timely produce. They are in it for the experience, he said. The diversity of the farm — with more than 30 crops — means that even in years where the weather is adverse for one thing, it's good for another. He can't say for sure what and how much of something will be in a CSA box, but something will strive in the conditions.
"They enjoy the surprise" of seeing what produce they get each box, Ryan said of his CSA customers.
Ryan and Maree Pesch's passion for local foods hasn't just involved their own farm. They also have been actively involved in the Manna Food Co-op. Ryan is the last founding board member still serving at the co-op, which got its start in 2015 and opened a store in 2017. And Maree is serving as interim manager after going to work to help out there in 2019.
The co-op supplies much of its produce through Paula's Produce, which gets vegetables from Amish growers in the region, and through Co-op Partners. But sometimes, if Lida Farm has a lot of extras or if the co-op is in need of a certain type of produce or a smaller amount than would come from suppliers, Maree will bring in some produce from their farm. Ryan sometimes will donate extra produce to the co-op.
"If we have some gaps or if we're long on something that we know would sell well, we bring it in," Maree said. "But like, we had a lot of beans this week, so I thought, I'm just going to put our beans out, because it's better than what I can get right now."
The co-op works with local farmers who are co-op members to supply some things, but it doesn't want to be a dumping ground for what doesn't sell at farmers markets, she said. The co-op strives to have quality produce to sell, and working with local farmers does help with that.
"It’s good quality control to have a relationship with the farmers," Maree said.