With fresh produce popping up all around Minnesota, we thought it was the perfect time to touch base with one of the St. Peter Food Co-op’s local producers—Dan and Jenny Kapernick of Little Big Sky Farm. The couple purchased land outside of Henderson back in 2013 to fulfill Dan’s long-standing dream of owning a farm.
What does Little Big Sky Farm look like?
We call our farm Little Big Sky because when you drive up to it from Henderson, you ascend through a forested area and then suddenly all you see is sky and field. It’s breathtaking: eight acres of wooded area descending into the Minnesota River Valley and 12 acres of tillable land are being farmed in a few different ways. We’ve established prairie in about four acres, and Ben Penner, of Ben Penner Flour, grows his beautiful wheat and rye in six acres of our land. We grow vegetables and flowers on two small plots near our house. Right now we farm using only a walking tractor and other hand tools. We love farming on this scale, and Dan especially is inspired by the mechanical components of farming, i.e. what tool works best for bed prep, cultivation, harvesting, transplanting etc. We feel so grateful for our space in this time when land access is a real issue for beginning farmers. We have amazing neighbors and feel supported by our community at large.
“We both love being outside, working in the dirt, and using our bodies and minds to grow good food for people…. Little Big Sky Farm gives us an opportunity to connect with people, work hard, and feel very fulfilled by the work we do.” — Jenny Kapernick
Why is it so important for a community to have access to fresh, chemical-free vegetables?
I grew up going to the People’s Food Co-op in LaCrosse, Wi and even worked there in high school. From a young age I knew the importance of eating good, chemical-free, fresh food and I also knew how much better it all tasted! When Dan and I met, we connected over this idea. All of our first conversations and dates were over plates of fresh, quality food from the garden, farmer’s market or the Seward Co-op in Minneapolis—our local grocery at the time. Food is everything and what we put in our bodies and what we feed to our children has a direct effect on how we feel. We all know that the residue from pesticides and herbicides linger on food. We use zero chemicals on our vegetables at Big Sky Farm, and often our vegetables that end up in the produce section at the St. Peter Food Co-op were harvested earlier that day; it can’t get much fresher than that. When a community has access to fresh and chemical-free vegetables, that community is saying yes to health, to bettering the environment and supporting local people and farms. Chemical-free, unaltered, naturally grown food also just tastes delicious.
“When a community has access to fresh and chemical-free vegetables, that community is saying yes to health, to bettering the environment and supporting local people and farms.” — Jenny Kapernick
What are some of your favorite things to grow?
Dan loves growing micro greens! They are nutrient dense and fun to grow. They take about two weeks from seed to harvest and the amount of good food we get from each flat is amazing. We’ve been putting micro greens on our eggs, soups, salads, burgers, and pretty much anything else we can think of. I am a big fan of tomatoes—I love the way their leaves smell in the greenhouse, and how juicy and sweet they are off the vine. We usually have a big canning day in the fall, so we’re able to enjoy them all winter. I also love growing flowers and providing bouquets to people in the summertime. I know our culture often thinks of bouquets as a luxury or special occasion item, but I believe a table should always have a fresh bouquet of flowers on it… and bedsides, bathrooms, and bookshelves, for that matter.
Tell us about some of your farming practices.
Our farming practices are built around a foundational belief that soil health is of utmost importance. We are striving to be caretakers of a living soil that is full of life and organic matter. In our bed preparation, we use a tool called a broadfork, which resembles a large pitchfork with two handles, to deeply aerate and loosen our beds to depth of 12”. By loosening the lower layers of the soil with the broadfork, we can limit our use of the rototiller to only the top few inches of our beds. This minimizes the disturbance to the living things in the soil. We use organic seeds, soil amendments, and fertilizers that are acceptable under the USDA National Organic Program. Some of our fields are currently certified organic and we intend to certify the rest of them for the 2019 growing season.
What is Little Big Sky Farm working on at the moment?
This is a very busy time of the year for us. Last night we were in the field until 9:45 PM working under the moonlight to get row cover on the arugula. We are providing vegetables to the St. Peter Food Co-op and we also have an 18-week CSA starting in June. CSA stands for community supported agriculture—families purchase a share from us and we provide a box of vegetables each week through the growing season. Our goal is to grow a diverse array of vegetables for our members, including kitchen staples such as salad greens, herbs, tomatoes and peppers, and also introduce some new vegetables.
Our farm is relatively small this year, but our hope is to expand in 2019, growing our members and amount of items we can supply to local establishments. We are really invested in St. Peter. We know many farms have to travel to the Twin Cities to make a living. We are hoping to stay right here and keep growing the local food scene in this area.
Learn more about Big Sky Farm:
This interview has been edited and condensed from its original version. All photos courtesy of Little Big Sky Farm.