Lisa Baker believes in the simple and aware life. That’s why she started Bakers’ Acres, a 15 acre sustainable farm in Avon, MN. Leaving the corporate life in the dust, Baker reconnected with her hometown roots and began a small produce farm which provides a modest quantity of vegetables for CSA shares and some wholesale, including 25 lbs of greens a week delivered to the cafe.
Recently we sat down with her for a little Q&A session to talk about awareness, accountability and life on her 15 acres.
Common Roots: How did you start supplying Common Roots?
Lisa Baker: In 2008 I started volunteering for the Land Stewardship Project. Danny would show up at the family farm breakfast from LSP and I knew he was a big supporter of it. I’ve always known Common Roots as a very strong advocate for our local food system. It’s something I’ve always admired.
In 2012 I decided to do CSAs out of my farm, and in 2013 I started doing wholesale as a test market. I asked Danny if he’d be interested in some early greens. Danny has helped me think through the wholesale process, even last year, but this is the first year that I’m supplying Common Roots.
CR: Describe a typical day at the farm.
LB: Right now it’s opening up the hoop house first thing in the morning . It gets to 150 degrees the instant the sun comes out and it’ll fry everything that’s in there. So open that up, make sure nothings starving of water. Then it’s either planting or harvesting or making sure that the cows fence is ok. Maybe the day starts out and oh, the cows are out! That’s not fun...the neighbor calls.
CR: Who does all of this?
LB: Me and my parents, mostly. They live 10 miles away. They’ve been generous enough to say “As long as you have this project going on, you can live here for free.” Their charity has let me figure this out.
CR: You have this “daunting accountability for our food system.” You have a very small farm of 15 acres, You are one person with some part time help. It seems very overwhelming.
LB: There are very few produce farms where I am in Stearns county. I grew up here not knowing what it was like to see a cabbage field. There have always been a few produce farms in my county, it’s just that we didn’t see them easily, we weren’t taught that that’s the way “agriculture” is in Minnesota. Most area farmers have corn and soybeans, row crops.
Today, there are a lot of very educated people in our community who understand there’s more to the whole food system than just row crops, but there still aren’t a a lot of people who are taking a stand to say, “Maybe we should be doing this differently,” and converting their fields to production that is healthy for the soil, water and our community. For me, farming is not about the capitalism or making money.
Individuals need to make the change happen, and change starts small. Could I be a catalyst for that? Hopefully. Hopefully my farm gives people a beacon for choosing how they want to participate in their lives. Your community is always going to be what wins at the end of the day. You don’t need big regulation, you don’t need big government, you can handle making your own community sustainable.
CR: You talk about your motto of living a life that’s “simple and aware”. What do you mean by aware?
LB: There are so many things happening in the world that you can completely avoid if you want to. I would rather participate and find ways that create meaning in life. What does that mean for me? It’s been participating in our food system.
I come from a very philosophical background and this was the best way for me to have a conscious existence. Every action that I take does connect to nature, but how does it connect and whats the best way to move forward? Whats the part that I play in changing the paradigm? Agriculture was the way for me to start doing that. Whatever trajectory we’re on, we probably need to change it so we don’t extinct ourselves.
CR: What do you see for the future of the farm?
LB: The ideal is to have a sustainable business that puts organic production as its first priority and can forecast enough of an income every year to pay for all the bills on the farm, me a living wage, and any workers. This year we’re expanding to three part-time workers. Right now that’s my next huge goal from a financial perspective. Beyond that, I don’t know. We have to figure out our niche and how we want to operate, but right now it’s just working really well.
We had a huge response to CSAs in Central MN this year and I was really worried that they weren’t going to be receptive to it. They didn’t know what CSA was. Surprisingly at least half of our shares are in Central MN now and the other half in the metro area.
CR: Why was Central MN so elusive?
LB: I just assumed because of my own ignorance growing up in Stearns County. Alternative ways of getting a box of vegetables was completely unfamiliar to me six years ago. I sent out a big marketing campaign to a couple different neighborhoods where I wanted to do drop sites. We received a very welcoming response from all of them.
CR: In your time since starting up the farm, how have you seen the general publics attitude shift, if at all, toward this other way of accessing their food?
LB: I definitely saw the change happen in the city where local is huge. From breweries to distilleries and all sorts of industries looking local.
I don’t know what trends I’ve seen yet in Central MN. I just know people are avid farmers’ market goers. People have talked about creating a food hub in St. Joseph, and we supply the farm-to-school program in Sartell. I went and talked with Sartell’s Envirothon students and they had questions I only started asking when I was 26 – like, can sustainable farms also be big?. I was shocked. I think that generation is well more aware than mine or my parents.
Bakers’ Acres supplies us with 25 lbs of greens every week. All 2014 CSA shares are sold out, but if you’d like to be notified when 2015 shares are available, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bakers' Acres is located in Avon, MN – about 83 miles from Common Roots Cafe.