There is a lot of talk these days about how to improve our food system. At Riverbend Farm, Greg and Mary Reynolds and their crew are working everyday to figure it out.
Riverbend is located in Delano, about 30 miles west of Common Roots. Nestled on 80 acres in a bend in the Crow River, Greg and Mary grow a wide array of high quality organic produce, from arugula to zucchini. Riverbend produce is available in restaurants, co-ops, and through CSA (community supported agriculture) shares. It’s a beautiful farm, with hills, old barns, a river, even some chickens -- it’s what one imagines a farm to look like. But it’s the care and dedication that goes into the farm that I find most inspiring.
Check out video of our chat with Greg on our You Tube Channel
Unlike most of our farmland which is now covered with large expanses of single crops, Riverbend is filled with hundreds of varieties of plants, all separated in narrow beds. A quick walk allows you to see the whole farm.
The beds are full of great produce -- one is a beautiful tapestry of different varieties of lettuce. But equally striking is the cover crop next to the beds, a strip of rye and vetch. These cover plants are grown to provide natural fertilizer to the soil and left to provide habitat for beneficial insects like ladybugs that are essential in keeping Riverbend with very few pests even without synthetic chemicals.
As our food system has become increasingly centralized and standardized, with a constant push for conformity and simplicity at the expense of our rural communities, our health, and the health of our environment, Riverbend stands as an example of what we need. We need people who study the land. Greg and Mary have spent the past 17 years as students of Riverbend Farm, figuring out the best system of crop rotations, the best varieties of different plants, the best harvesting systems, to create an economically viable small family farm that is not reliant on unsustainable synthetic inputs.
The system of farming differs greatly from the way the vast majority of crops are raised in this country -- something Greg is quick to point out. Minnesota is an agricultural state, with the vast majority of crop land devoted to commodity corn and soybeans used in large part to feed feedlot cattle, make corn syrup, and in such un-foodlike things as oil and paint. These crops are grown on the same land in constant production -- depleting the nutrients of the soil. If chemical fertilizer wouldn’t be used, the plants wouldn’t grow. As Greg says, this is a dopey way to grow food. These crops are often only profitable because of government subsidies, and the inputs of fertilizer are getting ever more expensive with long-lasting environmental costs. This system is, in every conceivable interpretation of the word, unsustainable.
Riverbend is a farm that is firmly rooted in our agrarian history, but working creatively to adapt to constantly changing environments. Greg and Mary are figuring out how to make the old growing techniques, the old seeds, and the old values of community and food independence work today. And they are succeeding.
I founded Common Roots with the goal of supporting farms like Riverbend and helping to make these practices more the norm, and less the outlier, in our food system.
To see the future we want, we need to create networks of individuals who care about the little things, and who are students of the land they farm.
After we finished talking about the farm, Greg and I turned (as we often do) to the steps consumers can take to get to the food system we want to see.
We decided on two simple first steps:
- Let decision makers - grocers, restaurant owners, elected officials, and more - know that you want to see more support for local sustainable farmers. We can’t afford to be a silent majority.
- Plant something. People who grow something quickly learn to appreciate the great benefits of fresh local food. Gardens help build community. And many things start with a garden. The dream of Riverbend Farm was developed in a garden Greg and Mary had behind their house.
Not long after I left the farm, I got an e-mail from Greg with some more ideas of what people can do:
Ask people to change the world.
Ask people to live within our means.
Ask people to turn off their TV one night a week and have a conversation on:
Week #1 food
Week #2 education
Week #3 energy
Week #4 health care
with designing a sustainable system as the goal.
Find out more about Riverbend online at www.rbfcsa.com.