2016: Deepening Our Roots

Nina, Sarah and Lindsay lend their skills to the effort as we plant a variety of apple, plum and cherry trees in the North Field. Within two days, we went from 0 to 50+ trees and bushes!

The dog days of summer are upon us, bringing with them thick humidity, cool nights, new friends and the sweet scent of the growing, buzzing world around us floats on the air.  In the last four months, Lily Springs Farm has been filled with activity in the fields, on and in the water, in the woods and among countless new visitors. From the fourth-annual Wild Springs Festival to youth environmental leadership retreats, group tree-planting parties to wedding receptions of all types, we have been fortunate to see this beautiful space filled with people who love being here.

On a hot day in early August, we welcomed 25 leaders from the Higher Education Consortium for Urban Affairs (HECUA) for a day-long retreat filled with beautiful stories, engaging activities and an in-depth tour/discussion of the perennial agriculture projects throughout the property.

Here, after a busy spring and summer, we reflect on all of the trees and shrubs, fences and hoses, tractor trips and wheelbarrow flips that have gotten us this far; on all the jokes and lessons revealed every time we step out onto the land to work with our collaborators; on how it feels to share this space with the plants, animals, minerals, bugs, humans and other biota who call this land home. 

The Three Stooges (left to right): Larry, Moe and Curly step up to the electric fence to greet every visitor who makes the trek into the woods. On a tour, our visitors are taught about how we use goats to quell the overgrowth of aggressive plants like poison ivy, buckthorn and prickly-ash in the pine forest.

This year (our second in full-time farm-mode), we have focused our work on establishing the perennial cropping systems that will be the centerpiece of our demonstration work for decades to come. With much thanks to the critical work of our new full-time farmer, Drew Slevin, and our farm manager, Lindsay Rebhan, we have laid the groundwork for about 15 acres of cold-hardy crops that will mature to full production within 3-5 years.

Our farmer, Drew Slevin, holds a piece of Mud Lake ice as we explore the thawing waters during his first stint as Winter Watchman. Thanks to all of his dedicated and hard work, we have been able to thoroughly develop our farming operations and establish thousands of perennials that will provide food for generations to come. You rock, Drew!

Specifically, this year we have planted: 6,000 asparagus crowns, 300 elderberry bushes, 250 aronia bushes (another berry), 100+ currant bushes (another berry), about 15 cherry trees, 20 plum trees, 25 apple trees (both for making cider and eating off the branch), five apricot trees and countless pollinator-friendly bushes, flowers, shrubs and trees to help decorate the spaces around the fruit trees and bushes. The majority of this work has been focused in the North Field, in the area of the field closest to the road and public-access to the farm. The idea is that our demonstration sites can be visited easily by neighbors, guests and school groups alike so that we can share this model for perennial agriculture with a wide-range of visitors.

The layout for the North Field at Lily Springs Farm, courtesy of the brilliant team at Ecological Design (www.ecologicaldesign.land), Lindsay Rebhan and Paula Westmoreland.

Before the heat of summer rose like a fire from lands so heavily-farmed that the moisture stored in the endless corn and soy fields actually intensifies the effects of climate-change fueled superstorms, we were held by the dormancy of the Northland. In the humidity of high summer, the humans (and dogs, alike) rise early to work and then retreat into the coolness of the shade or a basement during the hottest afternoon hours. It is through the daily connection to the land, from the ebb and flow of the rhythms here, that a deeper understanding of our here role emerges, showing the way forward through restoration, education and celebration.

The HECUA group walks through the forest on their way back to the barn, chatting about what they just saw and learned about the mitigation of invasive species in restorative agriculture.

This year we have been able to build on the growing awareness of our work and so had the retreat space booked for every weekend of the summer (!) even before the ice on the lake had melted. As we reflect on the amazing progress we've made in the last two farming seasons, we are reminded that without the combined effort of our amazing collaborators, from our neighbors Bruce and Annie, to Lindsay and Drew, to the students at the Science Museum of Minnesota's Kitty Anderson Youth Science Center, to the countless families and guests who have chosen to make Lily Springs a part of their special celebrations, we could never imagine being where we are today. 

A white lily floats on the surface of Mud Lake, reminding us all that from the murky depths of the mud emerges the immaculate beauty we all have within.