By Starrla Cray
HOWARD LAKE, MN Contoured fields cascade in splashes of lush green and golden yellow at Living Song Farm in Howard Lake.
For Jerry Ford and his wife, Marienne Kreitlow, farming isn’t just a way to earn a profit.
It’s “living art,” providing a lifestyle of wholesome beauty, simple nourishment, and majestic views.
Living Song Farm was one of eight Minnesota operations recently featured in a documentary about sustainable farming.
“The attitude of people who live in the city is shifting,” Marienne said. “There’s a real curiosity and respect for farming.”
“The disconnect between people who eat and people who grow is getting much smaller now,” Jerry added. “People want to know more.”
The video was produced as a collaborative effort between Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter and the Sustainable Farming Association (SFA) of Minnesota.
It is available for purchase online at www.createspace.com/287888, and it will also be shown at the Minnesota Garlic Festival in Hutchinson Saturday, Aug. 14.
Living Song farm was chosen for the film based on its involvement with the SFA and its commitment to sustainable farming.
Jerry is the SFA events and youth outreach coordinator, and college interns often live at his house during the growing season in order to gain farming skills and knowledge.
“The young people today have an interest in farming and food,” Jerry said.
“That’s really rejuvenating for us,” Marienne added. “They have an enthusiasm for and an understanding of all the work that’s involved.”
Marienne’s father, Willard, is on the other end of the age spectrum. At 88, he’s still a vital part of the work at Living Song Farm.
“I don’t know enough to quit,” Willard joked.
Throughout his life, Willard has observed firsthand the decline in the number of farms.
“When I was an infant, 30 percent of the people in the country lived on farms,” he said. “Now, it’s less than 1 percent.”
However, in recent years, the number of people interested in agriculture has been making a comeback.
Organic and sustainable farming has grown 20 percent per year for the past 15 to 20 years, according to Greg Reynolds, owner of Riverbend Farm in Delano.
“I think people are looking for alternatives to fast food and processed food, and this video gives them reinforcement,” said Reynolds, whose farm was also featured in “Farming Forward.”
Currently, Americans spend about 9 percent of their income on food, and about half of that is spent in restaurants and fast food places, Reynolds said.
Of the food that is eaten at home, much of it is already processed, packaged, and prepared.
“Eating raw vegetables is alien to a lot of people,” Reynolds said. “People are used to chicken nuggets and french fries.”
The one-hour “Farming Forward” documentary is an uplifting way to connect with “what food should be like.”
At Living Song Farm, the family grows onions, garlic, and raspberries, as well as traditional crops such as corn and soybeans.
They also work cooperatively with their neighbor, Kevin Stokes, who milks about 60 dairy cows.
“Kevin worked for me when he was in high school,” Willard said. “When he graduated, he decided he really wanted to farm.”
Gradually, Stokes acquired the entire dairy herd, along with buildings, equipment, and 80 acres of land.
Jerry takes care of 33 of Stokes’ heifers.
“We do managed intensive rotational grazing,” Jerry said. “Since we started, we’re noticing an increase in wildlife.”
Leopard frogs and harrier hawks, for example, have been making their home on the farm recently.
The benefits of taking care of the land are self-evident, Jerry said, adding that in the past five years, he’s noticed a surge in the number of people who share his appreciation of sustainable agriculture.
Living Song Farm’s current intern, Brandon Wiarda, is one of those people. He recently earned an environmental science degree, and splits his time each week by working two days at Living Song Farm, two days at Riverbend Farm, one day at Gardens Galore in Winsted, and one day at The Farm of Minnesota in Hutchinson.
Both Riverbend and The Farm of Minnesota operate as Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). This type of farm allows food buyers to receive a weekly basket of produce based on what is in season at the time.
“Minnesota has more CSA farms per capita than any other state right now,” Jerry said.
Living Song Farm isn’t a CSA, but people can come directly to the farm to purchase fresh food.
“We cure our garlic so it can store in people’s kitchens for nine months or more,” Jerry said.
In addition to selling their produce, Jerry and Marienne enjoy growing much of their own food, as well.
“This time of year, we probably grow about 60 to 70 percent of the food on our table,” Jerry said.
With sustainable farming, every operation is unique.
“There’s no cookie cutter,” Jerry said. “You create your own way of doing things.”
The film “Farming Forward” offers a relaxed look into the lives of eight sustainable farms from around the state.
Gustavus Adolphus College communication studies professor Martin Lang and student Ethan Marxhausen shot more than 40 hours of footage from early July through mid-August 2009.
In addition to Living Song Farm and Riverbend Farm, the other featured operations include Prairie Horizons Farm in Starbuck, Loon Organics in Hutchinson, Big River Farm in Marine on St. Croix, City Backyard Farming in St. Paul, Big Hill Farm in St. Peter, and a farmers’ market in west St. Paul.