By Gabe Licht
DELANO, MN When the weather changes, Greg and Mary Reynolds take notice. They know a volatile climate affects growing conditions, and they work on Riverbend Farm near Delano to manage their seeds and land to survive in a changing climate.
Due to those efforts and contributions to the organic farming industry, the Reynolds were named the 2015 Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service Organic Farmers of the Year.
They received the award, given to farmers who practice outstanding land stewardship, innovation, and outreach, at the annual MOSES Organic Farming Conference Feb. 26 in La Crosse, WI.
“It’s a real honor and fun to be recognized. That and $2 will get me a cup of coffee,” Greg joked. “We have done it for a long time. People we work with and those who work for us get recognized, too.”
The Reynolds have been at Riverbend Farm since 1992 and have been certified organic since 1994.
Greg and Mary have become active farmers despite not growing up on a farm, though their parents did.
“Since my parents grew up on a farm, I heard about that history and culture,” Greg said.
Observing the world around him led Greg to an interest in organic agriculture.
“In the early 1970s, there was a lot of turmoil and the first big oil embargo,” Greg said. “I was becoming aware of world affairs and I started to get into organic agriculture.”
Greg and Mary then lived in Connecticut for 10 years before returning to the area. Their farm is 80 acres, with 30 tillable acres, of which they grow 10 to 12 acres of vegetables every year.
They follow a crop rotation that includes cover crops such as mixes of oats with peas, rye with vetch, and yellow sweet clover.
“It’s fairly light soil, so you have to add organic matter all the time to keep it from being infertile,” Greg said.
That includes occasionally applying compost to add new nutrients.
Being certified organic has several components.
“The big picture with organic farming is you can’t use chemical or synthetic inputs, but there are fertilizers you can use,” Greg said. “There is a bunch of documentation you have to do about what you do use and what you produce. They’re making sure you’re not selling more than you’re growing.
“Everyone says it’s a lot of paperwork, but my taxes are a lot more,” Greg joked.
While Greg jokes about some things, the Reynolds are serious about growing open-pollinated varieties and selecting seeds from the plants that thrive, regardless of the weather. After about three years of selection, they have versatile and hearty strains becoming well-adapted to the conditions on his farm. He grows and selects seeds for more than 100 vegetable varieties and Mary works on selecting hardy varieties of organic table flowers.
A big reason why the Reynolds put in that work is to develop seeds that can weather whatever Mother Nature throws at them.
“Research says organic farms do better in bad years,” Greg said. “The soil is in better condition and is more forgiving. You have to work to improve the soil. If there’s a rainy season, organic matter just sits there, as opposed to fertilizer that the rain takes with it.”
In addition to their work with seeds, the Reynolds also work with young farmers and individuals interested in organic agriculture and nutrition.
Four to five people work on the farm from mid-April to mid-October or early November, and many of them go on to have their own farms.
Greg speaks at farming conferences, agricultural classes, and an introductory cooking class, where he makes students think about where their food is grown and teaches about organic farming.
He is also passionate about school nutrition, and the farm provides organic food for Hopkins School District.
“School nutrition is a big deal,” Greg said. “For a lot of kids, school lunch is the best meal they get all week.”
Responding to climate change is important to the Reynolds. In addition to building resilience into their agricultural system, they use solar power to heat the floor of Greg’s shop and are looking to add solar panels to the roof of their barn for electricity production.
The Reynolds appreciated being recognized by their peers for their efforts at the MOSES Organic Farming Conference.
“We’ve been going for 20 years,” Greg said. “It’s almost more of a social event than an educational one.”