Farm Horizons, December 2014

Livin’ off the land

By Starrla Cray

When Ed Warn and Mary Lynn Springer want a bite to eat, they don’t need to go far.

Beyond the sky-high sunflowers on their rural Howard Lake property, a garden with raspberries, potatoes, beans, beets, kale, Swiss chard, sage, tomatoes, eggplant, celery, green peppers, cabbage, and other produce is ripe for the taking each fall.

“We’re here because we wanted to be closer to the land,” said Ed, who grew up in St. Paul but spent summers and winter breaks on relatives’ farms north of Howard Lake.

Ed and his father moved to Howard Lake in 1961, after his mother had passed away and his three older sisters had married.

After graduating from Howard Lake High School in 1964, Ed wanted to go to agriculture school and become a farmer.

His father, however, told him, “Don’t do that; you can’t make any money at farming.” So, Ed became a civil engineer instead, and worked for the city of St. Paul.

The desire to farm never left him, though, and he continued to visit the country during his free time. After retiring, he rented land from a relative, where he planted a large garden and raised chickens, pheasants, and cattle.

Ed also liked living in St. Paul, which is where he met Mary Lynn. She lived in the Twin Cities for many years, and is originally from a hobby farm in Centerville.

About 10 years ago, the couple began looking to purchase a home in the country. They considered various acreages in the area, but none of them seemed right until the one on Lathrop Avenue.

“As we were driving up, we simultaneously said, this place looks promising,” Mary Lynn recalled.

They made the purchase, and went to work improving their new home. They planted more than 100 evergreen trees, as well as maple, fruit, and shade trees; cleared brush; fixed sheds and fences; added a small greenhouse; and began restoring the old farmhouse.

The house, which was built by John Zech in 1892, features hand-hewed timber beams with rough sawn oak exterior walls, rafters, and joists. Ed and Mary Lynn sealed the foundation inside and out, and added new windows, insulation, and more.

Future projects include an outdoor wood-fired oven, additional raised gardens, granary renovation, a shop in the machine shed, and a “sugar shack” in the milk house to boil maple sap.

“We’re most happy with our finished kitchen,” Ed noted. “We both enjoy cooking and baking, and rarely go out to eat, because we enjoy the taste and quality of the food we grow/raise and preserve.”

The farm is completely chemical-free, and Ed and Mary Lynn sometimes snack straight from their garden.

One of the plants Ed grows is stevia, which has sugary-tasting leaves used to make stevia sweetener. When a stevia leaf is wrapped in fennel (a slightly sweet herb) Ed calls it “garden candy.”

In addition to growing all sorts of fruits, vegetables, and flowers, Ed and Mary Lynn also raise chickens for meat and eggs. Some are Araucana chickens, which produce eggs with a greenish-colored shell.

“We love it here,” Ed noted. “We love the quiet, the sounds of birds and wildlife, and the friendly and helpful neighbors. We are continually thankful to be living here.”

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