Jenny and Dan Kapernick threw a Saturday night feast for friends and customers at their Little Big Sky Farm this month.
“We set out to celebrate fresh, local food and community … and cover our costs on a beautiful night,” said Dan Kapernick.
About 125 adults, with kids eating free, forked over $20 apiece for homegrown grilled vegetables, salads, lamb roasted on an open-fire spit and dessert — all of it served buffet-style in a field on a beautiful September evening.
It was a capstone evening for the Kapernicks and their helpers, topping a couple of days of hard work. And it served as a celebration of the Kapernicks’ second year as farmers in a tiny but growing slice of a huge industry.
They are part of the small community-supported agriculture (CSA) movement in which consumers buy “shares” of a farmer’s harvest before planting. The bounty is delivered during the summer and fall to share owners, mostly in the Twin Cities.
The Kapernicks, who also work off-farm jobs, are vegetable growers.
There are about 100 CSA farmers in Minnesota, all part of the much larger 68,500-strong “Minnesota Grown” network of farmers, distributors, farmers markets and others who trade under that homegrown label, according to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.
Dan Kapernick, 32, a carpenter by trade who still remodels houses outside of growing season, worked on a farm as a teenager and always wanted to live on the land and produce at least a small crop.
“We grew enough of this food this year to meet demand,” Kapernick said. “We didn’t have enough for our second week of deliveries to share with owners because of heavy rains. So, we extended the season by a week. We start early because we also have a small greenhouse and nursery.”
The Kapernicks in 2013 paid $170,000 for their acreage near Henderson, 50 miles southwest of the Twin Cities.
Jenny Kapernick lived with her mother and baby in Minneapolis while Dan built a house on the land. They moved to the farm in 2015 with son Omer, now 5, and had their daughter, Mirah.
The Kapernicks grow the vegetables on less than 1.5 acres of their 20-acre homestead, once part of a 160-acre corn and bean farm. They rent several acres to a neighboring organic farmer and the rest of the land is woods.
The tidy farmstead is a far cry from the overgrown, weedy land they bought and started to farm in 2018.
“I have lived in New York City and Minneapolis,” said Jenny Kapernick, 36, who grew up in La Crosse, Wis., and teaches school in Henderson. “Moving to this land and getting settled was a challenge. Once we started farming, it has been a joy. And we experience this through our children. The farm is their playground.”
The modest farm income sure wouldn’t support the Kapernick family without off-farm employment, but the payoff is tremendous, she said.
“There also is as much mental energy that goes into this as physical energy — the planning and preparation of what to grow. I also love the growing. And I love the community part, selling directly to our customers,” she said. “My sister and I long have played music. We play to connect with people. It’s equally intimate to grow food for people we get to know. Sometimes we harvest in the morning, and they cook it that night.”
The Kapernicks charge $550 for a three-quarter bushel box of up to 12 different types of vegetables delivered to customers for 18 weeks. A half-share is $330 for a one-half bushel box of up to nine types. The farm grows 20 to 30 types of vegetables from carrots and cabbage to broccoli, radishes and herbs.
The Kapernicks, assisted during the summer by two part-time college students, use mostly hand tools. The biggest piece of equipment is a small “walking tractor” with a 13-horsepower engine for tilling and weeding.
Some CSA farms are certified organic. Some, such as the Kapernicks’ Little Big Sky, use organic fertilizer and avoid chemical pesticides and herbicides, but choose not to put in the time and expense for an organic designation.
“The real benefit to CSA is the opportunity for people to get into farming on a small scale, and CSA farms produce a high-value product with a lot of labor and it fits with the growing ‘local-food’ movement,” said Karen Lanthier of the Minnesota Grown program at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. “Some consumers want to know where their food is grown and the people who grow it.”
Mimi Schirber and her Minneapolis family, members of the Little Big Sky CSA, have been share owners in the CSA movement for a decade.
“Living in a big city where we can purchase nearly any food item we’d like at any time of the year, it is easy to forget where these foods grow … and how good real food can taste,” said Schirber, whose husband, Steve, was a volunteer, roasting lamb the day of the farm dinner.
The family also frequents farmers markets in the Twin Cities.
“Partnering with a [CSA] farm brings us one step closer to the story of our food,” she said. “I love the idea of the produce coming to me at its freshest and the money going directly to my farmer.”
The Kapernicks don’t plan to expand their plot next year. They will work on getting better, from growing to harvesting to delivering.
“I would like to have a 200-member CSA within five years,” Dan Kapernick said.