Field Trip to Strauss Farm

Unistar campers on a tour of hoop-house led by Anton Strauss. They’re looking at eggplants; tomato vines are behind and peppers on the sides.

My cooking lesson week at Camp Unistar were wholly based on which seasonal veggies were being supplied by the camp’s local source, a Mennonite farmer, Ivan Strauss. He had a good selection; it was interesting to note differences between what grows well in northern MN and in south-central Twin Cities. All week long, we were utterly spoiled by the quality of his super-fresh beauties. Seriously terrific veggies, including the best tomatoes some of us had ever tasted.

We were fortunate to be able to visit the source. Mary Ellen, the camp’s Food Service Director, organized a field trip to the Strauss farm west of Bemidji. Mary Ellen has been cultivating a relationship with Ivan for several years and now orders most of the camp’s vegetables from him.

Bountiful vines, clipped to vertical & horizontal wires with pulleys so you can let down each vine to harvest, then pull it back up. No ladders!

This family is old-order Mennonite, so they’re off the electrical grid and don’t drive motor vehicles. All farm operations are done by horse, gasoline, solar and lots of human power supplied by Ivan, his wife and the older of their 5 sons and 4 daughters, who range from age 21 to 3. A few of the boys were our tour guides around the fields and hoop-houses. They were harvesting tomatoes in the hoop-houses, wearing the Mennonites’ signature hats and woolen britches.

Everything is harvested by hand. We learned it takes 3 draft horses to pull the potato harvester, with a person or two behind to pick up the potatoes. Mary Ellen raved about their Yukon Golds.

Besides their rapidly expanding vegetable business, the Strauss family also raises hogs, Siberian Husky pups and makes hand-made wooden patio furniture.

Following this field trip, I was hoping to squeeze in a discussion about supporting local food economies and sustainable farming methods, but it didn’t happen. Next time!

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