Small, organic farms and bikes attract the same sort of fans, it appears — both are undeterred by inclement weather. Last year, after hundreds of students and community members came together for a bicycle-powered celebration of local farms, the Farm Bike Tour in Northfield, MN, then-Midwest Fellow S.K. Piper and student organizers at Carleton College and St. Olaf College agreed that it had to happen again the following year. For Round Two, they aimed to engage a bigger and broader audience in the exploration of local food and agriculture.
During this past spring and summer, the Farm Bike Tour planning committee — Carleton and St. Olaf students, Carleton College General Manager Katie McKenna, Kelly Scheuerman of The Center for Civic and Community Engagement at Carleton, Stephanie Aman of Just Food Co-op, SEEDs Farm, and me (I’m the new Midwest Fellow; Piper is now Bon Appétit’s sustainability manager at Denison University) — secured event sponsorships, engaged community partners, and crossed our fingers for another unseasonably warm September day like last year.
The week leading up to the event approached, and the weather forecast did not look promising. I bargained with the Mother Nature to give me just this one sunny day. I woke up that Saturday, September 28, to a chilly 50 degrees and steady rain.
I headed to Carleton that morning, certain that no college student on earth would choose to get out of bed to ride a bike in the damp cold. I should have known better. After months working alongside students at Carleton and St. Olaf to plan the event, I already knew these were no ordinary college students and Northfield was no ordinary town. Over the course of the afternoon, about a hundred students, Northfield residents, and local food enthusiasts from the nearby region visited seven farms, all Bon Appétit Farm to Fork partners. Two carloads of Macalester College students from St. Paul also drove down for the event.
A little rain was no match for a community committed to supporting their farmers and local food systems!
Cyclists set out at their own pace and chose from the recreational route, taking them to all farms and back in under 20 miles; a shorter, family-friendly route; or the additional 25-mile“road warrior” path. From 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., farms along the route hosted guests for farm tours and activities such as harvesting cherry tomatoes at the Carleton Farm, a beekeeping workshop at SEEDS Farm, and a tour of the chicken coop at Main Street Project’s Rural Enterprise Center. Other farms in the tour included STOGROW (St. Olaf’s student farm), Open Hands Farm , Spring Wind Farm, and Little Hill Berry Farm.
After the ride, approximately 400 people came out to SEEDS Farm for the Harvest Festival. The sun even decided to show up for a bit! A shuttle ran between the two colleges and the Just Food Grocery Co-op in downtown Northfield the entire time, which allowed people to join the celebration even if they missed the bicycle tour. Like the previous year, the entire event was free to participants and funded by in-kind donations and community grants. At the festival, donations were accepted for the Minnesota Sustainable Agriculture Association, which has provided mentorship and resources for many of the farms on the Farm Bike Tour.
At the Harvest Festival, guests spent the evening listening to live entertainment from six local bands and the Carleton Improv group, chatting with local farmers, and enjoying the incredible dinner prepared by the Bon Appétit chefs at Carleton and desserts from the team at St. Olaf. From the Thousand Hills Cattle Co. beef sliders to the apple, kale and quinoa salad, the chefs highlighted local flavors and the strong relationships they’ve developed with the farmers over the years. The event’s emcee, Carleton student Sam Braslow, kept the crowd laughing and on the edge of their seats (or straw bales) as he announced the more than 20 raffle winners. Raffle prizes ranged from 12 fold-up bicycles donated by Cannon Falls Canoe and Bike Rental (a definite crowd pleaser!) to my personal favorite — a free pants hem from the local alterations shop.
As I sat on my straw bale listening to the music and the laughter of children playing in mud puddles, I felt thankful to have just been a part of this community-building event. It is rare to get students, college staff, and community groups together in one room, let alone collaborating for months on an event.
At Bon Appétit, we recognize the power of good food to bring people together. I can’t think of a more inspiring example.