From Farm to Spoke in Minnesota

From left to right: Danny Knigge (Carleton College General Manager Katie McKenna’s son), Midwest Fellow S.K. Piper, Carleton College Sous Chef Gibson Price, Carleton College Board Manager Jenny Pope, Dayna Burtness of Laughing Loon Farm, and Carleton College General Manager Katie McKenna enjoying the festival at SEEDS farm

Putting a face to your food by talking to farmers at the farmers’ market is nice, but getting to actually see where and how they grow is even better. Recently, more than 150 people gathered to do just that, thanks to Northfield, MN’s first annual Farm Bike Tour (Sustainable agriculture and human-powered transportation go together like peaches and cream.)

Organized by students at Carleton, St. Olaf, and Macalester Colleges and myself, the seven-farm tour and closing party was completely free for participants, funded by in-kind donations and community grants that student organizers and I secured, with the food cost being covered by the Bon Appétit teams at the three schools.

Participants of all ages from Northfield, the Twin Cities, and as far away as Bemidji started off the unseasonably warm day by showing up at either Carleton or St. Olaf to register. There, they could park, borrow bikes and helmets for free, and receive a passport with the events at each farm and a map of suggested routes between the seven farms, all Bon Appétit Farm to Fork vendors. The bikers could choose to follow the suggested route, taking them to all farms and back in under 20 miles; a shorter, family-friendly route with sidewalks; or tack on a 25-mile scenic “road warrior” addition.

People took off pedaling at their own pace, heading to the farms they wanted for the activities that most interested them. Some popular sessions: seeing the chickens at Main Street Project’s Rural Enterprise Center, harvesting potatoes at the Carleton Student Farm, and making corn husk dolls at Spring Wind Farm.

With some very special guests on the ride, including the Taste Editor from the Star Tribune, a reporter from St. Paul’s Pioneer Press, and two carloads full of Macalester students who made the drive down from St. Paul for the event, the volunteers and I didn’t want anyone to get stranded. There was a “sag wagon” consisting of the cycling teams at both schools armed with patch kits, pumps, and replacement tubes to help anyone who had bike trouble en route.

The farms hosted activities from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m., when the festival at SEEDS farm started. Around 300 people came to enjoy the live music from five local bands, activities such as screen printing one’s own event T-shirt on a secondhand shirt, and the amazing local and sustainable spread put together by Bon Appétit at Carleton with dessert by the St. Olaf team. A shuttle ran between the two schools and the festival at SEEDS the entire time, ensuring a steady flow of folks eager to grab a bite and listen to the band while enjoying the sunset from their seats on straw bales. Festival goers also had the chance to go home with awesome door prizes such as a gift basket from Peace Coffee, free bike tune-ups, a helmet, bike pump, and sunglasses.

Participants traded in their bikes for seats on hay bales to enjoy the live music at SEEDS farm

At the festival, donations were accepted on behalf of Laughing Loon Farm to help owner (and former BAMCO Fellow) Dayna Burtness recover from the devastating summer floods. The event raised just under $1,000 in donations for her to use toward hoop houses.

The first annual Farm Bike Tour was a huge success, and the feedback was very positive, with many people thanking the volunteer army for organizing such a fun community event. It was great to see the students at all three Bon Appétit schools and the entire community really come together for an amazing day of community building and learning about sustainable agriculture.