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CHAPTER 6 The AbsoluteLast Thing I Ever Dreamed I'd BeDoing LONNY AND SANDY DIETZ Most of our city planners and many agriculture scientists would declare that the highland ridges above the Whitewater River in southeast Minnesota are "marginal lands." They're not suited for townhouse development or for growing commodity crops like corn and beans. But that's one reason Lonny and Sandy Dietz found them attractive. They had something else in mind, and they didn't want to be dependent, beholden to the federal government's farm bill that supplements the income of farmers who, for one reason or another, raise corn and soybeans. After I find my way up steep gravel and pull into the farm at the end of the road, I learn that one thing about this place that appealed to the Dietzes was that it was situated here at the end of the road. That would limit development. Another was that it seemed well suited to their hopes for a diversified operation that would work on sustainable principles and that could offer a measure of self-sufficiency and an income from farm-to-market direct sales of healthy vegetables and meat. Another appealing feature, one not commonly sought, was that the land had been pretty much abused. Part of the Dietzes' purpose was to restore at least a small piece of southeast Minnesota to ecological health. Lonny: Why get into this? I wanted to try to help. It killsyou to seeall these farms going under. We looked around, driving all over the country, studiedplat maps and aerial photos,for four years before we bought this place. We thought the hill road would protect us here, The Absolute Last Thing I Ever Dreamed I'd Be Doing and we could restore and protect the place, but development comes here too. The farm had a history, as Lonny explains, of alternating good practice and poor. Its most recent owner had let the place run down. When we moved in here, it was covered with brush. We moved 350 stumps from just around here. (Lonny waves his arm in a quarter-circle sweep.) The original owner had a very diverse farm and kept it up real well, but the next farmer just let it run down. (Lonny points out a couple of shaggy goats standing in front of the shed.} We had forty goats to start with. Sandy wanted to do some weaving. We step up on the porch, enter the house,and sit down at the circular kitchen table. Sandy puts on coffee and joins us. Lonny mentions the goats again. Sandy: I was pretty excited, but the market just went down. Now we're down to two—a couple of geriatric cases. (She smiles.} Lonny: There's a couple of sows out there too. We usually have twenty or so. Sandy: We sell them in halves or wholes. / askabout marketing the vegetables. Lonny: We have a small CSA [Community Supported Agriculture] going for us. Last year we averaged twenty-five members, mostly in Rochester, a few out here. We try to keep it on a personal note. We're doing a little different. Most direct sales or Community Supported Agriculture operations set up in one spot, and everybody comes to them, but we can deliver to offices in Rochester, where we have several buyers in the same building. We sell to Winona farmers' market, too, and some to the Twin Cities. It's always been a little different down here, the country is so steep. Customers try things [vegetables] they wouldn't have otherwise because of our diversity. We put a letter in their basket every week so they know what they've got and how to fix it. Next step is to get the vegetable production down [meaning "down pat," not down in amount of production], maybe expand into bigger fields—maybe ten acres of carrots, because there are some markets out there. But we want to get the small system down first. We talk a bit about the difficulties of farming with care for the land, the animals, the humans on it, and all the related species who depend upon the natural systems around us. Both Lonny and Sandy are interested in social justice issues as well asfarming and ecology. 77 Farmers Talking about Farming Sandy: There's something wrong with a system where, to keep our level of life, we have to have poverty nations. Lonny:We're starting to be a...


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