Fairview Farm, near Plainview, MN, may have the short growing season typical of the Upper Midwest, but the farm has a year-round marketing season. In winter, two generations of the Timm family market their own home-grown vegetables at the Rochester, MN and Winona, MN indoor Winter Markets, and sell in quantity to school districts, co-ops, and restaurants, all of whom are eager to “buy local.”
The Timms carefully select varieties suited for long-term storage, and maintain optimum storage temperature and humidity. By doing so, they are able to offer a wide variety of vegetables, roots and potatoes through the coldest part of the winter and well into the spring.
Desaray Timm, wife of Ben Timm, who bought into his parents’ farm and became a partner in 2008, said, “About 1,200 lbs. of parsnips go into winter storage, packed in large plastic bags with just a touch of moisture added to each bag to prevent shriveling. The bags are stacked on pallets in the storage building. The storage is heated to maintain a temperature of 38 to 42 degrees. We sell a lot of parsnips at the farmers markets, and to co-ops and restaurants.”
An even bigger winter seller for the farm is carrots, also packed in large plastic bags with a bit of moisture in each, and stacked on pallets. “We had 11 pallets that held about 500 lbs. of carrots apiece last year,” she explained. Their carrot variety, besides being delicious, stores so well that the roots are still in good condition well into spring. “Last spring it was time to move out the last of the carrots, and the School District of Minneapolis called. They took 4,000 lbs. They’re looking to buy local as much as possible.”
Potatoes with Magenta and Purple Splashes
The Timms have some quite unusual-looking varieties of potatoes, which are particularly popular with customers at their farmers markets who are looking for something different to put on the table. Ben Timm has been increasing the number of more exotic-looking potato varieties.
“We had 24 different varieties of potatoes this past year,” Desaray added. “‘Adirondack Blue’ is purple the whole way through, a real attention catcher; ‘Purple Viking’ is a white potato with beautiful purple and magenta splashes on the skin; ‘Strawberry Paw’ is red with white skin. Those are some of the more unusual ones. This year we had a couple of big orders for potatoes from several school districts. Our longest storing potatoes are ‘Elba’ and the red-skinned ‘Red Maria.’ With these varieties, we hope to be selling potatoes from storage into March and April.”
Beets are another popular root vegetable that stores well through the winter — 1,500 to 2,000 lbs. of them this year. A lesser-known beet-size root crop, Watermelon radishes, are green/white on the outside and bright pink on the inside, and the Timms sell about 500 to 600 lbs. a year. The long, slender daikon radishes are also popular in quantity with the area’s sizeable Asian population, as well as many other customers.
Onions, two types of garlic, cabbage, and winter squash round out their winter vegetable offerings. The Timms grow ‘Red Russian’ garlic and ‘Music’, which has a larger bulb. Both are hard-neck garlic varieties that have more flavor and store longer than the soft-necks. “We mix them in one container when we sell them,” explained Desaray. “They sell well, and this year we also kept back about 20 lbs. to use for planting next year.”
In late November, the Timms were still harvesting but not the carrots or parsnips. “They’re frozen in, and will get sweeter from the cold,” said Desaray. What they were harvesting was popcorn.
“Popcorn can be picked when there’s snow on the ground,” she continued. “We store it and dry it down and husk it, and sell some on the ear, and some in plastic bags of kernels. ‘Japanese Hulless’ is our fastest selling popcorn, and ‘Mavalous’ and ‘Shaman’s Blue’, which has a slightly larger kernel, also sell well.
There’s barely a break in the year-round work at Fairview Farm. By March, it’s time to start up their greenhouses, three of them now. The greenhouse expansion was another of Ben’s projects. The greenhouses are heated with an outside wood heater, and the Timms cut much of the wood for it themselves from the wooded part of the farm.
Their farmers markets require that everything sold at the markets be grown on the seller’s farm, so to have bedding plants to sell, the Timms grow them themselves. The spring sales of greenhouse-produced bedding plants and herbs are an important part of the income from the farmers markets.
“At the farmers markets, the greenhouse season is June and July. Then we get into the normal vegetable year,” explained Desaray. “We have vegetable and flower plants, herb plants, potted annuals, hanging baskets, and we sell about 100 of those striking, large tuber dahlia plants in big pots a year. We try to stand out as much as we can. We also sell cut cilantro, parsley, and basil, but all the other herbs are sold as plants.”
During the main vegetable season, the Timms make multiple plantings of a lot of vegetables to be sure of a steady supply. “For our four acres of sweet corn last year, we made only four plantings instead of our usual six, because the spring and early summer were so rainy. It was late until we could get into the ground and plant. We do a lot of succession plantings with beans and other vegetables, too, scattering the plantings over various fields to help keep insect and disease problems to a minimum.”
Despite the cold, wet spring, this year as a whole was “not too bad,” for the Timms. “We have well-drained soil, and apply compost that’s been aged at least 90 days, some of it made with municipal leaves, in addition to vegetable trimmings and minerals.”
The Timms have no difficulty marketing their vegetables. “We’ve had a lot of the same loyal customers for years and years,” said Desaray. “Ben’s parents started selling vegetables about 20 years ago.“ During that time, the farm has earned a reputation for quality. “Ben’s Dad, Mark, was president of the Rochester Farmers’ Market at one point. Fairview Farm, with 100 tillable acres, has been farmed by family members for more than 150 years.”