Farming is hard – and not just because the hours are long and labor-intensive.

“Access to land is a challenge, machinery is expensive and finding markets can be difficult,” says farmer Luke Peterson. He rents about 500 acres near Madison, Minn., to farm organic grains and grass-fed beef.

“It’s challenging, but it’s not impossible if you find the right people to connect with,” he adds.

One of those key connections has been with Baker’s Field Flour and Bread of Northeast Minneapolis. There, Peterson found like-minded people who valued his approach to farming. Instead of using chemicals and synthetic fertilizers, Peterson takes a more natural approach, using regenerative farm techniques such as crop rotation, grazing cattle, no fall tillage, and cover crops and perennials.

For Peterson, just growing certified organic grains does not go far enough. He wants to give back to the soil what he takes out.

“If you look at where your food comes from, or how it’s grown, are we going to be able to sustain ourselves on this planet with our current model of agriculture?” Peterson asks.

Increasingly, Peterson said the agricultural system makes it harder for small farms to survive. With larger-scale operations, he notes that decisions are often guided by cost concerns, rather than by caring for the soil or sustainable approaches. With Baker’s Field, he found an organization that appreciated his practices. Baker’s Field buys direct from farmers and has its own in-house stone mill, producing fresh flour daily.

“The philosophy is to be as connected to our local grain economy as we can,” says Wes Gardner, Baker’s Field’s head baker.

Peterson was able to negotiate a fair price for his wheat, above usual rates. He is also guaranteed a market for his product. In turn, Baker’s Field can deepen a direct relationship with Peterson, and they can plan several years out.

Baker’s Field is also trying to redefine its practices. It’s part of Food Building, a food start-up brainchild developed by longtime Minneapolis restauranteur Kieran Folliard. By working directly with small dairy, meat and grain producers, Folliard wants to be a bridge between people who care where their food comes from, time-honored practices and passionate food makers.

“The sun is blocked from small producers by a very large industrial complex that is modern-day agriculture, modern-day food. And it’s to really start to develop relationships, one person at a time, to really build value and the meaning and the why behind the products produced here in Food Building,” Folliard says.

But Peterson’s farm will only prosper if enough people also value small-scale farms who want to grow food in this way.

“I want to do it because I have children. I think our future depends upon it,” he says.

This story was published May 20, 2020.

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