Every Friday morning, wearing dusty overalls and an engineer's cap, Greg Reynolds eases the week's vegetable offerings into the Wedge on his two-wheeler, delighting the morning Produce Department crew. Greg's fresh, certified organic vegetables from mere miles away mean fabulous food and happy customers.
The Wedge is one of Greg's first deliveries in a long line of co-ops and restaurants waiting for the fresh, delicious goodies he and wife Mary and partner David VanEeckhout cultivate at Riverbend Farm in Delano, Minnesota. You've probably eaten more of Riverbend's produce than you realized, as Greg supplies a dozen or so of the city's best restaurants, including Uptown Minneapolis favorites Auriga, Lucia's, and the Crema Cafe.
It's no wonder, because his vegetables are some of the most intriguing and original in the local organic foods market. During the growing season he arrives bearing bunches of fine exotic greens like mizuna mustards, rapini, tat soi, or arugula so nutty and peppery you can smell it before the box has been opened. He also delivers diverse varieties of eggplants and heirloom tomatoes, fat, shiny, and boldly colored, representing the very essence of late summer harvest. From spring to fall, Riverbend supplies the Wedge with a spectrum of flavors for your palate, from zippy hot radishes to mellow zucchini, bright sweet Italian frying peppers to earthy and lush "Minnesota Midget" muskmelons.
Greg also imparts a fair bit of wisdom and information about the nature of organic farming to those of us on the retail end of the food chain through his engaging farm reports
Riverbend has been an ambition of Greg's for a long time. "In high school I decided that I wanted to have a farm that would produce food and not be totally dependent on fossil fuel," Greg says, "but I realized I couldn't buy land and equipment making $2.50 an hour."
This lead him into studying astrophysics, obtaining a physics degree, and a job at MIT, something most people would consider ambition enough. Greg met his wife Mary in the east, and they moved to Connecticut.
"While living in Connecticut, we always had an organic garden. It started out 30' x 30', and wound up being about half an acre!" Still not satisfied, eventually they moved to Minnesota and bought the 80 acres of land they farm now in Delano. The farm was certified in 1994, which finally succeeded in bringing his dreams to reality, at least in part. Regarding the second part of his dream, his farm's consumption of fossil fuels, he says, "As it is, I use about 300 gallons of gas for tractors, combine, trucks... and around 500 gallons of gas to deliver the food. So I'm not sure that I have been successful on the 2nd part... yet!" Compared to the journey of produce from California, however, nobody around here is complaining.
One Huge Leak
What makes Riverbend unique is that it embodies a concerted effort towards a more sustainable version of organic farming than is normally practiced. "Organic farming is not conventional production with different inputs. It is a systems approach to food production," Greg says.
As an example, Riverbend does not merely grow saleable crops on their land, they also rotationally grow what are known as "green manure" crops, such as soybeans, that actually help to reinvest nutrient fertility in the soil for the next year's vegetables.
This practice and attitude is unique even among small farms and completely absent from most corporately owned organic producers. Greg continues, "Every load of vegetables that leaves the farm is another huge leak in our nutrient cycle. It is a part of the system that we have to deal with if we are going to leave our grandchildren anything as good as we found."
Buying local, organic produce from farms like Riverbend is not just about eating the best food that nature can produce, it supports the dreams of people like Greg who want to maintain our ecosystem by providing people access to food that is responsibly grown, both for human health and environmental preservation.
Luckily for us, we don't need to be astrophysicists to know that's good math.