Susan Rester Miles is a retired Washington County, Minn. judge. She lives along the St. Croix River in Scandia. She previously wrote about the Beez Kneez for St. Croix 360.
“When you eat vegetables, you’re eating soil.” So says one of the owners of Foxtail Farm, a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) organic produce farm south of Osceola, Wisconsin. Foxtail’s co-owners, Emmalyn Kayser and partner Cody Fitzpatrick, take pride in their farm’s soil, which they have painstakingly curated to yield a dizzying variety of nutrient-dense, flavorful vegetables for their customers.
Nestled on a plain just south of the Englewood Tract of Standing Cedars Land Conservancy, Foxtail Farm has just harvested, in mid-April, its first 2023 crop of organic spinach. A week earlier, the farm was shin-deep in snow. Along with daikon radishes, onions, kohlrabi, beets, and carrots stored over the winter, plus some frozen homemade goods and kimchi, Emmalyn, Cody, and assistant Ashley filled 120 boxes and delivered them to spring CSA customers located around Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Producing spinach in April at forty-five degrees north latitude is the result of hard work, technical know-how, and ingenuity. The Foxtail trio uses seasonal extension farming practices learned and honed by Emmalyn and Cody in Alaska, where for several years they worked on organic farms near Denali National Park. Their infrastructure includes four 30’ x 96’ hoop houses fueled by passive solar energy, a couple of propagation greenhouses, and a total of three acres of land dedicated to the growing operation. Each poly-sided hoop house shelters five rows of seedlings, some nurtured over the entire winter, and others recently inter-planted with the more mature crops.
Each day, the Foxtail crew manages indoor growing conditions by deploying layers of fabric blankets of varying thicknesses against the evening chill, and by raising the sides of the elongated poly cocoons. Work goes on around the clock and throughout the calendar.
Once the weather warms in May, seedlings are transplanted outside in heavy clay (sandy loam) soil left behind by the last couple of incursions of the Laurentide Ice Sheet. Emily, developing an interest in soil science while completing her B.S. in Environmental Science at University of Iowa, is smitten with the area’s Ice Age geologic history and welcomed the chance to relocate here.
Sustaining low-till farming practices has become a high priority at Foxtail. If needed, once a year Cody gets behind a “BCS” Italian tiller and combines his push power with an engine the size of a large lawn mower before planting begins. Benefits of their minimal till approach include reduced soil compaction and disturbance, allowing resident critters, bugs, and worms to work their aeration magic. Improvements over time are enhanced soil nutrients and decreased reliance on amendments, and less competition for those nutrients by weeds. In other words, no herbicides. Quite a feat in soil with enough clay to have produced the bricks of their 1860’s farmhouse.
Foxtail’s mission, growing high-quality, delicious organic vegetables using strictly sustainable practices, is baked into the owners’ genes. After getting her degree, Emmalyn worked on farms from Iowa to Hawaii before winding up at a lodge in Alaska. There she learned the art of seasonal extension farming while working with Denali Organic Growers (DOG). Cody, curious about what had happened to his grade school friend from their days growing up in the same neighborhood of Minneapolis, tracked Emmalyn down through Facebook. He then joined her at DOG. The farm where they labored was off-grid yet supplied the restaurant of a lodge near Denali National Park with vegetables, herbs, and even tomatoes during limited and harsh growing seasons.
The couple decided to return to the Twin Cities metro to be nearer to family and were drawn to the eastern side of the St. Croix River with all its farming potential, even with the presence of all that clay. They found jobs at Foxtail, owned at the time by Chris and Paul Burkhouse, and signed on for a season of work while they got their bearings. By the time the Burkhouses decided to sell, Cody and Emmalyn were ready to move into the ownership role.
Four years later, they recently finished the long process of gaining organic certification from Midwest Organic Services Agency. They plant only three of the farm’s 62 acres, including the ground covered by the hoop houses, yielding enough vegetables to fill their customers’ needs throughout the spring, summer, and fall.
In addition to the spring and fall CSA’s they sell at the Osceola and Midtown (Minneapolis) Farmers Markets, and produce the ingredients for homemade kim chi, sauerkraut, and frozen vegetables for the CSA. When the Midtown Market opens in May, Foxtail expects that for several weeks they will be the only vendor of local organic greens.
Foxtail plays an integral part in the St. Croix Valley sustainable farming community. Emmalyn serves on the board of the St. Croix Valley Farmers Alliance, a new organization whose members focus on raising crops and animals using organic, low-till farming methods, and who believe that a “healthy culture begins and ends with food, what we eat, and how it is grown, prepared, and shared.” Emmalyn and Cody also rely on relationships with a local cheese producer, bread baker, coffee roaster, and mushroom grower to provide CSA customers with the option to add these goods on to their CSA deliveries.
According to a study published by Peer J in 2022 (Montgomery, Bikle, et. al.) which compared regenerative with conventional farming practices at several locations around the U.S., regenerative farms that combined no-till, cover crops, and diverse rotations produced crops with higher levels of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. The study also lends support to the conclusion that “soil health is an under appreciated influence on nutrient density,” and that beneficial micronutrients are relevant to chronic disease prevention. This prescription for healthier vegetables is exactly what Cody and Emmalyn have in mind when they hit the fields and hoop houses every day.
Besides, as Cody says, Foxtail’s are “best damn carrots I’ve ever tasted.”