Bike tour introduces consumer and producer

On Saturday afternoon, I gathered outside of Buntrock with many other Oles to participate in the first annual Farm Bike Tour. The hardworking Oles who planned the event couldn’t have picked a better day; in practically 80-degree weather, I was pleased to be wearing shorts, a T-shirt and sunglasses.

At registration, I received a tour map for recreational bikers opting out of the 50-mile road warrior route and information about the activities at each farm. I was also able to rent a bike and helmet for free. The tour visited seven local farms in Northfield at four different locations: STOGROW, the Carleton Student Farm, Spring Wind Farm, Little Hill Berry Farm, SEEDS Farm, Laughing Loon Farm and Rural Enterprise Center REC.

The Farm Bike Tour was organized by several student groups at St. Olaf in partnership with Bon Appetit Management Company.

“The 2012 Farm Tour was an exhilarating success,” according to Isaac Behrens ’14, a student organizer of the tour. “More than 300 people found their way to seven different Northfield farms, mostly by bike, getting to meet and talk with the people who grow the food we eat.”

Bikers could choose the order of the farms they visited, and at each of the farms, participate in different activities led by student organizations and meet the farmers. Activities included making cornhusk dolls, screen-printing, lawn games, face painting and painting with potato stamps. At the end of the tour, riders were treated to a gourmet meal, featuring local foods donated by Bon Appetit and great live music. A free shuttle from both St. Olaf and Carleton to SEEDS Farm ran throughout the late afternoon and early evening, attracting more visitors to the festival as the evening progressed.

The idea for this event was hatched last year at the Wendell Berry House, a St. Olaf honor house that focuses on creating community through food, but they didn’t know how to make their vision a reality. Early this summer, Sarah Piper, the Midwest fellow for Bon Appetit, contacted returning members of the Wendell Berry House and said that she wanted to help make the event happen. Piper’s job is to help connect the people who Bon Appetit serves to their food, and she routinely meets with Carleton and St. Olaf students.

“We decided that we wanted it to be free so anyone who wanted to go could attend,” said Emma Cornwell ’13, an organizer of the event. “We wanted it to be for donations so that people who had money could give, and the charity we chose was Dayna Burtness [of Laughing Loon Farm] because this was the first year she farmed on her own farm, and she lost $15,000 worth in crops from the flood in the beginning of the summer.”

Cornwell was on campus this past summer when damaging floods severely impacted Laughing Loon and SEEDS Farm, and she admired the way the Northfield community rallied around the farmers to help clean up the damage and replant in time for harvest.

“I know that the Northfield community is really connected to their local food shed, and they are really in tune with the needs of their community,” Cornwell said. “I’m excited that St. Olaf students and Carleton students who take part in this event get to be part of that community, too.”

All the farms on the tour sell food to Bon Appetit, and as a student, it was amazing to visit the farms where so much of our food at St. Olaf comes from.

“I didn’t realize the extent to which local farms are involved in sustainable food and how much Bon Appetit supports those farms,” said Stephanie Tyler ’13, who took part in the bike tour and the festival.

In what is sure to become a Northfield tradition, the Farm Bike Tour allowed participants to peer into the hardworking lives of farmers breaking away from large-scale agricultural production.

“Continuing to tell the stories of the growing Northfield local foods network will best guide people to reconnect with the food web that feeds us all,” Behrens said.