Inspiration Across Generations

If you’ve read Prairie Grown, you may have noticed that I like to quote Wendell Berry. His writing, and his ideas about the world, have influenced my own significantly, and I got to wondering if there was a story behind why my folks have so many of his books. Mr. Berry has written over 40, and I would wager a guess that most of his titles have graced the Hillside Prairie Gardens homestead at some point during the last 40 years.  My parents have a small organic farm, one that is committed to keeping the health of the soil good and contributing in a positive way to the local community — much of Mr. Berry’s writing focuses on those basic principles of sustainable agriculture.

“For the true measure of agriculture is not the sophistication of its equipment the size of its income or even the statistics of its productivity but the good health of the land.”
Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture

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Rest In Gratitude

A lot happens over the course of single season during the life of a garden. By November, the plants that produced all sorts of good things during the summer have become compost, the fields have been tilled under to mark the close of the growing season, and the leaves on the aspen trees have turned from green to gold. Enough food was grown to eat, to preserve and to sell. Abundance sprang from the soil and found its way out into the world. Pounds of produce were harvested and enjoyed.

There were some things that didn’t work, as there always are in farming and gardening.  Maybe there wasn’t enough mulch in some places, and the rows ended up being waist high grass by September. Perhaps the raspberries wanted more water than they got, or the cucumber beetles decided to feast on the melons. It’s likely that uses for cucumbers and zucchini ran out and some giants got left in the field. But the farm was alive with growth, and it lived for another season, despite challenges-or perhaps it lives on year after year because of them and the contrast they provide. Continue reading

Abundance in Disguise

This season’s garden has been a little disappointing.  The asparagus didn’t produce much and now the patch is completely choked with weeds that I can’t quite bring myself to tackle.  Every time I walk by I think, “man, I hope it doesn’t completely die.”  The tomatoes, for the second year in a row, are being affected by late blight (and getting eaten by something) and fade away to nothing before they turn red.  The zucchini, so prolific a month ago has succumbed to bugs, and the cucumbers just never took off.   The vole got the beets once again, the brussels spouts are not sprouting, and the carrots are a sorry lot of thin and stubby. There is a lot of failure if failure’s what I’m looking for.

But when I look again, I realize that there are literally thousands of pounds of purple viking and German butterball potatoes in the ground, just waiting to be harvested.  Despite the sad state of the heirlooms, the sungold tomatoes are falling from the vines like offerings.  The pole bean teepee, after a rocky start thanks to some very friendly rabbits, has gotten a second wind and the vines are dripping with slender green goodness.   Continue reading

How To Start Growing Healthy, Sustainable Food In Your Garden

This is a guest post, contributed by Tim Sparke.

When it comes to eating healthily, vegetables are vital. With the right variety, they can provide you with nutrients, potassium and other vital supplements the body needs. Of course, they’re at the very best, as well as being at their most delicious, when they’re fresh.  And what’s more fresh than from your own garden?

Growing your own vegetables is relatively easy with a little know-how. Not only will this provide you with the freshest natural ingredients possible, you will also save money by relying on the supermarket less. Furthermore, this is a very green and sustainable method of providing your own food, while enjoying a family activity that promotes bonding.

These quick tips offer some information to help you get started! Continue reading

Farm Memories

When I was writing Prairie Grown, I asked Melissa and Hanna,  my brothers’ girlfriends [at the time — Hanna is now my sister- in- law, and Melissa will be as of September!), about some of their favorite memories from spending time at Hillside Prairie Gardens.  We weren’t able to include their stories in the book, but they had some beautiful things to say that are worthy of sharing here, and reading again and again. Continue reading

Twin Organics: Cultivating Wildness

Eva, my four year old, and I took a little field trip last week 50 miles to the south of our home in the St. Croix River Valley to my family’s other organic farm.  Twin Organics is located just outside River Falls, Wisconsin and is owned and operated by my twin brothers, Jacob and Andrew Helling.  Jacob and Andrew were instrumental in helping Hillside Prairie Gardens resume larger growing practices in 2010 and are now branching out to their own place to grow organic veggies for restaurants in the Twin Cities area.  They’ve rented 5 acres these last two years on what used to be a grass fed cattle operation, and they share space with a group of jovial Kenyan farmers wielding hand tools to the north and Clover Bee Farm, an organic CSA and market grower, to the east.   They won’t stay here forever, but for now, it’s the home of Twin Organics and life is thriving in the rich Wisconsin soil.


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Beauty by Way of Carrots

Heidi Barr

I want to grow carrots not because agribusiness is a filthy, greedy, heartless beast, but because rooting in the dirt is fun, worms are groovy creatures, and you can’t buy the sweet satisfaction of a fresh carrot at any price.  I want to live a simple, rooted life not because a place of privilege feeds on other people’s poverty, but because meals of venison, potatoes, and berry pie fill our kitchen with gratitude-crazed grins.  I want to leave the car in the driveway not because the carbon spilling from the exhaust will tip the planet into an inferno, but because a bike ride puts wind in your face and birdsong in your ears.  It pumps blood through your veins and reminds us that life is a dizzyingly splendid idea. 

Hank Lentfer

I heard activist Cynthia Jurs say the words be in the conversation, not the fight earlier in the spring…

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Eat Your Vegetables

I talked to a grown man last week who, when asked how he felt about his nutritional habits, responded with, “Well, I don’t eat vegetables. They make me gag and throw up.”


There is a lot of brokenness in the way first world countries interact with food today. At this point, that pretty much goes without saying. But being able to say you don’t eat vegetables? (a staple of the human diet since the beginning of the human experience on earth) Ever? Because you don’t care for them? It’s like saying you don’t brush your teeth – ever – because you just haven’t found the perfect shade of turquoise toothbrush. It doesn’t make sense. How did we get to this place where a human being can be say, “I don’t eat vegetables” and still be alive to tell about it? Continue reading

Spring Has Sprung!

It’s starting to truly feel like spring in Minnesota, where I live.  And spring in mid-west America means that farmer’s markets, CSAs, roadside stands, u-pick berry farms, and community gardens are not so far away.  We tend to celebrate the re-engagement with fresh foods around here because in this part of the world, winter is long and the growing season is short.  Some of us have greenhouses and high tunnels and grow lights to extend the season, but the days when tomatoes and peppers and lettuce thrive outside with only the sun above and the soil below are days to anticipate and look forward to with joyful expectation. Continue reading