Bemidji Community Food Shelf presents 'Friend of the Farm' award

Bemidji Community Food Shelf Executive Director Mary Mitchell, left, and Farm Manager Dorothy Barnes, right, present Chris Tower with the Friend of the Farm Award. Submitted photo.

BEMIDJI -- The harvest is in at the Bemidji Community Food Shelf farm, and according to a release from Executive Director Mary Mitchell, it was a record-setting year.

Despite challenges involving the loss of volunteer groups and organizations due to COVID-19, nearly 15,000 pounds of produce was harvested for area families, a new record for the farm, the release said.

In past years, the farm depended on volunteer groups from camps, schools, and other organizations to perform the large number of tasks needed to grow a variety of produce grown in fields, raised beds, and high tunnels. AmeriCorps NCCC has been an annual partner, providing teams of 6-10 young people for six weeks at a time, and YouthWorks sent large teams of youth semi-weekly over a three-month period.

In March, it became clear that things would be very different this year for the farm due to the pandemic. “It was devastating to realize that we were not going to get any of our usual volunteer groups,” Farm Manager Dorothy Barnes said in the release. “AmeriCorps and YouthWorks were especially helpful because there were so many young people and they worked hard and accomplished a lot.”

Food shelf staff let the community know of its need for farm volunteers through social media and other means. "It turns out that there were many folks who were looking to do something during the pandemic, and this outdoor opportunity was a healthy option," Mitchell said. "About a dozen people came regularly -- some even daily -- to plant, mulch, water, and weed."


“These folks were there from planting through harvest, so they truly saw 'the fruits of their labor,'” Mitchell said. “This gave them a special sense of pride and ownership that other groups may not have experienced.”

This year’s crops included rhubarb, tomatoes, squash, onions, greens, cabbage, potatoes, green beans, and peppers. Asparagus, apple trees, and grapevines were planted this year for future harvests.

Each year the food shelf presents the Friend of the Farm Award to an individual who has made major contributions to the success of the farm. This year’s recipient was Chris Tower, a member of the Farm Vision Committee. Every spring for the past several years, Chris has seeded and grown vegetable seedlings for the farm, the release said.

Many of the seedlings were sold at the annual spring plant sale, with proceeds going to the farm, and the remaining seedlings planted on the farm. This year, Tower also constructed raised beds in a small high tunnel, and designed and created a large pollinator rain garden on food shelf property, the release said.

His award plaque, “Growing Carrots and Kids,” honors his contributions with a nod to his past work with school gardens and with student groups at the food shelf farm.

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