By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
Gary Brever of Ploughshare Farm in Alexandria was recently named the 2012 Outstanding Young Farmer by the Minnesota Jaycees.
Brever grew up near Alexandria. After graduating from St. John’s University with a major in psychology, he became interested in environmental justice issues, which took him to Washington state.
Taking care of those less fortunate was the philosophy of the Catholic Worker community in Washington where Brever worked for a time. The farm used draft horses, and the residents grew their own food.
“I met young families getting involved with agriculture, distributing produce through community supported agriculture (CSA),” said Brever. “People were living on farms, working on farms — and being successful at it.”
Gary and Jennifer leased land and grew produce they sold at farmers markets.
“We were getting our feet wet, knowing how to grow vegetables in progression,” he said.
In 2002, the Brevers returned to Minnesota, close to Brever’s parents, and started Ploughshare Farm.
“It’s a different market in Washington, where the staple crop was salad greens,” Brever said. “Farmers markets were not as large here as in Washington.”
But the rich soil drew Brever back to his home state. “It’s why we call Minnesota ‘the breadbasket of the world,’” he said.
Ploughshare Farm started with four acres. Brever had to notify neighbors of the zero tolerance for drift of chemicals, due to his organic farming.
“They didn’t understand how I was going to make a living growing vegetables on four acres,” said Brever. “Over the years, we’ve gained our neighbors’ respect, when they’ve seen us working our butts off.”
Brever describes two handsful of healthy soil as containing six billion healthy microbes.
“That life force can then feed our plants,” he said. “We work less over time because we let the soil feed the plants.”
Brever pointed out that not all organic farms are certified, but they are sustainable. They respect the soil.
One of the neighbors planted a fall cover crop this year, something Brever would not have seen 10 years ago.
“Cover crops retain the soil from erosion, feed the soil and break up disease and pressures in the soil,” Brever said.
His farm now encompasses 160 acres, with 25 used to grow vegetables.
“We grow more than 100 varieties of crops,” he said.
Ploughshare Farm currently has 425 CSA members, from Alexandria, Sauk Centre, St. Cloud and the Metro area.
Subscriptions are available for the main season, 18 weeks from early June into late September; fall storage season from October through December and a frozen winter share.
Consumers purchase a CSA share, which is a box of produce picked up at designated drop off points every week.
At the award ceremony in early December, Brever received his Outstanding Young Farmer award. He is quick to point out that at the same banquet, 10 outstanding young Minnesotans also received awards.
“It always feels good to get recognized by the community,” he said. “It also gives me an avenue to talk about organic to the greater community.”
One of the biggest benefits to consumers of participating in a CSA is to broaden their palates.
“It gets people out of the grocery store ruts of always picking up the same things,” Brever said. “We introduce them to new and exciting vegetables, giving them a bigger variety.”
Ploughshare Farm offers cooking classes as well as online recipes for new vegetables.
For more information, find Ploughshare Farm online at www.ploughshare farm.com or call (320) 304-0918.