By Jennie Zeitler
The King family has farmed Maple Hill Garden in Clotho, about 10 miles west of Long Prairie, for 30 years. Colin King is a fifth-generation Todd County farmer. His wife, Christina Esposito, discovered “community” in ways she’d never experienced after moving to Todd County in 2010.
Esposito grew up in New York. She had lived in Los Angeles and San Francisco, Calif. before moving to St. Paul in 2006.
King and Esposito met while living in the Twin Cities. When he confessed on their second date that he was moving back to Todd County to live with family, Esposito simply suggested she come with.
They were married in August 2011, setting up housekeeping in a 113-year-old brick home in Long Prairie.
Moving to a rural county in Central Minnesota was a complete culture shock for Esposito.
“It was overwhelming,” she said. “When you travel abroad you expect it to be different, but this was so different — people, food and climate.”
Local residents often asked questions that surprised Esposito. She was used to being anonymous in the big city.
“They were asking questions out of love,” she said. “It was a way of building community and family.”
Now, Esposito “can’t imagine living anywhere else. It just changed — this became my life and I would never go back,” she said.
Their son, Thomas, born Dec. 8, is a child of the community.
“Colin’s grandma (Kay King) has been gone 25 years, but friends of hers came to visit us in the hospital just to see her great-grandson,” Esposito said.
Esposito is an associate professor of linguistics at Macalester College in St. Paul and will continue to work there, utilizing the Northstar commuter rail and shuttle from St. Cloud.
The sense of family and community that exists for the King family in Todd County is what drew Colin back to his roots.
His parents were living in Minneapolis when he was born, but bought 40 acres in Clotho in 1984.
“They were inspired by the ‘back to the land’ movement and bought the farm next door to my aunt and uncle,” he said. “They wanted to raise organic vegetables for their family.”
Their primary goal was to have a self-sufficient lifestyle and part of that was providing healthy food for the family. They ran a large u-pick strawberry patch. Colin’s father, Tim, also started the Long Prairie Farmer’s Market in the 1980s. While Colin was away at college, the farm became smaller, with about a dozen regular customers. With Colin’s return to the area, the Kings have grown that to over 100 regular customers locally and regionally.
“We have a very open farm; customers trust us to raise healthy produce,” King said. “We have followed organic practices since the early 1980s, using organic record-keeping.”
The Kings have not pursued organic certification, as it is not economically feasible for them.
They raise chickens from an Iowa hatchery which has bred back old varieties.
“We believe that if you take care of the land, the land will take care of you,” said King. “Raising vegetables and animals, taking care of the soil, we want to see things like worms and dung beetles.”
The Kings are even pleased to see gophers, knowing that their presence increases water absorption in the soil, aerates the soil and provides habitat for other creatures.
“That increases diversity and diversity on a farm is really important,” King said.
Sheep are raised with rotational grazing.
“We use leader/follower grazing with chickens following the sheep through a pasture,” said King. “The chickens clean up ticks and parasites. This is the second year and the grass was over my shoulder already.”
There are some unique things that set Maple Hill Garden apart from other produce gardeners.
“We deliver to a customer’s door for about 100 families,” said King. “We also take orders.”
“He loves making the connection with families,” Esposito said. “Our goal is making high-quality food affordable.”
“Our family loves food — growing food and eating good food,” King said. “Through the food we raise, we strengthen our family and build community.”
Community is built through ventures like Whole Farm Co-op, the Long Prairie Farmer’s Market, Everybody’s Market and the annual Long Prairie Harvest Festival.
For more information, call (320) 874-0744 or visit Maple Hill Garden on Facebook.