The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

September 20, 2007

Sisters grow organic at Earthrise Farm

Nuns foster community, appreciation for the land

The Fernholz farm has been off drugs for three years now.

All sunshine and sweat, the Fernholz farm uses no pesticides, herbicides or genetic engineering. And that’s precisely how School Sisters of Notre Dame Kay and Annette Fernholz like it.

“It’s a wonderful feeling that there are no chemicals on our 240 acres,” Kay Fernholz said.

While three Fernholz brothers take care of most of the all-organic farming on the family’s 240 acres situated near Madison, Minn., Kay and Annette have their own 11-acre plot called Earthrise Farm.

Through Earthrise, the Fernholz sisters and an ever-changing assemblage of volunteers plant, tend and harvest enough fresh produce to supply families across southwest Minnesota with a weekly supply of food.

Every week, the sisters deliver 40 to 50 boxes — all containing in-season vegetables — to cities such as Madison, Appleton and Montivideo. Some families are low income and can use the help, others are just too busy to grow their own. But all of them can be assured there’s more than dinner inside their food packages.

“We really want to re-establish the hospitality that was once part of rural America,” Annette Fernholz said. “Because of large farm sizes and the movement of people, that hospitality has been taken away.”

Located in sparsely populated Lac Qui Parle County on the westernmost edge of Minnesota, the Fernholz farm is situated in the heart of one of Minnesota’s most agricultural districts.

According to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, the acreage of land certified for organic farming statewide doubled in the five years from 1997 to 2001. Minnesota also continues to lead the nation in the production of organic corn and soybeans.

But, according to Bob Gronski, policy coordinator for the National Catholic Rural Life Conference, organic farming is about more than not using pesticides.

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