“The Watershed Cafe is what it is because of the farmers and ranchers and gardeners and cheesemakers and bakers and piemakers and ‘movers and shakers’ and ‘dreamers of dreams’ for a better world”
– Customer of The Watershed Cafe
We are so fortunate to work with local communities and communities around the world who are commintted to the Earth and its sustainability. This section is dedicated to our partners providing us with the fresh, home grown ingredients that are the flavors of The Watershed Cafe.
“The Watershed Cafe is what it is because of the farmers and ranchers and gardeners and cheesemakers and bakers and piemakers and ‘movers and shakers’ and ‘dreamers of dreams’ for a better world”
– Customer of The Watershed Cafe
Our first on-location interview brought us to Peterson Limousin Beef, a family owned and operated farm in the St. Croix River Valley near Osceola, WI that practices pasture-raised cattle farming. Here we met with Andy Peterson, a next-generation farmer and business operations manager for Peterson Limousin Beef. Andy brought us to a lush, deep green pasture where we discussed the details of Peterson Limousin Beef’s sustainable farming methods. Through rotational grazing and crop rotation, the land the animals graze on maintains its nutrient-rich state. “It’s a process of nutrient-recycling,” Andy stated.
He went on to explain that pastureland is predominately made up of legume crops such as alfalfa and clover, which are nitrogen-providing plants, whereas grasses are nitrogen-taking plants. With the addition of pasture-raised cows, the vitality of the soil is maintained as cows eat the grasses and replace nitrogen nutrients through digested wastes. In addition, pasture-raised cows roam and graze freely, spreading organic matter more evenly throughout the pasture. The entire process improves the quality and quantity of pastureland. Andy described pasture-raised cattle farming as a symbiotic relationship between land and animals. The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit organization dedicated to research and education about food and the environment, describes the sustainability of the practices stating, “It helps to conserve soil, reduce erosion and water pollution, increase carbon sequestration and preserve biodiversity and wildlife” (www.ewg.org).
While pasture-raised farming practices help build and maintain healthy soils and preserve biodiversity, it also builds healthy animals. With more than 100 acres on Peterson Limousin Beef farm, the pasture-raised cows are raised in their natural state. With room to roam and graze, the cows are able to “live as healthy as possible,” Andy described.
Furthermore, the cows are raised without use of antibiotics or growth hormones. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), many farm animals are subject to low-dose antibiotics to prevent the spread of disease. In addition, growth hormones are used to increase the rate at which animals gain weight; in turn, this increases the rate at which the animals are ready for harvest (www.fda.gov). The philosophy at Peterson Limousin Beef is transparent: they “manage resources in their natural state,” Andy describes. “We do not use pesticides or herbicides on our pastureland, and we improve beef through genetics and natural growth, not through additives or substances.”
In addition to the environmental benefits of pasture-raised farming, there are also health benefits. According to the EWG, “grass-fed beef has less fat and more nutrients than the far more common and less expensive grain-fed beef… grass-fed beef has lower total saturated and mono-unsaturated fat, more heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids, a lower (and healthier) ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, and higher levels of vitamin E, beta-carotene and B-vitamins” (www.ewg.org). With its higher nutritional values and its sustainable, chemical-free philosophy, choosing meat from Peterson Limousin Beef is an easy choice to make.
The Watershed Café’ proudly supports this local farm and uses Peterson Limousin Beef for its chili, hamburger, steak salad, dinner steaks, and dinner specials.
For more information, about Peterson Craftsman Meats, visit petersoncraftsmanmeats.com
Environmental Working Group. Why Go Grass-Fed. Meat-Eater’s Guide: Report. 2011. May 22, 2016. http://www.ewg.org/meateatersguide/a-meat-eaters-guide-to-climate-change-health-what-you-eat-matters/why-go-organic-grass-fed-and-pasture-raised/
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Phasing Out Certain Antibiotic Use in Farm Animals. February 25, 2015. May 22, 2016.
Photography by Kelsea Fehlen
The Watershed Cafe is proud to partner with Wild Idea Buffalo Company. You will find their prairie-raised buffalo on our lunch, dinner, and seasonal special menus.
For more about Wild Idea Buffalo Company, visit their website: wildideabuffalo.com
Through partnerships with Upper Lakes Foods, we are proud to source these sustainable, locally-grown, farm-fresh eggs. You will find LoLa’s eggs in our BTL Fried Egg & Cheese Sandwich, Sunday Brunch omelets and specials, and Sunday Brunch eggs made-to-order.
For more about LoLa, visit their website: locallylaid.com
In our second on-location interview, we look deeper into the story of Common Harvest Farm, the CSA homestead of Margaret Pennings and Dan Guenthner. When I arrived at Common Harvest Farm, I was immediately struck by its tranquility and its abundance of life: flowers grow along the red barn, the white farm house, and the outbuildings; happy farm dogs greet you with tails wagging; fields of vegetables in colorful rows line the rolling hills; and friendly people welcome you into their lives. Common Harvest Farm is made up of 40 acres of diverse river valley terrain; on 12 of those acres, 40 varieties of vegetables and herbs grow. They built their lovely farm on the foundation of CSA ideals: Community. Supported. Agriculture. Margaret and Dan uphold these values in all their farming.
If you are not familiar with the term CSA, here is a brief overview: “A farmer offers a certain number of ‘shares’ to the public. Typically the share consists of a box of vegetables…. Interested consumers purchase a share (aka a ‘membership’) and in return receive a box of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season” (localharvest.org/csa/).
For Margaret and Dan, CSA farming is more than fresh produce in a box. It is truly a lifestyle. According to Margaret, “It’s about connecting with the land, being involved in life systems, and stewardship of the land.” Stewardship of the land means practicing sustainable farming methods at Common Harvest Farm. The 12 acres of produce gardens are hand-weeded and seeded using Stanley Jr. – the farm’s non-motorized direct-seeder. They amend the soil with compost from local and organic Crystal Ball Farms, natural fertilizers, and soil-improving cover crops. The vegetables grow naturally, without pesticides or herbicides.
Common Harvest Farm is committed to long term, earth-friendly energy solutions. Solar panels provide all of the energy for the farm, including the electricity needed for the irrigation system. To conserve water resources, they irrigate over night and irrigate just one garden section at a time. “We irrigate just enough to keep the wolf from the door,” Margaret laughed. “We also charge an electric tractor, so we like the idea of the sun powering our cultivating tractor.”
The freestanding solar panels are located on the south side of the greenhouse. “We considered a roof mount,” said Margaret, “but Kris Schmidt of Legacy Solar recommended a ground-mounted rack for a couple of reasons: it is easier to remove snow in the winter, and they are actually a bit more efficient because there is more air movement around the panels during hot weather when the panels are not as effective.”
Common Harvest Farm’s productivity comes from sustainable farming activities and the hard work of their daughters, Annie and Grace; their son, William; and this season, two interns, Kathleen Hobert and Amy Shaunette. As a working community, they put in long hours together amending the soil, planting seeds, and harvesting and packaging the produce. This skilled labor brings them closer, uniting them as a family. They also bond over the experience of sharing meals together. “We take an hour for lunch,” Margaret said. “We take a long break together to rest and eat well, to sit and visit, and to connect with one another over good food.”
Margaret and Dan are warm and generous, and they extend the term “community” to each and every person they meet. They focus on strengthening relationships with their members and connecting with those who share their way of life. “Community is very important,” Margaret expressed. “As a farmer working the land, experiencing nature in its richest form to grow healthy vegetables, and connecting with others to share what Earth provided, we have a whole different sense of people forming community around food.”
Growing fresh vegetables and sharing their produce with others is first nature for Margaret and Dan. In addition to the vegetables provided for members, they also work with local food shelves to provide for those in need. Margaret said, “We feel it is important for everyone to have access to fresh produce, and when we have extra it just makes sense to share it.”
Life on a CSA farm is an investment. As a farmer or a member, one invests in the land, sustainability, quality vegetables, and supporting local and small-scale farmers. “As a CSA member, it’s about shared risk,” Margaret explained. “Consumers participate in sharing the risk of farming: they eat locally and eat seasonally, and they accept what comes from the garden. Members participate in growing and being a partner with the environment.”
More information about Common Harvest Farm — its history, the farmers, the philosophy, and the history of the CSA movement – visit commonharvestfarm.com
Photography by Kelsea Fehlen
Through small-scale farming, they cultivate biological diversity. Growing produce and raising animals creates a healthy composting cycle that improves soil and gives the best life to their animals. As stewards of the land, their sustainable farming nurtures the earth and supports rich land for future generations. Blackbrook Farm is about community: bringing farmers and families together, providing local produce and supporting local food economy. As a CSA, the farm creates an opportunity to become a part of a stronger food system.
Visit Blackbrook Farm’s website fore more information: blackbrookfarmstead.com
This is a story about a guy and his mushrooms. In nearby Lindstrom, MN, lives Andrew Finsness, a cheerful, creative self-starter and edible mushroom grower known to many as Finney of Finney and The Fungi. On a cold day in February, Finney shared his warmth and good humor, and the incredible tale of his fungi.
Finney’s mushroom-growing journey began in Michigan, where he was in the beer-brewing industry. “When you brew beer, you’re feeding sugar to a fungus called yeast, and you get an awesome beverage out of the deal. The process of growing mushrooms is similar to brewing beer in that, when you make mushrooms, you’re feeding wood to another kind of fungus and you get mushrooms. There’s a natural kind of symbiosis,” Finney explained in his easy-going way.
Due to health-related issues, Finney could no longer drink beer, which created an opportunity for a unique career change. “I wanted to figure out what was next for me, and I got an internship at a mushroom farm at the Detroit Mushroom Company. I worked for them for about two years to learn how to open up my own mushroom farm here in Minnesota,” he described. “I’ve always been fascinated by mushrooms as an organism: they’re not plants, and they’re not animals, so how do they grow? That really intrigues me,” Finney said with a grin.
Finney brought his mushroom passion and knowledge back to his Minnesota roots, where his surprising new fungi adventure launched. “I started growing mushrooms in my garage in November of 2020 and by January, we had more mushrooms than we could eat, so I started selling mushrooms once a week in my in-laws driveway in Edina,” Finney laughed. “I know a lot of people down there, and it’s where I grew up, so I figured ‘why not?’ We started selling to people on Facebook, and to whomever would come visit me on a cold driveway in Minnesota in January,” he joked.
With our long and cold winters, it is rare to find fresh, locally grown produce. Thanks to a small, 5ft x 11ft grow room in his 20ft x 20ft garage, Finney is able to grow mushrooms all year long. On just three rolling shelves, Finney can grow 60 to 70lbs of mushrooms a week! Not only can he produce a lot of mushrooms in such a small space, but the mushrooms grow remarkably fast. “It takes about two weeks for the colonization process and about two weeks for the fruiting process. So, from the time I start to the time I finish, I’m eating mushrooms in only a month,” Finney shared. “It’s a very quick process. Nothing else that I know of grows that quick, except maybe radishes,” he said with light-hearted humor. “It’s pretty crazy! You can literally watch them grow. From the beginning of the day to the end of the day, there’s significant growth.”
He further described the process saying, “We make a little fake log for the mushrooms in a specialized plastic bag. I mix up a hardwood fuel pellet of sawdust, soybean hulls, and water, then I add something called spawn – which is like the seeds for mushrooms, so to speak. That grows out, and once the whole bag is colonized, we cut a little hole in the bag, and we put it on the shelf in the grow room, and we watch the mushrooms grow.”
Finney’s fungi are, in one word, beautiful. With their bright colors and extraordinary textures, they look less like mushrooms and more like coral, or underwater sea creatures. Finney grows about six types of different mushrooms including Blue Oyster, King Blue, Golden Oysters, Black Pearl, Lion’s Mane, Comb Tooth, and King Trumpet. Each has its own flavor and distinctive quality. “When most people think of mushrooms, this isn’t what they think of. In terms of texture, flavor, appearance, they do look like something from outer space,” Finney said laughing. “I kind of feel like I’m walking into another planet when I’m walking into my garage.”
With such an unusual product, Finney initially questioned the success of his mushroom venture. “I wasn’t sure upon moving here what people would think about this. Most people that I’ve run into at the farmer’s markets, or who come to the booth, have never seen mushrooms like this before. They are a new thing to them,” he said. “Mushrooms are a love-hate kind of a thing for a lot of people. I’ve had a lot of people tell me they’ve only had mushrooms from a can, and they don’t like them. They’re slimy and weird,” Finney quipped with his fun and easy wit.
As it turns out, Finney’s fungi are feeding a niche no one anticipated. “Many customers come up and ask ‘What are these? Are these real?’ Not even ‘Are they edible’ but ‘are they real?’ It’s a common question!” he laughed. “So to go from that, to the next week having people try them, and then to have them become weekly customers … it’s been just heart-warming and really great! I’ve been absolutely blown away by the response we’ve gotten in our community,” Finney exclaimed. “I love sharing with people, I love introducing people to something new. To see someone try something they otherwise didn’t like, and have them enjoy it, is so rewarding! To engage in that experience is so worthwhile.”
Finney shares his love of mushrooms with such ease and enthusiasm. He has also has a deep respect for the mushrooms he grows. While describing how he came up with the business name Finney and The Fungi, he said “Originally, I was going to be Finney’s Fungi. I even got the website and everything…but, I kept hanging out with these mushrooms, and they kept telling me ‘What? You think we belong to you? You think this is your show, man? This is an equal partnership here. You can’t do it without us, and we can’t do it without you.’ And so the name Finney and The Fungi came to be.” This has been a mutually beneficial relationship in which both Finney and his mushrooms thrive. Finney speaks of his mushrooms as friends. “Every time I open up the tent in my garage, I’m excited to get to hang out them,” he said genuinely.
The Watershed Café is proud to partner with Finney and The Fungi. These incredible, fresh, locally grown mushrooms are found in many of our specials and dinner fare. In years past, you could find Finney and The Fungi at nearby farmer’s markets including Lindstrom, Chisago Lakes, Forest Lake, and Franconia.
For more on where to find Finney and The Fungi this year, visit his Instagram page at https://www.instagram.com/finneyandthefungi/ or his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Finney-and-The-Fungi-100378358653336/. He can also be reached by phone at (218) 234-9186.
Less than 3 miles south of The Watershed Café, you will find Crystal Ball Farms – the small, family owned business of Troy and Barb DeRosier and the home of 200 beloved dairy cows. Established in 2003, the creamery has been producing the highest quality milk and dairy products for more than 16 years. A fire in 2018 created many changes on the farm, but one thing remains the same: the cows thrive on the farm’s organic practices and sustainable methods, and their high-grade milk proves it.
“We have happy cows,” said Troy with a huge grin. “If you were a cow, this is where you’d want to be.” The farm features a new barn, a beautiful facility designed specifically with the comfort of the cows in mind. With its high ceilings and screened panels, the barn is bright with natural light and fresh air flow. Tunnel ventilation also provides natural air movement, while the automatic temperature controlled system operates large ceiling fans, keeping the barn at a consistently comfortable temperature for the cows. “The breeze also prevents flies, so we avoid any chemical applications for fly-control,” Troy further explained.
With its free-stall design, the cows move easily throughout the barn. Even with nearly 200 cows roaming about, the barn is remarkably quiet. The cows are calm and incredibly friendly, rare traits for an instinctively skittish creature. These gentle giants are curious and sociable, craving attention and nosing closer to be petted. Many of the cows have names, and Barb identified a lot of them by their markings and their distinct personalities. “We work with the cows daily, giving them individual attention, and they get a lot of human interaction,” Troy said heartily.
Not only are the cows happy, they are also well-cared for. The cows are grass-fed, “and they only eat what we produce from our land, with the exception of minerals supplemented to support their health,” Troy shared. “Grass-fed cows get the nutrients they need to maintain their health and energy, as well as the benefits of eating their natural diet.” Using organic practices and sustainable land management, Troy grows all of the alfalfa and grass for his cows from non-GMO seed and without the use of pesticides or herbicides.
Monitoring the health of each cow is imperative for operations at Crystal Ball Farms. The family provides individual care to each cow, and based on the quality of their milk, it shows!
From the way they nurture their cows to the Grade A milk they produce, Crystal Ball Farms in a truly unique creamery. According to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, there are 405 creameries in the state of Wisconsin. Of those, Crystal Ball Farms is just one of four producing Grade A milk in the quantities they do (https://datcp.wi.gov/Documents/DairyPlantDirectory.pdf).
In addition to producing the highest grade products, Crystal Ball Farms milk is non-GMO, non-homogenized, and low-pasteurized. As a less processed product, their milk naturally contains more of the beneficial bacteria, enzymes, and fats our bodies need. This local creamery produces some of the most nutrient-rich and digestible dairy products on the market. Also, Crystal Ball Farms has always bred for A2 dairy cows, making the cows less likely to produce the A1 proteins naturally found in milk that recent studies have shown may be linked to lactose intolerance (https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/a1-vs-a2-milk).
“We also do all of our own bottling here at the creamery, which is becoming more and more rare,” Troy described. “Our glass bottles are also a unique feature, as most creameries use plastic containers. The glass bottles are a more natural means to store the product and better preserve the taste of the milk. We also recycle our glass containers, adding another environmental element to our products.”
To visit this local, sustainable creamery, stop in at Crystal Ball Farms located at 527 State Rd 35, Osceola, WI. You can purchase their natural, high-quality, micro-dairy products; visit the cows; and view the dairy operations. Their products can also be found in specialty grocery stores, natural food co-ops, and environmentally-focused coffee shops and restaurants both locally and regionally. We are so proud to partner with this neighboring creamery! The Watershed Café features Crystal Ball Farms milk in our lattes, hot chocolates, chai, coffees, and more.
Visit Crystal Ball Farms’ website for more information: crystalballfarmsdairy.com
The farm is striving to create a whole farm ecosystem where each element of the farm is interdependent — a truly sustainable model that respects the surrounding environment and wilderness while building soil and providing healthy, beautiful, and delicious food.
Visit Cosmic Wheel Creamery’s website for more information: cosmicwheelcreamery.com
Tucked in the valley of the St. Croix River lives a lovely baker, Marlee Crave of Sister Crave Breads. On one of the hottest days of the summer, late-afternoon in mid-June, we met with Marlee in an on-site interview to experience a moment in the life of this gentle baker. With a soft summer breeze that cooled us, we meandered through the enchanting home where Marlee lives, works, and bakes.
Marlee’s story with Sister Crave Breads starts at Foxtail Farm in Osceola, WI. “Andy and I both farm: we are called First Acre Farm. We are good friends with the owners of Foxtail Farm; we live on the farm, rent an acre from them, and work for them part-time,” Marlee explained. “We work really collaboratively, and we couldn’t have found a better situation than having a home/bakery.”
As we wandered through the grass toward Marlee’s house and the farm’s commercial kitchen where she bakes, Marlee described a typical day for her. “With sourdough, there’s a lot of waiting – I’ll wake up, preheat the oven, feed the starter, then wait a half an hour. During that time, I will work or make breakfast. While waiting for the dough to rise, I’ll prep all of my ingredients and get everything measured, and then play some fetch with the dog,” she said with a laugh. “The dog lives outside of the bakery door, so there’s a lot of fetch that happens. I think that’s every baker’s dream: to be able to be home and have time to enjoy and work at your own pace,” Marlee shared.
Creating sourdough is a rewarding, slow-food process. Not only does the making-and-baking process allow for restful periods between times, it’s also a two-day endeavor: tend to the dough one day and bake following day. In addition, sourdough starters are often passed on from generation-to-generation, requiring daily attention. “I’ve been nurturing my starter for years,” Marlee said. “I got it from my mentor, and she had it for years before that, and it’s really something I take care of every day. I feed my cat, and then I feed my starter. It’s become a part of my life.” Like tending to all of the living beings in her life, Marlee takes great care with her starter and her breads. “I’ve grown attached to my starter,” she exclaimed.
As Marlee shared, her bread is always teaching her, and every time she makes bread she learns something new. “The starter changes with the seasons, and I have to change how I care for it. I have to feed it more or less, or use a different combination of flours depending on how it is acting,” Marlee patiently explained. “In this heat, this 100 degrees, it’s a learning experience. This is the fastest I’ve ever made bread because with the heat and the humidity in the air, the yeast is just so active,” she added.
Making sourdough bread is truly a labor of love: Marlee puts her time, heart, and the best ingredients into it. “I switched to using all organic flour since I launched the business and since moving here,” she said. “I just felt like, for many reasons, it was the right thing to do. With her age-old and beloved starter, organic flour from Meadowlark Community Mill in southern Wisconsin, and seasonal ingredients from the farm, Marlee’s breads are nourishing, delicious, and beautiful. Marlee moves through life with such love and grace, and a grateful heart. “It’s been really great to send people bread that is literally made at the same place that their vegetables are grown. It makes me really happy,” Marlee grinned. “I can just walk outside my door, find food, and find inspiration – which is pretty lucky.”
For more information about Marlee and Sister Craves Breads, visit her website at sistercrave.com. Coming to The Watershed Café, you will find her sourdough breads in our specials and seasonal boards. In addition, you can order her bread through her website and pick it up at The Watershed Café!
We are so proud to partner with this incredible, local and sustainable bread baker!
For more information about Skinny Jake’s Fat Honey, visit his website: skinnyjakesfathoney.com
Curious about the production of pure syrup, I met with Don to learn more about this unique endeavor.
When I arrived at Don’s Sugar Shack, Don and his brother-in-law, Richard, were just returning from tapping trees. With their jeans soaked up to their knees, I could see that plodding through the snow that day had been hard work for them. “We tapped about 900 trees,” Don specified. “We usually set out about 2500 taps from different sites in the St. Croix River Valley.” This labor-intensive task includes drilling the holes, tapping in the taps, hanging pails, and putting covers on them. If he was tired and cold from his long day in the woods, Don didn’t show it as he good-naturedly described sap collecting. “Once you put the taps in, sap almost immediately starts to drip like a faucet. On an average run, a 3-gallon pail will be full in 24 hours. We can collect anywhere from 14,000 to 20,000 gallons of sap in a season,” he said patiently.
Not only is tapping trees hard work, it’s also unpredictable and based on nature’s springtime variations. The trees only produce sap in the spring, and typically the warm days and cold nights in March are good indicators of the sap season’s start. “March 15 is usually my milestone for tapping, but it’s not an exact science. It varies from year to year,” Don explained. “The warming of the climate, and the different changes in temperatures, changes the tapping.” The sap flow varies each day, and each season is different. Don mentioned that one year, sap started running in February; another year, it was so warm the sap didn’t run at all that season.
The sapping season is not only variable, it’s also a short season. “When you drill a hole in the tree, it’s like starting a stop-watch ticking that’s got a 3-week window on it, and then that’s kind of it for tapping” Don emphasized. With the short-time frame for sapping and the hard work involved, there’s a sense of urgency in the collection process.
Although it can be a grueling and inconsistent task, the sap from the maple trees in the St. Croix River Valley is worth the effort. This region’s sap is some of the best and sweetest at 4% sugar content. In other regions like the Northeast, another location known for its maple syrup production, the sugar content is between 1.8% to 2%. Don explained that the types of trees tapped, along with the size of the tree’s canopy, causes variations in the sugar content. Our region’s large sugar maple trees produce high sugar content sap.
Community members from First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Taylors Falls, MN, and Peace Lutheran Church in Dresser, WI, provide essential support for collecting all the sap. “My wife Sydney and I provide the capital, equipment, and the infrastructure, while the kids and families provide the labor,” Don said gratefully. “The community provides 75-85% of the labor in the collection of the sap, which is big. Without that labor force to go bucket to bucket to collect, we couldn’t do any of it.” Through email communications with the congregation members, Don keeps people informed on sap collecting days. Everybody shows up when they can, and each day is different. But when the sap is flowing, a crew of community members is there to help, showing up at the first collection site and traveling to each of the other 5 locations in the St. Croix River Valley.
With his great sense of humor, Don described the transportation scene saying with a laugh, “The first couple of times we did this, it was like a caravan. We needed police escort, we needed traffic control! It looked like a parade!” After that, they developed a better system with car-pooling, and the process gets more efficient each season. Last year, with the help of the Church community, they collected 17,000 gallons of sap, carried one bucket at a time, and made 538 gallons of syrup.
The process of turning sap into maple syrup at Don’s Sugar Shack is remarkable. Once the sap is collected, Don runs the sap through a process called reverse osmosis, which concentrates the sap from 4% sugar to 15% sugar. From there, the sap goes through a wood-fired evaporator and comes out as syrup. The syrup then goes through a filter press to a bottler, where bottles are filled one at a time. Then members, friends, and families from Peace Lutheran Church and First Evangelical Lutheran Church sell the pure maple syrup. All proceeds from syrup sales support youth and family programming at both churches.
A retired hydrologist, Don is now living out his childhood dream. “I read a book when I was in the second grade about the pioneers collecting sap and making syrup, and then throwing the syrup on the snow to make candy. That stuck in my head for a long time,” Don reflected. “When I was in my early 40’s, I saw an opportunity and decided to try it.” In 1999, Don started collecting sap from 30 trees in the Taylors Falls neighborhood. Using a flat pan and a fuel oil barrel cut in half, he cooked sap to make syrup outside in the elements. “At that point, I decided I needed to do something to make this system better, to make it fun again,” Don stated. “When I upgraded the equipment with the reverse osmosis system, we saved a lot of labor hours. We went from cooking 36 hours straight to 5 hours, and instead of burning 16 cords of wood, we burn 4. Now that’s fun!” Don said with a grin.
Updating the equipment, reconfiguring the Sugar Shack, and obtaining a Minnesota Wholesale Food Producer license opened new doors for Don and the community. Starting out small with tapping 30 trees in Taylors Falls to using 2500 buckets to collect sap in 6 locations throughout the St. Croix River Valley, this maple syrup endeavor has grown considerably over the course of 18 years. “Last year, we had about 800 gallons of syrup to give away. It’s benefiting a larger community,” Don said in his kind and gentle way. “There’s a lot of joy in that!”
The Watershed Café is proud to partner with Don’s Sugar Shack, featuring local and sustainable maple syrup collected from the trees in the St. Croix River Valley through the efforts and dedication of community members in the area. All syrup proceeds benefit the youth of Peace Lutheran Church and First Evangelical Lutheran Church.
For more information about Don’s Sugar Shack, visit tfmaple.com and read Don’s blog to experience the day-to-day variations in the season’s sapping. Visit Peace Lutheran Church’s Facebook page to learn more about their day-to-day experiences collecting sap.
After a two-hour road trip to the rough and rocky shores of Lake Superior, you might end up in the heart of the city of Duluth, MN. Here you might find yourself on the cobblestone corner of Superior Street and 1st Ave, standing in front of Duluth Coffee Company – a sustainable café and coffee roastery. At least this is where we (The Watershed Café’s owner Rita Rasmuson and trusty side-kick marketing coordinator Summer Kelly) found ourselves on a late-October day.
Entering through the glass doors of the café, we were greeted by the rich aromas of freshly-brewed coffee and the warmth of Sam Levar’s friendly smile. Sales manager for Duluth Coffee Company, Sam was our host and expert tour guide for our visit. From the café, we walked through a short hallway to the roastery and stood in front of a giant roaster (a towering metal structure looking like a tin-man) while Sam described the history of Duluth Coffee Company.
“Eric Faust, owner and founder of the coffee company, started roasting coffee out of his garage with a 3-kilo machine. Since then, he has experienced incredible demand and growth,” Sam explained. “In 2012, Eric opened the coffee roastery and café here in downtown Duluth and bought a 12-kilo roaster that allowed for larger production. Last year, we acquired this 70-kilo roaster, and this year, we are celebrating 6 years at the café,” Sam said with glowing enthusiasm.
From selling coffee out of a garage to traveling the globe to discover high quality coffee, Duluth Coffee Company has come a long way in just 6 years. “Eric has been to Colombia, New Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, Chile, and Costa Rica for coffee,” Sam mentioned. “To Eric, coffee is all about origin. It’s about paying homage to where coffee comes from.” Using intentional, handcrafted roasting techniques is one way Duluth Coffee Company honors the origin of coffee. As Sam explained, coffee beans contain inherent flavors and qualities based on the country they were grown in, the varying growing conditions specific to the region, and the different cultural methods used to process the beans. In addition, green coffee beans have different profiles that are enhanced through roasting. “When Eric first started roasting, and bringing out the natural flavors of the bean, very few roasteries were doing this, especially in Minnesota,” Sam said. From its very start, Duluth Coffee company has been leading-edge in the industry.
For Duluth Coffee Company, honoring the origin of coffee is about quality roasting and more. Building direct connections with the people involved in the process of growing, picking, drying, packaging, and shipping coffee beans is also core to the company. “We’ve developed a long-standing relationship with Diego Abarca, a young, 20-something single-family farmer from Costa Rica. We’ve been working with him for about 3 years,” Sam described. “We had such a connection with him when we were down there. Producing high quality coffee and paying his pickers well, he’s one of the coffee farmers that is really trying to innovate the coffee industry.”
Working directly with single family coffee farmers and Café Imports, a sustainable coffee importer based in Minneapolis, MN, ensures much-needed transparency in a historically murky industry. “There are so many barriers, so many layers, in the coffee industry. That’s why it is important to have lasting connections with small family farms,” Sam explained. “For us, fair trade is more than just a word on a label. We are farmer focused. We know where the coffee is coming from; that it is produced with integrity; that the farmers are fairly paid for their high-quality coffee; and that the workers receive a livable wage,” stated Sam.
Creating long-term relationships with farmers, and aligning with importers and exporters that share its vision, Duluth Coffee Company is setting new industry standards and simplifying the coffee trade. “Ultimately, our goal is to produce coffee with intentionality and integrity from start to finish,” Sam said. “Are we building real relationships? How can we support our farm families? How can we enable them to improve? Coffee farmers deserve to be recognized. We want to give a relatability to our coffee, to tell the stories of the people behind it.”
From its sustainably-sourced beans to its handcrafted roasting techniques, Duluth Coffee Company produces delicious coffee that you can feel good about! The Watershed Café is proud to partner with Duluth Coffee Company.
For more information about the coffee, the team, and their sustainable efforts, visit duluthcoffeecompany.com
For more information on the ethical values of Café Imports, visit cafeimports.com
At The Watershed Cafe, we specifically look for items that align with our social and environmental focus. With its extended reach, Sysco connects us with additional farmers, companies, and products with our same sustainable initiatives.
For more information about Sysco, visit their website: sysco.com
The Watershed Cafe proudly partners with BIX as a source for locally, regionally, and nationally grown fresh produce and whole foods. BIX shares our passion for building lasting partnerships with farmers and is committed to environmental practices that recycle, reduce, reuse our precious natural resources.
For more information about BIX, visit their website: bixproduce.com
The Watershed Cafe proudly partners with Upper Lakes Foods, an organization focused on family, community, and environmental sustainability. Through this partnership, we are connected to farmers and food producers dedicated to natural farming practices that improve the health of the earth and the lives of others.
For more about Upper Lakes Foods, visit their website: upperlakesfoods.com