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Kara Everett (left) of Duluth and Heather-Marie Bloom of Saginaw use clips to attach greenhouse tomatoes to a growing line at Rising Phoenix Community Farm near Saginaw on Sunday morning. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)
Kara Everett (left) of Duluth and Heather-Marie Bloom of Saginaw use clips to attach greenhouse tomatoes to a growing line at Rising Phoenix Community Farm near Saginaw on Sunday morning. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

Saginaw organic farm sows seeds on other people's property

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Duluth Minnesota 424 W. First St. 55802

Most people would assume the first thing a farmer needs is land.

But a visit to Rising Phoenix Community Farm near Saginaw and a conversation with its founder, Heather-Marie Bloom, quickly turns that notion on its head.

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Although she owns not even one clod of dirt, Bloom didn’t let that small complication stand in the way of her dream to launch an organic farm.

Since 2011, Bloom has been growing produce for her community-supported agriculture (CSA) operation entirely on other people’s properties.

She lives in a portable, 13½-foot-tall microhouse with an 8-by-28-foot footprint. After enlisting her father and others to help, Bloom built her home from scratch atop a two-axle trailer using many reclaimed materials.

Bloom has dubbed her diminutive abode the Blue Caddisfly in honor of one of her favorite insects. The caddisfly begins its life as an aquatic larva and fashions pebbles, sand, twigs and whatever else it can find into a protective shell.

“They make their homes sort of like sleeping bags and then move around wearing those homes,” she said.

Bloom, too, moves with her self-made home in tow, when circumstances have required her to pick up stakes.

She began farming in Esko in 2011, moved to Wrenshall the following year and has been operating in Saginaw now for two seasons.

“I call myself a gypsy farmer,” Bloom said.

Sue French, who owns the property that’s now home for Bloom and the Blue Caddisfly, heard of the itinerant farmer’s need for a new host and decided to lend a hand.

“I thought, ‘A farmer without a farm. … How sad is that?’ ” French said. “Here’s someone who’s willing to take on the hard work it takes to run a farm, if only she has the opportunity.”

French, an avid gardener herself, said she’d like to see more people eating locally produced organic food and viewed Bloom’s enterprise as a way to help make a difference.

French received her property on the banks of the Cloquet River as a gift from her grandparents.

“Because this place was given to me, I thought that maybe this would be a fun way to pay it forward,” she said.

When French’s nearby cousin, Trevor Watkins, learned of Bloom’s efforts, he offered her the use of additional land he owns.

Bloom now tends about 1.3 acres of land between the two sites and also makes use of a hoop greenhouse that French and her husband, Dan Coda, erected next to their home.

Bloom grows most of her crops from seed inside the greenhouse and then transplants her seedlings to the field. The primary exceptions are carrots, beans and peas, which she sows directly in the ground.

The farm’s harvest is divided weekly between 20 shareholders, and more than half of those shareholders also volunteer their services in the field. Individuals who agree to log at least six hours of time helping out the farm receive a $50 discount off the normal $450 cost of a share.

“Not only do I need the help, but I also want people to have the actual experience of having a hand in the growth of their own food,” Bloom said, noting that the farm still has room for a few more shareholders this season.

While the Northland is home to many CSA operations, Bloom said: “I don’t know of any other CSA without any land of its own.”

Bloom belongs to a network of 14 farm operations called the CSA Guild. She said members can turn to one another for help troubleshooting their operations and advice.

The 39-year-old farmer described the community as quite supportive rather than cut-throat competitive. Before launching her own CSA, Bloom worked a year as an intern at Stone’s Throw Farm in Wrenshall.

Now she has an intern of her own: Kara Everett.

Everett, 32, dreams of one day operating a CSA with a focus on herbs and described her experience working with Bloom as “priceless.”

“It’s hard work, but it is fulfilling work,” Everett said.

Rising Phoenix Community Farm relies on a lot of sweat equity. Bloom doesn’t own a tractor but has received occasional help from a neighbor with one. She said almost all the fieldwork is still performed by hand. That includes carting 10 tons of manure to the beds by wheelbarrow each season.

Bloom said Everett has been an invaluable help, but she has been unable to offer her any financial compensation because of the small size of her operation.

“I pay her in vegetables and give her a place to grow,” Bloom said.

Everett’s not complaining.

“I think it’s a great deal,” she said.

Last year, Rising Phoenix Community Farm finished the season with an operating loss, but Bloom said she’s hopeful the young CSA will become profitable as it matures and hits its stride in coming years.

For now, she supplements her work on the farm with a bookselling job at Barnes & Noble.

But Bloom plans to make running the CSA to be her main focus in the future.

“I love it. It’s fulfilling,” she said. “It’s not just the farming. It’s the sense of community and education. There’s so much to the package. I can’t imagine not doing this work. It’s not just a job. It’s a lifestyle.”

Friendships have sprung up around the CSA, too, Bloom said. Shareholders regularly have gotten together for farm events, including a foodie-movie gathering that features a food flick followed by a potluck dinner.

“I love the thought of a group of people working together for a common goal,” Bloom said.

For more information on Bloom’s CSA and how to become a shareholder, visit www.risingphoenixcommunityfarm.com

To find out more about other area CSAs, check out www.csaguild.com

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