Sunday, June 19, 2011

The three R's: Roduner's Rooster Resort

It has certainly been an interesting past few days as we made our way into the great state of South Dakota.  We have to make this short and sweet because we have to get up and go tomorrow and it's currently 11pm, so forgive the brevity or degree of description...

We have spent the past few days at Roduner's Rooster Resort, a cattle ranch/farm/pheasant hunting resort run by Steve Roduner and his brother Brian, in the luxury of one of the hunting lodges on the nearly 4000 acre property.  Caitlin's dad is friends with Steve and hunts pheasant annually at his property.

South Dakota isn't all flat...

We've been learning an incredible amount about commercial farming from Steve and one of his seasonal workers, Jacob.  The amount of time and energy it takes to farm a plot of land this size is astonishing, and it amazes us that Steve, Brian, Jacob, and occasionally the family can actually get everything that needs to be done in order for the farm to function.

One of the most interesting, and potentially scary things about farming at this large of a scale, and in general is the amount of risk involved for the farmer.  Too much or too little rain, a late frost, an unusually hot year, an unexpected rise in fuel price, etc. can mean losses in the hundreds of thousands.

a lightening storm the night we arrived

We have been lucky enough to get a tour of the property from Steve and Jacob where we were able to check out some really old homestead farms, feed mineral and salt to cattle, see the goats and chickens being raised by Brian's wife Christina, and ride in a tractor at night while baling hay before a storm rolled in.

Kevin and Jacob feeding mineral and salt to the cattle

Caitlin with the kids

We also were privileged to see some of the surrounding area as well; more specifically, a Hutterite colony located just miles away.  Here we met with Debbie who showed us around (earlier that day 1400 chickens had been butchered and were being processed).

1400 chicken in 5 hours

The colony consists of ~200 people and is completely self-sustaining.  They grow enough food to feed themselves for the growing season, and pickle or freeze enough for the off-season.  In addition, they sell their excess produce, honey, chicken, and other hand-made goods at the local farmers' market in Wessington Springs, SD.

Debbie's husband, Marvin was hard at work in the fields when we visited as his job in the community is to garden.  He starts some of his plants at a large hoop-house greenhouse in the late winter/early spring and transports them to a plot of land later in the year where he also grows a variety of vegetables.

Marvin at work

Fresh dill and Steve, Kevin, and Debbie picking

Debbie and Marvin were kind enough to let us pick some fresh vegetable while we were there and we left the colony with a few freshly butchered chickens and pickled produce which we promptly cooked up later that night after wrangling a few stray cattle belonging to a neighboring ranch.

a South Dakota sunset

Tomorrow we continue our journey westward as we hope to avoid the bad weather and enjoy the majestic scenery that lay only miles away...

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Minnesota Nice

We've been traveling across Minnesota for the past few days and are now waiting out the severe thunderstorms in Pipestone, MN. Along the way, we've run into some great people, and some not so great weather (although we've surprisingly had a slight tailwind for the past few days). Our lovely view from the motel we're staying at in Pipestone is pictured below (not pictured is the rain and lightening).

While we were in Minneapolis, we wanted to visit an urban farm as there are many in the city, but thought it would be more interesting to showcase one of the coolest grocery stores we've ever been to -The Seward Co-op. In addition to being located in one of Minneapolis' most vibrant neighborhoods (Seward), the Seward Co-op is housed in an eco-friendly building that brings locally produced food from "Farmer to Franklin" (located on Franklin Ave).

The principles of cooperative organizations not only support the community in which the organization is based, but also the surrounding community of local farmers and food producers. As a collectively run organization, members are part owners and receive discounts on featured food items throughout the year, and if the cooperative is profitable they also receive a patronage refund (a share of the profit that is equivalent to their in-store purchases throughout the fiscal year). The Seward Co-op is especially dedicated to promoting a healthy community by offering classes and programs that teach about buying local, and growing food among many other subjects. The Seward Co-op also hosts a community supported agriculture fair called "Know your Grower" where CSA farmers come to the store to inform and invite customers to participate in their CSA.

We were sad to leave such a great group of people in such a fun city, but the trip must go on!! Our next stop was 65 miles away from Minneapolis, MN to Hutchinson, MN. We rolled into town around 7pm, but needed to make a quick stop before we set up tent. It seems to be getting colder despite the fact that it is the middle of June, so we thought we should buy an extra layer (jacket, hoodie, etc.). While I was inside making my purchase, a woman with her daughter approached Kevin asking him the regular questions we get from people interested in what we are doing: 'Where are you headed?' 'Where did you begin?' 'How long have you been on the road?' During the conversation Kevin told her where we were camping and shortly thereafter we headed to the campsite.

We set up camp and were falling asleep when we heard a noise by our bikes. We immediately thought that someone was trying to steal them! Kevin quickly stuck his head out of the tent and saw a plastic bag sitting beside our bikes. Inside the bag was bottled waters, energy drinks, and energy bars. We then heard, 'Hello! I met you at the store! I just thought I would bring you a little snack!'

Her name was Nancy and she had even brought us freshly popped popcorn. We chatted with her for awhile and were very grateful of her thoughtfulness, but it didn't end there. Nancy invited us to her home for breakfast (even though she was going to be at work). She said her husband, Jay, made great waffles! The next morning we arrived and ate like kings: waffles, eggs over easy, bacon, strawberries, grapes, orange juice and coffee!! Jay and Hannah (their daughter) were very hospitable and friendly, and even their dog, King, was a love bug.

As we were leaving, it was nice to see that they had their own little garden in their backyard.

With our bellies full we headed to Ft. Ridgely State Park located just off of the Minnesota River and actually arrived to the park by 5pm -a new record for us! We leisurely set up camp, took showers, and cooked up some delicious stir fry all before the sun set (also a new record!).

After being devoured by gnats (yes gnats bite) we gladly hit the road toward our next destination -Garvin County Park located about 65 miles southwest near Garvin, MN. The winds were blowing northwest at about 20-25 mph all day, so for the first 3/4 of the day we had a tailwind, but for the last 11 miles we experienced a brutal headwind that dampened our spirits as we ascended one of the few hills in Minnesota for what seemed like 3 or 4 miles. Luckily when we arrived to our campsite the host was kind enough to lend us some dry firewood, kindling, and lighter fluid which made starting our fire to cook food a lot less work. We even made friends with his two daughters who we plan to be pen-pals with when we return to Philadelphia! I am excited to have a pen-pal. I haven't had one since elementary school, and we thought it was really cool that they asked that of us.

The weather will hopefully clear up by tomorrow (cross your fingers). We will be leaving Minnesota and moving into South Dakota. Four states (four BIG states) to go until we hit the west coast!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Heartland

First of all, let me apologize for our laziness in keeping up with the blog for the past few weeks, it's been non-stop for a while and we've only now in Minneapolis found the time to sit down and do our best to describe our adventure...

We had a great time in Chicago despite the fact that it rained nearly every day, and then on the day we left it was sweltering hot.  We definitely enjoyed exploring Chicago by bike because of how wide the streets are, and how flat the city is -it's also great to be able to explore cities we visit by bike instead of renting a bike or driving everywhere.

Instead of biking the 95+ miles to  Milwaukee we took a train to Kenosha and shaved off about 40 miles.  We soaked in a beautiful sunset over Lake Michigan as we rolled into Milwaukee and spent the night with a good friend on the east side.  The next day we headed to Wauwatosa to stay with my brother, and visit another good friend who works at Cafe Hollander -a bicycle themed Belgian Gastro-pub off of the Oak-Leaf Trail that runs through Milwaukee.  It was only a 6 mile ride, but the front of a major storm system was just about to hit so we were biking into 40mph gusts of wind...what fun.  Anyway, after a nice grill/hang-out, and a good sleep in an actual bed we headed out to Madison -my hometown.

The Glacial Drumlin State Trail starts in Waukesha, WI (outside of Milwaukee) and ends in Cottage Grove, WI (outside of Madison).  The trail was beautiful and took us through forests, prairie, and marshland -showcasing some of the distinct ecosystems of Southern Wisconsin.  

We finally arrived in Madison and stayed with my dad in the near east side neighborhood -truly a unique community.  As we biked along the Capital City trail we were taken aback at the community garden that was thriving on multiple raised beds in the boulevard dividing the trail from the road.  After the ~80 mile ride from Milwaukee, we feasted on some of my dad's famous homemade chicken enchiladas -there was nothing that could have satisfied us more.  

Kevin with his dad
The next morning we treated ourselves to a delicious meal at Monty's Blue Plate Diner just down the street and when we came out of the restaurant we were treated to an iconic Madison site -Oscar Meyer's Weinermobile.

After a quick stop at Williamson Cycle and Fitness for a few things we were treated to a delicious Wisconsin meal at Quivey's Grove by my mom who lives on the West side of Madison.  We packed up for our journey northward and westward to Minneapolis and did some catching up with the mom who is retiring from teaching after 30+ years in the Verona Area School District -CONGRATS MOM!

Kevin with his mom
The next day we started the bike ride to Minneapolis in Reedsburg, WI at the beginning of The '400' State Trail which is a rail-trail that connects a series of rail trails running north of LaCrosse, WI. 

The Elroy-Sparta State Trail was actually the first rail-trail in the country, established in 1965 when the idea of using abandoned railroad lines as recreational trails was novel.  The trails were crushed limestone and offered beautiful vistas of the rolling hills and pristine lakes of Wisconsin. 

Luckily they were also highly vegetated as the temperatures soared into the 90's.  The Elroy-Sparta State Trail also has three tunnels, one of which is 3/4 of a mile long!  The longest tunnel was terrifying; upon entering, you could not see the other end, the temperature was about 45 degrees, and during construction in 1873, the miners struck a spring and water was falling along the walls and dripping from the ceiling of the tunnel.  We emerged at the opposite end of the tunnel after carefully walking our bikes through the tunnel for what seemed like half an hour.  Fog poured out of the tunnel due to the drastic temperature change and made the experience even more amazing.

After the series of trails ended we biked on Hwy 35 which runs along the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi River to Merrick State Park where we learned that it is Wisconsin State Law that if a park does not have any campsites available, they still must make accommodations for bikers (why can't every state be as cool as Wisconsin?).  After a delicious meal of homemade tomato sauce and spaghetti, we relaxed with our camping neighbors and prepared for the next day's journey to a farm that we will truly never forget.

home made pasta sauce

Harvest Haven farm is located in the Red Wing (MN) area, but is across the river in Wisconsin.  Here we met Jonathon and Sherry Johnson who graciously provided us with a place to camp, food to eat, interesting people to talk to, and a beautiful farm to learn about.  That night we socialized with Jon and Sherry's family and friends who were celebrating their daughter's high school graduation and camped out in a beautiful glen, underneath a wooden and vine chapel built for another one of their daughters' wedding.

sunset over Harvest Haven Farm

The next day we were given a tour of the farm by Sherry, Jon's wife, who was also kind enough to feed us fresh eggs and toast for breakfast!  Harvest Haven Farm was our first farm to visit that had been participating in a CSA program for a few years (four to be exact).  Sherry uses raised garden beds for her CSA garden to farm a small amount of land using a square-foot method of planting as opposed to a row method.  She strongly prefers this method because it maximizes production with minimal land use.  For example, 8 boxes of 4x4 garden beds, when properly farmed, will produce enough food for a family of four to eat throughout the growing season, and enough to freeze for the off-season.  Sherry participates in a CSA not only to provide fresh vegetables to families, but also so that families can understand that farming is not exclusive to rural living.

broccoli in bloom

Sherry Johnson tending to her garden

"You don't need to be in the country to garden, and that's what I wanted to tell people."- Sherry Johnson

the rooster

Llamas act as 'guard dogs' for the sheep
Haven Hill Farm was also home to about 30 laying hens, 1 rooster, 2 llamas, and a few sheep.The hens and rooster are normally kept in a chicken coop where the Johnson family uses an ingenious method for retrieving fresh eggs: 

They were also hand raising a few dozen chickens to be eaten once they reach 8-10 weeks. The chickens are "free-range" through the use of an interesting contraption called a chicken tractor.  A chicken tractor is basically a mobile cage that allows chickens to graze on small bugs, dandelions, and other things.  

Harvest Haven Farm has been in the Johnson family for over a decade but the property has been farmed for over a century.  Some of the original barn structures still exist but are in need of repair.  There are numerous organizations dedicated to this mission, and we think that it is important to preserve the still functioning structures that were built with such high quality to survive the ages.

After our tour of the farm we were back on the road with only 60 miles to Minneapolis.  Unfortunately the heat index that day was in the triple digits and we suffered three flat tires along the way.  Needless to say, we could not have been more happy to arrive in Minneapolis and have been hanging out with some amazing friends ever since.  Tomorrow we depart a place that I called home for nearly 5 years, and one of the last significant urban landscapes until Portland.  It's hard to believe that the trip is not even half over yet, and I feel like the the most breathtaking sights are yet to be seen.  Hopefully we'll be able to update the blog, but things start to get pretty scarce out west (including cell phone and internet service).  That's all I got.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Fifteen signs that you might be a bike tourist

1) You have a serious glove tan.

2) Unleashed country dogs are your biggest fear...and raccoons.

3) You have a love-hate relationship with crushed limestone.

4) You do mental math to kill time.

5) Every time you see an electrical outlet you think, "I should charge my phone."

6) A 50 mile ride is a short day.

7) You grab handfuls of condiments at gas stations/restaurants.

8) You consider Google Maps' bicycle directions function the greatest thing since sliced bread.

9) Your butt has calluses.

10) Most of your day is spent talking about what and when you will eat.

11) You can change a flat tire in your sleep.

12) You can't decide which is worse -the hills or the wind.

13) You think oatmeal and trail-mix are their own category in the food pyramid...along with lemon-lime Gatorade and Nutrageouses.

14) Cleanliness is NOT next to godliness.

15) You think 15mph is cruising!