For this farming couple, starting small led to success, one crop after another.
One of Jim Morrison’s favorite memories from childhood involves apples.
“I was sitting out in the woods one day,” he recalls, “and I remembered how when I was a kid my parents would occasionally bring home a one-gallon tub of fresh, unpasteurized apple cider. The really good stuff from a fruit stand.”
With three siblings he was lucky to get one glass, but he thought “it was the best stuff in the world.”
This experience pushed Morrison, a former Navy engineer who is now a commercial pilot for Endeavor Air, to give up small gardening and suburban life in Bloomington and purchase land in Mora, Minn., in 1997 to become a part-time farmer.
“We kind of wanted to get out of the city a little bit, get some elbow room,” Morrison explains, adding that his wife Debbie was always kind of an “accidental farmer.”
“I’ve always enjoyed being around farms, and I grew up near farms,” Debbie says, explaining how the allure of the maple trees appealed to the couple when they first looked at the land.
Five years later Sapsucker Farms was born. Growth was steady over the next decade as the couple slowly added to the farm—a greenhouse for vegetables, honey bees, apples, more maple syrup taps (which have expanded from 35 to over 1,000)—based on what they enjoy.
Once the work reached a boiling point in 2012, Debbie quit her corporate marketing role to manage the farm full-time, with her husband balancing piloting with farming. It still isn’t easy. “I felt like I was drinking in from a fire hose everything I needed to learn so quickly,” Debbie laughs.
That includes learning how to plan complicated growing schedules around fickle weather in order to provide food for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). For the CSA program, Sapsucker grows a variety of greens, fruits, herbs, and a few experimental crops like shiitake mushrooms. They deliver a half-bushel of freshly picked produce to those who pay for the subscription-based service on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.
It’s a lot for one farm, but it’s thriving. Part of that is due to the restored native prairie. “I liked the idea of having our open fields and them being in native forms of grasses,” Jim said. Dotted with white, yellow, and purple flowers during growing season, the prairie was born out of the couple’s notion to return the land to the way it was. It serves a practical purpose as well: apple growth.
Sapsucker’s trees—a mix of cider and table apple varieties—are grown in the middle of the prairie, and Jim theorizes that the diversity of insects brought on by the plant life creates a habitat for balanced growth. This means no chemicals are used and that the farm hosts one of the few certified organic orchards in the state of Minnesota.
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