Local woman finds enjoyment in sharing abundance through farmers' markets
Tuesday, April 12, 2011 6:14 AM
Kelly Davidson's quite picklish...
Kelly and Don Davidson stand by the sign of their Prosper Valley Farm, where they grow produce and raise livestock that they sell locally through farmer’s markets and local grocery stores.
Especially under her lids.
"I do lots more canning now - I had to learn how to do it - and now I whip up a batch of pickles every night as long as the cukes grow," said the proprietor of Prosper Valley Farm, located near Wykoff. "I sell tons and tons of pickles and am known as 'The Pickle Lady.' I got that title after (former "Pickle Lady") Pat Monson passed away."
Davidson and her husband, Don, bought their 34-acre farm in 2003, and Kelly planted "the usual vegetables."
Kelly admitted that she didn't really think about turning it into a business - she simply started planting when she moved on to the farm, leaving her city office job behind.
"I planted first in 2003, but I didn't go to market until 2004 because I needed to learn how to grow vegetables, so I took horticulture classes at RCTC for two years, loved it and decided I wanted to grow things...mostly flowers," she explained. "I already had perennial beds started with iris, peonies, roses, daylilies, and easy stuff. I lost most of my peppers the first year to flooding, and lost lots of pumpkins and gourds to flooding because the land is too low and we got seven inches of rain in one night in August."
Perseverance and patience have been the rules of thumb and canning, as she has learned over the past eight years.
"I still grow a huge variety of vegetables," Kelly said. "I grow what I like to eat, or I learned it won't get weeded. I can only do so much and should do what I like."
She's added fruit, nuts and trees to her gardens, including cherry trees, apple trees, red raspberries, four acres of her favorite black raspberries, "a few blueberries" that don't do as well as she'd like since the local soil isn't as acidic as they require, high bush cranberries, hazelnuts, lettuce and more.
Additionally, livestock roams her land, as she sells eggs and goat meat.
"I learn more every year, what will grow well on this land," she shared. "I like the quiet, the open space, being outside. The most flavorful food I grow doesn't taste at all like store-bought fruit or vegetables."
Kelly noted that she will be getting more livestock in the coming year.
"I have chickens now and have doubled my chickens this year and have had goats for four years now," she added. "I love all the animals when they behave, but the goats like to escape and cause trouble by eating the garden. I'm putting up solar fence this year to keep all the critters out of the lettuce patch."
Davidson took her produce to the Chatfield Growers' Market in 2004, where they were so inviting and encouraging.
"I made a lot of mistakes, but nobody said anything unless I asked for help," Kelly said. "They just waited for me to figure it out. LaVonne Larrabee was most instrumental in my keeping at it, and I might have given up after the first year if not for her, Doris Schleusner and Pat Monson. Doris is still with us, and I call her several times a year to ask advice."
Davidson's wares now include a variety of vegetables - asparagus, tomatoes, carrots, peppers, cucumbers, garlic, lettuce, potatoes, onions, Brussels sprouts, herbs, beets, broccoli, cauliflower and beans.
"I love to do pumpkins and gourds in all colors, shapes and sizes. I sell lots of perennials and cut flower bouquets," Kelly added. "I still have some trees and shrubs, too. I always say I'm going to cut back, but I never do. I plant what I like to eat and what I can sell at market. I try to think up different stuff that others don't have and plant more of what I need for myself for canning."
Having tried selling produce in Spring Valley for three growing seasons and finding few customers, she's excited to join other marketers at the Rochester Farmers' Market, held Saturdays in downtown Rochester.
"This will be my first year going to Rochester Market. It's very exciting to have a new gig," Kelly remarked. "I'm keeping the Lanesboro market. It feels like I'm on vacation, and this should be easier than three or four markets per week...less gas, less traveling time, more weeding time."
Davidson noted that every growing year is different. "You just have to see how the weather goes," she explained. "Some stuff will grow well one year and not the next, so I just sell whatever I can produce. I learn more every year, and it's fun. It's not at all disappointing when I lose a certain crop to weather, because another crop will do even better that year and it all evens out."
Kelly added that she enjoys seeing new, younger folks coming to market with their stuff to sell. "I see them make mistakes, just like I did," she said. "I just sit back and smile. I'm more than willing to give advice or tell what I know what works on my farm if they ask me."
Her chickens are doing great all year long even though she lost several last summer to heat and they are providing winter income through the sale of eggs in stores since she's registered with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.
Her nursery license allows her to sell plants and trees that she otherwise would not be able to raise for sale, and she's also a member of Minnesota Grown and the Arbor Day Foundation.
"I gave a talk to the Rainbow Garden Club in Wykoff this winter. They invited me to speak, and I had a wonderful time showing off my stuff and answering questions," Kelly said. "It's fun to get a question I don't know the answer to so I can look up stuff in my library of garden, farm, plant and chicken books in my office at home."
Kelly is taking a laid-back approach to gardening, farming and marketing now that she has some of the basics mastered.
"I've learned that I'd rather be outside, that I like animals - sometimes better than people, that my husband is more wonderful than I ever imagined, that I need to listen more and talk less, that I can slow down now and enjoy life more when I'm on the farm, that I've finally found my place in this world."
She added, "I have fun, take it easy and don't stress because it won't help anyway. I listen, listen, listen to people who have been there and tried that. I have more patience now, am better with the animals, know what will grow on my land and don't use chemicals on or near any food. If I have to treat something, it won't grow here. You don't really need chemicals if you know what and how to plant stuff."
Kelly hopes to expand her chicken coop, add beef cattle to her livestock, find a restaurant where she can sell her beef and eggs, and make her neighbors more aware of the seasonal bounty they're missing out on, observing that "local is better flavor, even though you have to eat what's in season."
Her job continues to be making plans for the coming growing season early in the depths of January, when everyone else is bemoaning the snowfall. She also works on keeping her husband happy at his city job so she can stay and play. "I love the town of Wykoff and all the folks I've met there and at market," she added.
Davidson's little white bus filled with produce can be found at the Rochester Downtown Farmers' Market on Fourth Street and Fourth Avenue SE on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon beginning in May, and at the Lanesboro Farmers' Market on Wednesdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. in Sylvan Park. Her eggs are also available for sale at Preston Foods and Lanesboro Local.
For more information, call Kelly Davidson at (507) 272-0009 or E-mail her at Kelly@ProsperValleyFarm.com.