Pawel Buda and Kelly Firkins, MN:

Delablu Farm is located in South Central Minnesota, between Delavan and Blue Earth. We grow a wide variety of flavorful and colorful vegetables and some raspberries, black raspberries, strawberries, melons, watermelons and we have a few apple trees. We sell at the Mankato Farmers’ Market, the Rainbow Foods Co-op in Blue Earth, the Amboy Cottage Cafe in Amboy and through our CSA. This is our third season of ever growing anything!

Kelly: I grew up in Black River Falls, Wisconsin, but often visited Faribault County, where my parents are from. Visiting my grandparents every summer, I really grew to enjoy the wide open, big sky and the dark, fertile soil. Since my childhood in Wisconsin, I have been drawn to the natural world. From hiking in the county forests to the bluffs on the Mississippi River to going on creek hikes and swimming in lakes and rivers, I blossomed in the outdoors. After graduating from high school I went to the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point. There I earned my degree in Philosophy with an emphasis in Environmental Ethics, and minors in Writing and Teaching English as a Second Language. After college I went straight to Poland to teach English and encourage Pawel to marry me! Two years later, we got married and a few months after that we moved to the U.S.

Paweł: I was born and raised in Krakow, Poland. Growing up I spent summers on my grandparents’ small farm. In those days, Polish farms were very diversified and that’s where I really got a sense of place. I have so many great memories from those days. After high school I decided to study Polish Literature and graduated with a Masters degree. I then spent a year teaching high school Polish Literature and Language. That taught me good diligence, which is very useful in farming! Then I worked at an office job, but I was thinking about doing something else. I started to think about being a farmer.

What got you started in farming, what motivates you?

Kelly: Long story–but it goes like this: after graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, I moved to Poland to teach English. After one year, I came home for my friend’s wedding and while home I visited my grandparents in rural Delavan, MN. We were sitting around the kitchen table, and Grandma mentioned that anyone in the family who wanted to live in her house, could have it. I thought to myself, “Wow, what a deal!” Then, the next thought was, “But where would we work?” So I just filed her comment away for another day.

Later that year, I started reading “Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future” by Bill McKibben. It was very influential, talking about how to live more locally and the need for more small farms, and that filled in the gap between the lofty idea of living in Grandma’s house and finding a job–we could be farmers! I talked to Pawel about it, and he was open to the idea. The more and more he thought about it, the more he liked it. It fit in well with our efforts to live conscientiously and he could be his own boss.

We talked to my grandparents about moving in with them, but at that time they weren’t ready. They were doing just fine on their own and were enjoying the freedom that retirement had given them. But a year later, Grandpa’s cancer had returned, and that meant big changes. So on Thanksgiving of 2008, we moved in. We spent that winter going to the Land Stewardship’s Farm Beginnings course and taking Grandpa to his many appointments. It was a time of intense planning and getting to know my Grandpa better and in a deeper sense. Unfortunately he died in March of 2009, before he could see the fruits of our labor, though he is still very much apart of the farm and our life. He was an avid record keeper, scientific inquirer and a business man with a great sense of humor. Fortunately, Grandma is still with us and is full of good advice and cheer!

So that’s what brought us to Faribault County. But it is the community, the land and the pure joy of growing food that keeps us here.

What forms of marketing do you use?

Word of mouth, website, facebook, twitter, localharvest.com, The Land Stewardship’s CSA guide and farm list, MN homegrown website/searchable database, craigslist, last year we put up posters but this year we’ll distribute some brochures, there was one article in the local paper as well…

What about start-up funding? Besides savings, have you found any grants, of financial assistance programs to have been particularly helpful?

We haven’t really found much help. There will be some help with cost sharing for organic certification from the state of Minnesota this year. We haven’t been actively searching for financial help.

Have you faced any particular challenges as you started, and grew your farm business?

Our biggest challenge is being so new to farming. We both don’t have any real farming background or business background. So it takes time to learn. Many young farmers start out as interns, but in our situation (land to use, and no sustainable farms near-by to work on) we just dug right in and started.

Another thing that is challenging is finding the best places to buy certain things like drip tape or fertilizer that is not from animals in confinement. Luckily, through the Land Stewardship Project, the Sustainable Farming Association and the many conferences and workshops that we attend, we have built a small network of farmers we feel comfortable going to for help.

What are your goals for your farm in the upcoming months/years?

Our goals for this year is to get Organic Certification, grow our CSA to 20 members (up from 11 last year) and to improve our farmers’ market stand. We really love the interaction with our members and people from our community, they have so much to teach us. As for the upcoming years, we hope to slowly aquire more equipment, like a plow, disk and harrow for field preparation, and maybe rent a tractor (we have a small Allis G, new to us this year, for cultivating) or buy one. We’d also like to keep growing, but slow enough to handle the risk.

Anything else you want to share?

Suggestions to other young farmers or future farmers: go to as many farm related activities as you can and if possible–volunteer. There are so many people that you’ll meet and work with that have great information and ideas!

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