Shayne and Louise Johnson of Grampa G’s in Pillager welcomed Minnesota Grown staff onto their farm this August to learn about all of the great work they're doing with high tunnel vegetable production. Check out the full interview below to learn about their farming methods, the family atmosphere they create, and their farmstead's history.
Minnesota Grown: Tell us about the history of this farm.
Grampa G’s: We're a fourth-generation farm family, and the farm has been in our family for nearly 100 years. It all started with Anna Gerrels growing vegetables for the family on this 80 acre homestead, but the farm is named after my [Shayne's] grandfather George and father Grant. We joke that the "apostrophe-s" on Grampa G’s is for my name, Shayne. On the farm, the barn, hog house, and silver maple trees are all original dating back to about 1919.
MG: What types of fruit and vegetables do you grow?
GG: We grow, make, and sell a variety of fresh produce, canned salsa, pickled goods, and jams/jellies. Our fresh produce includes 23 varieties of peppers, 7 different colors of sweet bell peppers, raspberries, strawberries, apples, and a bunch of other vegetables!
MG: How do you grow your produce?
GG: We have a mix of outdoor and high tunnel production, thanks in part to a grant through the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the University of Minnesota. The benefits from high tunnel production are protection from harsh storms, heat transfer to the soil on cold nights, earlier planting opportunities, faster growing times, and being able to grow vegetables that would normally not be able to survive outdoors. We use plastic sheeting to help with irrigation, root growth, and weed control.
MG: How do you practice sustainability?
GG: We try to do things like they did back when my grandfather worked the land. Instead of spraying chemicals for weeds, we get on our hands and knees to pull them. We also try different varieties fruits and vegetables to test how well they produce in our soil and how they respond to our farm environment.
MG: Out of the vegetables that are in season right now, do you have a favorite way to prepare them?
GG: We like to make fresh salsa! We make 5 different types to sell, along with jams and jellies, to our customers. For the jams and jellies, we often use recipes from the University of Minnesota Extension.
MG: Where do you sell your vegetables?
GG: We regularly sell at two local farmers markets in Pine River on Friday afternoons and in Crosby on Saturday mornings. We also offer community supported agriculture (CSA) shares at Lakewood Health Systems in Pillager and Motley.
MG: Why should communities support local farmers?
GG: The family farm has been a part of our society for countless years, and without the support of local communities to purchase products and be part of the traditions, the farm cannot survive. We don’t do this to make millions – it is a labor of love to keep a traditional way of life alive and prospering. People are becoming more aware of where their food comes from. What better way to see exactly where your food comes from than to come visit us? We welcome everyone to see how we grow the food we provide.