Underneath a canopy of aged hardwoods north of Crosby lies 10.5 acres of land dedicated to growing fruits, vegetables, and mushrooms for the local community. The operation is run by Derrick Justin, who recently became water quality certified through the Minnesota Agriculture Water Quality Certification Program (MAWQCP), on May 4, 2023. The program itself is voluntary and certifies producers using conservation-minded practices to protect water quality.
"Becoming MAWQCP certified allows me to let the community know that I'm here and that I'm doing the right thing for not only water quality but also the environment," Justin said.
Justin purchased the Crow Wing County land 3 years ago and has slowly transformed the acres into an intensively managed produce garden, shitake and lion’s mane mushrooms food forest, and free-range chicken operation where his lawn and backyard forest initially stood. His 1-acre garden utilizes every square inch available with help from trellises, arches, and cold boxes to create many layers for not only his garden but provide a habitat for birds and insects too. The remaining acres consist of Justin's food forest, which currently contains nearly 100 logs stacked log-cabin-style on the forest floor to grow both varieties of mushrooms. He is also slowly adding additional fruit and shade-tolerant perennials to expand his farming operation.
Justin's operation is essentially organic as well, as no fertilizers or pesticides are applied. Instead, Justin's 30 laying hens help deter pests, along with a long list of both biological and cultural methods including companion planting, cover cropping, handpicking, and reduction of bare soil. Fertility is managed using various crop rotations and adding composted chicken bedding, kitchen scraps and coffee grounds from the local coffee shop, and old dairy manure from a neighboring farm into the soil.
Overall, Justin currently preserves enough produce for himself, sells at local farmers' markets, and donates the rest to a local food shelf, but hopes to expand his farm's horizons to nearby community markets. His overarching goal for his farming operation is to sustainably develop the land using permaculture principles, so it's capable of generating a full-time income.
"I'm hoping when people see the MAWQCP sign at the end of my driveway, they'll ask questions, like why and how, and learn about what steps I'm taking to do things right," Justin said. "In the end, I hope it'll reconnect communities with one another as well as with the environment."
Posted in: MAWQCP