Growing in the Twin Cities with Backyard Harvest

Building a sustainable (and delicious) urban food system – one yard at a time

Meet Our Farmers: Andrew Montain May 14, 2010

Filed under: Farmers — Krista Leraas @ 10:35 am

Andy formerly worked as a certified arborist

As of March this year, I’ve teamed up with PRI Cold Climate officially – as a Backyard Harvest farmer! Over the winter, I volunteered with public school students. I hold a B.S. in Environmental Horticulture from the University of Minnesota. Being the biggest tree lover I know, I was formerly a certified arborist with Rainbow Treecare. Before that, I worked as the Farm Manager for Garden Farme CSA, a permaculture incubation site. When it was transitioning to being certified organic, I fused work and living at Hoch Orchard. I have also worked in native landscape restoration. At the U of M, I was Horticulture Club Greenhouse Manager, assistant to researchers in the Entomology Department, and lead researcher as an undergraduate (proposal funded by a scholarship). I intentionally lived with parents and friends and at farms in Minnesota for most of my life. I like big picture and detail viewpoints. Generally well-read, I’m highly opinionated about carbon cycles, positive human roles in ecology, roots, Biochar, trees, wood, pruning, how shoddy nursery plants have become, energy and opinions. I enjoy exploring the Twin Cities by walking, running and biking. I’m looking forward to helping you eat excellently.


Meet Our Farmers: Dina Kountoupes April 5, 2010

Filed under: Farmers — Krista Leraas @ 5:04 pm
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Dina enjoys a good walk in the woods

I graduated from Macalester College in 1993 where I studied environmental issues and followed that interest immediately after college to work in environmental education centers around the nation: in California, Maine, Vermont, and Minnesota.  In 1996 I took my interest in the environment to the tropics of Costa Rica where I applied my Spanish skills to work at sustainable development research centers, sustainable farms, and environmental education centers. In 2000 I returned to the Twin Cities and began working in children’s garden programs, community gardens, and local nature centers while pursuing a Master’s degree at the University of Minnesota in environmental education, with a minor in sustainable agriculture.  After graduating I continued to work in my field writing curriculum for, and designing gardens for a Schoolyard garden ecology program where I had the opportunity to follow my passion of getting more kids outside to connect to the land, as well as enjoy and learn about nature.


Meet Our Farmers: Anders Gurda March 25, 2010

Filed under: Farmers — Krista Leraas @ 4:30 pm
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Anders returns to the prairie

Anders returns to the prairie

My name is Anders Gurda and I’m one of three of the new crop of urban farmers working with Backyard Harvest this season. A city kid hailing from Milwaukee, I grew up with a small vegetable garden in my backyard, shaded by Locust trees and our house, picked over by rabbits, cherry tomatoes stolen by chipmunks, and raspberries picked by hungry kids on summer vacation. I knew the trials and tribulations of urban farming at an early age. I eventually left the city for rural Northern Wisconsin to attend Northland College. While at school I spent my summers working for small-scale organic farms in the area, honing my skills and knowledge base on the whet stones of droughts, Midwestern monsoons, good years, and bad.

Feeling a city-sized hole in my life after graduation, and tiring of blaze orange and snowmobiles, I decided to move to the biggest and best of them all and headed to New York City to work as an environmental educator for the NYC Parks Department. I brought inner-city kids into city parks to teach them about everything from botany to native cultures to eco-art. I also spearheaded the revitalization and curriculum development of a Community Center’s youth garden in Harlem, helping me to see urban farming as an effective ligament that not only connects people with their local food systems, but to the larger natural world around them. Spurred by my experience in urban agricultural education, I shot across the country to Olympia, WA to take a job as the Education Program Coordinator and Farm Assistant for a non-profit youth empowerment farm called GRuB (Garden Raised Bounty, “without U, we’d just be GRB”). After a year of farming and teaching, the Midwest again called my name.

A relatively new transplant to the Twin Cities, I’m finding a fertile community of gardeners, activists, organizers, good-thing-doers and great-idea-havers. I’m excited to dig into these cities’ soil and plant myself in backyards throughout the area. We’re cultivating the land and we’re cultivating each other, building a community centered around local food and meaningful connections. There’s no other mission I’d be happier to live out.


WOW! February 3, 2010

Filed under: Farmers — Krista Leraas @ 3:22 pm
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We’ve received twice as many applicants as last year for our urban farmer positions. There are lots of amazing folks in the mix! Keep any eye out for profiles of our (undoubtedly incredible) 2010 farmers….


Backyard Harvest is hiring urban farmers for the 2010 season January 13, 2010

Filed under: Farmers — Krista Leraas @ 2:12 pm


Backyard Harvest farmers are the direct link between homeowners and their backyard food gardens. Farmers grow fresh vegetables in customer yards and provide exceptional customer service. This is a part-time contract position with PRI Cold Climate that reports to the Backyard Harvest Farm Manager and works as a team member within PRI’s Backyard Harvest program. This is an hourly, non-benefit earning position.

Duties and Responsibilities


  1. Prepare spring and summer garden beds along with paid/volunteer crew. Plant a wide diversity of annual and perennial food plants for multiple harvests throughout the season
  2. Install basic irrigation systems and fencing
  3. Maintain vegetable beds – weeding, culling, replanting
  4. Autumn tear-down of gardens

Customer Service

  1. Provide courteous and efficient customer service to garden owners
  2. Communicate regularly with garden owners via garden journals and/or face-to-face conversation
  3. Contribute to a weekly e-newsletter

Record Keeping

  1. Track harvest by weighing and recording poundage of vegetables and types of crops
  2. Keep accurate records and reminders for each garden in the garden journals (online format that customers can follow) and farmer journals (to kept by the farmer)
  3. Report problems, needs, questions and program feedback to the Farm Manager


  1. Participate in community events (e.g. classes, celebrations, tours)

Outreach and Team Meetings

  1. Assist Program Coordinator and Farm Manager in implementing the outreach and marketing plan
  2. Attend team meetings twice a month during the growing season (April – October)


  • Minimum 3-4 seasons of ecological gardening, farming or other food production experience
  • Good communication skills
  • Ability to work independently and responsibly
  • Reliable transportation within the city (bike with trailer OK)
  • Ability to lift 50 lbs
  • Basic building skills
  • Possess (or acquire) basic harvesting and maintenance tools: pruner, harvesting knife, hoe
  • Customer service experience and knowledge of permaculture desirable
  • Passion for a sustainable local food system

Compensation and Hours

  • Depending on # of gardens assigned + time of season, approximately 9-20 hours/week
  • $575/garden per season (min. 4 – max. 10 gardens/farmer) + $13/hour for required meetings, garden installation and garden tear-down
  • Training in sustainable agriculture methods, permaculture introduction, basic business, specialty gardening skills
  • Access to a separate growing site for farmers and other Backyard Harvest program consultant use

Send resume and letter of interest to Krista Leraas at Deadline is February 1, 2010.

Persons of color are encouraged to apply. Candidates living in or near Frogtown in St. Paul, South Minneapolis or Northeast Minneapolis are also encouraged to apply.


Reflecting on the 2009 Season December 3, 2009

Filed under: Farmers,Uncategorized — Krista Leraas @ 4:17 pm
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a Backyard Harvest garden - early October 2009

A Backyard Harvest garden - October 2009

Can you believe that it was just one year ago that a few of us at PRI Cold Climate started to really dig into the idea of piloting a program in urban agriculture and permaculture? My goodness how a year can fly by! Since those October days, we have seen Backyard Harvest take root and blossom.

We opened January of 2009 with a bang when we hosted our first open house to introduce the community to Backyard Harvest. (Thanks to member Karen Graham for dreaming up our name!) We thought getting 40 folks in the door would be a great success. To our pleasant surprise, over 100 packed in to hear about the program, express their excitement (and concerns) and offer their support.

This same excitement over sustainable urban food production brought us over 40 applicants for our farmer positions, brought in thousands in donations and sold out our urban ag training series. Could this be the time for urban permaculture to really take off in the Twin Cities?

After hiring three outstanding urban farmers, our team set out to grow a diverse array of vegetables, herbs and edible flowers for 15 South Minneapolis households. These garden-owners came with a wide variety of garden experiences, expectations and income levels. Some sought to learn gardening skills by following along with their farmer while others were just getting started with gardening and cooking fresh seasonal foods. So what did they think?

According to our end-of-season survey, for garden-ownersthe experience of having a garden in their yards ranked right up there with receiving high quality, fresh produce. Learning about gardening techniques, plant varieties and cooking with fresh produce were important parts of this experience. Garden-owners also report having made related changes in their lives such as connecting more with their neighbors, buying other locally produced products and becoming more adventurous in their cooking and eating. Garden-owners were overwhelmingly in favor of recommending Backyard Harvest to their friends, family and neighbors. In fact, many have told us that they have already done so!

Big thanks goes out to our three wonderful farmers: Seth Schlotterbeck, Stefan Meyer and Grayce Backstrom. Their admirable passion and skill made this positive experience possible. While we will miss Seth as he goes off to work again for Easy Bean Farm, a CSA in west central Minnesota, and we will miss Grayce as she goes on to develop her own Backyard Harvest-inspired business in Colorado, we are happy that Stefan will be sticking around the Twin Cities and look forward to working with him in 2010.

Thanks for your support of our fledgling program! If you would like to be included on the Backyard Harvest e-mail newsletter list or if you have other questions or comments about the program, e-mail Krista Leraas, Program Coordinator.


Meet Our Farmers: Grayce Backstrom July 21, 2009

Filed under: Farmers — Krista Leraas @ 3:36 pm
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Hello my fellow backyard gardeners,

Farmer Grayce enjoys a summer strawberry

Farmer Grayce enjoys a summer strawberry

I am the third and final urban farmer to post my personal/professional bio, so here’s a bit about myself that you might find interesting. I grew up on a small-scale farm in Southern Idaho where my family raised organic alfalfa, goats, chickens, pigs and a big vegetable garden. For my first paid job I worked on an organic market garden that was owned by a neighbor lady when I was 12, and since then most of my summers have been spent doing some sort of organic gardening.

After I graduated high school I moved to St. Peter, MN to attend Gustavus Adolphus College where I worked in the on-campus greenhouse and for the Environmental Studies office. When I graduated from Gustavus last spring I worked as a Garden Corps Assistant for the Community Design Center of Minnesota in Saint Paul. The CDC is a non-profit group aimed at fostering knowledge of local food and healthy living in youth, but more specifically, it is a summer program that manages seven gardens in East St. Paul and then sells the vegetables in a local CSA.

After my summer with the CDC I became even more dedicated to the idea of developing a local foods system and empowering people to grow their own food. I also knew that what I loved doing was working with plants and in the soil and fortunately I was able to find a job that allowed me to do all of those things.

I have really enjoyed my time with Backyard Harvest up to this point and eagerly look forward to the rest of this year’s growing season. I want to say thanks to all of you for continuing to build Minneapolis’s (and Saint Paul’s) local foods community and for giving a poor, garden-loving fool like me the opportunity to do what I love and actually make a living at it.

Thanks, Grayce