If you've ever wanted to find out where local food comes from, or if you're interested in becoming a local grower yourself, there's an opportunity to visit Floodwood River Farm between 9 and 11 a.m. this Saturday morning as part of the 4th Annual Iron Range Harvest Festival. Visitors can check out how the Hietalas grow and harvest veggies and fruits, and how they process pickles and salsa for sale at the farmers' market in Hibbing.
Both Jill Hietala and her husband Rob work full time. They operate their farm with help from their son and his family. Jill says Floodwood River Farm is "in the woods, halfway between Hibbing and Floodwood...We got married in '79--been here ever since. My husband built himself a little bachelor shack before that, and ended up with a wife and three kids. We added on to the house a few times. My son and his wife and two kids share our house now. We kinda made it into a duplex." The farm has three gardens. One is near the house. Beyond that is a larger garden, now in production, that Jill guesses is about half the size of a football field. The third garden is even larger and is currently growing a cover crop.
The Hietalas make maple syrup in the springtime, sometimes tapping over 100 trees. Jill explains that they boil the sap in a little building that's part greenhouse, part sugar shack, part canning shed, and part deer stand--all in one building! They also make home-made pine tar soap. "It smells like saunas and it helps for itchy skin--insect bites or eczema." Jill also says it's ugly. "It's brown," she says. "It almost looks like a crusty biscuit."
Jill sounds a little weary when she starts talking about all the work that goes into getting ready for the farmers' market. The harvest begins the night before. Jill might harvest carrots and beets while her husband digs potatoes. The last things to be harvested are the flowers. After that Rob loads the van and gets a smattering of canned goods from the house. It's a several hour process. In spite of the prep, Jill says the Hibbing Farmers' Market is fun. "People are happy to be there," she explains.
The 4th annual Iron Range Harvest Festival includes cooking and preserving demonstrations, the Floodwood River Farm tour, tours of community gardens in Virginia, local farmers' markets, and live music. No registration is necessary to visit Floodwood River Farm. Jill says they plan to let visitors take the lead. "We'll let it be up to them what they would like to see." They aren't cleaning up for company, either. "What you see is what you get!" she laughs.