Photos courtesy Dean Engelmann
Since opening in the early 2000s, the south Minneapolis business Tangletown has become an oasis of verdancy and a champion for supporting local farmers and food systems. Co-owners Scott Endres and Dean Engelmann started with the garden center and landscaping services, sourcing and cultivating as many plants as possible on available land on Engelmann’s family farm. When more Engelmann farmland opened up, the two decided to rent the land and start a CSA program. In the first year, they had 331 members (as Engelmann jokes, it’s a good thing they didn’t know enough to be intimidated). Now, about 10 years later, they have about 800 to 900 subscribers each year.
For those unfamiliar with CSAs, they are seasonal subscriptions where you sign up to receive fresh boxes of produce from a local farmer. Oftentimes, weekly produce boxes are delivered at multiple drop-off points throughout a region. People choose CSAs for a variety of reasons, whether it’s to enjoy ridiculously fresh food, facilitate a healthier diet, or support local farmers and food systems. Tangletown’s CSAs come in three share sizes, which are distributed to 12 spots across the Twin Cities, and the team is also able to offer partnership mushroom and coffee shares as well as meat, eggs, syrup, and honey from the Tangletown farm.
In the past few weeks, Engelmann has seen a surge of CSA orders on top of the normal amount he has come to expect. He partially attributes the increase to people becoming more mindful of their daily lifestyles, quarantine, and the simple fact that seeing barren grocery shelves is scary. To accommodate, the Tangletown team is planning on adding more field transplants, and already, workers have seeded and planted three of the 140-plus acres at Tangletown’s Plato farm.
“What we’ve seen from a macro lens is that Covid-19 has almost single-handedly ripped the curtains back and exposed the weaknesses and how shaky our food supply chain is,” Engelmann says. “It’s the things we’ve been saying for years. There’s no reason we can’t produce much of our food locally. We don’t need to rely on a supply chain that trucks food from hundreds of miles and flies it in.”
Both Engelmann (also known as “Farmer Dean”) and Endres are fourth-generation farmers, and each summer, a team of around 20 helps farm berries, carrots, a bounty of different greens, herbs, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, asparagus, broccoli, potatoes, peppers, radishes, and more. The farm follows organic standards and integrates sustainable practices, including hydroponics, pollinator-friendly grounds, natural remedies for crops, and an impressive 10,000 square feet of solar panels.
Despite the disruption of the pandemic, Engelmann says that, in a way, it’s going to be business as usual for the farm. From the get go, Tanglewood has kept the highest standards of sanitation; it’s par for the course if you’re dealing with food. There are some changes, though. Workers have always worn gloves, but now they’ll be wearing masks as well. At the distribution points, they will have to hand out individual boxes to minimize contact instead of the marketplace feel they had created in the past few years, and Engelmann is already thinking of ways to reduce the potential waste.
While Tangletown has a huge fanbase, it isn’t the only CSA program in the Twin Cities. Other examples include the Hmong American Farmers Association CSA (which also features a flower share) and the organic and customizable Featherstone Farm CSA. You can also find plenty of other options through the Land Stewardship Project or the CSA Coalition. “I always tell people I don’t care if you use our CSA or frequent farmers markets more or buy from local farmers. Just buy from someone local, and magic will happen, and the rest will take care of itself,” Engelmann says. “When it’s an eater and a farmer working together to mutually help one another, there’s always a win-win.”
- Remember, there’s a difference between a CSA and a grocery store. Sometimes the produce will look a little less perfect, but it’ll taste even better. Also if, say, the cucumbers aren’t ripe yet, you’re not going to get cucumbers in your box.
- Conversely, sometimes you get a surplus of items. Engelmann says he often hears of CSA veterans being able to extend the benefits of their 18-week CSAs another five to seven weeks because they learn how to save their goods, either by preserving it (kimchi, anyone?) or freezing it somehow.
- You might get some produce that you haven’t cooked with before. Be open to learning new things, and if you still don’t like it, make sure to drop off ingredients for friends instead of letting it go to waste.