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Rhubarb Farming in Minnesota--Frank Wright

As told by Frank Wright
Lanesboro, Minnesota

Story Narrative:

This story was collected as part of a collaborative effort to record the state of American lakes, rivers, and waterways as well an attempt to uncover what water means to Americans. Listen to other stories recorded by the Minnesota Humanities Center for the Stories from Main Street project, an initiative created by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service for its traveling exhibition "Water/Ways."

"That is the sound of Spring, isn’t it? That water just drip, drip, dripping. My name is Frank Wright and I live in Lanesboro, MN. I’ve been in Lanesboro for about 21, 22 years. Most of my time in Lanesboro I came here as a wooden spoon maker and chop sticks maker, an artist. Until I officially retired. I'm also a gardener; I kind of specialized for about 15 years now in growing rhubarb. I started out pretty modestly, with some rhubarb plants here at our house and then I don’t know about 15 years ago I started taking cuttings from those plants and moving them out to our garden plot.

Which is just about a mile from Lanesboro along the Root River and next to the bicycle trail. This is a rhubarb leaf right here, just starting to come up and see, these little buds like this, this little bud right here will explode up and form little rhubarbs. This is probably about the earliest plant because it has this nice southern exposure here and you get the light coming off the house and it’s a little more protected here. I have been harvesting typically 1,500 pounds of rhubarb each year. I’ve been selling more and more of my rhubarb to local restaurants and Pedal Pushers Café in particular buys maybe, last year I think bought close to 600 pounds of rhubarb from me and they chop that up and put it in the freezer and use it for their pie making.

The most important contribution that the Root River has made to my rhubarb growing is the soil is all this sooty sooty lome which has come down that river valley over the last many centuries I'm sure. What I don’t have is a contribution for my rhubarb growing is water from the river. All of the water that is used for my rhubarb is pretty much based on natural rain water.

When I first started gardening, I would take water from the river and would pump water from the river onto my garden plot but after some of the rain events where I could just see there was a lot of run off coming into the river, I just felt that if I'm going to be growing things and then taking them either to a farmers market or giving them and selling them to people or for that matter feeding them to my own family I did not want to be putting water on that produce unless I was convinced that that water was clean water and not contaminated with things that either I or people eating my produce didn’t want on it.

See, it’s kind of amazing. This one here, they just haven’t quite, there isn’t much happening yet. Well that is the thing about farming and gardening, you can’t make it do what you want, it does what it is going to do, when it’s going to do it."

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