All In The (Foundry) Family: Meet Lisa
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Like many families, the Foundry Family tree is rooted in many star-crossed coincidences, overlapping connections, and seemingly random but universe-encouraged right-place-right-time-right-person good fortunes. We also have the (truly incredible) benefit of being able to grow fruitful branches cross-pollinated with members of our *actual* born families, all budding and blossoming together with our chosen crew.
Such is the case with Anna's mother, Lisa. As Two Pony Farm maven, partner/mentor/dirt-under-their-fingernails-compatriot with our beloved KP, maker of mind maps, dreamer of dahlias, human of Oak (Ruby's cousin), and general Foundry-ethos-matriarch, Lisa's branch of the Foundry Family tree is constantly flowering and has recently yielded the sweet fruit of our Foundry + Two Pony CSA.
If you're lucky, you might have met Lisa out at a legendary Two Pony pizza night, or at one of the Two Pony plant sales we've hosted, or maybe at one of the peak-season pop-up farmer's markets at the shop...or maybe you might have seen her bringing magic and shepherding green things during a shop move.
If you haven't had the opportunity (yet) to meet Lisa and/or bop around the farm with cats/geese/exceptionally gregarious elder statesmen horses trailing behind tow, we thought—as we are prepping to launch this season's Foundry x Two Pony CSA—that it was high time to officially introduce a little of Lisa's Two Pony farm magic to this little corner of the Foundry world.
Pour a cup of tea perhaps make yourself a little toast with a drizzle of farm honey and let's settle in for a nice little chat.
The Foundry Home Goods: Where are you right now?
Lisa: KP and I are sitting at the kitchen table, staring out over the fleet of little beat up pickup trucks and wheelbarrows and the garage shop that serves as a tomato storehouse, a garlic drying warehouse, a carriage house, harness room, cool!
Like anything on a farm the spaces do double and triple duty. In peak season we're always brimming FULL of dahlias and there's a little studio where I put together the dahlia bouquets. It's right next door to the room with the big windows, an atrium, and that's a really great space because there are drains in the floor so we can roll a in wheelbarrow or whatever and really hose things down.
THFG: Can you describe what the whole physical space feels like for those of us that might be in want of a little farm dreaming?
L: Well, this place has totally morphed over the years... I guess maybe I'll start at the beginning? Before this house, Anna's dad and I raised the kids in one of the oldest farmhouses in Hennepin county, on state land. We heated with wood exclusively, very "Little House In The Big Woods". (Foundry note: you can read a little more about that in our interview with Anna here). It was really charming, BUT it was also very dark in that house and we used to joke that it was insulated with garter snakes, bats, and squirrels.
We lived there for 18 years and in the mid 80's we were met with an incredible opportunity to buy this land. It was 40 acres, part of a 300 acre "natural area" so close to Minneapolis, put in preserve by the Brooks family, a rare farmable parcel of land in the midst of these elder basswoods and maples, you know, climax forest. It's this wild pocket surrounded by big landowners. It's a pretty rare spot. You can call it "Big Woods", but we're just 17 miles from the heart of Minneapolis...the cell service is definitely spotty enough that I really FEEL like I'm way in the country.
So we built this house here, little by little, to be a workhorse that felt like home. We wanted a farmhouse feel but, after the original cabin, I also wanted a ton of light and storage, AND for us to be able to maximize how it works for us as a farm (like, with the drains in the floor). It's definitely a really unique and wonderful place and, as we've grown organically, it has served Two Pony really well.
TFHG: How did your journey to farming begin?
L: I used to be a landscape gardener and used to garden around this area at all of the big estates, doing their perennial garden design. I did that for 30 years. After a while I started getting this feeling of Ugh, why don't you people just do this yourselves? There's so much joy in gardening, you know?! There's nothing better! And you don't even spend TIME here in the garden when it's blooming!? It was a great job, but I wanted something where what I was growing would be something that nurtured me or the land or something greater than just: something for someone else to look at once a season and cross off their list as "handled".
So, I had this house and access to all this land and a deep love of flowers. At first I was keyed into the landscaping aspect: more flowers, always more flowers. And I had this one old client with this gorgeous English garden, and it was planted in all pink and white and blue and the pink in that garden was the sweetest pink dahlia varietal.
I had never worked with dahlias like that..JUST this pure pink, and they were actually really hard to find! And I loved them! So, my first dream was: I want to grow dahlias. I had a partner who had also burned out from her job in the healthcare industry and she wanted to just get her hands in the dirt. So together we started with the dahlias and I guess it was a slippery slope from there! I loved the beauty of the flowers but I also wanted things to have a purpose. Beauty and purpose, loveliness that works. It's the same thing with how I feel about the animals, the horses are workhorses, the dogs are workdogs, the soil makes flowers but it also nourishes. So, naturally, I thought: we need to grow food. I started with my favorite heirloom tomatoes, then peppers, herbs, and all the other stuff just came... we're experimenting with growing garlic this year and it's been really fun growing all of the different kinds of pumpkins....but no matter what else we grow, even after all these years I think we're still known mostly for our dahlias and tomatoes!
TFHG:Other than the dahlias and the tomatoes, what are your favorite things to grow?
L: Well, what "my favorite" is really depends on the season. Whatever's flourishing at any given moment is usually my favorite! But I do love the things that feel super specific to this place, especially the things that keep giving year after year. I planted a crabapple tree in front of the house and it makes the most delicious crabapple jelly. It's a beautiful pink, and it's not something you can really buy anywhere. And the maple syrup that we make here...to have sugar maples here is really special.
The reason why my 40 acres isn't a part of the preserve is because it was actively farmed at the time the preserve was made. And it's important to note, I guess, that the reason why the preserve itself exists, the "Wolsfeld Woods", is that the Wolsfelds (the homesteaders) had tapped all of the the sugar maples in the woods back then because it was another diverse thing to do before they put the crops in. The Wolsfeld family had a big maple syrup operation on these woods. When the kids were growing up, we'd actually boil down our small haul on the original site of the Wolsfeld's old sugar house.
But that maple syrup operation is actually the reason why the old growth woods of the preserve are still standing here now intact. The syrup tap holes wreck the "quality" of the lumber for timber so it didn't get logged off when so much else did. So, in effect it was maple syrup that kept the mature trees from being taken down. And thanks to that little anomaly in the use pattern of the land, now we can manage our part of it in a way that is anti-extraction extraction extraction. It's really important, we're incredibly lucky to be surrounded by this big woods on 2 1/2 sides. I actually rode ponies through this land when I was a kid, it was an old cattle pasture, and now 60 years later we're trying our best to bring it back to a thoughtful combination of worked and natural.
When we first bought the land in the early 90's, there was one tappable maple tree still going, and now, after all these years of slow management, it's turning back into a maple woods. Acknowledging the trees, watching them grow, it's like watching kids grow up, like wow! You're not a teenager anymore, you're big enough to take the sap! I'm so proud of you! We tap about 30 trees and each tree flows about 20 gallons a sap a season...it's 40 gallons of sap to one gallon of syrup. Lots of people don't think about the miracle of that. How much sap yields so little syrup, sure, but also how incredible it is that the whole process is available to us as humans at all.
KP: It's definitely a lesson in gratitude and reciprocity. It's like: For humans to survive and thrive we're always going to need to extract, so we do give back to the trees by maintaining this property and showing gratitude. We lay down cornmeal and tobacco when we can and honor the way this harvest has been done for thousands of trees.
L: That's right, and we also use this part of the forest as an opportunity for teaching that gratitude and for community building...In addition to the maples, a lot of that forest land is buckthorn which is an invasive species. We have a summer camp and when we have the middle school kids come out it turns into a competition as to who can pull the biggest buckthorn. They love it. And hey, everyone's a winner!
TFHG: Tell us about the name "Two Pony Gardens"?
L: I had two really great ponies, Alfie and Frithie, and they were Norwegian Fjord Horses, which are these wonderful cream colored small draft horses. I wanted horses that were functional and I got them when the kids were tiny tiny. I used to ride these long legged thoroughbreds and ended up thinking they were kind of worthless...like, they didn't do anything but prance fast! So I got these two Fjord ponies and they were absolutely magical ponies growing up. They were still alive when I started Two Pony Gardens in 2001 (Alfie died in 2003). Alfie and Frithie were the original Two Ponies.
For a little while we didn't have any ponies, only our big shire workhorses, but then my friend who works with labradors (he's actually where Anna and I got Oak and Ruby and Turnip) had a Fjord Horse that he gave me because he was too busy with his labs. This Fjord Horse was OLD—like 25. I missed Alfie and Frithie so I said yes and then we had this resident Fjord Horse again who turned out to be related to Alfie and Frithie! He's almost 31 and he's like a big dog. I never lock him up, he wanders around the farm and he comes up to the kitchen door if he's hungry. His name is Aku.
I feed him special pellets, I have to feed him all the time so, honestly, it's easier to feed him out the kitchen door. He's tried to come up the stairs into the kitchen, but he's realized it's probably not the best idea. Basically the first couple of years I had him he was accidentally starving, he wasn't eating his food and it turns out that Harriet (another of our horses, and exceptionally bossy) WAS eating it so it looked like everything was fine but Aku was so skinny! We figured it out and I got him this special food, and now he's just on the loose all the time. I don't even put him away at night. He's like a big dog. Even on the pizza nights, he's still loose, people don't quite know what to do with him! Like is that horse ok just wandering around? And we're like yep, he's just like an elder statesman, out looking for neck scratches, calm and quiet and uncomplicated.
TFHG: We've heard KP say that Two Pony is "horse powered", how much of the farming do the horses do?
L: Well Aku and Harriet and the ponies don't do much "work" other than their antics. But we have the big black shire horses who definitely put the work in. I have a mentor who is a horse farmer who shows draft horses and he sort of started me on the path to horsepower. I had him train my original shire and then I got another one because I wanted to drive a team and we trained my team and his team together... between us we now have 9 shires together. We say I have 4.5 and he has 4.5. We do a lot of plowing demonstrations, and put together big hitches, driving all of this different farm equipment.
Here at Two Pony I have two fields that are big enough to hook up the teams to plow, disc, and harrow with the horses. In the fall we did the new garlic field with the horses, they do logging on the property, haul sap for the syrup, do lake ice up north when they can. They actually (literally) pull their weight.
TFHG: Tell us about The Foundry and Two Pony CSA?
L: Well it's been something we've been talking about and around for a while. There's a Shaker saying about form following function that really drives a lot of our choices at the farm. And when I look at how Anna has structured The Foundry, it's the exact same principles. Like my shire horses or the garden, things can can work hard AND be lovely. The best things to me are things that are just as useful as they are beautiful. So there's this sort of genetic overlap between the farm and The Foundry.
It's also how something feels in your hand, about intentionality and utilitarian seasonal living, valuing what you have, and enjoying your life along the way. The project of the CSA is so great because it allows us to focus in on what the farm can do really well...we're a small operation and we have our little honest john farmstand and our big plant sale, but we want to be able put most of our energy towards conscious choices that continue to expand the impact of our land stewardship—and the CSA has been a cool opportunity to channel our focus AND grow in the right directions. This is the inaugural year, so, like everything on the farm we're like "we'll just wait and see what happens"... so far it's been so wonderful! The feedback from The Foundry community has been pretty amazing. Farming, by its nature, can be a little lonely, and this has been such an incredible way to forge community connection! It makes all of this labor feel really seen and appreciated. And it isn't even summer yet! Like, when the tomatoes are on? Watch out! We can't wait.
Thank you SO MUCH Lisa! You are a joy and a pleasure and we are so excited to be on this wild and wonderful journey with you!
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So interesting to learn more about you, Lisa, and the farmstead. I've plowed with my sister's Belgian/Percheron draft horses and while it's more work than driving a tractor, it's also more fun. My sister's land is by Odden's Fjord horses near Barronett, Wisconsin. I've spend some time there and developed an appreciation for those wonderful horses. Suffice to say I appreciate what you are doing on Two Pony all the more after reading this interview!
Loved reading about the Foundry,, seeing your cool dogs, the gorgeous dahlias, and you!