Our celebration of local season continues with the always-exciting arrival of local apples from Charlie Johnson!
Read more about Charlie and Whistling Well Farm below:
When you buy local apples at River Market this fall, chances are they came from Whistling Well Farm, just down the road in Hastings, MN. Charlie Johnson has been growing apples there for decades, and he’s great at what he does –one of the reasons he was named Washington
Conservation District’s 2013 Outstanding Conservationist and currently serves as President of the Minnesota Apple Growers Association.
His many conservationist efforts include working with the Washington Conservation District to create a sediment basin to keep pollution out of the St. Croix River and reduce erosion to gullies downstream. Runoff from 77 acres of land is treated in this basin, capturing almost 98 tons of soil that would erode downstream into the river.
After making your way down Charlie’s long gravel drive, one of the first things you’ll notice once you reach the farm are the many beehives scattered among the groves of apple trees. Charlie works with a local beekeeper by housing the bees on his farm in exchange for the ecological benefits and, of course, honey. On top of pollinating Charlie’s trees and producing delicious apple blossom honey, the healthy bee population at Whistling Well speaks to the sustainable way Charlie farms, and is a living reminder of the symbiotic relationship between ourselves and these vital pollinators.
Throughout the year, the majority of all the work on the farm is done by three sets of hands; Charlie, one of his sons, and a high school intern (and one set of paws; Emmy the Springer Spaniel and official farm mascot) When it’s time to harvest, a group of local workers are recruited to help hand-pick the thousands of apple trees on the property and prepare much of the fruit to be shipped across the highway to the River Market, currently the sole wholesaler of Charlie’s apples. Whistling Well Farm also partners with the University of Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station to test out new apple breeds for things like size, flavor and hardiness in our Minnesota climate. A successful example is the SweeTango, a cross between Honeycrisp and Zestar apples (both of which are also products of the expert apple breeders at the U of M) and can be found growing abundantly on Charlie’s farm.
Charlie uses a sustainable method called Integrated Pest Management (IPM). The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization defines it as “the careful consideration of all available pest control techniques and subsequent integration of appropriate measures that discourage the development of pest populations and keep pesticides and other interventions to levels that are economically justified and reduce or minimize risks to human health and the environment. IPM emphasizes the growth of a healthy crop with the least possible disruption to agro-ecosystems and encourages natural pest control mechanisms.”
River Market is proud to support a wonderful farmer and steward of the land like Charlie, and is gracious for the opportunity to play such a significant role in our local food system. But if you’d rather taste for yourself, all you have to do is take a bite of a SweeTango to know your co-op is helping give you the most Minnesotan apple eating experience possible.