Grown on the Range Profile 7, originally published in Hometown Focus

Homestead Ponds, in the forest outside of Bovey, used to sell rainbow trout at the Grand Rapids farmers market and through local restaurants and retailers.  It all started when Scott Souder ordered 500 eggs from a source on the east coast and set up a hatchery in his garage.  That 500 eggs turned out to be about 5,000 and the business grew to five large ponds, served by 14 pumps on two separate circuits (just in case) providing aeration and filtration.  The Souders were, and still are, licensed by the State of Minnesota to process the fish in their commercial kitchen.  And then one summer night in 2013, they went out to dinner and a storm rolled through, felling a giant poplar tree right on the electrical connections and severing them both.  They returned home to find 5.500 fingerling trout dead.  That was a turning point.  They hired a backhoe and filled in all but one pond.  But these aren’t folks who give up.

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Their smoked trout and pickled fish had been very popular, so they found local suppliers for suckers and whitefish and a reliable source for salmon and continued those products.  They also had Scott’s Auto Electric to fall back on, in operation for 36 years, selling alternators and starters.  Scott is the ultimate recycler.  When you buy a new alternator, he takes your old one, dismantles, cleans, and rebuilds it to new condition—a complete re-use operation.  That recycling philosophy got them started on another venture.  They call their “business plan” an “evolution” that just keeps on evolving.

Scott and Jane attended a mushroom workshop and decided they wanted to give it a try.  Working with Itasca County foresters, they were able to identify red oak that needed to be removed.  They harvest them live, cut them into 4-5 foot lengths, drill them, fill the holes with mushroom spawn, then cap with beeswax and lay the logs out on the forest floor about two inches off the ground.  They own 14 acres in the middle of a dense forest, so this venture was a good fit.  The spawn comes from Field and Forest in Peshtigo, Wisconsin.  After a year and a half, the logs are ready to grow shiitake mushrooms.  But, as Scott explains, they need to be exposed to a cold snap in order to grow.  Scott wrangles them out of the forest and into the re-purposed wood fired hot tub on their deck—filled with very cold well water.  That shocks them into production.  From there, they go to the mushroom hut, a re-purposed chicken coop, for six days until harvest.  Each log produces mushrooms twice each summer for 4-5 years.  And you and I can buy fresh or dried, whole or powdered shiitake mushrooms.  I brought the powder home to try.

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Growing Shiitakes led to foraging for chaga mushrooms in the Chippewa National Forest, drying them on top of their wood stove, and offering them for sale in varying forms: chaga tea concentrate, ground chaga, and dried whole chaga.  The Homestead Ponds Facebook page offers information on the health benefits of chaga.  The forest also yields wild cranberries and crabapples and the Souders harvest them to make bottled iced tea and frozen tea concentrate.  I’d call foraging a kind of recycling too. 

Their commercial kitchen is the site for roasting---coffee beans, nuts, and salmon and whitefish, as well as for making Scott’s “Grandpa Roy’s Pickled Fish” from suckers bought on Pike Bay in Tower.  Their weekly schedule includes grinding special coffee blends from fair trade organic beans and bottling a cold brew coffee concentrate (with Jane’s grandparents featured on the label).  They smoke whitefish from Leech Lake and salmon in their large oven/smoker.  They rotate the shiitake logs and harvest the mushrooms.  They design new flavors for roasted almonds and cashews (sriracha honey is the latest) and get them ready for the farmers market each week.  And they make the family recipe pickled fish which is also sold by S&S Meats in Grand Rapids and Four Seasons Market in Coleraine.  The smoked salmon and whitefish are particularly good sellers along with the cold brew coffee concentrate which I bought to sample.

Scott says he’d like to do a little less work and enjoy a bit more free time in these next few years.  Jane and Scott have grandchildren they enjoy and they’ve built a small log guest cabin in the forest not too far from the garage and kitchen building.  It looks pretty inviting, out there in the middle of the trees.  They affectionately call their place “the Homestead,” and offer products for sale there, too, for those who miss them at the farmers market.  The Grand Rapids Farmers Market is open on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 8am-1pm and features locally grown fresh fruits & vegetables, home raised meats, eggs, honey, maple syrup, jams & jellies, fresh baked goods, & canned goods, all produced by members within 50 miles of Grand Rapids, MN.  They’re open mid-May through October at 11 Golf Course Road, Grand Rapids, MN 55744, just off the corner of Hwy 169 and Golf Course Road next to the Grand Rapids State Bank branch.  Visit the Jane and Scott and all of the other local vendors there for some wonderful and unique products!