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  • Jodi Eberhardt

Sunup Ranch brings Community Together for Harvest Dinner

One of the best meals of the summer returns this year! The 11th Annual Harvest Dinner Celebration will begin at 5 p.m. on August 21 and is hosted again at Sunup Ranch, 12316 County 18 SW, Brainerd.

The harvest dinner is a time to reconnect with friends, listen to music, and share a great meal. But it’s more than just dinner. It’s a time to reflect on where our food comes from, the hands and lands that grow it, and just how fortunate we are to live in an area that continues to support family farms.

The purpose of the harvest dinner is to bring the community together. The original idea was to invite lakeshore owners and farmers to build relationships. The dinner is a celebration of the local harvest and a reminder that we all have a responsibility to manage the land in order to protect the water we need.

Greg Booth and Vickie Kettlewell own and operate the ranch started by Vickie’s parents in 1950. Sunup Ranch is an Angus cow/calf operation and an American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) Legacy Breeder and Ranching Heritage Breeder. Vickie explains “We use our horses to help manage the cattle, moving the herd through pastures, gathering and vaccinating calves, checking fences and water. This also provides valuable training for the horses.“

Greg and Vickie naturally manage the ranch to improve soil health, manage water, and support livestock. They use silvopasture, a grazing management approach where cattle manage the brush in the forest like the bison and elk herds many years ago.

Greg and Vickie share their success with sustainable farming, “In 2009, the ranch began improvements to pastures, working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to develop a grazing system for the entire ranch – both cattle and horses. We implemented a conservation plan to emphasize water quality, timber management, rotational grazing and wildlife habitat. The ranch is situated in the glacial drift region of southern Cass County, with kettle-and-moraine topography, Gull River shoreline, seasonal and year-round ponds and a variety of tree, grass and wildlife species. Much of the ranch is under a permanent conservation easement. With the changes in practices, we see improvement in our pasture forages, soil and our livestock. We have more resilience with more variability in the weather. In dry years, we have more options for grazing and extending the forage.”

The connection to water goes far beyond Cass and Crow Wing County. Lance Nacio, a shrimper from Louisiana, returns this year with sustainably harvested shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico. He reminds us that land use at the Mississippi headwaters affects everyone downstream. High nutrient levels in the Mississippi from runoff and fertilizer has created a dead zone in the Gulf. Fisherman have to travel farther to reach water that can hold oxygen to support fish and shrimp and many can no longer make a living.

Join us at the Harvest Dinner to celebrate local producers and recognize that water truly does connect us all. The event features a farmers market, live demonstrations, horse-drawn wagon rides and live music with Broken Spoke, along with activities for all ages.

The plated dinner is served chuckwagon style and includes Lance Nacio’s shrimp boil, rancher/Farm Bureau member Mike Sams preparing prime rib; catering by Kim Gibbs from KC's Saloon in Pillager; and local produce from Grampa G's garden in Pillager. The event also includes a wine tasting sponsored by Cash Wise Liquors.

For information or to order tickets, contact Greg Booth at 218-838-1266; Ron Meyer, Pine River Watershed, at 218-831-0509; or Cass County Farm Bureau at 218-587-4604. Go to the Facebook page “Harvest Dinner” for the latest news or for tickets. $35 for adults, $10 for children 15 and under.

In addition to the dinner, you can support local growers at area farmers markets or find their products at food cooperatives: Ideal Green Market (near the Ideal town hall) or Crow Wing Food Co-Op (downtown Brainerd). You can also purchase products directly from sustainable farmers in the “Up the Creek Meats” program.

Pine River Watershed Alliance thanks Greg and Vickie for all the work to prepare for the event and sharing your land with the community. Thank you, Lance, for bringing the shrimp and your message that farmers and fisherman both depend on nature. PRWA also appreciates the community support for local producers.

The Pine River Watershed Alliance is a citizen-led volunteer organization that works with local units of government and other agencies to preserve and protect the local environment while meeting resident needs for economic development and a healthy community. PRWA sponsors a website to provide tips on how to protect water quality and shoreline at .

Photos provided by Vickie Kettlewell.

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