Transforming yards into mini farms

A Q&A with urban farmer Krista Leraas

Harvest Moon Backyard Farmers helps households all over the Twin Cities, including many in Southwest, set up large vegetable gardens. The have also worked with many volunteers to grow food for food shelves and nonprofits like The Aliveness Project, a community center for people living with HIV/AIDS. Krista Leraas, one of the founders of Harvest Moon, recently spoke with the Southwest Journal about her work.

Southwest Journal: How did you get the idea for Harvest Moon? When did it start?

Leraas: The idea for Harvest Moon started when I returned to Minneapolis from completing a graduate degree in sustainable community & ecological agriculture in California. I had learned about Your Backyard Farmer in Portland, Ore. and wondered if the same sort of business would fly here.

From a sustainable food system perspective, it seemed really crucial that city dwellers participate more in growing their own food. In 2008, I started working with Paula Westmoreland and Lindsay Rebhan at the Permaculture Research Institute Cold Climate on a nonprofit program doing this work, Backyard Harvest. I worked on developing and coordinating it for two seasons. … We officially started Harvest Moon in January of this year.

What kind of services do you provide?

We offer three basic levels of service with room for customizing: full service kitchen gardens, grow-it-yourself garden kits and garden coaching/consulting/design. The full service garden packages include all the materials needed (compost, plants, seeds, watering set-up, etc.) and all the labor for the growing season all the way through harvesting the produce and leaving it for the customer.

There are two kinds of garden kits: specialty gardens (asparagus, strawberries, potatoes) and small veggie gardens. These are installed and the customer gets to do the rest. Of course, we’re happy to help as much as they would like.

As for garden coaching, consulting and design, we work with individuals or businesses with whatever part of the growing process they need. We’ve done everything from basic veggie garden designs and troubleshooting to helping a business client hire a staff farmer.

What’s the benefit of an urban dweller having a mini-farm?

So many!

The sheer joy of watching a garden grow cannot be underestimated (though hard to pin a value on). Several people that I’ve worked with over the years have marveled at how they thought that the produce itself was the most important thing to them when they started, but over the course of the seasons learned that there is so much more to a garden including feelings of connecting with the earth, learning the unique ways that each crop grows, observing natural rhythms. One client even witnessed her autistic son come out of his shell in fascination with the garden’s every change.

Knowing exactly where your food comes from, the person who grew it, what methods were used in growing it. The transparency of this method of getting food is worlds apart from most.

It’s an amazing learning opportunity for folks who want to be more self-sufficient. The only way to learn how to be a gardener is to do it. It improves your landscape, your soil, your backyard ecosystem. It brings butterflies, bees and birds. It is a lovely thing.

How many mini-farms have you developed?

If you count the ones that we did with Backyard Harvest, we’ve started 28. We’ve got several on paper for this season and will install them in the next couple of weeks.

What kinds of vegetables work best given conditions in Minneapolis?

There is a wide range of veggies that can be grown in Minneapolis. The trick with some is to start them indoors to give them a jump start once they get out to the garden. Compact crops usually are the best choice for our small yards although those with more space and sun can have great success with sprawling melons or winter squash. Everyone knows we grow great tomatoes. Crops that like cooler temps also thrive in early spring and fall: spinach, kale, lettuce mixes, cabbage, peas, scallions, onions. Garlic is my personal favorite.

What do you think about the growing popularity of urban agriculture?

I’m ecstatic! It’s so vibrant, so exciting and so necessary. In order to have a truly sustainable society, we cannot be transporting all of our food from 1,500 miles away (on average). Any and all efforts to localize food production are parts of the solution.

What’s the most challenging part of your work?

Spring sales season. For better or worse, most Minnesotans aren’t even thinking of gardens until the temps warm up which gives us a pretty tight window before planting starts.

What’s the most satisfying?

Growing really beautiful and abundant gardens is great. Even better than that is seeing a client get lit up about growing and cooking fresh food — being more sustainable and feeling themselves as part of nature.
I love that.

What kind of community partnerships are you involved in?

We currently have two. The first one is with Habitat for Humanity. Three of their homeowning families get a veggie garden and coaching through the season. … The second one is with the Permaculture Research Institute Cold Climate. We are working with students in their Urban Farmer Certificate program to grow vegetable gardens dedicated to local food shelves and meal programs. This year we’re growing 320 square feet of food shelf gardens. Both of these partnerships are supported by grants from Patagonia’s St. Paul store and the Seward Co-op Community Fund.

What’s your vision for the future of Harvest Moon?

Urban homesteads and permaculture! Dina and I would love to help people do much more than just vegetables and a couple of perennials. We’d love to help people who want chickens, bees, fruit trees, rain water harvesting, mushrooms, greenhouses, etc.

More information
For more information about Harvest Moon Backyard Farmers, go to