It is already mid-January, but I finally have a few minutes to look back at last year at Squash Blossom, a year that did not go at all according to our lofty plans, thanks to Covid-19. However, we are fortunate that none of our family became sick and and grateful for some of the projects and opportunities that a pandemic year allowed us.

Here are a few highlights of 2020, and some of our hopes for 2021:

My birthday falls between Christmas and New Year, and in 2019, Rog and I celebrated it by having dinner in the vardo, which was sheltered in the greenhouse for the winter. It was so lovely, we decided to turn it into an exotic AirBnB. All winter, we re-furbished the inside of the vardo with a comfy custom mattress and set up the greenhouse with an inviting dining and relaxing area. Of course, as soon as it was ready, everything closed down for the pandemic and the AirBnB did not happen (yet). Maybe in 2021...?

We spent much of last winter and spring perfecting our chocolate-making, designing molds and packaging, and deciding upon flavors. This has been a SWEET enterprise!

We finally had time to complete our long-awaited farm sign! Our talented woodworker friend Jim Frost built the components, carved in the design and cut out the letters and medallion, I painted it and glued it together, and Rog erected it. How ironic that the year we finally had a beautiful sign was the year we were not open to the public. In 2021: expect some beautiful plantings around this sign.

In January, I had a big sale in my little eclectic store in the granary, parting with my vintage inventory to turn the granary into my studio. I completed the transition just in time for the pandemic, and this sewing area(above) served me well, sewing masks galore. Then, our daughter Sara moved home, taking over the studio to live in and write her masters thesis. Giving up my studio space was a small price to pay to have her here! Now she is in Costa Rica, working with the chocolate farmers who trained her in chocolate making and some of whom grow our cocoa beans (expect some guest posts about chocolate!) and I have reclaimed the studio. In 2021, there will be art-making!

In 2020, I had decided to discontinue my CSA program and only grow veggies and herbs for our pizza-making and to focus on flowers for a friend's boutique florist business. But then, when Covid hit, it seemed like a better idea to concentrate more on veggies. Reluctantly, we had let go our planned staff and interns. Despite not having interns, I think we accomplished one of our most beautiful, productive and weed-free gardens ever!

We didn't have pizza nights to use up all the veggies, but we used them in much of our market baking and set up a little farmstand at the end of the driveway when the tomatoes and squashes got out of hand.

We are grateful that Rog was able to retain his architect position during the pandemic last year, but his reduced hours allowed him to tackle some of his dream projects on the farm. For instance, after finding a bunch of used laminated bowling alley lanes for a ridiculous price, he installed them in the south side of our barn, which we envision as our future (2021?) mead-and chocolate-tasting room.

Now, he is focused on turning the north side of the barn into a commercial kitchen expansion, a future chocolate-making area in 2021(and maybe a farm meadery?)

One event that caught us by surprise this summer happened along our gravel township road. It was taken over by the County and paved, and now parking for our events will no longer be allowed along the shoulders. We still do not know fully how this road construction will impact our events in 2021, if the pandemic subsides enough that we can hold them, but we have a few ideas and have re-homed our cows realizing that the best part of our pasture will have to become parking area.

The most disappointing aspect of the pandemic upon our farm was not being able to have Summer Sundays music and pizza nights and special events. We missed our wonderful interns and staff and the hustle-bustle-fun of people visiting the farm. Loss of our pizza income also had a financial impact, but we are grateful that our Farmers Market sales were crazier than ever. In addition to summer Rochester Farmers Markets at Graham Park, we participated in the experimental online market begun during the pandemic, which was a tremendous success. We are still baking for the online market this winter, and have added frozen wood-fired pizzas, pot pies and homemade soups, as well as our breads and pastries. Meanwhile, Rog has gotten oh-so-accomplished with his sourdough breads, which are truly delicious works of art. We cannot thank you, our valued customers, enough for your continued patronage during these hard times!

With every crisis comes opportunity, they say. The disaster of Covid last year gave Rog and me our first summer together, just the two of us, no staff or interns, in ten years. I am so grateful to be isolated with my perfect partner, with my beloved critters, with no end of exciting projects, in my favorite spot on earth.

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There have been a lot of comings and goings in the past month at Squash Blossom Farm. For those of you who have been to the farm and know the animals, I thought you might like an update.

Our two heifers, Jitterbug (the Dexter) and Courgette (the Scottish Highland) have moved to a new farm. You probably know how much I love, love, love my cows. This was such a difficult decision, but we came to it for a bunch of reasons: the newly paved road is requiring us to use the best part of our pasture for parking next year, my arthritic body is making it hard to haul hay and shovel manure, the cows don't really have a useful purpose beyond enjoyment and are quite costly pets (and I can't justify them as a farm attraction when we haven't been open for an entire year due to the pandemic), plus, they are more desirable to someone now, when they can still be bred for calves, than when they are older.

The great news is that they have gone to an amazing farm and will have a valuable role, and never become hamburger. They are now at 21 Roots Farm, a nonprofit farm near the Twin Cities that works with people with developmental disabilities, connecting them to nature and agriculture. They are going to get so much love and attention--and hopefully will have calves next year. I will be visiting them for sure!

Eeyore, the mini donkey, misses Jitterbug - they were great buddies. But, partially filling the void left by the two cows is Don Q Otee, another sweet mini donkey! I am pretty sure Eeyore is very happy to have another donkey here. (I have to admit, it is sometimes kind of hard to tell when donkeys are happy. They are not very effusive.) Don Q has a white muzzle and underbelly and Eeyore is darker gray, so they are easy to tell apart, even though they are both a bit well-fed. I was delighted and a bit surprised to discover they have totally different voices when they bray!

In bird news, we have acquired a trio of Buff Orpington hens from a family that moved to town and didn't have winter housing for them. They are all very people-oriented, but one hen, whom I have named Ginger, runs to meet me and follows me everywhere. She loves to be held and makes sweet purring sounds when I pick her up. I love these chickens!

Dakota, the Royal Palm tom turkey, just celebrated his third Thanksgiving. He is one lucky turkey, being served leftover Thanksgiving fixin's rather than being theThanksgiving entree.

The saddest news is that we said good-bye to Cocoa, our dear old Aussie. She was approximately 17 --we adopted her a few years before we moved to the farm 12 years ago, and she was our last remaining pet from our town life. We knew the day was coming --she was deaf, confused, could barely stand up from lying down, and couldn't do steps at all. We were amazed she had lasted so long. It was hard to say good-bye, but she sure had a great, long dog's life.

All the rest of us, two-legged, four-legged, furred, finned and feathered creatures are doing well and surviving this weird, worrisome pandemic time by enjoying each other. We have been enjoying the lingering autumn, are bracing for winter to really hit, and dreaming of next spring.

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'Tis the season for eating chocolate (well, isn't every season?), for giving chocolate as gifts, and the season when the weather is cool enough to mail chocolate safely, so we are delighted to finally have this new, improved website up with a farm shop where you can order our artisan bean-to-bar chocolate to be mailed out in time for Christmas!

'Tis also the season for FEAST, Southeast Minnesota's annual local food expo, so we have been making chocolate almost daily to make sure we have plenty for everyone.

Last night, Rog poured bars and I added the inclusions: Delicious, just-harvested, local hazelnuts from Nine Hazels Farm in Lake City.

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