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Peggy Boggs: Earthy Mama!

Over a year ago KAXE received email from Amanda Roach, explaining that her mom, Peggy Boggs, was both a farmer and one of Northern Minnesota's Strong Women.

Peggy Boggs grew up in Chicago but fell in love with farming when she moved north to the Spring Lake area many years ago. Like most farmers, Peggy is super busy. It took us months to find a time when we could talk and share her story. She spoke with Northern Community Radio's Maggie Montgomery.

Maggie: Tell me about your farm up in Spring Lake.

Peggy: It's in the northern part of Itasca County. I have actually three farms, Two of them are not adjoined to my farm and the one I live on is one hundred and forty acres. The house that I live in is an old farm house. It was built before World War II and I'm absolutely in love with it. It's just uniquely old and small and I just love living there…living on my acres and just being part of nature and being part of the farm. It's just an ideal life for me.

Maggie: How did you move to northern Minnesota…you started in Chicago, right?

Peggy: Right. I'm originally from Chicago Illinois and my mother moved up here. We came up to visit her and we fell in love with the area. My two oldest children were in high school at the time and we just felt like, you know, the hustle bustle and everything down there is a lot different and the atmosphere is a lot different.

When we came up here, we saw that the population wasn't as much, and we just felt like maybe this was a better place that we wanted to raise our children. So we moved up here and my kids went to Deer River school, and I love the River School District. It's small and it's homey and my younger kids went to North School, which was like one big family. It's just a wonderful place.

Maggie: What do you grow on your farm?

Peggy: I have beef cattle; I have 40 head of beef cattle. And then I have sheep, and I think I have about 30 sheep. And chickens…laying hens. I raise meat chickens and I have ‘assorted poultry,’ like turkeys and guineas and ducks, and they're just kinda wandering around.

The farm stand has a mascot. His name is One-Eye. He's a big white turkey. He's a heritage breed, a Beltsville, and I actually hatched him from an egg. I ordered a dozen eggs on the internet, and I hatched out three of them--three boys—and he was one of the boys. His two brothers one day went into the coop and he couldn't get in the door because he was a little bit bigger than the brothers. He tried to go through the window, and when he went through the window the glass came down and cut his eye and blinded him on one side so we call him One-Eye. He comes and he prances and parades in front of everybody who comes in the farm stand. So he's probably in more camera pictures than anything else in northern Minnesota!

Maggie: Tell us about the farm stand. When did that start, and what's in there?

Peggy: Three years out I've always…I've always wanted to share or have people eat homegrown food. I never realized how wonderful homegrown food was until I started doing it myself. How the flavor was so different; how the quality was so different. And I've always had this dream of being able to share this with other people, and actually my daughter—my youngest daughter—came up with this idea one time… I taught all my girls how to can food and I was self-taught. I taught myself and then I taught them… and she said she wanted to make some extra money. She said, ‘Why don't we do a canning business and start a cottage industry?’

I said ‘Oh yeah I'm all for that.’ So we started a small cottage industry and I was trying—we were trying—to think of a name for it. You know, I'm so realistic. I'm like, ‘What do you think about Nature's Bounty?’ Oh these boring names. And she came up with the name Earthy Mama. So then we ended up calling our canning our cottage industry Earthy Mama’s and we would do shows. We would do crafts shows and things like that.

Maggie: Sometimes we need those young people to kind of push us a little bit, right?

Peggy: Right. And from there that escalated to me wanting to do the farm stand. Actually at one point in the cottage industry you could not sell your goods from your home. It was illegal for you to sell your goods from your home, and then they changed the law four years ago so that you could. That kind of got my wheels turning. Mm hmm. It's like, ‘Hey I can sell from the home now!’ So then I thought I could sell other things too because then I'd have a spot right here.

So that kind of got everything going. But then I was like, ‘Gosh you know you're 67 years old, do you really want to do that?’ I have a very supportive husband. And he said, ‘You know if that's what you want to do,’ he said, ‘You go ahead and do it.’

And I did. I opened up the farm stand. We sell pork and lamb and chicken, and then the canned goods. I have local people who do soaps, and I have a man who does burl bowls, and I have their little items in there too. I sell it for them. It’s just a small little corner of the garage.

Maggie: So when are you open?

Peggy: I'm open seven days a week and I'm open from 8:00 till noon.

Maggie: And it's up, it's just right up there in your garage...

Peggy: Yes. Right in the corner my garage.

Maggie: And you have a sign on the end of the road?

Peggy: It says ‘Farm Stand.’ I do; I have a big sign that says ‘Open’ on the end of the road and then on the front of the garage there's a huge banner that says ‘Goose Lake Farm Stand.’

Maggie: So you are managing all of these acres and all of these animals and a farm stand. And I can say that I've tried to reach you for about a month or maybe longer, and I've called you and you've been on a tractor or you've been at your farm stand... What is a typical day like for you? You're such a busy woman!

Peggy: Like right now with a garden coming in, I get up about 5:30 and I do watch the news and have a cup coffee, and then I start prepping cucumbers or whatever that I'm going to can that day. I start prepping that and then about 7:30 I go out and I feed everything. And then I open the farm stand at eight and then, depending, sometimes I garden—whatever I have on my agenda that morning—and then sometimes I go back in the house and work some more on the canning. At about 1 o'clock I'll go out and make hay.

Maggie: If it's dry.

Peggy: Yeah. And I get home about 8 o'clock at night and then I'll can up whatever I prepped earlier that day.

Maggie: What is it about farming and making food that makes you want to do it so wholeheartedly?

Peggy: I don't know. I just love it. I just fell in love. I can't… I can't explain anything any different… When we moved here thirty-six years ago we rented a house in Bowstring and my husband and a couple guys were sitting around the fire. We had an old chicken coop in the house that we rented and the one guy said, ‘Why don't you raise some chickens?’ And he said, ‘I'll help you butcher them.’ And my husband said, ‘I don't know; I’ll ask my wife.’ And I said, ‘I never did anything like that before. I have no idea what I'm doing.’ So I had my good old trusty Reader's Digest homestead book; this was before Google and computers. Yeah. I looked it up, and we bought 25 chicks, and we raised some, and we butchered them. It was downhill from there.

Maggie: Is there anything you do on the farm or your approach to the farm that's different from, say… You're the main manager of the farm. Is there anything different that a guy might do that you do as a woman?

Peggy: I think I’m more monetarily book-oriented on the farm than my husband. It's like buying a piece of equipment, how you know you only have this many cows to pay for this piece of equipment. Whereas he's more like, ‘Let's get the bigger baler.’ That kind of thing.

I think that the birthing time too is more…you know you've done this with your own children so you're doing it with the animals. And it's nothing for me to have a calf in my kitchen or a lamb and bottle feed them.

I'll tell you one little story. This was kind of cute. Every day when I'm calving I go out there several times a day to check the calves. I had noticed that one of the calves wasn't doing real well… When animals have their babies—and I don't care what kind of animal it is; I don't care if it's a cow a pig a sheep a chicken—they make Mommy noises before they even have the baby, they make Mommy noises. They're bonding just before they deliver; they're bonding with their babies. When the cow is in labor having the baby she'll be laying there and she'll be going ‘mmmmmh; mmmmh.’

She's making this noise and she's bonding with the baby. All of them do it—all the animals do it—and that way when the baby's born that baby knows that that's its mom even though there's 40 red cows out there. She knows her mom just from that Mommy noise. So anyway, there was one little calf out there and he wasn't doing well. I noticed two nights out I don't think his mom had any milk. I thought she had some milk, but I don’t think she had any now.

So I went out every day at noon and I would bring him a bottle. This is a two-quart bottle; this is not a little bottle. And I'd give him a bottle every day at noon. The temperature dropped really low and I went out that afternoon to give him his bottle and he was laying on his side. He was cold and he couldn't get up.

So I put him in the four-wheeler and I brought him into the house and I warmed him all up and we tubed him—we put a tube down his throat to get warm milk in his belly to get him warm. And then we put hot water bottles all on him and we got him all warmed up and he was standing… But we couldn't get him to eat. He would not eat. We had to keep tubing and tubing him and finally I said to my husband, ‘We got to get him out of the house here.’ Because I have a playpen I put him in. He was getting out of the playpen but could not get him to eat the bottle at all.

I said, ‘Let's bring him out to the barn.’ So we loaded him up and we put him in the four-wheeler; in the side-by-side. And the minute we started the engine his little mouth started sucking! He associated my side-by-side with that Mommy noise! So every time I went out to feed him I had to have the side-by-side running, because he thought that was the Mommy noise.

Maggie: You figured this out. That is amazing!

Well you know the reason I tried to contact you is because we've been doing a series about Strong Women on Northern Community Radio. We got a letter from your daughter Amanda who nominated you as a strong woman. She wrote a very nice letter about how you moved to Minnesota, and you bought some chickens, and now you have herds of cattle and sheep and pigs and poultry, and you supply eggs, and you've opened your farm stand. But at the end she says, ‘Her relaxing time is when she's foraging in the woods for goodies or when she's perched on a tractor cutting hay. I have such an amazing role model in my life. She is the true definition of a strong lady not only physically but spiritually. I have been beyond blessed in life not only to have this lady as a mother but also my best friend.’

Do you have any advice for your daughter going forward?

Peggy: Just always be true to yourself… just… if you have a dream go for it! I had a dream for a long time, of sharing what I found that I loved—producing food—and I finally got to share it. I mean it took me a long time but I finally did. So don't ever give up.

You can find our more about Earthy Mama's and Goose Lake Farm Stand on Facebook

Maggie is a rural public radio guru; someone who can get you through both minor jams and near catastrophes and still come out ahead of the game. She pens our grants, reports to the Board of Directors and helps guide our station into the dawn of a new era. Maggie is a locavore to the max (as evidenced on Wednesday mornings), brings in months’ worth of kale each fall, has heat on in her office 12 months a year, and drinks coffee out of a plastic 1987 KAXE mug every day. Doting parents and grandparents, she and her husband Dennis live in the asphalt jungle of East Nary.