Urban Roots

Dave Massey shares knowledge and fresh produce with his White Bear Lake community and beyond
Dave Massey and a few of his homegrown tomatoes

Putting down roots is second nature to Dave Massey, or Farmer Dave, as folks in these parts have been known to call him. Funny thing is, it wasn’t always that way. The oldest of six boys, Massey was born in Detroit, but spent his growing-up years moving from state to state; nary a deep root to be found. He attended three different elementary schools one year; they moved to Minnesota when he was 13.

A deep thinker, he sought comfort at an early age in the words and philosophies of J.I. Rodale (known as the grandfather of organic gardening) and spent time pondering the interconnectedness of what we eat, how that food makes us feel and how it all affects the earth that nurtures us. “I’ve always been into organic gardening and the philosophy of it,” says Massey.

When he graduated from high school he “pulled [himself] up by the bootstraps and moved on down the road,” he says. That road led him to the University of Minnesota, and, ultimately, to H.B. Fuller, where he worked as a chemist for 34 years. But all along there was that passion for gardening.

When he met his wife, Pam Tasker, and learned that her father was into organic gardening, well, it was a perfect match. She knew how to put down roots, too. Pam grew up on a 3-acre lot in White Bear Lake, which always boasted a bountiful garden. Over time, Pam’s dad, Harold, and Pam and Dave began expanding the garden that had been there; Pam and Dave bought the property and built their house on it in 1993.

Now, just steps outside their back door, more than 50 raised-bed gardens hold vegetables and fruits of all kinds, including tomatoes, cucumbers, raspberries, blueberries and strawberries, in addition to an assortment of herbs and an array of perennial and annual flowers. The gardens are so prolific there is no way the couple could enjoy all they grow there, so many folks reap the benefits of their organically grown harvest. “I’ll bring fruits and vegetables to my teacher friends, my sisters, our neighbors,” says Pam. “We also give to Second Harvest.”

Dave starts more than 30,000 plants from seed that he’ll use for their White Bear Lake garden and for their Northwoods Organic Produce business, located in Pequot Lakes. There, Dave spends weekdays during the growing season tending to 8 acres of certified organic fruits and vegetables he sells to restaurants, stores, resorts, co-ops and schools. He grows 60 types of heirloom tomatoes, 20 types of potatoes, six types of Swiss chard, purple and orange cauliflower, squash, a variety of raspberries and strawberries, and has a half acre dedicated to blueberries. His heirloom tomatoes are so highly regarded that the Good Earth restaurants create an entire menu from mid-August to early-September based on the beloved vegetable (or fruit, if you prefer). The squash has some of the highest brix values (sugar content) around and comes in at a decidedly sweet 11.

Dave’s passion for organic gardening is palpable, and he raises awareness by giving talks at organic food conferences, presenting to community groups, working with local chefs, and doing food demos at local co-ops about the merits and moral responsibility of going organic.

“I provide good, clean food,” says Dave. “But I also provide sources of information so people can make better choices on what they eat and how that food is grown. I want people to be aware of how chemicals affect our natural resources and how we can do things differently.”