In an age of huge supermarkets, Two Pony Gardens brings Medina-grown, day-harvested vegetables and old-fashioned charm to grocery shopping.
From late July through September and into October, Lisa Ringer’s farm stand in the heart of rural Medina is laden with maple syrup, honey, herbs, potatoes, fresh-cut flowers and her tasty heirloom tomatoes. Visitors buy on an honor system. Select what you want, check the price list, weigh your selection and pay by Venmo or cash. In full season, the stand is a cornucopia of organically grown produce.
Each May she and her colleague, Katherine Price, hold a plant sale of some 28 varieties of heirloom tomatoes along with dahlias, herbs, eggplants and peppers, each bonnie plant staked and named.
While tomatoes and summer crops are growing, the farm stand is dormant until late July when the bonanza of vegetables and flavorful tomatoes come in.
Lisa Ringer grew up with an in-built feel for the soil and for plants that was encouraged by her uncle, Judd Ringer, who pioneered bio-lawn care for Woodhill Country Club. “He was interested in feeding the soil,” Lisa said, “rather than the plant, and he used this method to grow heirloom tomatoes.”
Lisa takes her uncle’s lessons to heart as she and her colleague, Katherine Price, practice a ‘living soil’ method in their farming. “I became interested in the soil food web and the make up of healthy soil,” said Lisa. “It’s a critical part of the carbon cycle.” She explained that healthy soils are alive. As old plant matter gets broken down by naturally occurring microbes and fungi, nutrients become readily available to next season’s crops.
Katherine attended a course on soil health last winter and said that she and Lisa are using farming methods that nurture the soil. “Biologically informed farming protects the integrity of the land,” she said. “Over time,” Katherine explained, “fertility grows when tillage is minimized, or stopped altogether.” The soil doesn’t become compacted, there’s no need for fertilizers, and the soil retains more moisture. Two Pony Gardens uses a thick layer of hay mulch to help with moisture retention and the mulch helps to control those pesky volunteer plants. “This way of farming produces healthier plants,” said Katherine. “And more nutritious crops.”
Lisa began working in landscape gardening, then specialized in growing dahlias and heirloom tomatoes on her farm. She sold her many varieties of showy dahlias as far afield as Chicago and is known locally for her young dahlia plants for sale in spring and as cut flowers in summer.
Over the years, she has increased her varieties of old-fashioned tomatoes, to include varieties like Speckled Roman, Black Horse, Amish Paste and my pick, Ukranian Purple. Having been an enthusiastic shopper of Lisa’s tomatoes, I’ve learned to judge the best tomatoes not by appearance but by their flare of taste. Lisa admits that some varieties do not have the manicured look of shop-bought tomatoes, but their glorious taste outweighs an imperfect appearance. Asked about her favorite varieties, Lisa said, “I only grow my favorites.”
Her crops include early lettuces, interesting varieties of potatoes, herbs, kale and cabbages.
To take full advantage of her land’s bounty, Lisa and Katherine hold Two Pony Garden Pizza Evenings throughout the summer. Guests book each event online at twoponygardens.com to tour the gardens and watch pizzas prepared with ingredients from the farm and baked in a stone pizza oven.
During the pandemic, guests simply ordered and picked up their pizzas to eat at home, but in normal years, families are invited to tailgate in the meadow, or to sit at picnic tables, explore the nearby woods, visit Lisa’s hens and ponies and take hay rides pulled by two magnificent shire horses.
All marketing and bookings are done through the Twoponygardens.com website. Treat yourself to a pizza evening and shop at Two Pony Garden’s bountiful farm stand at 1700 Deerhill Road, Medina, MN 55356. (Lisa asks that in deference to her neighbors, visitors drive slowly along Deerhill’s country road.)