Watch them grow

Published 8:24 pm Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Family cultivates fresh produce and memories in garden


There’s a direct line of site from the backyard garden through a window to the wall where the Levisens have a print hanging in their home. It’s created around a quote by Iowa-born writer Brian Andreas:

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“There are things you do because they feel right and they make no sense and they make no money and it may be the real reason we are here: to love each other and to eat each other’s cooking and say it was good.”

Back out the window are the raised garden beds Jennifer, Jens, Anders and Dag Levisen tend together, which they plant as a salad garden, Jennifer Levisen said — with cherry tomatoes, onions, herbs and sugar snap peas.

Jens Levisen grew up with gardening parents.

“I think that as a kid, I just took it for granted, the fresh produce,” he said. Their own garden was started in part due to “a taste consideration.” It’s something they are passing on to their two sons, Anders, 6, and Dag, 3.

Dag, the Levisens’ youngest son, is just starting to be introduced to planting and gardening. – Colleen Harrison/Albert Lea Tribune

“(Anders is) very aware of what a tomato should taste like,” Jennifer Levisen said.

She also suspects the gardening has something to do with their boys’ adventurousness in trying things grown in their backyard and in their grandparents’ garden.

“I think it’s totally the process, because they won’t eat the cherry tomatoes from the grocery store,” she said.

But in addition to the fresh produce, the garden is a chance for the boys to see their dad get excited about things, to do something as a family and to spend time outside. When the weather is nice, the group will eat out back on the backyard patio.

“We spend a lot of time surrounded by our garden,” Jennifer Levisen said. Their two boys have grown up using that time to check progress, she said.

Now, Anders Levisen has his own garden, also in a raised bed in the backyard. Jens Levisen’s father — Anders’ grandfather — built it for him when Anders was around 4 years old. It’s a place for the boy to have a different role in the fruits of his labor: plant selection.

Dag and Anders check the progress of their plants with their dad, Jens, last year. – Provided

And fruits is what Anders Levisen wants. The first thing he wanted to grow was apples, Jens Levisen said, but the family settled on strawberries, supplemented with cherry tomatoes and carrots. The strawberries don’t last from year to year in the raised bed because the plant freezes out in the winter, Jens Levisen said, but Anders Levisen said he wants to give it a go again this year.

“And that’s why I have my own little garden — to plant whatever I want and wherever I want it to be,” Anders Levisen said.

Jens Levisen said the family tries to garden only things they know they will eat when it is ready, as the family doesn’t can or preserve. They don’t have the soil for an in-ground garden, so they do their growing in beds that are 2 or 3 feet off the ground.

“It’s been a great use of our yard,” Jennifer Levisen said.

According to Jennifer Levisen, the garden provides an opportunity to see a project through to the end, and to see the results of that project: something that, as adults, doesn’t always happen.

“With gardening you’re responsible from start to finish,” she said.

That, and it is a little bit of fun along the way.

“Both boys like to get out and get in the mud … once (the starter seeds are) ready to get out and be planted, both boys like to help just get in the mud and get everything all wet and gross and muddy,” Jennifer Levisen said. “Both boys really enjoy that.”



Gardening tips from the Levisen family:

• Start with something you know you will want to eat, Jens Levisen recommended. Grow something you are familiar with.

• Keep the quantities reasonable for what you and your family can eat. “When produce is ready, it’s ready,” Jennifer Levisen said.

• Use your resources. Ask someone who is growing it. Jens Levisen said he has found people at the community garden willing to share about what they’re growing and how. There are also businesses in town with employees who will have expertise to share.


One of the recipes the Levisens like to make with their summer gardening harvest is bruschetta. – Colleen Harrison/Albert Lea Tribune



Fresh tomatoes

Fresh basil

Fresh garlic

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

Chop the tomatoes and basil. Finely chop the garlic and mix it with the tomatoes and basil.

Add olive oil to coat the mixture, and salt and pepper to taste.

Let the bruschetta sit at room temperature for at least 1 hour before serving.

A note from Jennifer Levisen: If you would like your bruschetta to be a little less soupy, don’t include the tomato seeds, where the tomato tends to be more mushy and liquid. Levisen said this choice is purely personal preference; she recommends it either way.


Italian Bread Salad (Panzanella)

Recipe from America’s Test Kitchen

Serves 4

6 cups rustic Italian or French bread, cut or torn into 1-inch pieces (1/2 to 1 pound)

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

1 1/2 pounds tomatoes, cored, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded and sliced thin

1 shallot, sliced thin

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

The success of this recipe depends on ripe, in-season tomatoes and a fruity, high-quality olive oil.

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Toss bread pieces with 2 tablespoons oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt; arrange bread in a single layer on rimmed baking sheet. Toast bread pieces until just starting to turn light golden, 15 to 20 minutes, stirring halfway through. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

Gently toss tomatoes and 1/2 teaspoon salt in large bowl. Transfer to colander and set over bowl; set aside to drain for 15 minutes, tossing occasionally.

Whisk remaining 6 tablespoons oil, vinegar and 1/4 teaspoon pepper into reserved tomato juices. Add bread pieces, toss to coat and let stand for 10 minutes, tossing occasionally.

Add tomatoes, cucumber, shallot and basil to bowl with bread pieces and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately.


About Sarah Kocher

Sarah covers education and arts and culture for the Tribune.

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