Featured Speaker: Joel Karsten

Grasping at Straws

Joel Karsten grew up in Southwestern Minnesota on a crop and dairy farm, and one of the many chores he had was pitching oat straw against the barn when the bale forms fell apart. Joel noticed robust weeds growing out of the straw that landed near the side of the barn, and he filed that image away.

Joel went on to earn his degree in horticulture from the University of Minnesota; he always thought he would succeed his father on the family farm. After graduating, however, he found himself starting a business and buying his first home in Roseville, MN. With student loans, a home mortgage and just one inch of topsoil covering compacted construction fill, Joel started experimenting with how to start his first garden without a large budget. Through trial and error, Joel found he could in fact grow more than weeds with a bale of straw and some fertilizer.

The idea caught the eye of friend, Jeff Olson, who shared the story on Kare 11’s “Extra.” Witnessing the successful bounty gleaned from very low-cost resources, Jeff encouraged Joel to write a book to share the idea with others. Joel laughed at the idea and, even today, doesn’t consider himself to be creative or a writer. After some additional encouragement from his wife, Patty (he journalist in the family), he is now working on his fourth book. His initial, self-published book reached #32 on the Amazon Best Seller list, and with the help of social media, the idea spread far and wide. On Facebook, there is now one “official” group and over 100 other groups, where countless stories and tips are shared.

Joel’s solution not only helped him in his personal gardening endeavors, it has also benefitted people all over the world, in places like Norway, north of the Arctic Circle where there is no soil; Switzerland, on the side of a mountain where the terrain is steep and rocky; in the city of Detroit, MI, supplying nutrient rich food and creating community in HUD housing; and in Cambodia, where peasant farmers no longer must rely on the government to feed themselves.

Straw Bale Gardening is not just about growing a garden; it is about people of all ages, in all places, realizing success through feeding themselves and their families with nutritious produce, creating community where there was none, and the ability to gift or sell their crop–all starting with very few resources. This is a story you won’t want to miss at TEDxEdina 2018, an idea with incredible power to transform our world in ways not ever imagined when Joel planted his first straw bale garden.