Ty and Ruth Leffler enjoy talking with customers at The Prairie Farmers’ Market.
Ty and Ruth Leffler of Leffler Gardens haven’t always had a big garden, but Ty grew up in a big family with a big garden. “We had eight kids in our family,” Ty says, “and what we raised in the summertime is what we ate in the wintertime. My mom canned everything– tomatoes, carrots… being from a relatively poor family and eight kids, that’s what we ate. And it was good.” Although he grew up viewing a garden as an absolute necessity, it was also a source of delight for Ty. “What I remember is going out in the morning after a cool night and taking a red tomato off the plant, and it was so juicy and so rich with flavor that I would just let the juice run down my chin.”
Bringing that kind of experience to customers is a big part of why Ty and Ruth spend many hours in their large gardens now. When they first started enlarging their garden, they just sold a few vegetables at a roadside stand at their home west of Baltic. They first participated in a farmers’ market in 2009. They now have about three-quarters of an acre in production and two days of market every week. “Tuesday morning all we do is get ready for the Tuesday afternoon market. Picking, sorting, cleaning up all the produce,” Ty says with a tired chuckle. “And by two or three in the afternoon on Friday, we’ve got to stop everything and start preparing, harvesting. Especially when we’ve got potatoes, and beans, and peas, you know, the picking actually takes most of Friday to get ready for Saturday.”
Getting set up for market is a big job that Ty and Ruth do no matter the weather.
They also spend a lot of time doing good old-fashioned weeding. “The hardest part is keeping ahead of the weeds,” Ty explains. “We’re totally chemical-free, that’s one of the reasons. We don’t use any chemical fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides– it’s just totally clean.” Tilling, mulching and weed barrier help to keep weeds at bay, but weeding is still necessary. However, as a Vietnam veteran who has experienced health problems associated with the chemical Agent Orange, Ty has no desire to spray a component of that chemical anywhere near his food or the food he’ll sell to customers. Ty also insists, “I don’t want to sell anything for a price I wouldn’t be willing to pay myself. I want the average person to be able to afford to come to market.”
Leffler Gardens produce is grown according to organic principles, yet it’s priced for the average consumer.
Although the work of gardening can be intense, Ty and Ruth enjoy staying active. “I have type 2 diabetes. But in the summertime my blood sugar is almost perfect. In the wintertime it goes high because I sit on the couch. Well, you know, in the wintertime I don’t want to go out and play in the snow! The garden keeps me healthy. So I don’t think we’ll ever quit; we’re going to keep doing the garden.”
Ruth stays active year round with her sewing business, Mama Mia Kids. She has sewn since she was a young girl. “My mom taught me how to hand sew, so I was hand sewing clothes for my Barbie dolls,” Ruth remembers. “And she taught us to knit and to sew on her Singer sewing machine. And then we were involved in 4H in this area. So that’s where I learned to sew. And then when our granddaughter was born, I started sewing for her a little bit. And I just really like making little baby things.”
The name came from memories of when her own kids were young. “When our kids were little, we would put the big headphones on them and they would sit in a big beanbag and listen to Mama Mía and all the Abba songs, which they still love today,” she says.
Ruth started by selling her items on Etsy and in boutiques. When they got busy with farmers’ markets, she started to bring her products along. She also participates in craft fairs throughout the region, so she spends many evenings and some late nights at her sewing machine, restocking her inventory of dresses, bibs, hats and more. “I have a ton of fabric,” Ruth says. “I mean, I have a TON of fabric.” Ruth also gets creative by repurposing fabric from t-shirts, sweaters, and even feed bags.
Some of Mama Mia Kids’ hats are made from re-purposed t-shirts. Using something that would otherwise go to waste brings joy to Ruth.
Ruth and Ty enjoy the activity and creativity involved with gardening and sewing, but coming to the market and talking with customers is when all the hard work pays off. They share recipes, help them find the perfect sewn item, and teach their customers about how the produce was raised. If they had to sum up why they love the farmers’ market in one word, it would be “people.”
Cafeto Colombian Coffee is a local coffee company with gourmet global connections.
How can a cup of coffee be more than a cup of coffee? A sip of Cafeto’s coffee includes a labor of love, a taste of la tierra and a long story. The story of the coffee begins in northern Colombia, a place where the ocean, the desert, and a sudden, high mountain come together. On this mountain, some of the best coffee in the world is grown. This is also the place where the Preston family’s story begins.
Nelson and Adriana Preston lived in northern Colombia until violence and political unrest forced them to seek asylum elsewhere. They lived in Costa Rica for a time before finally settling in Sioux Falls. They had left everything behind– their belongings, their home, and their extended family. They also had to leave behind their successful careers in law, business management, and architecture, in part because Nelson was losing his eyesight to a rare degenerative disease called retinitis pigmentosa.
To sum it up, they were at rock bottom. Imagine yourself in a foreign country, dealing with an emergency situation, not yet understanding the language, and losing your sense of sight. Nelson and Adriana, along with their daughter Nashua, had to pull themselves up from that point. They used their business background and their knowledge of Colombian coffee growing and sourcing to start a business: Cafeto Colombian Coffee. And even in those circumstances they decided to structure the business not only to support themselves, but to benefit the community of coffee growers that they decided to work with. Nelson explains, “We had a dream, since the time we lived in Costa Rica, to sell an uncontaminated Colombian product, and at the same time we wanted to help these people by means of a foundation.”
“This business is more than just coffee,” says Adriana. “This is a life project, this is to help people, and above all to remember that not all countries have things as good as we have them here. And along with that to enjoy something delicious– an organic coffee, a gourmet coffee.” To meet these goals, Cafeto buys the coffee beans at a fair price from coffee cooperatives that provide jobs for displaced families in northern Colombia. Then Cafeto roasts and packages the beans right here in Sioux Falls and sells the freshly-roasted product directly to consumers. Then Cafeto gives an additional 10% of sales back to the foundation that supports the cooperatives. This money is used to support the children and the elderly in the community and also to provide supplies and maintenance for the coffee farms.
Coffee ripening on the bush at one of the coffee groves that Cafeto works with. The Preston family has not been able to visit Colombia since they had to leave.
These coffee groves produce gourmet-quality coffee using no synthetic herbicides or pesticides. “It’s organic, or ‘ecological,’ as we say in Colombia,” Nelson explains. “It’s made in the artisanal way like they used to do, and the pesticides that they use are different– for example: garlic. The use it in a spray and it keeps the animals away. It’s a lot of work, but it’s good coffee.” The result of using natural methods for coffee growing is an extremely pure coffee. “Our business has grown little by little, but now people know our coffee and know what makes good coffee,” Nelson says with pride.
The Preston family has built this business one cup at a time from a very difficult period in their life.
Cafeto coffee comes in three roasts: dark, medium and light. What’s their favorite? It actually depends on the time of day! Nelson explains, “Light is for when you get up, because it has more caffeine. And then at mid-day you can drink a cup of medium. The dark roast is perfect for the afternoon because you feel like you are drinking a strong cup of coffee, but it actually has less caffeine, so it won’t keep you up at night.”
Adriana prepares a made-to-order mocha using their fresh-roasted coffee.
Nelson, Adriana, and Nashua work together to make their livelihood through their coffee business. Adriana remarks, “My favorite part is talking to the people, practicing my little bit of English. And customers like that, too.”
Nashua’s favorite aspect of the farmers’ market is “being outdoors in the sun.” She adds, “And on the cold days you just have to suck it up because you’re doing it for your business!”
Nashua brings her customer service expertise and a smile to The Prairie Farmers’ Market.
Each family member has a role in the family business. Nelson says, “I do the accounting, Adriana does the organizing, and Nashua is helping and learning from both of us.”
There’s a lot to do and a lot to learn, especially as they work towards their eventual goal of opening a Colombian-style cafetería and restaurant here in Sioux Falls. “We want to offer Colombian food, but also European, North American, and Central American food with our own Colombian style,” Nelson says. “In North America, there’s a lot of coffee, but it’s not the same. Even in Colombia, depending on the region, there are differences in the way they do coffee, just like there are differences between Los Angeles and New York– you know what I mean?” The culture of the ocean, the mountains and the dessert of northern Colombia will influence the style and the selection at their future restaurant. Of course, coffee will be served, but it will always be “more than just coffee.”
Learn more at Cafeto Colombian Coffee’s website: www.cafetoexperience.com
Alex Koltze represents his family on a Saturday morning at the farmers’ market.
Seven years ago, the Koltzes were buying all their food at the grocery store. Now, the majority of what their family eats they grow or make themselves. The change began one spring when Miranda suggested they put in a few tomato plants.
Their garden grew from those first tomato plants. Later they moved to a different house with a large yard. They learned more, planted more, and ate more of their own food. “I’d say up to seventy-five percent,” Miranda says, speaking of the amount of their food that comes from their own operations.
“And that’s kind of the goal of our farm, of our homestead, is to provide our own food, and that’s why we have fruit, vegetables, herbs, mushrooms, meat, eggs… a whole diet is our ultimate goal,” Alex explains.
What started out as food for their family grew to be enough to share with others, and they became Sweetgrass Farm: “Last year we just had the CSA, and people picked it up at our house. But this year we expanded a little bit so we decided we better get a tent down here.”
Since the Koltze’s garden started out as something just for their family, they grow their produce exactly how they want to eat it themselves– free of herbicides, pesticides, or GMOs. With an ample source of nourishing vegetables in their backyard, their diet has improved, and so has their health. Alex says, “Eating chemical-free and less-processed foods makes a world of difference. That bogged-down feeling you get after a big meal or even when getting out of bed in the morning is much more subtle when you eat healthy.”
They’ve found that their CSA customers, who get a subscription of produce for the season, get many of the same benefits. “You get to come out, see the farm, look at the trees, get the whole experience. One of our CSA customers last year said it was his connection to the land,” Alex says. “And it keeps people eating fresh!”
Besides produce, the Koltze’s also bring homemade items such as bread and soap to the market. Again, these were recipes that they started using for their own family and then scaled up to share with others. Fry bread is one of their signature items. “It’s most often used for making Indian tacos. But we also use them for peanut butter and jelly or just with butter. A real treat is to serve it with Wojapi,” Miranda says, remembering the delicious fry-bread dishes at Native American festivals.
Miranda’s artistic talents are put to good use at the market.
Sweetgrass Farm also offers natural homemade soaps. “Miranda made some soap for us and we gave some away to family and friends. And people just went nuts!” Alex says. They decided to add their all-natural soap to their offerings at the farmers’ market.
Of course, offering more products to more people necessitates special equipment and wise purchases. The Koltzes continue to work out what it means to be farmers as a family. Alex manages the garden and Miranda is head of kitchen operations. They also continue to work at other jobs as their farming business grows. Their young daughters enjoy helping where they can and coming along to the market.
One of the Sweetgrass Girls hiding amongst the kale.
What’s the next step for Sweetgrass Farm? Moving to a farm. The Koltze’s have already started planting beets, squash, watermelon, and some of their other more expansive, lower-maintenance crops at an eight-acre farm they are buying outside of town. “But some of the plants need to be planted in succession and harvested quickly, so we plant that stuff in town,” they explain. The plan is to move the family out to the farm next spring. They’ll use some of the land for vegetables and the rest for orchards. As they transition from urban agriculture to rural agriculture, they continue to learn all they can and expand the variety of goods they produce. For instance, they hope to be producing goat cheese within the next year or two.
Squash make a good crop for growing out at the farm since their vines take up so much space.
Alex and Miranda may be moving to a farm, but their story shows that it’s possible to grow fresh food with any size yard. Alex advises, “Study companion planting and interplanting. Big crops like tomatoes or cucumbers can have quick crops like greens and radishes planted between them and harvested before they get shaded out. Plant intensively! Plant two or three rows wide rather than a single row for more efficient use of space. Replace landscape bushes with a bush cherry, currant or elderberry.” The health benefits of fresh, affordable food in your own backyard are worth the extra time you’ll spend planning and planting. But be careful– as the Koltze’s have experienced, planting just a few tomatoes might change your life!
Tannenbaum Tree Farm will always be a tree farm, but they now offer a wide variety of flowers, herbs and vegetables.
If you were fifteen years old, living just outside of Sioux Falls, and you were faced with the choice to attend your district school way down in Lennox or raise the money to attend a private school in Sioux Falls, what would you do? When Tim Wasson was fifteen, he faced that choice. What did he do?
He took a $25 savings bond that he had won as a kid, cashed it out, and used the money to start a tomato business. “I ordered five-hundred tomato plants,” Tim recalls. “I raised those tomatoes, and then I sold them. I needed five hundred more dollars to make my tuition, and I made five hundred dollars! And I did that when I was fifteen. And from there I continued with horticulture– went to State, got a degree, all that stuff.”
As a young man, Tim worked in a local greenhouse. That’s where he met a young woman from Germany named Claudia. “I came as a foreign exchange student as part of an agricultural exchange program. We worked at the same place, we fell in love, and I’m still here!” Claudia beams.
Tim and Claudia continued horticultural work as a married couple. They worked in the greenhouse business for years, tending the plants and managing operations. They also started Tannenbaum Tree Farm outside of town. For many years they served hundreds of families every November and December. “People would come, we would give them a saw and they would go out and pick their own tree – there were twenty acres– they’d cut it down and bring it to us, and we’d measure it and shake it,” Claudia reminisces. “We had a little building, and they would come in and have hot cider and some cookies.”
“And Claudia would make fresh handmade wreaths,” adds Tim. “I like Christmas– the whole meaning, the symbolism… it means something to me, and to be able to express it through the plants, I really enjoyed it.”
Eventually, Sioux Falls grew in size and the decision was made to sell that land for development. It was a very hard to decision for the Wasson family. Tim explains: “It was a very emotional bond I had. I had spent twenty years working on those Christmas trees. Besides being a grower at the greenhouse, I spent all my time with those Christmas trees.” They sold and moved as many trees as they could, and some trees were used on the lots in the development, but many of the twenty-thousand trees had to be destroyed.
The Wasson family relocated to land further from Sioux Falls and started the Tannenbaum Tree Farm all over again. However, it takes years for Christmas trees to grow. What would they do in the meantime? “We knew we had to diversify,” says Claudia. And with their decades of experience in wholesale greenhouses, they’ve been able to do just that.
Geraniums have always been one of Claudia’s favorite plants because, like herself and her husband, they bounce back no matter what.
Now the Wassons sell just about any kind of plant you could want in South Dakota. Each week they bring herbs, vegetables, annuals, and perennials to The Prairie Farmers’ Market. Their hanging baskets and potted arrangements are especially beautiful, and the variety of tomato plants they have available is stunning. They even do custom work, fulfilling orders for varieties that one customer is looking for and can’t find anywhere else. Best of all, all their plants are grown without the use of pesticides or herbicides. “We use ladybugs. They come in a little sack, about 10,000 at a time, and the ones we don’t use right away we keep dormant in the refrigerator. Then about once a week we shake some out on the plants and they go to town.” The Wassons also protect their plants from disease by giving them the nutrients and the environment they need to stay healthy.
The Wassons sell both heirloom and hybrid tomatoes. What’s the difference? Heirloom varieties are older true-to-seed varieties. They have been cultivated in the open air long enough and carry enough dominant traits that their seeds will be true to the variety even if cross-polinated with other tomato varieties. By contrast, hybrid plants are the children of intentional pollination between two different varieties. Saving seeds from hybrid plants is a game of chance– many of these varieties’ traits won’t show up in the tomato grandchildren. Both heirloom and hybrid tomato plants are natural and non-GMO.
Hybrids are often a good choice for beginning gardeners. Claudia explains, “Some hybrids have merit. They can be disease resistant, easier to grow, and the tomato looks like they expect it to be.”
Tim adds, “We’ll trial some new varieties every year, and if we think they’re really good, we’ll sell the plants the next year.”
Some of the many varieties of tomatoes that Tannenbaum Tree Farm offers.
Even while Tim and Claudia look forward to starting their tree sales again, they’re also excited to continue working with a wide variety of plants. They enjoy carrying on the work of other horticulturalists who have developed varieties and techniques for specific situations, such as for growing fruit in the extreme climate of South Dakota. Some valuable varieties and techniques have been nearly lost as agriculture has become heavily influenced by large international companies and widespread commodity crops.
Preserving biodiversity is one reason they sell so many varieties of heirloom tomatoes. “A lot of vegetable seed companies are being bought out and then the seeds aren’t offered anymore. That’s why I want to save the open-pollinated varieties,” Tim passionately explains. “It’s something that our customers are looking for, but I would say it’s initially driven by the principle of the thing. I really don’t like the fact that a handful of companies can own most of the seed in the world. I find that quite… revolting.”
So the Wassons fill their greenhouses with a variety of healthy and beautiful plants, some of which you might not be able to find growing anywhere else. Claudia still makes wreaths every Christmas. And their Christmas trees keep growing, too. “There’s some about like this now,” Tim says, gesturing about four feet off the ground. “Those will probably be ready in just a couple years.” While a few years ago it might have looked like Tannenbaum Tree Farm was closing up shop, really they were just getting started.
Tannenbaum Tree Farm is all about healthy plants, from trees to tomatoes and from peonies to asparagus.
Níca’s Jams brings a wide variety of low-sugar and no-sugar jams to The Prairie Farmers’ Market in Sioux Falls.
Moníca Pugh has been canning and making jams for over twenty years, but until a few years ago she never saw herself opening a jam business and teaching others how to can. That changed one day when she visited a farmers’ market soon after making a batch of jam at home. She saw vendors selling jam like she had just made. “I felt like I had just made gold bricks and they were sitting at home! So that’s when I started thinking that this was something I could do.”
A jar of homemade jam sells for much less than a bar of gold, and yet it has the power to transport people to another time and place. “Just today I had a customer sample a spoonful of my rhubarb jam. She got this faraway look in her eyes and said that it was just like the jam her grandpa used to make.” It’s moments like those that Moníca looks forward to when she chooses to spend warm summer days in a hot, steamy kitchen, working to perfect a new recipe or canning a batch of an old favorite.
Many of her new recipes are low-sugar or no-added-sugar adaptations of popular fruit flavors. “My low-sugar jams started out just for me personally, cutting out a lot of sugar in my own personal use. That, and my two daughters and my daughter-in-law are Type I diabetic.” If you visit Moníca’s booth, you’ll see several jams named after the family members for whom these low-sugar jams are favorites.
When making a new recipe, Moníca not only needs to achieve the desired taste and consistency (which can be tricky without adding sugar) but she must maintain a safe pH for canning. All canned goods sold at markets must be certified for safety. Moníca has become qualified to certify
others’ canned goods, and she takes her jams to a staff member at Dakota Rural Action
or another certifier for testing. She has also done a lot of research to find a pectin which is all-natural and contains no added preservatives.
What can you do with all this natural deliciousness? “I would get plain Greek yogurt and flavor my yogurt with my no-sugar jams. That way you know what’s in it and that it doesn’t have any corn syrup or other fillers. And then I’ve had folks use my banana-nut jams as a filling for crepes. I’ve had a lot of folks use my no-sugar jams as a topping for cheesecakes and things like that. And then, of course, my pepper jellies are great as a glaze on meat. My brother-in-law uses them in his meatloaf– it’s not just cream cheese and crackers that they’re good for.”
Hot Habeñero Jelly goes well with cream cheese as a cracker spread, but it’s also good for glazing meats or adding to recipes.
“And I do have one customer who uses my hot habeñero jelly on vanilla ice cream!” she adds with a laugh. “It’s really neat to see what my customers are doing with my jams and jellies. I think that’s kind of cool.”
Moníca has enjoyed becoming more connected to the Sioux Falls community since starting her jam business four years ago. “There’s things that have happened in the last four years that I never dreamt would come to pass. Like the first year I was in business, the Argus Leader did an article
on my jam business, and while they were at the house the reporter noticed my backyard
. I started telling them the story of my backyard– that when we moved in, there was nothing growing back there. So they ended up doing a combined story on my jam business and my garden. And then the following year our coop was featured in the Tour de Coop
. And then a month later our yard was on the Master Gardeners tour
. I had been on Master Gardeners tours in other states, but never in a million years did I think my yard would be on a Master Gardeners tour. For me that was a major highlight.”
Besides making jams, gardening is one of Níca’s major pursuits. She was proud to have her yard featured on the Master Gardeners tour. She sells fresh cut flowers at her stand at The Prairie Farmers’ Market.
Moníca’s canning expertise has also been recognized in the community. She was asked to teach community education
classes on canning, which is something she now enjoys doing regularly. “Many of my students have become my customers, and I also have customers from the market choose to sign up for my classes.” She feels honored that people have come to her and that she’s been able to share her creations and her knowledge with them. “All of that, just from starting a little jam business!” she says with a smile.