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.
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.
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.
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!