Annie’s was established in 1995 by erecting a small greenhouse to grow produce in year round. I was interested in starting a Community Shared Agriculture (CSA). An article I had read in a gardening magazine spoke about selling garden shares in advance, which paid for your seeds, tools, and other needs, and when the crops came in the customer received 20 weeks of fresh vegetables. This intrigued me and I was hooked on the idea. However, I wanted more and have always wanted to create a 52 week CSA.
There were several reasons why I wanted to pursue this avenue. First, I love to garden and thought it was an awesome opportunity to do what I love, create an income, and stay at home with our 5 children. Secondly, the idea of becoming a successful and independent business person was and still is a driving force for taking my dream and turning it into reality.
In the meantime, I built a business on herbs and their uses. Maybe in some small way it is a memorial to my grandmother, as she was the one who introduced me to the herb lovage and it was her books I began thumbing through when I began to become intrigued with them.
Over the years, it has been my mission to educate myself and the public on growing herbs in Iowa and their many uses. I have done this through hands-on, trial and error experiences, hosting a variety of workshops, writing a monthly newsletter for all of our customers, and speaking at seminars, clubs, organizations, and at schools.
It wasn’t until the winter of 2007/2008 when I met Michael Gooder at a seminar that was held at NICC did the reality of a 52 week CSA take true form. If you do not know Michael Gooder, he is the owner of Plantpeddler of Cresco, IA. That year he was attempting to find another use for his greenhouses. Sales of pointsettias had dropped and he needed to find something else to supplement this kind of income. Thus began Plantpeddlers adventure in growing a wide variety of vegetables throughout the winter months.
For three years, Plantpeddler was able to provide produce for our winter shares. J&J Produce and Rolling Hills Greenhouse also played an important part of providing fresh produce for the winter shares. In teaming up with these producers we were able to offer leaf lettuce, spinach, beefsteak tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, fresh herbs, summer squash, zucchini, Swiss chard and cucumbers. More cold weather crops we were able to grow ourselves by extending our season with a 29’x100′ cold frame. We successfully grew spinach, green onions, beets, carrots, Swiss chard, radishes, broccoli, and lettuces as late as December. Potatoes, winter squash, turnips, and rutabaga could also be held over in the cooler to help get us through to the beginning of the following year.
Being able to have fresh vegetables produced in the winter in Iowa was huge! Annie’s then had to expand, as we were unable to handle packaging shares at my home. I then purchased a small building in Calmar and opened Annie’s GreenGrocery. It had a certified kitchen and our next step was to be able to process vegetables. As much as I would have liked to have created a product and mass produced it, this never did come to pass. Our processing was to be able to cut, peel, shuck, husk, dice, slice a vegetable to save the consumer or schools a step.
This led to us helping out with Farm to School Coalition fresh produce could be used in schools. My next step was to offer children’s workshops on how to garden. This was driven by seeing how today’s generation of children lack the knowledge of where their food comes from, how it is grown, and what real food tastes like. Ask a child where their food comes from the the most common response is, “The grocery store”.
Gardening was once a means of survival for large families. It later became a hobby or a luxury for people. In today’s economic uneasiness, gardening is once again becoming a means of survival. Life Cycle Gardening workshops were a great way to have fun while learning in the garden. Gardening is a good vehicle to teach children good eating habits, along with basic life skills. With sensatory activities and the innocent curiosity of a child, learning comes naturally in the garden. However, there just wasn’t enough interest in the workshops to keep them going.
It is one thing to be ambitious and another to be ambitious while your body is telling you to slow down. By the end of 2013, I had burnt my candles on both ends and I just couldn’t do it all any more. In November, I closed the doors to Annie’s GreenGrocery and everything was moved back to the farm. After a couple of doctor visits and finding out why I was so tired and ran down, I pulled the plug on the winter CSAs also. A decision was also made to not sell any more plants in the spring. It saddens me to have to stop so many of my ambitions, but not at the cost of my health and time with my family.
As I enter into my 20th year of this business, I look forward to teaching my grandchildren where their food comes from and how to grow it themselves some day.