This post is a sponsored by CommonGround Nebraska. CommonGround is a national movement of farm women who want to share information about farming and food. CommonGround Nebraska are farm women in the state who volunteer their time working to help dispel myths and build trust in farm families. They aim to answer questions and share facts as well as their personal stories of farm life to find “common ground” between the food they grow and the food you eat! All thoughts & opinions expressed are mine.
Linda and Tom Schwarz live near Smithfield, NE with their son, Alex and daughter, Becky. They own Schwarz Family Farm and the family has been farming in Nebraska for six generations. The day I visited their farm was the coldest day we’ve had in Nebraska since last winter! Even though the temperature was quickly dropping and the wind gusts were fierce, I had an amazing time getting to visit with this family and learn more about their farm.
When CommonGround asked me to pay them a visit, I had no idea what to expect. When I think of organic farmers, the word “hippie” usually comes to mind. The funny thing is, they totally called me out on that. Tom said, “Most people are surprised to learn that we are not hippies.” How did he know what I was thinking? Ha! Instead, I made some new friends that day and walked away with a new respect for organic farmers. At Shwarz Family Farm you can find row crops including organic corn, wheat, soybeans, sorghum, and alfalfa. Additionally, they grow a variety of organic vegetables and herbs such as tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, carrots and peas. Their customers include other farmers who are raising organic animals, local restaurants and grocery stores throughout Nebraska that supply organic produce.
Linda has been working with CommonGround for the last three years. She said she enjoys being a CommonGround volunteer because it gives her the opportunity to share more about their farm and connect with consumers. Her favorite part about working with CommonGround is answering questions and setting the record straight about organic farming practices.
But they haven’t always farmed organic.
They farmed using conventional means for several years and then transitioned to organic in 1998. So, why did they switch to farming organic? They had the opportunity to downsize and realized they wanted to do more with less. Switching to organic was also motivated by their two children wanting to be a part of the farm. Linda’s husband, Tom, mentioned that another reason they farm organic is because there is an increase in demand for organic crops. Tom says, “Our customer is the person sitting down to a meal at home, not the co-op.” I thought this was a really interesting point he made and honestly, this is something that I hadn’t really thought about before. This family understands the demand and knows who their customer is.
Even though it might be more difficult to grow organic crops and vegetables, the benefit is that they have developed their own niche growing organics in Nebraska. They can offer an amazing variety of produce and herbs such as chocolate mint, sugar pea greens, and yellow candy onions.
Growing organic is not easy. It is extremely labor intensive. Linda and Tom both mentioned how difficult managing weeds can be. Not only does it take a lot of time and dedication to manage the land itself, but organic famers spend quite a bit of time on paperwork. They have to keep records and document everything to maintain their organic certification. This is an important process and extremely time consuming. By the way, it takes at least three years to transition to organic farming.
And yes, that’s a lady bug in that photo above. In order to deal with aphids (pesky little things that like to feed on vegetables), the family uses lady bugs and praying mantis egg cases to help manage the aphid population in their green houses.
Why greenhouses? Well, Nebraska is known for extreme weather conditions. The greenhouse facilities and tunnels provide an opportunity for the family to grow year round. They are also portable, which allows them to move the greenhouses from year to year, allowing the land to rest which can help with disease management.
Another reason for growing organic is that they can grow a variety of produce and herbs. If you haven’t figured it out, they are serious foodies. They love spicy food and even jar their own salsa, which I had the opportunity to sample. In the spring you will find these greenhouses filled with tomatoes, perfect for Linda’s famous salsa recipe. Linda said that Tom is a great cook and makes the best chicken enchiladas. Because they have such an amazing variety, they love trying new recipes and experimenting with different herbs.
They have also created their own unique brand. You can find different herbs and seasonings in pots that are sold are Hy-Vee stores in Lincoln and Omaha. Or you can purchase their dry seasonings on their website.
Clearly Tom and Linda’s children, Alex and Becky, love being apart of the family business. Both kids work really hard to keep the farm going and help market their products. In addition to her role on the farm, Becky also manages the family website and social media. Alex, who also happens to be a very talented actor, plays a major role in day to day operations. His enthusiasm for sharing their farm values, methods and love of food is truly moving.
Here are what the tunnels look like.
Purple lettuce? Um, yes please.
Lettuce talk about lettuce some more.
Oh, and farm cats. Because they’re awesome and adorable.
One thing that I really appreciated about the Schwarz family was hearing them talk about other farmers. Not once did I hear a negative word from them about farmers who don’t choose to farm organic. I thought this was incredibly awesome because as I mentioned before, even I walked into the experience with some preconceived ideas. If I could put a theme on my experience with CommonGround the last six months, I’ve learned that farmers advocate for choice. It’s amazing that we have so many options! I’m so impressed with Linda and Tom’s farm that I’ve already promised to pay them a visit again in April when their greenhouses are full of tomatoes.
And more pictures of carrots. Because carrots are beautiful and nutritious. Seriously, aren’t these gorgeous?