Prairie Hillside Garden
“I want to tell my story because I think it’s important for other people considering starting out in smaller scale agriculture to see an example of what can happen down the road. Since we’ve been doing this and living this for 38 years, it has been an interesting journey,” said Steve Helling of Brookings, South Dakota.
Steve owns and operates Hillside Prairie Garden, a mixed vegetable garden. Steve’s produce is consumed locally at the Brookings Farmers Market and is also distributed to the Natural Foods Coop and Pomegranate Market in Sioux Falls. “We produce a wide range of fruits and vegetables. Everything from asparagus to zucchini and everything in-between.”
Steve’s biggest crop yield each year is garlic. “We grow about a third acre of garlic every year.” Producing food is a way Steve connects to his community. “My favorite part of being a local producer is being able to give people good food. And talk to them about food.” Steve uses his time at the farmers market as a way to interact with his customers and with people interested in food.
“Whenever we’re selling produce, particularly at the farmers market, people always have questions. What do I do with eggplant? What’s that? What’s fennel? What do I do with this? Give me a recipe for squash. Just a lot of connections with people and individuals.”
Steve said the knowledge and interest in different types of produce has changed drastically in the past few years. “I think that people are getting more knowledgeable about different kinds of produce. Five or six years ago an heirloom tomato, if they were purple or blue, people would not purchase them. Now that’s the tomato that people go to first.”
Steve counts growing his market as one of his greatest successes in his producing career. Without a market, Steve would not be able to operate.
Steve passed his love of producing food down to his four children. “I have twin sons that own a company called Twin Organics near Northfield, Minnesota, and they market to 20 or 30 different restaurants in the Twin Cities. Another son who has a small urban farm in Denver, and a daughter who has a large garden in Lindstrom, Minnesota. Obviously something caught...when we get together we spend a lot of time talking about food, making food, eating food, growing it.”