Know Our Grower: Heartbeet Farm

Heartbeet Farm, outside of Lake City, Minn., is a relatively new producer for Seward Co-op. Owned by Joe and Rebecca Schwen, Heartbeet uses a combination of draft horses, small tractors and other technologies to grow a wide variety of vegetables. In coordination with Earthen Path, a farm long owned and managed by Steven Schwen (Joe’s father), they bring us green-top onions, Hakurei turnips, shiso, salad mix, beets, heirloom tomatoes, eggplant and many other items throughout the growing season. Heartbeet Farm was the featured Know Our Grower Sept. 4 - 17. Meet the Grower: Sunday, Sept. 8.

Growers: Joe & Rebecca Schwen

When did you begin farming and what inspired you to pursue farming as a profession?
For Joe, he grew up doing it. It came as a natural progression in his life, and he always really enjoyed it. He says he liked watching things grow (still true!). For me, Rebecca, it came out of my love for food, and my desire to live a handmade life. The irony now is that I have no time to cook, despite being surrounded by spectacular veggies and other farm fare. My passion for food led me to work on a farm, which I found immensely fulfilling in a direct, hands on way. I pursued it as a "career" as I pursued it as one of my life's passions.

Can you describe your approach to farming?
Our approach focuses on a few things. The appropriate scale is important, which for us is a human scale. What can we do and how can we do it in a way that allows us direct interaction with our plants, soil, animals, and farm ecosystem, while still being productive and efficient, and sustainable on many levels. We don't pursue organic certification partly due to this practicality of scale issue and also because our goal is to do not only what is required for certification, but to go beyond that and focus on building soil and curbing erosion.

What distinguishes your products from other local growers?
Our farm and its health and vitality are very important to us. Farming is not only how we support ourselves financially, it’s what we do, as a lifestyle! We try to approach farming with craft and make our farm sustainable on many different levels. We involve our kids on the farm and raising them in this environment is important to us as we are a completely family owned and operated business.
On the more technical side, we decided last year to dedicate the time and finances toward long term soil balancing. We are working field by field to return the trace minerals to our soil so that our plants are healthier and our produce is sweeter, tastier, and more nutritious. In this way, we focus big time on the quality of our product, and the quantity will always take second place. Another practice that sets our farm apart is our use of draft horses. We have a team of Percherons that do many of the field work tasks on our farm.

What is your favorite way to enjoy your own produce?
We wait all year for heirloom tomato season and enjoy them in great quantity every day when they are around. Tomato, egg and cheese sandwich (raw sharp cheddar from Organic Valley); tomato on top of a bagel & cream cheese; with slices of fresh sweet onion and mayonnaise in a sandwich; and especially the classic Italian caprese salad – tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, whole fresh basil leaves, drizzled with balsamic vinegar and olive oil, all soaked up with some crusty bread. We fry thick slices of eggplant in plenty of olive oil, salt and eat them as is or added to some kind of tomato sandwich! Many of our favorite ways to eat cole crops (vegetables in the mustard family, including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale and kohlrabi) and root veggies is in fermented form – cortido, kimchi, ginger carrots, fermented turnips & radishes too!