Welcome to Mompreneur Monday, where we introduce you to Mom-Based businesses in Lake County.
Today we meet health nut, farmer, and mother of two boys (who have adorable names) Alison Parker of Radical Root Farm to learn more about her business and how she balances farming and motherhood.
What was the catalyst that started your business?
I have always been sort of an eco-nerd and health nut. We lived in a vegan co-op in Austin, Texas for a while where part of our job was tend the organic garden. I loved growing our food and knowing that it was grown in the healthiest way possible. I then thought, maybe we could do this as a job! I started exploring the CSA (community supported agriculture) model that I started hearing about, and loved the idea of growing organic food for people in our community (CSAs are when people subscribe to a farm and get a weekly box of vegetables, whatever is ready to be harvested!).
I started learning how much healthier it was to grow food locally and how important good soil was. My then-boyfriend (now husband) and I started to work on organic farms in the midwest and decided to try and start our own CSA farm business, so we started Radical Root Farm in 2009. We love to grow organic vegetables for our family and our CSA members, and love knowing we are making people healthy with our food! Right now we grow organic vegetables and raise pastured chicken for eggs. Soon we will add organic fruit and small livestock and offer those to our customers as well. I also teach workshops on healthy cooking, culinary herbalism, and herbal medicine.
Has it been difficult to get your business up and running, while being a stay-at-home mom, managing a household, etc?
We started our CSA business before we started a family. The farm started out with just my husband and me doing all the farm work. During our second season, we had our first child, a boy named Huckleberry, and during our fourth season, we had our son River. It has definitely gotten more difficult with children!
Since we now have a two-year-old and an two-month-old, I have been doing a lot less on the farm and a lot more office work. When I only had Huck as a baby, I could work in the field with him in a back carrier for a little while, but with two it has gotten more difficult. Even finding time for office work has been hard, and I have to squeeze it in when I can. Sometimes I have to stay up later than I want to just to get some last minute office things done. I also try and get my parents (who also live in Lake County) to watch him so I can be on the farm. We have had to employ more people now to help our farm run smoothly! I also make it a priority to cook healthy meals for the family, and so I’ve had to learn the art of being super quick in the kitchen, doing healthy meal plans, etc. I just have to be fast about everything now!
What is the best thing about your job?
Knowing that we are making people healthier with our food. Being our CSA member means you either love vegetables, want to eat more vegetables, like to cook, or want to cook more. People always tell us how much more flavor our vegetables have than vegetables that are store-bought, and how much better they feel eating them. We have had lots of people join our CSA to get healthier and cook healthy meals for their families, and people are so excited about their CSA boxes!
What do you do to recharge?
Cooking, writing, yoga, walking, biking. I try and read when I can, too. It’s hard lately to squeeze everything in! I try and be outside with the boys as much as the weather allows. When not possible, we try to have as many family dance parties together as possible.
What is your inspiration?
Healthy living and environmental justice both inspire me. I love plants and nature and the outdoors. I’ve always loved hiking in the woods. Now I just have to do it with a toddler in a stroller and a baby in a wrap!
What is the most important thing you want our readers to know?
It’s really important to support local organic farmers. It’s hard work and it’s a really difficult business to get into and stay in. We know a lot of people who have stopped farming because it is so tough! That said, organic farming is something we really believe in. Lake County used to be a farming community, and now farm land is sparse here, and the farm land that is still in production is unfortunately doused in chemical mono-crop agriculture. We are going to start a long-term lease with a centennial farm in Libertyville, which was bought by Conserve Lake County, in an effort to restore the local food scene in Lake County. It depresses me to see so much farm land for sale, and then bought to be developed into more subdivisons. We need more farms that grow food and less development at this point.
What is your favorite part about your job?
I love to be outside, and I love that we have a business that is healthy for people and the land. Being a farmer also means there are endless things to research, whether it’s soil biology and making your soil as mineral-rich as possible, different plant uses, different organic farming techniques, water conservation, etc. Right now I am doing research on how to root cellar our vegetables to sell in the winter and how to make our tractor run on waste vegetable oil.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
The weather is always difficult. Last year we had a horrible drought and we lost a lot of money from that. Being a farmer means you can’t get so stressed out about those things, because it is so out of your control. We did the best we could last year, and got good irrigation equipment for our well, but it still hurt us. But the year before that we had flooding. So you never know, especially with climate change. Financially it has also been difficult, because start-up cost has been so high. But we have faith that it will start to be profitable soon.
How long have you been in business?
This season will be our fifth year as a business.
How did you come up with the name?
I liked the idea that roots are something strong and deep in the earth, and are able to give plants their strength. The word “radicle” means root, so it is sort of a play on words I guess! And I feel like organic farming in an extremely ecological way is a radical act in this day and age!
Alison is offering one of our lucky readers a free two week trial to their spring CSA. To enter just fill out the Rafflecopter below.
Connect with Radical Root Farm in our 2013 Green Lifestyle Guide
Follow Radical Root Farm on Facebook and watch the progress of your veggies from seed to table!