In the beginning of last May a group of seven current and former UMD students showed up at the UMD Farmer’s Market for their first go at selling their own produce. Barely having anything to offer, they went feet first into inventing Gnarfoodz, a local and organic food business.
“We decided we want to bring friends, neighbors, and fellow city-livers the most positive produce we can,” said Gnarfoodz member Kevin Hard. “Everyone deserves the choice to have the best they can get and we want to serve as the providers of that choice.”
And they are. The crew stuck with their mission by consistently showing up to as many markets as they could. Now their stand at the markets is full of their own home-grown organic produce, granola blends, tomato sauce, pickled goods, canned vegetarian soups, stews and chilies.
“Gnarfoodz is the most committed vendor at our market,” said Sara Lee, the market manager for the Lincoln Park Market. “They make a fantastic addition to every market, making available to the customers their unique foraged and canned products that the typical shopper wouldn’t even know existed.”
The idea to create an organic food organization started last December in a house near campus where all seven members live. The group shared a common concern for the advantages of sustainable living, but just talking about it wasn’t enough to make a difference in the world. They found a way to turn their passion into action, thus Gnarfoodz was born.
“There comes a certain point where you have to stop talking about it and just do it,” Hard said. “The drive we had really got us going and our strict determination has had a lot to do with all the success we’ve had.”
The group began by searching for farmland beyond their backyard. Then, they called up seed companies and started growing crops indoors, so they’d be prepared to transport them outside as soon as the growing season came along.
Soon enough, they transformed their backyard into a proper farm, scavenging around Duluth garage sales and businesses for reusable materials to build a chicken coop, rabbit den and greenhouse.
Along with participating in many farmer’s markets, the company also sells and trades its products with other local businesses, like Positively Third Street Bakery.
“We trade our baked goods for their zucchini and use it to make our zucchini bread,” Positively Third Street Baker worker Rodger Whittet said. “They seem to be doing really well, and it’s really fun working with people like them because they make the market day go by a lot faster.”
Gnarfoodz is happy to be engaged in the community with local businesses like Positively Third Street Bakery.
“We are very thankful for everything the other local farmers and businesses have done in supporting us,” Caitlin Neilson said, a member of Gnarfoodz and UMD senior. “The network and community of farming are really helpful, and it’s great to get everyone else’s stamp of approval.”
Although selling products is a big part of the gig, Gnarfoodz’s members are more concerned with educating people about healthy and environmentally-friendly food. Part of their mission is to spread the sustainable lifestyle to their customers in order to help them live happier, healthier lives.
“I love the way Gnarfoodz market themselves in such a young, energetic, and easy-going way,” said UMD student and Gnarfoodz customer Lauren Hanson. “They really engage with their customers by informing them of the benefits of their products.”
The other purpose they have for encouraging sustainable lifestyles is to lower the greenhouse gas emissions given off by the global food system, which creates 30 percent of the total emissions, according to an article published in Food Chemistry.
“We are only a drop in the ocean of what needs to happen,” Gnarfoodz member Skyler Hawkins said.
Gnarfoodz grows its crops as naturally as possible in order to provide both. Pesticides and preservatives are avoided. Different composting methods and mulches are used in the growing process because they benefit worms, which in turn benefit the plants.
They also grow heirloom vegetables, which are plants that were grown in previous generations and require neither chemical exposure nor genetic alteration, according to The Environmental Magazine.
“Gnarfoodz is doing what a lot of students wish they were doing,” said local farmer Deb Shubat. “I really hope they stick with it to both help keep up with the demand for food and regional self-sufficiency.”
The group expanded their gardens by growing on two other farmers’ properties with what they call a “kind share,” doing various tasks in exchange for land use. To keep up with all their crops, they get their hands dirty day after day. Every market day, which at one point was six times a week, they get up early to harvest goods. Other days, they’re tending the gardens and animals, and pickling or cooking their products.
“Going into this was somewhat nerve-wracking, being that I didn’t have any experience with farming,” Gnarfoodz member Melissa Borer said. “It’s hard work but very rewarding in the sense of how satisfied we feel, and how much we learned from each other.”
During the winter months, they plan for the next season by ordering seeds and obtaining more land. This is also the time members can engage in their own hobbies and interests outside of farming. They also hope to do some advertising along with organizing some educational workshops for both the Duluth and UMD community this winter.
BY ROSY BRAY firstname.lastname@example.org
PHOTO SUBMITTED BY GNARFOODZ