OREGON – It wasn't until Liz Hiemstra’s mother, Theresa Kulevich, was diagnosed with breast cancer that the family all started to eat organically. 

Kulevich had lived a healthy lifestyle and always was outdoors, but “she bought conventional produce and never washed it,” Hiemstra said.

When her mom died, she her 5-acre farm to Hiemstra, who has turned it into Libra Farms, where she raises and sells organic produce and flowers.

Hiemstra can't say for sure that the commercially produced produce was responsible for her mom's cancer.

“I don’t know if that’s what happened, but I’ve been passionate about it since," she said. "I don’t use pesticides or chemicals. I have a 4 -and 14-year-old, and I want them to see that you can do right by everyone else, not just what’s cheap for you.”

She finds reports of food shortages in the country “alarming,” and thinks a more localized food system with smaller operations, healthier working conditions and more available food would benefit everyone.

Hiemstra started 2 years ago with flowers, after picking up a magazine at Farm and Fleet and reading about imported flowers, many of which are grown in South America with pesticides. 

Hiemstra decided to grow some herself, and later sold some to Hazel’s Cafe in Oregon. Now Libra Farms grows about half food and half flowers. 

“With COVID-19, I figured people would want food, and I wanted to make sure I had it for them,” Hiemstra said.

Hiemstra, who also tends bar at Hairy Cow Brewing Co. in Oregon, had time on her hands this spring during the stay-at-home shutdown, which gave her a chance to do more with her plants.

“I hope it’s my full-time job at some point, and I want to grow more interest in it and educate people on where their food comes from,” Hiemstra said. “What the grocery stores have comes from places like Mexico, and it’s not grown in the best way.”

Libra Farms is a family business. Her children, Skyler and Wesley, spend time with her in the fields and her husband, Brad, helps out after work with the heavy lifting. 

“I like having the kids in the garden,” Hiemstra said. “It’s important to get them involved whether they do it right, wrong, slow, or if they step on plants.”

She grows lettuce, herbs, cilantro, basil, summer squash, zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes, melons, tomatillos, broccoli and kale along with the flowers.

Some of it she never sees, because her kids eat it all. 

She uses wood chips and other organic materials to keep weeds down and make the soil rich, and none of Libra Farms packaging is plastic. 

One of Hiemstra’s goals is to turn her property into a “food forest” – a farm without rows. Her property is hilly and wooded, and that practice would utilize every area with a different food crop to maximize the whole five acres in an integrated ecology.

“I want to expand,” Hiemstra said. “I’d like to get to where people can come and learn and buy stuff.”

Hiemstra called her customers “super loyal.” They order every week and ask what she’ll be growing next. She’s happy not only with what she’s grown, but how she’s grown in the past few years, she said

“I built a house and a garden, and it led to a business that shares local food with local people.”

She takes online orders throughout the week at librafarms.us/ and delivers on Mondays. 

For more local news, visit SaukValley.com at https://www.saukvalley.com.

Ogle County