Alternative Roots Farm: Living as stewards of the land

Staff photo by Travis Rosenau
Brooke Knisley stands next to a row of apple trees trained to a trellis in Alternative Roots Farm’s new acre of land, purchased a year ago. The Knisleys’ apple operation has been growing lately.

Staff photo by Travis Rosenau Brooke Knisley stands next to a row of apple trees trained to a trellis in Alternative Roots Farm’s new acre of land, purchased a year ago. The Knisleys’ apple operation has been growing lately.

MADELIA — Brooke and John Knisley are the owners of Alternative Roots Farm, which sits on five acres in rural Madelia.

The Knisleys also manage an orchard of two acres offsite that is just outside of New Ulm.

Alternative Roots Farm is a certified (as of Aug. 6, 2014) organic family farm and orchard that offers an expansive produce selection through Community Supported Agriculture shares, apple shares, farmers’ market and direct sales.

Specializing in heirloom and organic apples, heirloom tomatoes and garlic, the farm also grows fall and storage crops and winter greens.

The Knisleys purchased the Madelia farm in August of 2011 after moving from Bemidji, Minnesota as members in the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program. Brooke Knisley said that she and her husband had friends in Bemidji who were involved in organic agriculture and said that she thought it would be a really good idea to have an organic farm sometime down the road.

Staff Photo by Travis Rosenau
Brooke poses with baby salad greens in A.R.F’s winter greenhouse. The baby salad green pictured is the Tokyo Bekana.

Staff Photo by Travis Rosenau Brooke poses with baby salad greens in A.R.F’s winter greenhouse. The baby salad green pictured is the Tokyo Bekana.

Little did she know how quickly things would actually take off for her family.

“We thought, ‘Oh, that would be really cool in like 10 years to have an organic farm’,” Brooke Knisley said. “It happened a lot quicker than that. It happened more like in 10 months than 10 years, but it was kind of like in our long-term vision. So I guess in 2010 we started planning to come down and start a farm. And John’s from here, so we were moving back after a few years of being away. We found our farm in 2011, and now we’re going into our seventh growing season here.”

And so Alternative Roots Farm began with the belief of doing things organically and sustainably. Brooke said that they wanted to be stewards of the land and that a core part of their farm has been the CSA.

She also added that the farm is making some big changes this year.

“This year is a big year for us because another big part of our farm is apples, and apples will start to be coming more of a forefront for us,” Brooke said. “So we’re actually not doing summer CSA this year, we’re going to be changing and focusing more on fall and winter production, which goes along with our apple operation, which is growing a lot.”

Submitted Photo
A basket of apples grown by Alternative Roots Farm.

Submitted Photo A basket of apples grown by Alternative Roots Farm.

Conservation and community are both highly important to the Knisleys and in addition to going to the farmers’ market in New Ulm, Brooke said that they also go to the farmers’ market in Mankato now, too, to expand out that way.

Deep Winter Greenhouse growing started in 2017 at Alternative Roots Farm, with a greenhouse being put up with a partial grant from the University of Minnesota. According to Brooke, The U of M is using the greenhouse as a prototype to test the design and see how it works.

“In the winter greenhouse, we only grow baby salad greens,” Brooke said. “And then microgreens. That’s specifically what we grow in [the winter greenhouse].”

But the work doesn’t end there for the busy Knisleys.

“We also raise pastured hogs over the summer and then we have a flock of laying hens for eggs and those aren’t certified organic, they’re all natural, Non-GMO, etc.”

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A business goal that Brooke said she had for this year was to continue learning about and improving soil fertility.

“We’ve always been improving it [soil fertility], but there’s so much to learn,” she said. “The more in balance the soil can be, the better resistance you have to pests and disease and the more nutritious the produce is. So we’re always trying to improve the soil so that we can improve the flavor and nutrition of the products. And that impacts shelf life and storage ability into the winter and stuff like that.”

For more information on Alternative Roots Farm, Brooke invites those interested to check out their Facebook page or website at http://alternativerootsfarm.blogspot.com. Another way to get in touch with Brooke and John is to send an email to info@alternativerootsfarm.com or check out the Instagram page at alt.roots.farm.

Staff Photo by Travis Rosenau
A flock of laying hens for eggs. All natural, Non-GMO.

Staff Photo by Travis Rosenau A flock of laying hens for eggs. All natural, Non-GMO.

Staff Photo by Travis Rosenau
Germinating baby salad greens in the winter greenhouse, sitting on a heat mat.

Staff Photo by Travis Rosenau Germinating baby salad greens in the winter greenhouse, sitting on a heat mat.

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