By Sarah Stuart Oderyd, co-founder of the Carnation Farms nonprofit organization and 5th generation on the farm
There are moments in life when we are faced with the choice to play it safe or to completely shatter our comfort zones. My husband Daniel and I stood before a moment just like this when Carnation Farms found itself without a tenant in October of 2016. We called a family meeting at our home to figure out what to do with the property my great-great-grandfather built over 100 years ago.
Before this moment I was not involved in the Farm, as it has been leased out or under different ownership for as long as I have been alive.
Our family would visit the farm occasionally during the time that Nestle owned it, and I remember how beautiful and full of life the farm was. My fondest memories are when we came to feed the calves. Still to this day when I close my eyes in the breezeway of the main barn, I can still smell the cows and feel the warm bottles in my hands ready to be fed to the hungry calves. After Nestle left, the gradual deterioration and ultimate end of the functioning farm, was painful to watch.
In a 31-year span, the farm was either under different ownership or was leased by the family to a summer camp for only a single dollar a year. My father and Great-Aunt, generously supported the summer camp’s mission
When the summer camp decided to leave suddenly in 2016 and the family once again had the farm back, the task of figuring out what to do with the 800 acres of beautiful farmland and forest began. We agreed early on that we wanted the new Carnation Farms to be a public non-profit benefiting the community and we spent the next several months figuring out how.
While my parents and I wanted the property itself to be thriving again, it was Daniel’s vision of Carnation Farms becoming a place that connected people to their food that really set us on our trajectory towards regenerative farming.
Daniel’s unique background would now almost seem perfectly tailored to start this type of organization. He’s a Scandinavian ethnic minority from north of the arctic circle in Sweden where many of them grow, hunt, forage, cook at home and utilize an entire animal. In fact, his grandmother in her 80s is still picking potatoes from her potato patch in her yard to this very day. Shortly after Daniel and I met, he exposed me to things like blood dumplings, moose meat, and smoked reindeer heart as well as different kinds of foraged berries that were used in some variation in almost every meal. I still watch in awe whenever his family gets together, keenly observing how they work together seamlessly in the kitchen making meals from scratch with fresh ingredients and good communication. It’s been my experience that the best way to get to know and love a new culture is through enjoying their food.
Daniel’s culinary education and experience working in Swedish restaurants, along with spending parts of his early twenties on a farm in South Dakota, exposed him to a glaring disconnect between the farmers growing the food and the chefs preparing the food. He found that many chefs and food producers had never set foot on a working farm and many of the farmers he met had never enjoyed a meal in a fine dining establishment. This disconnect left a lasting impression on Daniel and led to him to become a lifelong student of our food industry which serves as the inspiration for our mission.
As for myself, I came from a stereotypical American household where most of the time we ate separately with the exception of breakfast. We didn’t cook together, we rarely ate dinner at the table together and I never knew what I was missing. I didn’t even know the most basic of kitchen techniques and I had no idea where my food was coming from, what it contained, or if it was sustainably produced. I had never even considered the ingredients lists on the back of the products that I consumed and just assumed that they were safe to eat since they were legally sold in the stores.
With food being such an important part of Daniel’s life, I too inevitably ended up in the kitchen myself and the transformation that happened within me and my relationships was significant. I started spending more time with my parents because I couldn’t wait for them to taste the new dishes I had learned and because of that we talked more and became closer. The confidence I developed in the kitchen also spilled over into other parts of my life.
It wasn’t until I began traveling back and forth between Sweden and the United States that I started to reflect on the importance of sustainability, local sourcing, what ingredients were in my food, and how that food was cultivated, cooked, and finally enjoyed. It was like opening pandoras box because once I learned about our food system in the United States, I couldn’t go back to being ignorant about my food. My hope is to share that experience with others just as Daniel has shared it with me.
It’s been exciting and rewarding with all we’ve learned, nurturing Daniel’s vision to life on this beautiful farm and we can proudly say that this mission has become a newfound purpose and passion for all of us. The pain I felt watching the farm fall into disrepair in previous years has since been replaced with a hope for the future. Not only for the farm itself, but for the future world we are now a part of shaping to be something better. While we’ve tweaked our mission a bit throughout the past 6 years, the core philosophy remains the same. We strive to be a community-based hub for regenerative food and agriculture that educates and empowers the work of culinary, food, and farming professionals. We aspire to help create a thriving regional food system connecting farmers and culinary professionals around shared values of regenerative food, health and equity.