Steve Strasheim, owner and operator of Mitchell-based Twisted River Farms, shows off his upcoming micro-greens harvest. PHOTO BY SAVANNAH HOWE

How one Mitchell-based farmer found his way onto plates across the county

Nestled in the lower-left quadrant of Mitchell County, on a straight shot past some sleepy cow herds and sprawling fields, a town that shares the county namesake lies a stone’s throw from the Cedar River.

If you fiddle with your radio for a moment too long while passing through Mitchell’s city proper, you may miss the dozen-or-so blocks that make up the community. However, the ingredients from one Mitchell-based farm can be found when you’re browsing the shelves at Randy’s Neighborhood Market and Hyvee, or enjoying a gourmet dish at Osage-based restaurant, Taste., or even sipping on a cold brew at Fat Hill Brewery in Mason City.

Twisted River Farm is a salad greens and micro-greens urban farm based out of Mitchell. Its products can be found in area Hyvees, at Randy’s Neighborhood Market in Osage, and at Simply Nourished in Clear Lake. The farm also regularly participates in area farmers’ markets, and supplies fresh ingredients to local restaurants.

Steve Strasheim, owner and founder of Twisted River, is a Billings, Montana native who stumbled his way into Mitchell County—and being a farmer, for that matter—on a whim. Growing up on an industrial sugar beet farm, Strasheim remained disinterested in career farming into his adult life.

“I loved growing up on the farm, but I wanted to see the world,” Strasheim said. “Eastern Montana, you can watch your dog run away for three days out there.”

With becoming a greens farmer still far from his mind, Strasheim embarked for college in North Dakota and began a career in sales. From there, he and his wife, Marcy, found their way back to the northern Iowa area, where she is from.

The Strasheims didn’t know it yet, but their journey as providers of fresh, local food began when they decided to go on a diet, and discovered that the marketed “diet foods” and big-box produce and meats really aren’t so healthy after all.

“I had no concept of buying ‘local’ food at that time,” Strasheim said. “I had never been to a farmers’ market, didn’t know you could buy food straight from a farmer.

“Growing up, my concept of farming was: you plant your sugar beets, you load them on a truck and take them to a factory, and then you get a check.”

The Twisted River operation began with a handful of chickens meant to provide fresh food to the Strasheim family, but quickly grew when their relatives and friends wanted to buy locally sourced food.

By the end of Twisted River’s first harvest, a mere four fresh chickens out of a hundred were kept for the family, and the rest were sold locally.

The chicken sales grew by 1,000% for Strasheim—who was still working full time elsewhere and juggling the poultry business on the side—over the next four years, but Twisted River’s focus shifted when the family couldn’t find an affordable acreage to continue to raise livestock on.

“I saw a YouTube video about a guy who made $150,000 just by tilling up his backyard and growing lettuce,” Strasheim laughed, “and I was like, ‘lettuce you say, huh?’”

The chips began to fall just right for Strasheim then, and his unexpected journey as a full-time farmer began. The family found a property in Mitchell which, Strasheim says, is the perfect balance of city and country living.

Twisted River’s products are farmed right in the Strasheim backyard, free of pesticides and herbicides. While the products aren’t technically USDA certified organic, Strasheim prides himself on keeping his greens all natural.

The urban farming concept has been so successful for Strasheim that he has a waiting list of neighbors and friends who want to support the small business by hosting farm plots in their own yards. 

While larger communities like Mason City and Clear Lake purchase more from Twisted River by volume, Strasheim said that the business still makes sure that its local presence is strong. The farm’s greens have been used—or will be used in the near future—at neighborhood eateries such as Teluwut, Limestone Brewery, Taste., and the Cedar Valley Ex-press food truck.

Strasheim is even working with the owners of Fat Hill Brewery, located in Mason City, to produce a beer made with herbs straight from the Twisted River garden.

With all of the greens having a seed-to-harvest window of less than 30 days, the products from Twisted River are always fresh. The farm’s spinach and lettuce products are only available seasonally, but Twisted River’s micro-greens—which are used to add variety in texture and flavor to many dishes—are offered year-round and harvested fresh twice per week. The micro-green lineup includes fava shoots, red cabbage, radish, pea shoots and micro-broccoli which, Strasheim alleged, is 400 times more nutritionally potent than traditional broccoli.

 

Red micro-cabbage is a component of Twisted River’s micro-blend, a flavorful mix that’s good on salads, tacos, sandwiches, and more. PHOTO BY SAVANNAH HOWE

The tiny versions of vegetables hold some appeal for working parents, Strasheim said, who want to be conscious of what they’re feeding their families, but don’t always have the time to commit to traditional vegetables.

“These micro-greens are very nutrient dense,” explained Strasheim, “ and they are actually advertised as super foods in other areas.”

“When we started selling micro-greens here in 2017, nobody knew what a micro-green was, including myself,” said Strasheim, “but we introduced people in Osage to micro-greens and I think they love it.”

Perhaps one of the most unique components of the Twisted River farm is its simplicity in machinery: Strasheim plants, maintains, and harvests his crops without tractors or automated tools—for the most part. Strasheim gets help on the farm in the form of a few MacGyver-esque innovations, including a harvester powered by a hand drill, an electric fish filleter to cleanly saw off whole plots of micro-greens, and a refurbished washing machine that found a second life as a salad spinner.

Twisted River was recently awarded a grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service for a covered greenhouse addition to the farm, which will extend the greens’ growing season.

A full description of Twisted River’s products can be found on twistedriverfarm.com, where Strasheim regularly posts ideas for using micro-greens. The farm can also be followed on Facebook and Instagram.

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