Meet Candie: Backyard Gardener turned Suburban Farmer

Candie Heiser left her job at a university 3 1/2 years ago, to go play in the dirt at home.

What led to this change? Her newborn son. When she brought him home from the hospital, she headed straight to the college dorms where she and her family shared space with 300 college freshmen, in her role as “first year experience coordinator” and head of student activities. As most moms acknowledge, being a new mom can bring qualities out in you that you never knew existed. Candie soon decided to leave the eighteen year olds behind and devote herself to being a mom full-time.

Candie admits that she does everything she sets her mind to with full gusto and commitment, so she approached being a stay at home mom the same way. After researching and becoming discouraged by ingredients in baby food jars, and finding organic food to be outrageously expensive, she began experimenting with growing her own food. She fell in love with the gardening process and quickly found she needed more land. This past Christmas her family found a perfect plot for their blossoming passion for homesteading, 6 acres right in the middle of a residential neighborhood! While unexpected, Candie now loves being in the suburbs, because her dream is to become a hub for educating others that anyone, anywhere, can grow their own food.

1.2.3 gardens Collage.jpgA progression of garden layout designs: first garden, second garden, and third garden on larger piece of land.

The land and the community seem to be welcoming her and her message with open arms. She didn’t know it at the time of purchase, but her home had been hobby farm in the past, and the neighborhood had grown around it. As they have cleared brush and overgrowth away they have discovered lost orchards, grape vines, and berry bushes. The local government has been an ally and an encourager for what they have been undertaking to do. Last week the city approved her application to zone her property from residential to agricultural. As she went through the application process, officials became enamored with her vision and started helping her network with others in the community. Now she has random people showing up to ask for tours, people who want to buy her produce, and people who want to learn about it by reading her blog.

Candie in maneur truck.jpgCandie getting knee deep in work spreading manure

She started her gardening efforts by putting raised beds on her lawn. She used the “Square Foot Gardening” method, which uses a grid system and a particular ratio of compost, peat moss, and vermiculite, that yields an incredible amount of produce in a small area. This is the method she would recommend to any backyard gardener. She says most foods can be grown in as little as 6 inches of soil, and one square foot can grow as many as 16 beets, carrots, or radishes. She found this much more reasonable than the $7 a pound stores can charge for organic produce!
Since they live in the suburbs (only 5 minutes from the mall!) they are very mindful about being neighbor friendly. They work at times of the day, and using methods that won’t be noisy or bothersome. She said her neighbors may think she’s a little cooky, but that homesteaders can be great neighbors. Her bees pollinate everyone’s gardens and she always has great produce and knowledge about local planting to share.

 counting peas.jpg

Candie with her son counting sweet peas


Q&A with Candie about the passion that fuels her homesteading:

Rosies: What kind of small business do you have?
Candie: I am building a small six acre homestead in the middle of the suburbs, offering produce for sale to friends, neighbors, and at local farmer’s markets. Everything I produce is grown as naturally as possible without using chemicals. Woodhaven Place Homestead and Gardens does not use heavy farm equipment and every method used can be replicated in any back yard. I am striving to live a more environmental friendly, natural, self-sufficient lifestyle and help others learn to do the same.

Rosies: How long have you been doing that kind of work? What inspired you to launch a small business or start working for yourself?
Candie: I began as a back-yard farmer in 2009 and loved the feel of the dirt between my fingers.  When I successfully harvested my first crop, I was ecstatic.  The feeling of accomplishment was so wonderful that I wanted to grow more and more.  That began a search for property appropriate for a small urban farm.  I grew up being told that I could accomplish anything that I set out to do, if I was willing to put in the work to make it happen.
My inspiration was my grand and great grandparents.  They had successfully raised families on healthy, wholesome, nutritional meals that began in their own gardens and transitioned to the dinner table and the home preserved shelf to last through the long winter.  When I realized how many skills could be lost in just one or two generations I knew I needed to change that trend.

Rosies: Would you encourage others to start a small business?
Candie: Yes, yes, yes; take a chance on yourself and your dream!!  The process is a constant learning experience.  I research everything, reading far into the night after the day’s work is finished.  I ask the experts as much as possible.  Some of the greatest conversations I have are with my 85 year old grandfather who gives me many practical and down-to-earth suggestions.  I talk to other farmers, greenhouses, seed manufacturers, grocery stores, and anyone else who will share what they have learned.

Rosies: What do you find rewarding about your work? What do you find challenging?
Candie: I love that what I am doing is furthering skills and values for future generations. People in my suburb watch me put on my Rosies and know that something they never thought they would see in suburbia is about to happen. Even though I had no idea what I was doing when I first started, the resources are available to help me learn. I love that my son will grow up learning life skills that can never be replaced.  I am sharing this adventure with my friends and family, which makes the challenges even more rewarding.
It is challenging bringing something to an area that has no idea what you are up to but that is also one of the biggest rewards.  I am able to teach people where their food comes from and that a girl in purple overalls who lives in a suburb can be a farmer.
Not only is the homestead going to provide my family and others with healthy food we hope to inspire those around us to learn these skills so easily lost.

Rosies: Are there projects or goals you have for the future?
Candie: One goal in the near future is building a greenhouse to begin my own organic garden starts. I want to give people a local supplier who knows the area, can help with advice, and provide safe and healthy plant starts. A second goal is to hold seed starting seminars for those who want to start from scratch. I want to use Woodhaven Place as a canvas to show people that they do not need hundreds of acres or generations of farm experience to grow good, healthy, nutritious food for their family.

Rosies: Do you have a life motto or favorite quote?
Candie: Every dream begins with one step.
To read more about Candie and to follow the ongoing development of Woodhaven Place, follow her on her blog here. Or like her facebook page here. Be sure to comment below to encourage Candie and the work she is doing!

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