Elizabeth O’Sullivan and Ian Rhoades, owners of Auntie Annie’s Fields, offering a selection of quality meats and eggs.
KNOW YOUR FARMER – INTERVIEW:
Have you always been a farmer?
No. We started our business 5 years ago with 50 chickens. Before that, we lived in the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis. We loved living there, but every single day, I felt a weight on me because I was not trying to farm. I knew that weight would never go away if we never tried farming. Before running our own place, Ian we worked on vegetable farms and I worked at a dairy farm.
What’s your favorite or least favorite vegetable?
We love lettuce!
What’s your favorite thing to get from other vendors at the market?
Our whole family looks forward to the maple syrup we buy there. We’ve loved the garden seedlings, too. Then there’s the watermelon! It’s hard to beat watermelon.
What question do people not ask you at the market that you wish they did?
Is it unusual that your chickens forage among growing plants? Why does it matter whether they eat greens or not? I wish people would ask that because what we are doing is very unusual, even among small, local producers. It is tricky to have a flock of any size and keep them supplied with greens because they eat greens down very quickly. We solve the problem by sprouting grains on the ground for our meat birds and rotating them back and forth between pastures so we can reseed pastures and let them regrow. We give our hens an unlimited amount of space to forage, and they are constantly finding food outside. It makes a difference in the quality of the food, both nutritionally and taste-wise. A practiced eye can look at chicken meat and see how much greenery it ate. But it doesn’t take any practice to see the difference in the egg yolks. Compare one of our eggs to anything you buy in a store, and you’ll probably see a difference.
Do you have a favorite market memory?
My favorite memory is of a cold fall day when it was raining and only the most dedicated customers had come out with their umbrellas. We were cold and wet, and then one vendor came out with steaming cups of coffee for all of us. I had lots of time to chat with the vendor next to me, and we decided we’d buy a huge, hand-made chocolate and caramel turtle to share. There was no way to avoid feeling cheerful while eating that wonderful treat with a lovely cup of coffee.
What’s the best advice you’ve gotten about farming?
Animal “husbandry” is called animal “husbandry” for a reason. You have to care about your animals and enjoy spending time with them, just like you might enjoy spending time with your spouse. Your animals deserve that kind of respect, and if you can’t find that warmth in your heart for them, and they don’t inspire devotion in you, then don’t do this kind of farming.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be, and why?
Right now, I would like the ability to put the rest of the world on pause at least twice a day. I’d use that time to catch up with everything I need to do then read, write, nap and do Zumba. Only there would have to be some kind of safety valve so the world would start up by itself after a few hours just in case I forgot to start it again.
What do you do when you’re not doing work for your farm?
Ian teaches 6th grade English at Highland Park Middle School in St Paul and meets with other teachers to help them differentiate their lessons so kids of all abilities have the opportunity to learn and progress together. He also designs evaluations that can show teachers whether each unit they completed helped close the racial achievement gap or not. Elizabeth teaches fitness classes at the Northfield senior center, cares for the couple’s 3 kids age 2-13, and writes essays when she can.