Edible Omaha

Green Thumb for Hire

Green Thumb for Hire

greens

By Mike Watkins
Photography by Squeaky Green Organics

Imagine it: a beautiful cedar-plank raised-bed garden filled with gorgeous organic vegetables right there in your yard.

Many of us want to see that vision come true, but for various reasons can’t or won’t find the means to make it a reality. But it’s that kind of desire that is fertilizing a growing national trend known as “rent-a-farmer,” and part of why Bryan Kliewer created Squeaky Green Organics.

Squeaky Green customer Bob Cole admits to having a bit of a black thumb. He planted a selection of veggies in a small backyard garden plot in the spring of 2010, and despite his efforts to fertilize and nurture the plants, they didn’t make it. Then he met Bryan Kliewer.  “Bryan is incredibly easy to work with and has made it possible for me to grow great-tasting vegetables in my yard when I couldn’t do it on my own,” said Cole, who now has three cedar beds Kliewer built, planted and maintains for him each year.

“He told me that I had some bad soil for growing, so he created the right environment for me to grow my own vegetables each year.  They grew so well and so much that I ended up giving away more to my children and grandchildren than I kept for myself. In the summer, one of the first things my grandkids like to do is go out to the garden and pick vegetables.”

But creating raised-bed gardens in peoples’ backyards is just a small part of what Kliewer and his family had in mind when they started Squeaky Green Organics in 2010. They also like teaching others that they can grow their own food too.

Kliewer’s own roots in farming are planted firmly in the soil of Lushton, Nebraska, where he learned the craft at his parents’ knees.  He took a circuitous route through agriculture marketing and sales before deciding he, too, wanted to experience life through farming.

“I watched them their entire farming careers, and I always knew if I was going to go down this same path, I was going to grow organic,” said Kliewer, who lost both parents to cancer within the past decade. “They taught me everything that I know, and now I get the opportunity to grow for other people and pass along some of that knowledge in the process.”

Today, Kliewer, wife, Suzanne, and a small group of employees farm three fields near and around Plattsmouth, Nebraska. Kliewer chose to spread out the farming locations to mitigate risks—some controllable, others natural, unpredictable and sometimes violent—like wind, hail, flooding and even insect infiltration.

“We had some water damage from flooding near the river in Plattsmouth this past summer, but because of our two other locations, it didn’t hurt our entire crop or overall production,” Kliewer said.

The Kliewers plant only heirloom seeds, which Kliewer says are selected for their flavor. Heirloom varieties refer to a class of vegetables cherished by seed savers who have passed them down through generations.

“Heirlooms were brought over by our grandfathers’ grandfathers,” Kliewer said. “They offer a big variety of vegetables—like white, yellow and purple carrots rather than just the standard orange you find in the supermarkets. They have intense flavor.”

The company, which the Kliewers still run from their home, doesn’t start and stop with seeds and plantings. They also provide environmentally conscious products like rain barrels, compost bins and vintage glass yard art. Their eco-coaching services extend into helping people purchase and install backyard chicken coops, making sure they get hens only—roosters are too loud for a neighborhood setting—and that they get the right feed and other supplies.

Squeaky Green also provides lawn care services, encouraging clients to establish a functional landscape that maintains a “balance between visual beauty and natural resources.”

“Edible landscaping makes it possible to grow food and nonfood plants together without having to allot separate plots of land for both,” Kliewer said. “Certain nonfood-bearing plants provide natural protections for the food-bearing plants from insects and animals. It’s a combination that works for both.”

At the core of his business, however, Kliewer is all about growing tasty food—to enjoy raw, cooked, in recipes, as a snack, or whatever.  He and Suzanne farm their patches of land almost year round, depending on the weather, and sell their wares each spring and summer at the farmers market in Omaha’s Old Market.

That farmers market presence has created a following of people who enjoy purchasing the Kliewers’ organic heirloom veggies. In the off season when the market is closed, the Kliewers keep in contact with these regular customers via phone and email to let them know each week what will be available so they can place orders for the amounts and types of vegetables they want and also arrange for pickup and/ or delivery within a day of picking.

Jerre Tristish, who has been buying produce from Squeaky Green for the past year, doesn’t have the option of growing his own garden—even one set up and maintained by Kliewer— because he has no yard. He lives in a row house near the Old Market and has come to see the Kliewers as neighbors and friends.

“We love that the vegetables are organic, that’s the biggest reason we buy from Bryan, but we also love the fresh taste,” Tristish said. “We especially love the lettuce he grows. It has a much sweeter taste than what’s available in stores, and his tomatoes and melons have tremendous flavor.”

Squeaky Green also sells to a select group of local restaurants— The Boiler Room and Flatiron Café, in particular—that prefer to include and even base their recipes on locally grown and harvested vegetables.

“Many of them have the chalkboard menus that they determine and change each day based on what vegetables are available,” Kliewer said. “Our customers are what we call foodies—consumers who are passionate about what they eat—and they really value the flavor and beauty of the food.”

For more information, visit www.SqueakyGreenOrganics.com or call 402.575.7988.

RECIPE

WARM SPINACH SALAD WITH BALSAMIC REDUCTION

 

Iowa-based writer Mike Watkins typically does sports features, but as a lover of fresh food, this project made perfect sense to him. He is now sold on buying more locally grown food, is considering starting a garden of his own in the backyard, and will try his best this summer to hit the local farmers markets for some veggies. Nothing is better than fresh tomatoes.


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