Young Farmers: Sweetgrass Granola

{This is the first farm in my Young Farmers series. You may want to read the intro post if you missed it.}

For many of us, sustainability has come about gradually in our personal lives. Slowly but surely, something awakened inside us, revealing to us how our choices (both personally and collectively as a culture) were negatively impacting our health, the environment, and quite possibly the security of future generations.

If you are like most people, you probably took baby steps. Started a little garden, switched from plastic to cloth grocery bags, began reading labels to see what you were putting in your body. Maybe composting came next, or installing rain barrels.

But are all those little choices enough? Do they add up to making a change radical enough to fix the direction we are headed? Let’s hope so! But if we were just starting out, looking at our lives spread out before us, could we do something more radical?

That’s the choice that faced Jacob and Carolyn Gahn. After college, while living in New York City, they realized that the system was broken and wondered what they could do to help fix it. Carolyn said, “I think it was reading a lot of books about globalization and really broad topics that left me feeling really overwhelmed. There are so many things wrong with this—how could I directly impact a change? Focusing on one aspect of it seemed like a good idea, and the food system is at the very core. So that’s where we needed to start. We needed to figure out how to grow our own food and contribute positively to that, where people can make good choices about what they are eating and buying. So we left New York to see how it would go.”

Both lacking any farm experience, they knew the best way to learn was hands-on. Jacob and Carolyn began WWOOFing, which stands for Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms. “It’s like a work share. You work on the farm in exchange for a place to stay and eat. It can be a short time— just one week or several months. You get a list of organic farms that are hosting WWOOFers and email the farmer to see if they have the space for you. You can do it in every country in the world. It’s a cool way to travel and see how families live.”

They were able to get their feet wet, but wanted more. They ended up taking on a full apprenticeship at Rolling Fork Farm in Gravel Switch, Kentucky, which is near Danville. Learning on organic farms enabled Jacob and Carolyn to learn the skills to work the land in a way that was aligned with their sustainable values. They learned what they wanted on their farm (kids!) and what they didn’t (too intense a focus on any one farm product).

Now, they’ve embarked on their own farming adventure, starting Food Leaf Farms, and Sweetgrass Granola. Jacob and Carolyn are fortunate enough to lease a small plot of land from Preston and Rachel Correll, who are owners of St. Asaph Farm. You may also know the Corrells as part of the team of people behind Marksbury Farms.

Jacob and Carolyn have nothing but positive things to say about their relationship with the Corrells. Jacob said that it has been an amazing opportunity to “live very close on the same land and be good neighbors to another family. They do things we don’t do, and we do some things that they don’t do. We share and do a lot of things together and help each other out. We learn a lot from them as well.”

The Gahns use their nine acres for a wide range of products. They produce pastured poultry for Marksbury. They grow vegetables for personal use (and to share with friends). They have a small herd of goats that they milk for personal consumption and to sell just down the street for soap production at Kentucky Soaps and Such.

I actually learned about Jacob and Carolyn while visiting the Bluebird Cafe in Stanford. There Chef Bill serves the delicious, handmade granola that has become one of the staples of Jacob and Carolyn’s farm production. He was very proud to say that Jacob bikes the granola from their farm to the Bluebird, eliminating any unnecessary use of fossil fuels. Jacob also bikes the goat milk to the soap store, which is located conveniently next door to the Bluebird.

Jacob and Carolyn first started producing their granola as a side project. Working to adhere to a diet more in line with the principles of Weston A. Price, they wanted to eat breakfast cereal that was free of unrefined sugars and preservatives. The easiest solution was just to make their own.

While not everything in granola can be sourced locally (although if you have a secret coconut grove in your backyard, I know they would love to hear from you!), Jacob and Carolyn strive to use as many local ingredients as they can.

Jacob explains what that looks like: “We use Kentucky sorghum and Kentucky honey. When we don’t get local, we try to get organic. In that way Sweetgrass fills a niche that doesn’t otherwise exist for local, organic granola that is affordable for people to actually purchase and eat. It’s definitely been a process.”

 

Carolyn reiterates that point, “We are trying to make a product that is the way we want to eat. We are using extra virgin olive oil instead of vegetable oil. We are trying to make something that’s honest. There’s no extra additives, no extra sugar.”

This year, the Gahns are growing their own sorghum for the granola. They hope to expand to growing as much of what goes into the product as they can. In the meantime, they will continue to work with as many local suppliers as possible. Even with their logo design, it was important to stay local, which is why they went with Cricket Press in Lexington who did an amazing job helping them create a separate identity for the granola.

sweetgrass_logosmall

As their granola sales have picked up, Jacob and Carolyn have not lost sight of why they started down such an unconventional path.  They are excited that their business is enabling them to do what they love—grow their own food and share that love with other people. “We love the city and often miss it, but I could never go back knowing that I could do this,” Jacob said.

 

He goes on to explain why community is such an essential part of what they do. “Developing a strong community of people is very important to us and  Sweetgrass too. We could make this same granola recipe [and outsource the production] but the fact that we make it ourselves is what makes it unique. We trade with friends for their particular products. We all know each other and what they do. It’s important to be a part of something and surround yourself with people that you mesh well with and people that are interested in improving your area. That’s our goal for the farm—to enable us to be here and do better things with the people around us.”

Developing friendships with other farmers, like Preston and Rachel, or Hannah and Jesse at Rough Draft Farmstead has been essentially to replacing some of the vibrancy found in city life. Organizations like Community Farm Alliance are working hard to build the connections that farmers need to network and develop support systems. Jacob and Carolyn are thankful to be able to do what they love, surrounded by people who understand their passions.

Jacob and Carolyn were kind enough to give me a nice sampling of their granola. As someone who grew up eating Froot Loops for breakfast (!), it is nice to know that my kids can have breakfast cereal that resembles an actual food. While I prefer the cinnamon raisin variety, my five year old likes the plain sorghum granola. (I mean, really likes it: “Mom, can we have this every single day?”) I’ve been using it to top homemade ice cream and yogurt. While I’ve made homemade granola before, I clearly didn’t put the time and devotion and attention to detail that the Gahns have, because theirs is just plain better.

Can granola change the world? Maybe. By stepping out of the traditional food system, the Gahns are working to create a better product, a better community, and a better future.

Find Sweetgrass Granola at the following places:

You can also purchase Sweetgrass Granola online at Jacob and Carolyn’s website. They have graciously agreed to give Sustainable Kentucky readers 15% off their next purchase! Simply use the code SUSTAINABLEKY at checkout. (Code expires on July 16th.)

Want to win a pound of granola and free shipping? There are three ways to win:

1.) Leave a comment on this post telling us which flavor of granola you want to try! Choose from Cherry Almond, Cinnamon Raisin, and Sorghum.

2.) Like Sweetgrass Granola on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Sweetgrass-Granola/167462270032583)  (and leave a blog comment letting us know that you did).

3.) Sign up for the Sustainable Kentucky monthly newsletter (and leave a blog comment letting us know that you did).

Winner will be selected at random on July 16th and notified via email. (Also, this post will be updated with the winner’s info.) Good luck and thanks for supporting local food!

 

 

 

UPDATE: Winner of this giveaway was Angela Selter. Comments are now closed.

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16 Responses to “Young Farmers: Sweetgrass Granola”

  1. Stacey C
    July 9, 2012 at 12:27 pm #

    I just liked Sweetgrass Granola on FB and signed up for the monthly newsletter! I would love to try the cherry almond granola. I just recently tried making my own granola and it has been a big hit at our house. I would love new ideas to add to the basic recipe I am using!!

  2. Jeremy P
    July 9, 2012 at 1:24 pm #

    I just liked SG on FB and would love to try their Sorghum flavor! That’s great that they are growing their own, too!

  3. Angela Avera Selter
    July 9, 2012 at 2:10 pm #

    I liked you last week and I still like you today. 🙂
    I love what you do and your dedication to your personal values. It’s rare and wonderful to see.
    I’m on a dried cherry kick, therefore, I’d love to sample the Cherry Almond Granola.

  4. Sarah H.
    July 9, 2012 at 4:18 pm #

    I would love to try the sorghum granola! I liked the Sweet Grass granola page on FB and signed up for your newsletter! Thanks!

  5. Josh
    July 9, 2012 at 5:24 pm #

    Would love to try Cinnamon Raisin. I can’t so no to anything with cinnamon in it!

  6. July 10, 2012 at 6:15 am #

    cherry almond would work for me. did 2 of the 3. thanks hope to win, already get the news letter

  7. July 10, 2012 at 1:14 pm #

    I’ve been wanting to make my own granola for a few months and still haven’t gotten around to it, but I’m SURE that the Sweetgrass granola would be worlds better than anything I could come up with! I’d love to try the cinnamon raisin! I liked the Sweetgrass page on FB and signed up for the newsletter.

  8. July 10, 2012 at 9:37 pm #

    im very proud to know them and serve their products!

  9. July 15, 2012 at 5:10 pm #

    I liked Sweetgrass on FB. I am already a monthly newsletter subscriber. I would like the cinnamon or the plain…either one is fine.

    My hubby and I have been farming in KY for many years…and now work with people who want to set up a backyard chicken flock, big or small. We breed heritage breed chickens for meat and eggs and sell both chicks and hatching eggs. We LOVE the community surrounding this movement and love sharing our “chicken addiction” with other people.

    This is a great article! Good to find others with the same heart!
    http://www.facebook.com/whistlingchicken

    I’m going to go order some granola now : )

  10. BarryRichardson
    July 15, 2012 at 5:53 pm #

    I feel lucky to be in a place where so much is happening to make our food a local product. Growing up in the country gave me a strong appreciation, not only for the end result, but for the work that goes into it so hats off! I’m likin’ and bloggin and subscribin’ and crossing my fingers for a bag of that Kentucky sorghum flavor! Good to (virtually) meet you guys–I’ll be keeping a (real) eye out!

  11. Jenny
    July 15, 2012 at 6:03 pm #

    Cinnamon Raisin – I make my own granola and wonder how it stacks up to yours. Really appreciate what you are doing.

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