Stephen and Nellie Kaus – owners and operators of Whistling Thistle Farmstead – are based in northeastern Iowa in a small rural community called Shell Rock. This is our 5th season growing as produce farmers. We met while interning at Blackbrook Farm in Amery which produced a large selection of organic annual vegetables, fruits, and culinary herbs along with pasture raised hogs and free range egg laying and meat chickens. While working at Blackbrook, our love for each other and the idea of starting our own vegetable and herb farm began and grew into a reality.
After three seasons with Blackbrook, we started to look for land of our own to grow on and start our own farm business. It was not long before we decided to move to Shell Rock and farm on the 3 acres that Stephen’s parents own. Here we are learning a lot about the land and the community we live in as well as what it means to run a business. Although the farming life style comes with its own unique hardships, we are continuously realizing our passions and dreams are becoming reality.
In our own way, we consider ourselves advocates for justice on environmental, agricultural and social issues. Our awareness and passion for the environment and the health of our planet as well as its people is what drives our desire to farm conscientiously.
In these testing times, our mission of building bridges in the community, using food as medicine, stewarding the Earth, and living intentionally grows in importance. Building bridges, in the metaphorical sense, through movements like “Buy Fresh Buy Local” will only make our local communities thrive longer and become stronger and healthier. Food is an essential part of life and so that is one way we can build a bridge; by having more access to fresh and wholesome produce. Along with that, it is very important to us to give or donate as much produce as we can to local food pantries and be involved with local community events as much as possible.
Some people realize the truth of the old saying “you are what you eat.” Here at Whistling Thistle, we believe that saying to be true. The vegetables and fruits and herbs we grow act as nutrition and medicines for the mind, body, and spirit. However, the only way for Whistling Thistle to produce medicinal food is by stewarding the land we are growing in; in as much of a symbiotic relationship as possible. This means that we try and Give to the land and all its life forms more than we take.All of these things are a part of living intentionally and “Contributing to the Cosmic Choir.” This is a phrase Nellie picked up from a professor while taking a “Creation Care” study program. In essence, everything we do (our choices) creates a ripple affect that will either positively or negatively effect the world around us. We at Whistling Thistle, are actively trying to positively contribute to the world and beyond what we can sense; Contributing to the Cosmic Choir!
Nellie, a Minnesota native, became increasingly aware of the food movement in high school. College is when she first dipped her toes into the farming world by WWOOFing at Twin Brooks farm in Washington. When she moved back to Minnesota, she worked for Bare Honey for a season. The following year she started interning with Blackbrook farm in Wisconsin where she met Stephen. After three seasons working and learning the necessary skills of vegetable production, Nellie and Stephen started their own business, Whistling Thistle Farmstead. From Wisconsin, they moved to Iowa to start a new adventure!
Sara, Jorge, and the Cats
This past 2019 season, we gratefully accepted the help from Stephen’s sister Sara and her husband Jorge. They are going to continue to help out in the year 2020! We also have to acknowledge our furry “helpers” who mostly help distract us from our work. Our farm cats Terva, Saffron, and Oliver.
Stephen Kaus, a Shell Rock native, became interested in farming during his first experience working on a produce farm in Nashua, Iowa called Bloomin’ Wooley Acres. In a time of being uncertain where his life would lead him, his fellow Shell Rock Spring Swing Show friend Loyd Johnson, offered him a job on his farm. After some experience he realized his love for working outdoors – even amongst rough conditions, and a love for constantly learning more about agriculture, health, and nature. Working on a small-scale produce farm was his first experience thinking “I could do this for my career”. After the season at BWA, Stephen found Blackbrook Farm in Wisconsin using the website attar.ncat.org (a great resource for those interested in pursuing a life in sustainable agriculture). At Blackbrook, Stephen met Nellie, and the passion for sustainable and environmentally conscious agriculture grew.