Sarah Woutat was one of the early vendors at the Fulton Farmers Market back in 2011, the same year she launched Uproot Farm on 13 acres she’d purchased near Princeton, Minn.
When you talk to Sarah Woutat, two words come to mind — ingenuity and persistence. She’s definitely not the kind of person to sit around waiting for something to happen.
Looking back at Sarah’s path to organic farming in rural Minnesota, you can’t help thinking she’s a bit like the plants she grows — taking root in an unpredictable environment and finding a way to break through.
Sarah started out with the 13 acres between Princeton and Cambridge, which she purchased in 2010. She eventually leased another 20, and now manages 30 acres planted in perennials, native prairie grasses, and cover crops, along with 6 acres of the vegetables she trucks to the Fulton Farmers Market every Saturday morning. After meeting the USDA’s rigorous standards, Uproot was certified as an organic farm in June.
Sarah became an organic farmer by following her instincts. She majored in English at the University of Minnesota, graduating in 2003. Growing up as a self-described “city kid,” she never lived in one place for more than a year or two. Sarah’s father was a reporter for the “Los Angeles Times” who moved from place to place to cover whatever story he was working on. She’d intended to go into journalism, like her dad, but saw that it was changing, with diminishing opportunities for in-depth reporting. Besides, her real love was cooking.
After college, Sarah worked on organic farms in France and Spain before moving back to Portland, Ore. Living in Portland, Sarah ended up with three jobs just to make living expenses, which included substantial amounts spent on the organic ingredients she used preparing meals.
Two years later she moved to New York City to work for the green-living lifestyle magazine “Verdant.” Eventually she went on to work for “Greenopia,” a green guide to New York. While covering Brooklyn for “”Greenopia,” she met chefs and restaurant owners who’d been sourcing their ingredients locally and sustainably for years, well before it was “the thing to do.”
Initially her dream was to grow those ingredients herself and supply the chefs who purchased from the Green Markets in New York. There was only one small obstacle. To do that, she’d have to learn to farm. But here Sarah’s ingenuity and persistence kicked in.
She took her first step by Googling “organic farming education in New York State.” She found some educational programs, but didn’t want to go back to school.
“I learn best by hands-on doing,” she explained. Then she came across a notice for an apprenticeship at an organic vegetable farm in New Milford, Conn. She signed on for the apprenticeship, and half way through the season knew she’d found what she was meant to do. After a second season on the New Milford farm, Sarah was pretty sure she knew enough to embark on her own as an organic farmer.
She couldn’t afford to buy land in the New York area, so she moved back to the Midwest. Sarah had family here and Minnesota was home to The Land Stewardship Project, and MOSES [Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service] was located next door in Wisconsin. These two groups provide support for farmers practicing sustainable organic agriculture. After working for a summer at La Finca Organic Farm in Willow River, Minnesota, Sarah found the plot of land that would become Uproot Farm.
In Uproot’s first year, Sarah applied to be a vendor at the Kingfield Farmers Market. She “wanted to start out at a market that was well-run.” Kingfield was full that year, but they steered her to the brand new Fulton Farmers Market, which the Kingfield folks were starting up with people from the Fulton neighborhood. During the past four and a half seasons, Uproot Farm has developed a “great customer base at Fulton,” with average sales growing steadily as those customers do their weekly shopping at the market.
Sarah looks forward to bringing her produce to the Fulton Farmers Market on Saturday mornings because, as she puts it, “It’s the only real face time I get with my customers. The interaction I have with the people who are consuming what I grow is the thing I really love about being at the market.” Of course the main subject Sarah Woutat wants to talk about with her customers is how they’re going to cook the vegetables they’re taking home. After all, that’s where her journey started.
Jeff Alden is a Minneapolis lawyer and board chair of Neighborhood Roots, the organization that runs the Fulton, Kingfield and Nokomis farmers markets.