Alise & Bil, of Under the Sun Herbs, both grew up in New Ulm, Minnesota. Using sustainable practices, they grow a variety of herbs on their 10 acre farm near Madelia. You can find their bulk dried culinary herbs, medicinal herbs, and herbal teas at the Saturday Mankato Farmers’ Market. Read on to learn more about Under the Sun Herbs.
How did Under the Sun Herbs get started?
Early on in our relationship, one of the first things Bil and I (Alise) did together was build a small garden. We were both working at a local plant nursery where our love and passion for growing plants was really starting to blossom. We both saw our futures on a farm, growing our own food and cultivating a more resilient and self sufficient lifestyle.
I’ve had an interest in herbs and herbal medicine for many years, and I realized that I could actually grow these plants in my own garden. We started planting a few herbs in the vegetable garden, and as our discussions about our future evolved we realized we could grow these herbs on a larger scale and share them with our community. In early spring 2017, Under the Sun Herbs was born.
We were living in a tiny house on wheels at the time, on a very small lot with no space for a bigger garden. We were lucky to come across an offer from a kind stranger to rent a small plot in the middle of town (Mankato) and used this as our kickstarter garden. Here, we experimented with growing and harvesting many different medicinal and culinary herbs, while also exploring various gardening techniques.
We then began selling our dried culinary herbs and herbal teas at local events and farmers markets. In October 2018, we purchased a beautiful 10 acre farm in rural Madelia and were able to scale up our herb farming operation. We currently grow our herb and vegetable crops using no-till techniques on a little over 1/4 acre, with plans to continue adding new fields.
What’s unique about the items you grow?
From the very start of our farm business we knew, at the very least, that we wanted to grow our crops without the use of synthetic chemicals. We knew almost nothing about market farming, or growing on a large scale, but we did know that a holistic approach to farming made sense to us. Take care of the land and the ecosystem of the farm, and it will take care of you.
Herbs are often used as companions in the vegetable garden. Many of them are flowering plants that attract beneficial predatory insects that help control pests. Because of this, we are fortunate to have very little pest pressure in our herb fields. This allows us to largely be a no-spray farm, which protects all of those wonderful pollinators and insects who visit the plants. We’ve been installing hedgerows and habitat around the farm to encourage the presence of those beneficial insects and animals.
We are also practicing what is called “no-till” farming. While no-till is an ever evolving practice with many different forms, on our farm we use techniques such as tarping and mulching to establish our permanent raised growing beds instead of using a tiller. We firmly believe that healthy, living soil grows healthy plants, and studies have shown that heavy tillage destroys that biology in the soil.
In addition to no-till, we are learning more about cover cropping and have started integrating cover crop rotations into our fields. This practice helps to suppress weeds, adds organic matter to the soil, sequesters carbon, encourages beneficial soil biology, and helps to make nutrients in the soil more readily available to the following crop.
Why is local important to you?
Locally-sourced goods are important in so many ways. We all witnessed the shortages of food and other goods this spring during the onset of COVID-19. This is the perfect example of why you should get to know your local farmers and makers, and shop at your local Co-Op instead of the big box stores.
When we depend on products that are shipped across the country, or the world, we are incredibly vulnerable to sudden changes in the supply chain. Ultimately, these changes and shortages could become life or death situations. But, when we grow our own food or buy it from our local farmers, and support our local crafters and medicine makers, we become more resilient to these disruptions.
Furthermore, buying local gives you the opportunity to ask questions about the practices these producers are using, allowing you to make more informed purchasing decisions. The money you spend also stays in your own community, making everyone a little stronger and more secure.
What is one herb that doesn’t get it’s fair share of love?
The one herb we seem to get questioned on the most is summer savory. It’s a leggy, goofy looking plant with a flavor profile that lives somewhere between thyme and oregano. It has a pleasant earthy, resinous flavor that pairs well with meats and vegetables.
A wonderful customer of ours has insisted we try this traditional Menonite Green Bean soup, made with fresh summer savory.
Schaubel Zup (Green Bean Soup)
- 1 lb smoked ham hock
- ½ dried red hot pepper
- 10 black pepper kernels
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 – 3 carrots, chopped
- 2 medium potatoes
- 6 cups chopped (frozen or fresh) green beans
- summer savory
- Cover ham bone with about 8 cups water in large pot. Tie spices into cheesecloth and add to pot.
- Bring to boil, take off scum, and simmer about 1 hour.
- Take out ham bone. Add vegetables and cook another hour.
- While vegetables are cooking and after ham has cooled somewhat, remove ham from bone, chop into bite size pieces and return to pot.
- About ½ hour before it’s done, add a handful of summer savory, tied together for easy removal, or 2 T dried. If you can’t get summer savory, use a tiny sprinkle of thyme.
- Add ½ cup sweet cream or sour cream, before serving.
Find Under the Sun Herbs online, on Facebook, and on Instagram.
This interview has been edited. All photos courtesy of Under the Sun Herbs.