From the time he was a kid, Nic Schulmeister has been interested in gardening. He has taken that interest and turned into a family business, Cameo View Acres.
Schulmeister and his wife, Ariel, and their four daughters, are producing local foods for farmers markets at their farm located on Cameo Avenue, southwest of St. Ansgar.
“Nic has always gardened even when we lived in an apartment in Mason City. He grew plants in the window and later we got a garden plot,” Ariel said. “We have always started our own plants. My main part in the garden is I like to eat it. I do help plant, but Nic does a majority of the work and our kids help a lot.”
Last year, the family began selling at the St. Ansgar farmers market when their family garden began producing more than they needed. This year the garden was enlarged, when they turned some of the grassland, on the acreage, into garden plots.
“This year we also attended a farmers market in Waverly,” Nic said.
The Schulmeisters recently purchased a 9-foot by 7-foot greenhouse, from a neighbor, where they start all their plants, in February. Those plants includes broccoli, tomatoes, kohlrabi, peppers, cabbage, onions and other plants in the greenhouse. “We even started our peas inside this year, because of the weather,” Nic said.
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“With the greenhouse, I was eating lettuce salads in February and it was awesome,” Ariel said.
“I research seed catalogs all winter long,” Nic said. “We have some specialty crops along with our regular produce. We are growing a hollow red and yellow stripped tomato that can be stuffed and Sugar Rush Peach Peppers which are said to have a sweet, fruity flavor. We are also growing a Jalapeno pepper without the heat.”
Two major specialty crops grown by the Schulmeisters are kohlrabi and winter squash. Kohlrabi, which is a solid ball that has a cabbage flavor, can be eaten raw or added to soups or other hot dishes, for extra flavor. Because there is a limited amount of it being grown in the area, they will stagger their planting so the vegetable is available into late fall.
Winter squash has also caught on with their customers. Two area restaurants have stuffed their squash and used pie pumpkins for special events. “We also grow half-size spaghetti squash and butternut squash, which are perfect for smaller meals,” Nic said.
Reclaiming grassland for their organic style of gardening creates a challenge for the Schulmeisters. Weed pressure presents its greatest challenge during the first three years of gardening. To offset the problem, Nic is experimenting with various types of weed suppression. He has begun using heavy black plastic, which has a hefty initial cost, but the plastic can be used for up to 20 years. He has also used straw in one of his plots, which helps suppress weeds. The straw also adds organic matter to enrich the soil.
Nic said he hopes to slowly grow the operation over the years, but cautions he doesn’t want to expand beyond his ability to handle the operation. “We like to share our local grown fresh produce with the community,” Nic said.