Sweden Creek Farm
Sweden Creek Farm is located at the headwaters of Sweden Creek in a pristine mountain valley in the high peaks of the Ozark Mountains. Carole Anne Rose, a programmer and systems analyst, bought the old farmstead in 1986. During the process of moving, Carole Anne was directed by friends to Curly Miller, a knowledgeable homesteader from the 1970's Back-To-The-Land movement, to "show her the property lines". Curly Miller was glad to take her for a walk in the woods and show her the 40 acre border that they shared. They have been pursuing their farming (and music) dreams together ever since.
Curly started growing Shiitake mushrooms in 1986, planning to sell wholesale through the Ozark Organic Growers Association. Carole Anne quit her job in New Jersey to grow herbs and edible flowers for a local restaurant and organic market here in Arkansas. Curly's homestead was not well suited for farming, so after many long, agonizing "discussions", they moved from Curly's mountain-top home to Carole Anne's valley farm. All of their crops have always been grown organically and Certified from the start. Currently, only the Shiitakes are certified (by Oregon Tilth).
Growing Shiitake mushrooms has been a difficult pursuit. Curly found plenty of misinformation to go along with the physically demanding work. He has calculated that they used to lift 100 pounds of logs to grow 1 pound of Shiitakes! Efficiencies and the Kubota, along with full- and part-time help, have made the work much easier. They built their first greenhouse in 1993 to insure year `round production. In 2002, Curly built a replacement greenhouse specifically to grow Shiitakes. They now grow 1200-1800 pounds of Shiitakes every week and cycle through over 160,000 logs to maintain a constant supply for their customers!
In addition to being Curly's main help growing Shiitakes, Carole Anne started her herb and edible flower business and began marketing all of their crops. "When we began our marketing, friends from the Ozark Cooperative Warehouse, Ozark Natural Foods and the Ozarks Organic Growers Association were instrumental to our success. We are always grateful for the help we were given by these fine folks and continue to enjoy having such great people to work with. We are really fortunate to be in this area where so many concerned, organically aware, politically motivated people have settled!"
The couple started their local route in Northwest Arkansas in 1990 with Ozark Natural Foods, OCW, The 1936 Club and grew with The Ozark Brew Pub, Jose's, Bordino's, Pesto Cafe, The Mill, and continued to grow with the area. They currently deliver to over 30 restaurants and markets in Northwest Arkansas along with stops for airport and truck deliveries. Carole Anne had previously managed small restaurants and used this experience to set a high standard of service to the chefs. She also pursued the wholesale markets since it looked like they needed to grow enough Shiitakes to deal with typical market fluctuations. They began needing full-time help in 1995 and have had one or two full-time families, plus some part-time help including their children, Sara, Kerry and Silas, working with them ever since. (Most recently, Sara and her husband, Galen, built their home on the farm and have since added a baby boy to the growing Sweden Creek Family Farm!)
Various marketing requirements caused the couple to fly in specialty mushrooms so they installed their own refrigerator at the airport. Each week they bring in exotic mushrooms (like Maitake, Enoki, Crimini, Portabellas, Black Trumpets, etc.), which they distribute to their customers in Northwest Arkansas. Curly and Carole Anne have personally delivered Shiitakes, herbs, edible flowers and specialty mushrooms to Northwest Arkansas just about every week since 1990!
In the mid-1990's, needing to sell a thousand extra pounds of mushrooms, Carole Anne made sales calls that led the couple to the scientist who initially brought Shiitakes to North America and to the United States. He and his Japanese affiliates were so fascinated by Curly's growing methods and by the video of Sweden Creek Farm that they made proprietary Shiitake strains available for Curly's on-farm experiments. The farm's climate conditions (longitude, latitude, altitude, etc.) were sent to Japan and the scientists there recommended several strains for Curly to experiment with. The Japanese company also made their catalog available so Curly could pick out a few compatible log strains. The Shiitakes strains, only available to Sweden Creek Farm, are incredibly vigorous, beautiful, and flavorful and are part of the reason that these Shiitakes are exceptional!
While they were starting their farm, they began playing music together. Curly is an accomplished musician and had toured nationally. Carole Anne was a novice musician but willing to put in some hard work with Curly. They have developed a unique Fiddle/Banjo sound in the Old Time, Ethnic, Ragtime, Jug Band and Early Jazz style and also play Classic banjo duets, arranged and second parts written by Curly. Most recently, they have taught Fiddle and Banjo at some of the country's top traditional music camps and perform at festivals around the country. Their CD's are listed by the major folk music distributors and are played on radio stations here and abroad. They play for the Fayetteville Traditional Dance Society and for dances and festivals throughout the U.S. They also play for Irish dance groups for both dance competitions and performances.