How We Got Started
Strong Roots, Strong Community
A little farther west from the 5th and Broadway intersection, there is a growing business waiting to be discovered by the small town of Valley Center. Born from a need for healthier food and built on the foundation that natural is important, Strong Roots Healthy Farming LLC is attempting to build a name for itself. Though this small, urban farm only has 10 acres of land, it produces enough vegetables to supply local businesses and farmer’s markets with fresh produce year-round.
The Molellos are a family of five who moved to Valley Center in September of 2016 with a vision to create a farm that supported their beliefs about eating wholesome food, protecting the environment, and creating a sustainable lifestyle. The Molello family discovered the health benefits of growing pure, unadulterated food from their own yard when Josh Molello, the father and spouse of the family, started to have blood-pressure and gastrological issues in 2014. “I was scared, you know?” Josh explains. “My health issues led to anxiety issues and my anxiety issues led to social issues, and my social issues led to depression. I mean…something had to change.”
In an attempt to get away from high-sodium products and fatty foods, the Molellos planted a garden in the backyard of their small, Colorado home. As the garden grew, so did Josh’s health and that of everyone else in the family. The curiosity and excitement that stemmed from the family garden soon became infectious, and the learning and the research began. Josh dived into literature and videos online about growing organic produce and reconditioning the soil. In just over a year, the Molello’s decided to change their lives, move to Kansas, and start their own business.
Inspired by Jean-Martin Fortier, Josh Molello’s goal is to make a living out of a small, manageable plot of land. He is using techniques such as bio-intensive spacing and aggressive crop planning. In theory, if crops are chosen wisely based on their high value and fast dates of maturity, a very big yard can yield a very healthy living. More importantly, smaller pieces of land are also easier to control without man-made chemicals. And as more and more research is obtained about the importance of “clean food,” the bigger and bigger the organic food industry is becoming.
In April 2017, Strong Roots made its first appearance at the Kansas Grown Farmer’s Market. They quickly became popular for their sweet Emperor spinach and their peppery Pink Lady Radishes. Those products were just the beginning; soon Strong Roots had a long list of products they could claim were specialties: Soyu Long cucumbers, El Jefe jalapeños, Nash’s Kale, Mizuna, Kolibri kohlrabi, Niseko salad turnips & best of all…the salad mix! By late 2017, Strong Roots was making appearances at Firefly Farms Market, the Keiche Market, and the Old Town Market as well. These appearances opened the door for an even bigger opportunity…the restaurant industry. “The need for fresh, local produce in bigger city areas like Wichita is growing substantially,” said Cindy Molello (mother and spouse of the family). “Our society doesn’t need more buildings, more shopping, more highways. We need land to build more farms and parks and biking trails.”
And the business continues to grow. What was once one massive hoophouse (30′ x 96′) has turned into three massive hoophouses. What was once one acre of land is now 10 acres of land. And what was once just a garden has turned into a full-on farm including chickens, pigs, cows, goats, and cats. We have evolved into the belief that a true farm requires the diversity of both animals and plants. Our soil requires nourishment from both animals and plants to maintain a healthy micro-organism balance. “Our farming journey has just begun!’ exclaims Cindy. “We’re building so much more than just a farm here. We’re building culture.” What better way to help improve society than to improve the food system that fuels it?
The three Molello boys aren’t quite as enthusiastic about the farm as Josh and Cindy are, but the couple believes that they are teaching their children the importance of taking care of the Earth and all its creatures. Once they come to a certain age, they’ll appreciate and respect what their parents have created. The Earth is magical; It is the healer of all things. Learning to love and respect it is one of the greatest honors a human can accept.