MEET

Ruth Zeldenrust

vegetables • flowers • nursery stock • corn • soybeans

Ruth Zeldenrust

Chicago Heights, IL

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Giving up 40-hour weeks for 100-plus-hour weeks

I didn't exactly think I'd end up farming. After college, I moved to Washington, D.C., and worked for a phone company. I quickly realized I hated being in an office and that I wanted to go home. I love that every day is different, and I get excited about things like seed catalogs and thinking about what we'll plant next year.

Hands touch everything here

There are no mechanical harvesters on our farm, only people who handpick our produce daily. It's the only way we've ever done it. We take to the farmers markets only what we believe we can sell that day and we supply smaller quantities to Mariano's so they can assure their customers are getting the freshest produce possible.

Rail of work

Each day I walk the fields and pick one or two of the best looking vegetables based on size and color and lay them on my porch railing. I call it the “rail of work.” Anyone helping for the day knows easily what needs to be picked.

Our farm was thousands of years in the making

We're on the edge of a glacial area where Lake Michigan used to be to the north and sandy beach used to be to the south. That gave us:

  • Sandy soils, good for onions and potatoes
  • Clay that holds the water longer, which is good for other veggies 

The farm started with my grandpa after he emigrated here from Holland. He grew veggies – fresh radishes, greens, celery, beets and other produce – and trucked them to Stony Island on Chicago's south side every day in the summer. I've been at farmers markets since I was 15. Today it's me, my husband Henry, my mom, and my three daughters and their families who help on the farm, with extra help from employees during the busy times. This place helps hold our family together.

About my family

Located in Chicago Heights, Ruth Zeldenrust and her family can be found throughout the summer and fall at farmers markets in the Chicagoland area. As the third-generation farmer on the home farm, she does things much the same as her dad and grandfather did. Her garden is what you would call “supersized:” She farms just over 30 acres of vegetables along with greenhouse-grown flowers and nursery stock. The farm's remaining 50 acres are corn and soybeans.

My Blog Posts

It Could Only Be Fresher If You Picked It Yourself
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    Chemicals

    "There are no mechanical harvesters on our farm, only people who handpick our produce daily."
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I HARDLY USE ANY CHEMICALS

My garden is what you would call "supersized," with 32 acres of fresh produce harvested from early summer to fall. We’re not certified organic, but use many of the same farming practices like crop rotation. And just because it’s marked organic, doesn’t mean pesticides aren’t used. Rest assured that everything we grow and sell is safe, high-quality, nutritious and most important: fresh from our fields.

  • For weeds, we cultivate (think of a garden hoe, but larger) and pull weeds by hand.
  • For bugs, I’d like for all my produce to be pesticide free. If I have to spot treat something, I label it and tell my customers. Like other farmers, I like to catch things early.
  • If I see white moths on the cabbage, a lifetime of experience tells me I have to get in there and get after them quickly because if I don’t, they lay eggs, eggs turn into worms and the worms poop. And no one wants to eat that, including me.
  • To kill the pests, I use Bt, an allowable pesticide for organic farms, and a naturally occurring bacterium that causes them to die after they ingest it.