Starting a farm is no easy business, but Miky of Humbleweed Farm has a plan.
Just past the turn from city to rural road, Humbleweed Farm sits quietly across a quarter-acre green plot splashed with soft pinks, bright whites, and yellows. Miky Eum, owner/farmer at Humbleweed, seems to flow out of the fields as she moves to greet me—blue button down, wide brimmed straw hat, big smile, and sturdy boots. Miky is part of a new wave of specialty crop farmers that reflect unique American diversity, finding their niche in a complicated market landscape.
Korean produce generally travels 4 to 5 days from California or overseas to reach Midwest markets—restaurants and specialty grocery stores, mostly. These shipments can lose over half the product to quality issues, but often cost significantly less due to those quality issues and large commercial production. Educating potential customers on why Miky’s locally-grown, high-quality Korean produce is worth the cost can be a big hurdle. Many of what local farmers might think of as familiar crops have specific Korean cultivars—cucumbers, squash, melons, peppers, and more. But when customers taste Miky’s produce, they recognize a flavor that is authentically Korean. That’s the key to standing out from more common or cheaper quality offerings, in Miky’s opinion.
Miky also grows crops that might not be so recognizable to other farmers. During her tour, Miky stops at an unassuming row of short, heart-leafed plants—half mottled a bright lime green and half a solid dark dusty purple. She helps me work through how to pronounce its unfamiliar name: Kkaennip (*Here is a short video on Korean Kkaennip versus Japanese Shiso). It has a faintly minty flavor with a soft licorice finish and sweet tea freshness. Kkaennip might look like its cousins Perilla and Shisho, but the flavor is unique and important to authentic Korean cooking. Offering more niche specialty crops like Kkaennip opens the door for Miky to develop local buyer relationships.
From humble beginnings do thriving farms grow.
Miky got her start farming with the help of a local farmer and educator, Tom Harrison. Walking through the farm, Miky is quick to point out the lasting impacts Tom had on the space. And even though it’s Miky who took Humbleweed in a completely new direction, she continuously credits help and inspiration from others like nearby farmers, chefs who have worked with her, and the Stateline Farm Beginnings program*.
“Joining the Stateline Farm Beginnings program was one of the best decisions I made in my farming journey,” Miky says. “Through the program, I’ve met aspiring farmers with unique perspectives and our shared interest in serving our community. The program and its facilitators helped me plan out my farm dream in detail so that I can make attainable goals. I love the program so much, I recommend it to my peers who are interested in farming whenever possible.”
In Miky’s eyes, her plan to embrace farming practices and crops that reflect her Korean heritage starts with her roots in the greater Central Illinois farm and food community. And it’s that plan that is growing Humbleweed Farm.
Rural Routes is a new blog centered on exploring the world of Illinois Specialty Crop growers by Kelly Lay – Local Foods Program Manager for The Land Connection
For more information on Farm Beginnings Programs –
Funding provided in whole or in part by the Illinois Department of Agriculture’s Illinois Specialty Crop Block Grant program.