Following gravel roads southeast of Clarinda, nearing the Iowa-Missouri border, I arrived at Garden of Paradise. Stepping out of my car, I understood why Shad Swanson chose Garden of Paradise as his business name. On this beautiful blue-sky afternoon our surroundings were quiet except for the occasional bird song and the croaking of frogs nearby. An old rundown one room schoolhouse sits within eye shot, a relic reminder of Iowa’s thriving rural past. What Shad does on his acreage is reminiscent of Iowa’s rural past, too and my idea of an Iowa paradise. Not all that long ago many Iowans, tasked with feeding themselves, grew large gardens outside their back doors. They may have gifted, bartered, or sold some of their bounty with their friends and neighbors. Shad is a market farmer, selling his produce at several small-town farmers markets in southwest Iowa.
The warm season crops are not planted out yet. They are still warm in their winter growing space. Shad starts his yearly garden routine long before the ground outside warms enough to plant. Many of the crops begin as seeds in his basement, which he refers to as his “greenhouse”. His basement is full of various peppers, Shad’s favorite garden plant, and tomatoes, and herbs. Everything is getting big and eager to go outside for the season. The basement does feel like a greenhouse.
Shad grew up on a farm, just outside of Essex. His family grew a vegetable garden, and he participated in 4-H. His love of growing produce matured when he lived in Des Moines, growing produce to give to friends and selling some to restaurants. I asked Shad what made him return to rural Iowa and choose produce farming for his profession. He did not hesitate with his reply, “Iowa needs to diversify”. We agreed that diversity in both plant species and economic opportunities would be beneficial for rural Iowa. Shad remarked about the solitude and peace in his big back yard. You can’t get that in an urban setting.
One day, Shad hopes to expand his growing operation, but for right now it is the perfect size for one man to maintain by hand. He is gaining invaluable knowledge, trialing varieties to determine what will work best for his expansion. His excitement about what he does shows.
Besides the already mentioned produce, Shad grows various culinary and tea herbs, like lemon balm, sage, parsley, basil, and oregano. He sells jars of freshly dried and powdered herbs and peppers. Houseplants and cactus are also staples at his market table.
Garden of Paradise can be found, among other area vendors, this Saturday, May 6th at 9am in Priest Park in Shenandoah for the Plant Sale and Market hosted by Sycamore Ridge Small Farm. Garden of Paradise can also be found at the Clarinda, Red Oak and Shenandoah Farmers Markets beginning in mid-May. Shad also plans to attend the new monthly Essex Market beginning Saturday June 10th, and other various markets that occur throughout southwest Iowa. Follow Garden of Paradise on Facebook for farm and market updates.