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Success Stories

Family Roots Run Deep Growing Aquaponic Produce in Montana

Mark McCann
Local Produce
Woman holding lettuce grown in aquaponic greenhouse.

Dinner plates in Billings, Montana, will have more leafy greens thanks to a family-owned farm and grant from USDA Rural Development.

Taking its name from family and honoring its deep Montana history, Swanky Roots is a year-round aquaponics greenhouse specializing in organically grown mixed lettuce, produce, vegetables, and herbs which they sell to consumers, local restaurants, and retailers in southeastern Montana.

"Everyone loves lettuce, and there is so much need for more produce in town,” said Swanky Roots' owner Veronnaka Evenson.

The business began in 2017 with the construction of a greenhouse resulting from Veronnaka’s desire to provide healthy food for her community. The business began in earnest a year later; first growing lettuce in the aquaponic greenhouse and then expanding to an outdoor garden where she could grow additional herbs and vegetables like carrots, beets, and cucumbers.

The business truly is a family affair. Veronnaka gets a huge boost from her mom, Ronna, who, “does the work of 100 people.” Ronna originally started inside the greenhouse, but now runs the outdoor garden, drawing on her own family heritage of farming to keep things growing.

Swanky Roots practices environmentally friendly and sustainable farming by operating a closed loop cycle to grow and fertilize its lettuce. They raise koi fish on site. The koi produce waste, which is converted to fertilizer for the plants. The plants then filter the water and absorb the nutrients, returning clean water to the fish and starting the cycle all over again.

In 2020 Veronnaka connected with USDA Rural Development to apply for a Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) so she could grow her business by increasing marketing, packaging, and distribution.

“Funding helped the business expand into local grocery stores, so I don’t know where we’d be today without the grant,” said Veronnaka. “USDA staff got us to the finish line, and working with them was a good experience.”

Now, in addition to running its own retail store – connected directly to the greenhouse – Swanky Roots’ products are available at Town & Country and Albertson’s grocery stores, and through the Yellowstone Valley Food Hub, a nearby grower’s cooperative and 2021 VAPG recipient.

 

Obligation Amount:
$49,999
Year(s) of Obligation:
Congressional District:
MT-02