Des Moines Parent Spotlight: Monika Owczarski
Monika Owczarski and I have been friends via social media for a long time. One thing we had in common was our love of babywearing! I finally had the opportunity to meet her at a Fem Moms Connection and heard her story of Sweet Tooth Farm. The story of how this little farm came to be and her drive to put healthy food in children’s hands is amazing. Learn more about how Sweet Tooth Farm came to be, about her family and some of her Des Moines favorites.
Give us a little background of your family and personal life! How many kids do you have? Have you lived in Des Moines all your life?
My husband Rene and I got married in 2014 here in Des Moines. We had our wedding ceremony at Grey’s Lake and then partied it up at Centro. Our first kiddo, Henry, came kicking and screaming into our world in 2016. And then our daughter came a little more gently in 2017.
Growing up my first years were spent in Ephraim WI, and then my family came to Indianola IA in grade school when my Dad got a teaching position at Simpson College. I made my way up to Des Moines and I’ve been here ever since! My husband Rene is from Metro Detroit but loves this city so much he has been on our neighborhood association for the last few years. And in the summer you’ll find him riding around the neighborhood mowing lawns for folks who can’t. We both feel like Des Moines is the only place for us!
What is your business, and what do you do?
I’m the owner, operator, and sole employee of Sweet Tooth Farm. Which started as nothing. Truly. I joke that we “Leslie Knope’d a park” but that’s essentially what we did. Before we signed the lease the park had two benches and an empty sand pit that was more accurately an XL litter box. I started calling, emailing and showing up to things trying to get someone to help me. We moved into our home in 2014 in Riverbend, which is located directly adjacent to Royal Park. The thing about Royal Park is that it was never mapped out/planned out to be a park. It is a single lot and had a house on it before it was sold to the city in 1971. It’s about 10 feet from my house and less than a foot from the home on the other side. When I first began to meet with the Parks and Rec department, they informed me that they would have money in the budget to revamp Royal Park in about 11 years.
I finally found my person at Des Moines Parks and Rec, and quickly discovered that Ben Page is pretty much the best. He listened, truly wanted the best for our neighborhood and our block, and worked with me for over 3 years. We brought 6 options to the Parks Department and one of those was letting an adjacent property owner lease the space (we also suggested updated equipment, splash pad, trees planted, park run community garden, to name a few). We finally ended up before the Parks and Rec Board of Directors, and then on to the City Council. Where it was decided that we would be able to lease the land from the city to garden on it. We cannot put up any permanent structures or modify it in any permanent ways. I think of myself as a steward of this land for Parks and Rec.
We built a greenhouse (a PVC movable one don’t worry Ben Page!) and started every single plant from a seed. We ended up with about 30 50ft long rows, which is about ~5000sqft of the total space. We grew staples and specialty varieties of the classics: sweet corn, tomatoes, watermelon, beans, peppers, salad greens, etc. We sold it from our porch and from the back of a wagon walking around.
We are very excited to announce that we have just signed a lease to expand our growing! We will be taking over another city-owned lot, a bit east of our current space but still in Riverbend. It’s 6 times the size of our current space at about 32,000sqft so we are absolutely over the moon about all the opportunity that we will have this year! We are planting a huge watermelon patch and a quarter of an acre of sweet corn, that will be grown in the urban core of Des Moines!
We have also started a weekly, non-recurring, CSA program. We understand that folks are busier than ever and aren’t always able to financially put up the money for a season with a traditional CSA share. So we are testing out a new idea! Sign up when you have the time and the funds, and you’ll get a seasonal box of the freshest locally grown chemical free produce along with 6 fresh eggs for the week. $10 for pick up and $15 for delivery! Check out our website for more details on how and when to order.
We keep bees (that’s more my husbands deal) and will be getting probably too many chickens for this coming season to provide fresh eggs.
Why did you become a small business owner?
Feeding people is my love language. Which used to just encompass baking too many cookies and having too many dinner parties. But that has evolved immensely. We are so so lucky that Tapatia 4 and Tacos La Familia came to our neighborhood in the last few years. They are a huge asset to our community. Prior to that, the closest grocery store was not easily accessible if you didn’t have transportation. That really played a part in us wanting to grow food.
“Feeding people is my love language.”
Sweet Tooth Farm is, on one hand, my business. On the other hand, it’s a love letter to my neighbors and my city. I truly believe that fresh produce should not be a luxury item. It shouldn’t be a choice between paying your bills and putting gas in your car or buying quality food.
We always sell on a sliding scale, and always encourage gleaning. We (fingers crossed) will be able to accept EBT and participate in the Double Up Bucks program for the 2019 season and beyond. We have submitted our application with the help of Eat Greater Des Moines and hope to hear back soon. I just want people to have access to quality food. It makes me happy deep in my soul to be able to provide that to folks.
Where is your favorite place to take your children to play indoors?
I love Imagination Playschool! My kids love to run around and be wild, so it’s such a great option for us. It’s our saving grace in the winter months!
Where is your favorite place to take your children to play outdoors?
That’s so tough! I am going to kind of cheat and say on our different trail systems. I’ve been so lucky to connect with other amazing parents through Hike it Baby, and do so many different hikes throughout the last few years. I love taking the kids out on trash walks (whoever finds the most gets a prize!) and then a picnic and playing after. Iowa has so many beautiful options for being outdoors.
Parent’s day/night out. Describe your perfect parent only day/night out in Des Moines.
Ohhhh another tough one! I think first a light dinner at Cheese Bar. One of my favorite spots in Des Moines! Then an evening walking around the Art Center talking about our interpretations, our babies, and how we had our third date there. I’d rather have ice cream than a drink so I would have to grab a cup of Black Cat at some point. Then I’d end it at Greys Lake because I now have so many memories of running around the space with my kids, and of starting my life with my husband when we got married there! Plus it’s just beautiful at night.
What are some tips on juggling parenthood, working, and personal life?
Woof. That none of us really truly have it together? Kidding! Kind of.
I think there’s no magic solution. Every person is different, and every kid is so different! For me, some things that work well are knowing when to take a step back and tag out for a bit. Whether that means locking myself in the pantry for a hot minute to aggressively eat gummy bears or go for a walk around the block. That goes for parenting and working! I get myself so overwhelmed and overcommitted sometimes I start to shut down. All I want to do is binge watch a series but my to-do list is as long as ever. Which leads me to my next piece of advice.
“Take it day by day.”
Sometimes for me, it’s even minute by minute. Make a list of one thing, just one, that you can complete today. It doesn’t even have to be big or meaningful. Maybe it’s to put away the basket of clothes that have been there for a week (or is that just me?) – then cross that sucker off! It helps me get back into the groove and out of a funk to start that feeling of accomplishment and I don’t feel so overwhelmed.
What is your number one parenting tip?
Lower your expectations. To the floor.
Not of how you expect your kids to behave, or to achieve. But of how you envision an activity or event or day going.
For example, if I walk into an activity thinking “Oh! My 3-year-old is going to looooovvvee this! It will be so perfect! Can’t wait to snap a picture and send it to the grandparents.”
And then he loses his mind and I have to carry him out crying, I’m not only frustrated with the current situation but I’m frustrated with the fictional one I built up in my head being destroyed.
I’m going to cheat again and say that my other super important parenting tip is that I believe that most behavior is communication, and it can be a game changer to think of it as such. Kids use behavior that is effective for them (sometimes not so great for us, if that behavior is not a desired or socially appropriate one). So I always try to look at what underlying thing my kids could be trying to communicate with me.
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