Searching for a sense of community, Jeff and Nancy Kirstein found it on a farm south of Lennox in 2011.
The Kirsteins have been selected as the 2024 Farm Family of the Year by the Agribusiness Division of the Greater Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce.
The Kirstein Family will be honored as the 2024 Farm Family of the Year at the annual Mayor’s Round-Up & Sale of Champions on January 26, 2024.
Nancy grew up on a small dairy farm in northwest Iowa. Her family left the farm and moved to Minnesota briefly before moving to Sheldon, IA. After graduating from the University of South Dakota with a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s in curriculum and instruction, she taught English in Orange City, Iowa, and Harrisburg, South Dakota.
Jeff was born in Oregon and his family moved around a lot before ending up in Madison, South Dakota. While he went to USD too, Jeff and Nancy didn’t meet until after he had graduated. He owned a small manufacturing company in Canton.
When Jeff sold his company, Nancy was working as the interim director at the Kirby Science Center in Sioux Falls. At the time, they were looking to make a big change.
“We moved onto a sailboat. We sailed the boat from San Francisco down to Mexico,” she said.
Their goal was to continue sailing but they encountered mechanical issues that marooned them in Mexico. After about a year on the boat or in Mexico, they were ready for a change again.
“Jeff’s parents were in Sioux Falls and mine were still in northwest Iowa, and we kind of realized while that life seemed dreamy and romantic, it was really transient and we were missing a community of people,” Nancy said.
While living on a sailboat and in Mexico, the Kirsteins had discovered a way of living that included eating a lot of fresh food. When they moved back to South Dakota, they decided they wanted to start growing vegetables and offering that opportunity to others.
They found their farm near Lennox, moved in April 1, 2011 and planted their first crop that spring. They used a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model and named it Good Earth Farm.
“We started with a CSA. Up until this past year, we’ve done a CSA. It’s been really, really big and it’s been small,” Nancy said. Over the past year they have been transitioning into more agri-tourism and offering more on-farm garden sales.
“With the CSA, you have to grow such a wide variety of stuff. This way, I can be a little more focused on certain things that the land is more suited for,” she said.
While Nancy handles most of the day-to-day operations of the farm, Jeff tills the fields, helps with the animals and helps with their pizza nights in the summer. Jeff also runs the nonprofit Independent Electrical Contractors.
Good Earth Farm’s barn, which was built in 1897, was one of the things that drew them to the place.
“The barn was just beautiful even when it was dilapidated a little bit, it was still this gorgeous barn with a stone foundation,” Nancy said.
By January 2020 it was time to make a decision on the barn – either fix it up or tear it down. The Kirsteins decided to fix it up to turn it into the beauty it is today. They reroofed it, put new siding on and new floors. They put a floor over the dirt in the bottom and fixed part of the stone wall that was collapsing in one corner. The Kirsteins used some of the old siding to build the bar.
“We decided to fix it and I’m really happy that we did. It turned out to be really beautiful,” Nancy stated.
Besides growing garden vegetables and a pumpkin patch, Good Earth Farm also provides a home for farm animals. When they first moved out to the farm place, the Kirsteins had a miniature Dexter cow, T-Bone, and their dog, Buck, who passed away this year. T-Bone is still out in the pasture.
“People just kept giving us animals. Now, because of that kind of demand, earlier this year we became a nonprofit animal sanctuary,” she said.
Besides T-Bone, they also have donkeys, pigs, goats, chickens, geese and cats. A deer named Pearl came to their farm as a fawn three years ago, but she passed away this year.
“The farm that I grew up on, it reminds me a lot of this place. That’s the kind of energy that we wanted to create. We wanted people to be able to come out to a space and just relax and enjoy and get reconnected to the land because a lot of people don’t have that opportunity anymore,” Nancy said. “It’s been an evolution that’s for sure. When we moved out here in 2011, this was not the vision. But we just have to keep adapting to figure out what’s working and what isn’t and how it works together.”
Part of the evolution was starting the season with an Easter egg hunt, then pizza nights in the summer and ending the season with pumpkins.
Good Earth Farm | 2
Good Earth Farm | 2
The pizza started two summers ago on a whim when some friends were selling the pizza ovens. After deciding to take the leap and invest in the ovens, they really started focusing on offering pizza nights every Friday night and Sunday from Memorial Day through Labor Day this last year.
They do all the pizza cooking outdoors. They grow a lot of their own ingredients and source the wheat from a farm by Freeman that is then milled at Millhouse Flour in Sioux Falls.
“This past summer through our pizza nights the feedback that we got from people was exactly the feedback we were hoping to get was that it was just a nice place to be. The kids can run, see the animals. You get a pizza and a beer and it’s all good,” Nancy said.
Nancy went through the SDSU Extension Agritourism SD class. The two-year program is a cohort of about 20 people from all over South Dakota who are in different stages of their agritourism enterprise.
“It’s been pivotal for me to see what the interest is and the demand and what that actually looks like,” Nancy said.
As Good Earth Farm enters their 14th season, they have had many challenges, with the biggest being weather and water. The first year they were at the farm it flooded. This past year was really dry and it got dry early. With low water pressure, they couldn’t run the sprinkler.
“I think farmers are far more adaptable because you have to be, otherwise you’re not going to be around so we kind of keep reinventing ourselves,” Nancy said. “Now heading into year 14, I think we maybe have all the puzzle pieces to fit together. We made a big investment into this piece of land, which is something we’re really proud of.”