The farm-to-table movement is expanding in Southern Illinois and one of the fastest growing sources for local plants and produce is a mother-daughter team from rural Murphysboro.
Ashley Glidewell, 37, grew up helping her mom, Jane Tretter, 60, in the family’s large garden and with the subsequent preserving and canning of what they raised. So, it was only natural that the pair decided a couple of years ago to grow the operation and begin selling what they were growing, both at the Murphysboro Farmers Market and directly to consumers who pick up items at the farm under the Happy Hens and Produce banner.
“We just thought we would expand out to consumers, so we started doing that and now, here we are a few years later and we’re just having the time of our lives,” Tretter explains. “I love working with my daughter every day.”
Tretter and Glidewell handle everything themselves — with a little help from family members for seed bed preparation and mechanical work — spending hours each day in the ever-expanding garden and greenhouse.
“We expanded this year, and we’ve added a couple of other growing spaces here on the property; I’d say we’re probably close to two acres now,” Tretter says.
Glidewell adds that she hesitates to call the area a garden.
“It just doesn’t seem appropriate anymore. It is much more than that. I like to call it a growing space,” she explains.
Tretter continues, “It’s nothing for each of us to walk 10 miles or more a day going from the greenhouse to the garden to the shop and just out in the space.”
Together, they raise and sell a wide variety of produce ranging from asparagus to zucchini and much in between including horseradish, lettuce, tomatoes, okra, flowers, peppers, potatoes, and all kinds of herbs and flowers.
“We’ve sold a lot of catnip this year,” Tretter adds. “People think it’s just for cats or to keep bugs away, but you can use it for tea and for medicinal purposes, too.”
She says they also grow and sell products to help others with their own gardening.
“We have something in the greenhouse right now we call the Happy Bee Mix Pot. It is a variety of plants in one container that is meant to be transported into people’s personal growing spaces that really attract bees so that they pollinate everything,” she says.
As the Happy Hens and Produce name implies, eggs are also available for sale as well as some other unique products including milo sorghum flour and fresh-ground corn meal.
Some of the products stem from Glidewell’s own dietary needs. Diagnosed with celiac disease, Glidewell is pleased to offer gluten-free and other specialized products.
Her mother explains, “It was one of the reasons we started all of this. One of the big kicks is for her to feel great and to meet her dietary needs. This way we know for a fact how our food is grown and that it 100% safe for her.”
The women grow everything from seed to final product, which Tretter says adds to the safety.
“We often say, it’s only our hands touching anything. There’s no middlemen whatsoever,” she says.
For her, Happy Hens and Produce is not just about spending time with her daughter and providing high-quality local produce, it’s also about educating consumers.
“We don’t want to set up a store or have a middleman,” she explains. “We want to have the consumer talking to us. We love sharing the experience of the farm with people and letting them know how the farm operates. That gives us an opportunity to educate people about agriculture.”
Most of all, however, she says, the opportunity to work with her daughter is special.