Lil Starts

Lily and Luke Klimaszewski with their son, Emmett, in one of the plant propagation greenhouses. Lily and Luke have been running Lil’ Starts, an urban farm and plant nursery, since 2013.

PORTLAND — Originally, Lil’ Starts Urban Farm was strictly a plant nursery. It wasn’t until Lily and Luke Klimaszewski got engaged and decided to grow all the food for their wedding that they began growing produce.

“We way over planted and by June we were swimming in produce,” Lily Klimaszewski said, adding that they were already selling their plants at farmers markets and were able to sell the excess produce alongside them.

From there, the business blossomed.

Lil’ Starts first began in 2013. The farm sells at farmers markets, through their Community Supported Agriculture program and directly to restaurants. They farm half an acre on their property and in 2018 expanded to 4.5 acres they lease at the Headwaters Incubator Farm.

It wasn’t until this year that the income from the farm completely supported them. Despite the challenges with the pandemic, Klimaszewski said that was proof that small scale agriculture is sustainable.

“Last year people needed something to do and wanted to get more connected to anything, but also where there food is coming from,” she said. “Part of it is that with everything going on, people want to feel good about what’s going on with their money, and supporting a small farm makes them feel good.”

When they first started their CSA they had 12 members. Now they have sold out with 160 members.

Sustainability is an important aspect of Lil’ Starts farm. They only use non-GMO seeds and both their plants and produce are free of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. They make their own soil mix, and their compost is locally sourced.

“With all the changes in the world, in order to sleep well at night we need to know we’re taking care of the earth in the best way we possibly can,” Klimaszewski said.

Along with it being better for the environment, Klimaszewski said that, ironically, it’s harder to run a small farm without sustainability being a keystone. She said they couldn’t even find GMO seeds and aren’t big enough to get an account at a farm supply store. Synthetic fertilizer was also more expensive than organic, she added.

“It’s not a decision we make, it’s the only decision to make,” she said before adding that she doesn’t want to demean conventional farmers because everyone has their reasons for the way they farm.

Another important goal of their business is providing jobs. They have four employees plus a farm manager and want to help support other farmers who are starting out. Eventually, they also want to give land back to the tribe it originally belonged to.

The biggest challenge for Klimaszewski is access to land. Before they moved to Headwaters Incubator Farm they had to find land in their neighborhood. Now their biggest goal is finding their “forever farm.”

What they expected to be a challenge was selling the product, but that “happened organically,” Klimaszewski said. In fact, it was that community that has been the most rewarding part of what they do.

“Especially this past year, the CSA and customers kept us in the community,” she said.

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