While Montana is rich in many natural resources, it isn’t exactly conducive to year-round agriculture. Climate-sensitive greens and other veggies need warmth and sunshine to thrive, commodities that are hard to come by for much of the year.
“At first I thought the idea was silly,” says Veronnaka Evenson, co-founder and owner of Swanky Roots. “I mean, growing greens year-round in Montana just didn’t seem feasible.”
Yet, Veronnaka and her mother, co-founder and co-owner Ronna Klamert, implemented a system for growing and supplying produce to their community throughout the year.
“My mom had been researching natural ways to get rid of pests in her current hobby greenhouse, and on the side an advertisement for Nelson & Pade came up,” Veronnaka says.
Nelson & Pade specializes in aquaponics, a sustainable method of raising fish and vegetables.
“She did some research on the company and on aquaponics before showing it to me… the more I looked into the system and the design, the more I fell in love.”
It seemed like fate for Veronnaka and Ronna. Veronnaka boasts two Bachelor of Science degrees, one in plant science and one in agricultural education, as well as a minor in biology teaching. When her mother first approached her with the idea of using aquaponics, Veronnaka was nearing graduation from Montana State University in Bozeman.
“I like to joke this was my mom’s idea to keep me here forever!” Veronnaka says. “I feel like it's one of those rare occasions where everything I'm passionate about combines into one business.”
The driving force behind their vision for the business has been community.
“We could’ve done this on a much smaller scale and just provided ourselves and friends with fresh greens. Instead, we wanted to make sure that everyone has access to local, fresh, healthy food all year round.”
Swanky Roots' moniker was derived from Ronna's maiden name Swanke.
Although their primary focus has been leafy greens such as lettuce, Swanky Roots grows kale, Swiss chard, bok choy, cabbage and celery.
“We also have tomatoes, and plan on expanding to include more tomatoes, onions and cucumbers,” Veronnaka says. "While some of those we might not be able to produce in a wholesale quantity for a while, we will have more of those specialty items at our storefront. We are in Lucky’s Market with some of our lettuce, and we hope to see it expand.”
Another important aspect of their company is education.
“We offer tours of the greenhouse to show the aquaponic process and why we are so passionate about how we grow our greens,” Veronnaka says. “I feel there is such a distance between the food we eat and where that food comes from.”
In addition to year-round production, aquaponics offers the opportunity to grow a head of lettuce with seven times less water than traditional methods, without the use of any pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers.
Now, Veronnaka and Ronna want to make their presence known.
“We have been keeping our heads down for the past few months as our system was maturing,” Veronnaka says. “We wanted to open our doors with the best product possible, and we are finally ready for that. There are so many options other than just romaine and iceberg to get greens into your life. I want to create a community space where people can learn about agriculture and get great products. There is a real sense of peace that comes from watching the plants grow, from start to finish.”
8333 Story Road, Billings, 406.656.7668, SwankyRoots.com