ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Monte Skarsgard wants you to know who grew your peach (Paul in Colorado). Same goes for the fresh corn (Dean in Moriarty) and the tomatoes (Christopher in Velarde).
It’s part of Skarsgard’s approach for his 17-year-old company, Skarsgard Farms, which makes weekly deliveries of organically grown food to at least 1,500 people, mostly in the Albuquerque metropolitan area. “It’s kind of my own personal journey with it,” Skarsgard says. “The more connected I feel to my food, the more connected I just feel to my own life, and things just make more sense to me.”
The coronavirus has boosted Skarsgard’s business – which normally generates $5 million to $6 million a year – as people spend more time eating at home, he says.
By the end of this year, he plans to open a retail location, The Stand, in the recently closed Model Pharmacy in Nob Hill.
It will function as a market, a pickup point for grocery orders and a cafe where patrons can eat dishes made of local ingredients and watch a chef prepare the food. Home deliveries will continue. Eventually, Skarsgard says, he wants to host cooking and health classes at the new location.
Skarsgard’s company started out growing all its own food, first at Los Poblanos and then on a 40-acre farm in the South Valley.
That became a money-loser, Skarsgard says, and he stopped growing, shifting instead to distributing food raised by a variety of mostly local farmers, bakers and meat producers. If products aren’t available in New Mexico, he buys regionally.
“I realized that the best time I can spend for the local food movement is not necessarily growing the carrots, but trying to orchestrate all these people to come together under one roof.” Skarsgard says. “We can really work with other (growers) who are focusing on that one thing and do that very, very well.”
How did you get into the food movement?
“I’m from Albuquerque, went to undergrad at UC (University of California) Santa Barbara. In the late ’90s in northern California, it was the organic heyday out there. The organic movement, farmers markets, were just building up so much energy. The enrichment that I felt in my own life, I (thought) it was incredible, so I really got on the journey of farming in college. I started kind of landscaping and after college went to a farming program at UC Santa Cruz, then went up to Seattle for an internship on a farm up there. It was really neat to see how different farmers were designing different business models. And then being able to take the parts from different mentors and different business models that resonated with me and bringing that back to Albuquerque and starting the farm here.”
Were you into gardening as a kid?
“A little bit. It was more like houseplants. Plants just always kind of made sense to me. I love plants. I feel like I can understand them pretty easily. Is that possible?”
What are your favorite foods?
“Roasted foods, grilled. I just feel it imparts a flavor that’s so amazing. Like fire-cooked, where … you have the charred flavor and the cooked flavor and you’ve got a marinade or something like that. But for me, it’s something that’s been hit on by fire.”
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?
“Probably a rabbit that I killed. I was a vegetarian for a while, and a lot of it was stemming from how animals were raised, the industrialization of meat. So I was in a place for awhile that if I was going to eat meat, I had to kill it and eat it and be a part of the life cycle, and so that was the rabbit. It was actually on Easter so it was like I ate the Easter bunny.”
What do you do in your free time?
“I love my work, but I also love my family time. I keep a good life-work balance. We don’t want to promote sustainable agriculture with an unsustainable lifestyle. We like to be outside, We go camping a lot. Love cooking.”
What’s on your bucket list?
“South America. I’ve got a friend in Argentina. I love traveling, I feel comfortable in the uncomfortable. When you travel, you get to interesting places and just feel weird. All that stuff is a good spot for me.”
What keeps you up at night?
“Employees. We have a really good crew right now. I feel very responsible. It’s 42 people, their livelihoods, their kids. You know, broccoli is easy; people can be difficult.”
What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
“I think it’s about perseverance. I think it’s what Winston Churchill said about success. ‘Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.’ It’s like don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back with your successes. On the failures, don’t take it too personally. Just keep going. I feel like we’ve had a lot of really good success times and we’ve had really hard times and to be able to just stay focused on our mission and our goal has been everything.”