Nancy and Jeff, both graduates of the University of South Dakota, found themselves longing for a change after years in the workforce. Jeff, who at the time was running his own business, and Nancy, who was working in education and later in a leadership role at the Washington Pavilion in Sioux Falls, decided it was time for something different.

The couple sold everything they owned, bought and renovated a sailboat in San Francisco, California, and set out on a voyage that would help them discover their life’s purpose – building community through healthy food.

For about a year, the couple sailed around the coast of Mexico, consuming fresh fruit and vegetables from local markets and connecting with other sailors in ports. While they cherished the people they met and the experiences they had, the nomads felt they lacked a sense of community.

“It was relaxing, but it wasn’t super fulfilling,” said Jeff, who holds a BSBA in management. “We had a community down there, but it was very transient. We’d sail into a port and anchor, meet people, hang out for a few days and then leave and start all over again.”

Searching for a more stable and tight-knit community, Nancy and Jeff decided to put a halt on their sailboat journey and return to rural South Dakota to begin their farming journey.

“We had a plan that we were going to come back home and buy some land. We were going to start a vegetable farm and become the most successful vegetable farmers in South Dakota,” Jeff said with a smile.

So, they did. The Kirsteins bought a plot of land outside of Lennox and started The Good Earth Farm.

In 2011, they implemented a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model, which allowed consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from the farm. By the second year, they doubled their shares and continued expanding.

Just as things were looking up, a severe drought hit South Dakota, drastically reducing their harvest. Nancy and Jeff could only deliver small amounts of vegetables, and by late summer, most of their crops were dead

“It was a reality check,” said Jeff. “We worked really hard, but we realized there were things that were completely out of our control.”

Yet, they persevered, and a few years later, their farm grew significantly. At the farm’s peak, there were over 400 CSA shareholders, prompting the Kirsteins to hire help to maintain the farm. They hosted three live-in interns, 10-12 part-time employees and hundreds of volunteers from the Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms program.

The farm continued to flourish, but Nancy and Jeff wanted to take a step back and reevaluate the long-term sustainability of the work they were doing.

“We couldn’t maintain the level of energy that we needed to,” said Jeff. “We also realized that the as we age, the less likely we were going to be able to do that.”

“It got to the point where all the pieces weren’t quite fitting together,” added Nancy.

With 30 acres to maintain and a deteriorating barn, the Kirsteins decided to shift the focus of their farm from vegetable farming to agritourism, a venture that proved to be much more predictable and manageable.

“We started planning for the next chapter,” said Jeff. “There are a lot of people who don't have access to a farm, and it was clear to us that, for some reason, this place makes people happy. We knew we had to keep going.”

Jeff and Nancy Kirstein stand together in the loft of a barn. There are string lights hanging on the back wall and tables and chairs spread around the space behind them.They started by renovating the 130-year-old barn, a feature that was central to the property. This renovation sparked other improvements around the farm, and before they knew it, Nancy and Jeff bought more land, renovated the house and removed buildings that couldn’t be saved – changes that marked a new era for The Good Earth Farm.

As they embraced the shift to agritourism, the Kirsteins transformed The Good Earth Farm from simply a vegetable farm to a vibrant destination that blended agriculture with community engagement. They began by renting out the historic barn for weddings, birthdays, reunions and other events. From there, opportunities for connection continued to expand.

In 2022, the Kirsteins took a leap and introduced pizza nights on the farm. Initially uncertain about the investment, they found preowned pizza ovens and hosted their first event on the Fourth of July. The event was highly successful, leading them to continue making pizzas – with ingredients grown on the farm – and host more throughout the year. Now, The Good Earth Farm hosts weekly pizza nights on Fridays and Sundays throughout the summer.

“People can come out, have a good time and support us while enjoying a healthy meal," said Jeff. "It’s really allowed us to expand the number of people that can use the space.”

In addition to pizza nights, The Good Earth Farm organizes several events annually, including film festivals, running events, a yoga festival and their signature Veg Fest. Nancy and Jeff also oversee The Good Earth Farm Animal Sanctuary, a nonprofit farm animal sanctuary dedicated to providing a safe haven for animals in need. From ducks and chickens to pigs and cows, animals at the sanctuary enjoy the farm's vast space and the Kirsteins' compassionate care.

“We've had the opportunity to give all of these animals a second chance at a good life,” said Nancy. “A lot of people are disconnected from farm life, animals and the source of their food. Visiting The Good Earth Farm gives them to opportunity to reconnect and learn more about this type of farming.”

Although she might not have taken a traditional path in education, Nancy still leverages her two degrees – a bachelor’s in education and a master’s in curriculum and instruction – from USD’s School of Education to educate people about the farm.

“Whenever we have an opportunity to talk to people, I always emphasize how important it is for consumers to support farms like this,” said Nancy. “Not just this farm, but small farms like this all over the state and country. Supporting these farmers at the local farmer’s market or through a CSA or asking for local ingredients at restaurants is so important for these businesses to thrive, especially in rural communities.”  

Through the ups and the downs over the last decade of The Good Earth Farm, Nancy and Jeff have not only helped hundreds of people understand the importance of sustainable farming, but they’ve also learned a lot of valuable lessons themselves.

“With all the people that worked here over the years, I’ve watched them learn the value of hard work,” said Jeff. “A summer of hard work can change people and change their perspective on a lot of things. It’s so rewarding on so many levels that it’s hard to give up.

“Nothing bad comes from hard work,” he continued. “You might not succeed, or you might not take a direct route to where you thought you were going, but you’ll never regret hard work.”

The Kirsteins’ approach to farming goes far beyond working hard, growing vegetables and hosting events. They see it as a way to connect with people and foster community.

“It’s a unique mix of people,” said Jeff. “We get our neighbors, people from a couple miles away and people from all over the state to come. It’s a community thing. You’ll see 20 or 30 people sitting together chatting because they all their kids go to school together or they know each other from Sioux Falls.”

In addition to community, The Good Earth Farm offers people the opportunity to slow down and disconnect, a part of the experiential farm Jeff said he’s the proudest of.

“You can come out on a Friday night and see 200 people here,” he said. “They’re not scrolling on their phones – not even teenagers. They’re just enjoying their time, giving treats to the animals, walking the trails around the property and looking at the flowers.

“For most people, it’s a break from reality, and that’s what I’m most proud of,” Jeff continued. “People enjoy themselves out here, and that’s very fulfilling.”

In January 2024, the Kirsteins were selected as the 2024 Farm Family of the Year by the Agribusiness Division of the Greater Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce. Not like the typical farm family awardees, Nancy and Jeff were shocked by the award, but nonetheless excited.

“For the Greater Sioux Falls Chamber to recognize this type of agriculture is really forward-thinking on their part,” said Nancy. “If you're looking to build up communities and rural areas in particular, these are the types of farms that sustain those small communities.”

When looking toward the future of The Good Earth Farm, Jeff said, “The farm needs to be sustainable. The farm needs to take care of itself – I think that’s important.”

“To me, as we look at this space, we want to hold onto it and make sure that it stays this way,” added Nancy. “There are a lot of good days out here, and there are a lot of bad days. But there is nothing better than a good day out here.”

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