Finding a Healthy Alternative in Grass

By Beacon Staff

Cindy Kruse likes the idea of homegrown health.

In a greenhouse attached to her home near Foys Lake, a south-facing window provides natural light for her rows of wheatgrass, which is grown and sold around the Flathead. With wheatgrass, Kruse has found both a way to make a living and a way to spread her message: Get healthy and go local.

“I think we all need to go local,” Kruse said. “And wheatgrass is so good for you.”

The growing national popularity of wheatgrass, a plant with a high concentration of nutrients and vitamins, has spread throughout the valley in recent years, thanks in large part to Kruse. Kruse, whose business is called Sunny Slopes Farm, grows wheatgrass and then supplies it to supermarkets, health food stores and private individuals, among other groups. Super 1 and Rosauers in Kalispell carry it, as do both J.D. Morrell’s locations, the Summit, the Wave, Third Street Market in Whitefish and others.

Wheatgrass provides a variety of nutrients and vitamins, Kruse said, not the least of which are chlorophyll, folic acids, vitamin B-12, protein and calcium. Drinking a one-ounce shot of wheatgrass, Kruse said, is equivalent to eating more than two pounds of raw vegetables. It tastes slightly bitter – it is a grass – but leaves a semisweet aftertaste on the tongue. Admittedly, it might not agree with everyone’s idea of a refreshing beverage, but it can be mixed with smoothies or drank with warm water for a pleasant tea.

But flavor isn’t wheatgrass’ purpose. Three of the plant’s central functions, Kruse said, are blood purification, liver detoxification and colon cleansing. People get a slight kick, or buzz, from wheatgrass, though it’s different than coffee and doesn’t result in a crash later in the day. Kruse takes one shot every morning, while other people have a two-shot or more daily routine.

“If you drink a shot of wheatgrass everyday, you don’t have to eat any vegetables,” Kruse said. “That’s pretty exciting.”

Kalispell’s Wellness Education Center frequently uses wheatgrass, Kruse said, as do individuals at home for various treatments. Rose Marie Morris of Whitefish said she scalded her feet in hot water in 2006 and has been in pain ever since. She tried numerous treatments, but she said it wasn’t until she began drinking two shots of wheatgrass per day that the pain began to subside. Morris, 68, is pre-diabetic and said wheatgrass has also helped ward off full-fledged diabetes and has reduced her other aches and pains.

She recently bought her own growing kit and juicer.

“Today I could just jump for joy because my feet aren’t killing me anymore like they used to,” Morris said. “Wheatgrass has done marvelous things for me. The pain didn’t leave me until I started drinking wheatgrass.”

Kruse sells between 35 and 40 trays of wheatgrass per week. Each plant arrives in its own plastic potting container with organic soil, so a vendor must have a juicer. A tray has eight plants and thus eight one-ounce shots after juicing.

When Kruse delivers a new batch, she takes the old trays home, disposes of the dirt and plant remains, and recycles the trays and pots. If there are plants left, then she juices them herself, always within two weeks to ensure freshness, and freezes the individual shots, which can be purchased directly from her or at a variety of local stores, including Withey’s and Sun Life Health Foods.

“I want it to be fresh and young,” Kruse said.

Kruse was first introduced to wheatgrass a few years ago when she was working at Mountain Valley Foods. At the time, Mountain Valley was purchasing wheatgrass plants from Spokane and Seattle. Kruse, true to her fervent belief in growing local, didn’t think it made sense to ship the grass in from so far away. So, while she was building her new home, she incorporated a greenhouse – initially a separate one for summer and then one attached to the house for year-round use.

Kruse makes a modest living off selling wheatgrass, which she complements by making wreathes for the holiday season. Along with a friend and her mother, Kruse recently began her annual tradition of hand-making more than 300 ornamental wreathes to be sold around the valley. She said, “I like to dabble in health and joy.”

With her wheatgrass business, Kruse doesn’t always adhere to traditional capitalist norms. For example, if a vendor doesn’t sell all of its wheatgrass, Kruse won’t charge for the unused plants.

“So (the vendors) never lose out,” Kruse said. “It’s not like produce.”

Each morning beginning at 7 a.m., Kruse diligently tends to her plants, watering, planting and happily observing the natural light that gives them their strength. She’s proud that sunlight and the house’s woodstove are the only two sources of warmth for her plants. Everything is natural. Not to mention, her home is a pretty nice office.

“This is a gorgeous room,” Kruse said, motioning out her greenhouse window at a hillside of golden larches with Flathead Lake in the distance. “It’s a great home industry. I’m so happy to be able to make little bit of a living from home.”

Sunny Slopes Farm is at (406) 257-2350.