From growing up in St. Paul to rural Mankato, Lisa Phillips has come a long way, and she’s got her hands full!
“I was a city girl, but my grandparents had a dairy farm,” Phillips recalled. “Every day I didn’t have school, I would go there. I just love living on my farm now. I love the smells! It smells different in the country. You can smell the corn. You can smell the dirt. After a rain, how the rain smells! I even love the smell of the cow poop we get from our neighbor for fertilizer!”
“My husband Marty and I have five adult children, two of which are married, and a five-year-old granddaughter,” She said. “We have a horse and a mule that we rescued. A new calf, two labs and many farm cats!”
But that’s not all! The Phillips have their hands in no less than four ventures!
Blue Skye Farm
Along with Marty and the cats, Phillips lives on Blue Skye Farm south of Mankato. “The farm was started by Marty’s grandparents so it’s a 3rd generation family farm. We grow everything from Asparagus to Zucchini,” she explained.
The Farm grows produce available for sale to the public. “We put up red and white tents, then people come get their produce. It’s on the honor system,” she said. “One time there was a note that looked like a grocery list. The folks said they’d be back to pay but wanted us to know what they took. The did come back and we were cool with that!”
In addition to the tent, the Phillips have also been offering CSA shares for the last three years. “It’s not my favorite part of the garden,” she said. “Normally, you plant something, and it just grows. But if there’s a timetable for it, sometimes the crop says, ‘Guess what? I’m not going to grow today!'”
Though they’ve found CSA has been well supported, the Phillips are still trying to figure out if its something they will continue. “The season runs 15 weeks. Usually it starts June 1st, but sometimes it starts July 1st then we go way late into October. Lately it snows in October!”
Part of the dream for the farm is to turn it into a destination attraction. “We want to have a produce store on the farm,” Phillips said. “Our oldest daughter got married at an apple orchard. On the drive home we talked about having an events center. We want to make the farm a place that people can come and love as much as we do.”
One of the Phillip’s ventures was a natural outgrowth of the farm. “We tried an experiment a few years ago,” she said. “We wanted to see if we could grow pumpkins. And oh my gosh, did they grow! The first year we just put it on Facebook and we told everyone to come get a free pumpkin. We had 250 people come out!”
After the success of the first year, the couple organized into a more formal event and Pumpkin Junction was born. “We’ve acquired all the cutout signs you put your face in for pictures from Pumpkinland over in Vernon Center. It’s fun to hear people say, ‘My mom always made me stand by that!’ Now they’re making their kids do it too!”
One of the best parts, Phillips said, is that there is an anonymous donor who pays for a pumpkin for every visiting kid from one to 18. “When they come to pay for their pumpkins we ask, ‘Which ones are for the kids because those are free today!'”
Blue Skye Farms Shared Commercial Kitchen
“I love to cook, and I love to bake. I learned from my grandma and I do a lot of scratch baking. I thought it would be better to sell it out of a licensed kitchen.”
The commercial kitchen used by Holy Rosary School in lower North Mankato became available. “They came to me and said, ‘The caterers we had aren’t going to be in there any more are you interested?'” After some deliberation the Phillips jumped on this new opportunity to become Blue Skye Farms Shared Commercial Kitchen.
“So far, I haven’t used it myself. But I did a lot of research about incubator kitchens. You put in leg work getting the kitchen where it needs to be. Then, entrepreneurs who have a product to get out, use it to see if it’s really something that will work.”
Phillips has seen quite a few success stories pass through her kitchen. “We have had some really great things happen there, like when Bea’s Kitchen got into a store in Faribault and then they got into the St. Peter Co-op! Coconut Whisk grew and grew and grew. Now they’re in Hy-Vee and they sell online. It’s been a great space for people to start.”
Recently, Tony Friesen began using the kitchen to bake for his new company, Two Pins Bakery, which sells out of Phillips newest venture, Arizona Olive Oil Company on Belgrade Avenue in North Mankato. “People are so happy to have his cakes and his products,” she offered. “It’s been a really good partnership.”
Phillips also recently hired a kitchen manager, “Her name is Renee. She’s a caterer, Renee Marie’s Cuisine is just getting started. It’s been very helpful not to have to worry about the day-to-day details.”
Arizona Olive Oil Company / Blue Skye Mercantile
In July of 2018, the Phillips purchased Arizona Olive Oil Company from Matt and Leah Grams. Shortly thereafter, they moved the shop from Old Town to Belgrade Avenue.
One of the many projects in the works is the rebranding of the shop. “The plan is to be so much more than just an olive oil store,” Phillips said. “We knew we needed a brand for the farm. One day Marty and I and the two girls who were home threw names in a hat. We looked at them all, talked about them, threw some out, and looked at them again. We came up with Blue Skye Farm because Blue Sky was already taken by someone in Minneapolis.”
“We’re working on making Blue Skye our brand. When you see it you’ll know it’s Martin and Lisa Phillips. We’re working towards branding the shop Blue Skye Mercantile.”
Like all their other ventures, Phillips has big plans for the shop. “I would like to add a small version of the Commercial Kitchen, so we could have cooking classes right here with oils and products from the store. The first weekend of November we did a lefsa demonstration. We had our guest at a table in the back and people loved it! They came and watched and then bought lefsa! I’d like to have things like that all the time.”
“I’m also a fan girl of this store in Stillwater called Crooks of Crocus Hill. It’s stuffed full of everything kitchen — there are just little pathways left to walk through — food items, unique food things. They liked me on Instagram and I was like, ‘Ahhhh!’ I took a snapshot and sent it to everybody! I’d like our shop to be like that.”
The Phillips count themselves blessed and are purposeful about sharing that blessing. Last year they were able to donate over 2,000 pounds of sweet corn to the Echo Food Shelf. The kitchen has been made available at no cost to non-profits. Pumpkin Junction gives away as many pumpkins as they sell.
Even the shop is included in the giving. Every month, a group or organization is chosen to receive a portion of the sales of specific items. “December’s recipient is SS Boutique,” Phillips said. SS Boutique works to provide gently used clothes and household items to those who need them most.
“When an organization comes in to arrange for their month, we let them choose the oil,” Phillips said. “SS Boutique chose chipotle olive oil and garlic cilantro balsamic vinegar. Those bottles will be tagged. There will be signs up all over the store. We provide a dollar from every large bottle and 50 cents from every small bottle. The donations from our free coffee and hot chocolate bar also go to our designated group. It feels really good.”