July 22, 2024
Beautiful Gardens contest winner in St. Paul is one of abundance

On a weekend morning in mid-August, customers trickle into a St. Paul driveway for a mini farmers market.

The incentive to arrive early is not just to nab the freshest of the fresh produce — it also betters the odds that you’ll walk away with one of Betty’s pies. And, no, this is not Betty’s Pies of Two Harbors fame.

Rather, these pies are baked by Betty Lotterman, who hosts driveway markets and makes fresh baked goods from the produce she grows. Blueberry pies and muffins were the special of the day.

“I like the pies because they’re not too sweet,” said neighbor Kim Strain, who shops there for the food and for the greater-good business model. “It’s Betty’s interest in growing organic and not creating waste. She believes that everybody has a right to good food.”

To Strain and others who shop there, Lotterman, dubbed the Pie Lady, is known for much more than baked goods.

Lotterman uses her food producer’s license to carry out her mission to provide neighbors with tasty, healthy food at affordable prices with a pay-what-you-want business model. Proceeds from the market and other fundraising events benefit a local food bank.

“I use it to raise funds for Second Harvest Heartland so it helps to feed many others, as well,” said Lotterman, whose do-good mission garnered her a win in the 2022-23 Star Tribune Beautiful Gardens contest.

Taking root

Lotterman grew up gardening alongside her mom on a farm near Edgerton in southwestern Minnesota. Later in life, she started experimenting in the kitchen and creating her own recipes, employing foods from other cultures and places she’s visited.

Fans of her dishes encouraged her to open a restaurant or bakery. But with three children and a full-time job as a Spanish teacher in Mounds View Public Schools, that fell to the wayside.

Then in 2016, with her children grown, the recently retired Lotterman launched Betty’s Business, the ideal setup for nurturing her love for gardening as well as carrying out her healthy, affordable food philosophy.

Lotterman’s St. Anthony Park neighborhood backyard has more than 40 different kinds of produce — all grown from seed by Lotterman, with assists from her 5-year-old grandson Thomas.

“He has been gardening since he was 1. He totally knows how to plant and grow stuff,” she said.

Native Minnesota plum and apple trees flourish, including one that produces Haralsons that Lotterman said “are great for making apple pie.”

On this Sunday morning, the market in her driveway was a reflection of what was ripe in the garden. A dozen blueberry pies and muffins were packaged and ready to go.

“I just baked it this morning,” Lotterman said. “Everything is always fresh.”

Preserves and produce were also available. Crab apple jelly sat alongside herbs such as basil, sage, cilantro, mint and thyme, as were vegetables such as zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes, onions and garlic. Lotterman regularly puts together salsa kits — this week tomatillos, onions, garlic, cilantro and limes for making salsa verde — and provides recipe cards.

The “ingredients for the salsas are mostly from my garden,” she admits. “I can’t grow limes in Minnesota — even when working miracles.”

Like clockwork

Lotterman hosts the farmers market six times during the growing season, about every three weekends, advertising the dates through an email list and social media. Each season, she also runs a small Community Supported Agriculture program, in which she delivers produce to elderly households.

In early June, Lotterman holds a seed and plant sale that raised $1,200 last year for Second Harvest Heartland. In late summer, she hosts an annual dinner-with-artists fundraiser on her lawn that attracts about 60 people. A local musician plays a concert while attendees dine on dishes Lotterman sources from her garden.

As with her other efforts, the dinner is based on a pay-what-you-can model. The event also features works from a local artist, which is displayed in an upcycled bus shelter set up in her backyard.

Other times of the year, the bus shelter serves as a hangout space for Lotterman, who salvaged it from the corner of Como and Carter Avenues during a road construction project.

“As I was riding my bike through the construction, I saw the bus shelter on the bucket of a big payloader. I rode up to the driver and asked him where he was taking the bus shelter. He said ‘to the landfill,’ ” said Lotterman, who spruced it up and outfitted it with cushions, an outdoor heating lamp and cedar shingles. “[It was] in great condition with all these steel beams, glass and timber.”

It’s a lifestyle

Lotterman aims to keep her garden as green as possible while cutting down on fossil fuels. She uses no pesticides or herbicides in her garden and fertilizer is from her on-site compost operation. She uses solar energy for food processing. And she packages market items she sells in reusable containers.

She’s so environmentally friendly that she transports anything she needs for her garden via a wheelbarrow or Schwinn.

“I do not have a car. … That means I have developed an ecosystem where not much needs to be added and not much needs to be removed,” Lotterman said. “I use the cycle of nature to grow amazing vegetables and fruits and some beautiful flowers, as well. And solar panels provide whatever energy I need.”

Her customers — pie or no pie — couldn’t be more thankful for Lotterman’s efforts.

Former neighbor Paige Harker now commutes from her new place in Maplewood. On that August day, Harker arrived too late to get a pie, but she walked away with wax beans and fresh blueberries.

“I’ve been coming here for three years and I keep coming back,” Harker said. “It’s really the experience and getting to see the folks in the neighborhood. It’s such a wonderful community.”