"Adapt, and keep adapting, to the changing environment."
In 1975, Edgar "Swede" Hanson purchased a tiny feed store being run out of a former gas station. At the time, Sonoma Valley had a need for feed. Still mostly rural, it was home to plenty of horses and cows. Hanson re-named the store "Swede's Feeds" and plunged into his new business.
Around 1990, Hanson sold the business to Kenwood resident Judi Overshiner Eastman. She loved hanging out at the feed store with her son and kept it running just like Hanson had. Several years later a local couple, Mike Scheffer and Aspen Mayers, dropped by Swede's just when Eastman was considering selling the business. "They told me that running a store like mine seemed like something they'd like to do," Eastman recalled. "So I said, 'Want to buy it?' It happened just like that."
So in 1998 Mike & Aspen took over the business. After a few years they realized that to stay in business they would need to expand beyond selling just feed. Thinking back on that time, Scheffer laughed. "Nobody has asked me for cow food in a long time," he said.
They expanded into other lines by offering a seasonal selection of plant starts and other items for gardeners. "We're not a full-scale nursery," says Scheffer, "but during the season we're full of plants, soils, implements." But the colorful and eye-catching garden "sculptures" really attracted notice.
"Nobody has asked me for cow food in a long time..."
One of the pleasures of stopping at Swede's is strolling through the open-air display filled with hundreds of pieces of hand-made garden art. Much of it is fashioned from recycled tin drums, wooden barrels, old machinery gears and other materials. There are multi-story houses for all sorts of birds, man-sized metal roosters, a bouquet of four-foot, bright-colored flowers "planted" in the ground. A family of aluminum pink flamingos is huddled in a corner, watched over by a bevy of squirrels, butterflies, peacocks and other critters.
Kids love the giant metal dinosaur, along with the living animals -- 2 pygmy goats, 25 chickens, a pond full of fish, 1 cat and Chloe (the dog). Visitors also find patio furniture made from recycled redwood, chimineas, a veggie & butterfly garden, and eclectic music playing.
"We are always thinking of ways to compete. People say all the time that they love the fact that we're here. And we're happy to be here for the community. We intend to stick around."