Combining a life of extreme sustainability and creativity provides plenty of musical fodder for Abe Rosenberg and Morgan Velasquez, who make up the San Luis Valley-based duo Sweet Radish. Some might find their off-the-grid, self-reliant animal sanctuary, music studio and home enviable; others might regard it as just plain strange. But for the couple, it works.
Rosenberg and Velasquez grew up in musical families, playing multiple instruments. They met around ten years ago at the urging of a friend.
“We were very different. I was doing an R&B bluesy solo thing, and he was doing drone metal,” recalls Velasquez. “There was a six-month period when we were dancing around getting together, and then one day he asked if I would help him write a song. We spent the whole day jamming together, and I knew we’d be hanging out every day after that.”
Together they make what they call “genre-bending post-industrial folk,” which mixes acoustic Americana, bluegrass and pop, carried by Velasquez’s haunting, ethereal voice. The songs range from knee-slapping sing-alongs to moving, gut-spilling ballads peppered with spoken-word confessionals.
“A lot of our songs are like letters to the universe,” notes Velasquez.
Their latest collection, Ballads & Heartstrings, came out on Valentine’s Day and includes rollicking and sentimental stories as well as memories and experiences of living a life of mindful creativity. The album is their fourth release and follows a four-year gap in which they were pulled away from their musical endeavors to make another dream come true: creating an eco-friendly life.
Both Rosenberg and Velasquez had families who were part of the back-to-the-land movement and embraced nature and sustainability, and both had construction in their blood. Rosenberg’s dad was a carpenter who built his own home, and Velasquez’s father runs a concrete construction company. In school, Velasquez studied architectural drafting and designed a simple house that anybody could build.
“You shouldn’t have to feel like you don’t know enough or have to be certified to build your own house,” she says. “Most animals build their own house. Why don’t humans?”
The design became the basis of their 400-square-foot, off-grid, solar-powered tiny home and adjacent 100-square-foot greenhouse, which also serves as a shower, with grey water running into planters.
“We modeled [the house] after the Earthships in Taos, but ours is made of repurposed wood we collected from friends and family,” explains Velasquez.
The decision to build the house and live completely sustainably came after she and Rosenberg enjoyed farm life on her parents' ranch until her father decided to sell it. “We were already transitioning into that lifestyle, but then we were pushed into making it a reality," she says. "The nice thing about moving here was it allowed us to lay down the foundation from scratch.”
They found a 35-acre vacant lot in southern Colorado’s San Luis Valley that was part of a 400-acre plot subdivided for small farms. Velasquez acquired a loan from the United States Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency. “They had a program to try to get more Hispanic women into farming, so I wrote a business plan," she says. "I didn’t have any collateral; I was just bringing this dream. They're used to loaning to big-crop farmers asking for millions. We were asking for a micro-loan for a small solar-powered, organic, permaculture farm and animal sanctuary. They didn’t really know what to think of us. But they loved it, so they approved us. Our loan officer now buys our eggs!”
Their farm is filled with rescued farm animals: three goats, two sheep, one very large pig, and a henhouse full of chickens. All of them were considered too old or undervalued in the agriculture industry and would have been put down if the couple hadn’t saved them.
“One chicken never laid an egg before we took her in. The owner said she was useless,” remembers Velasquez. “We took care of her, and during her time here, she hatched 36 babies, which is most of the chickens we have now. She just needed someplace she felt safe and loved.”
The other animals have similar stories. The pig, named Nicholas, was on its way to being cooked for Christmas dinner. “Our neighbors had him and didn’t think he was worth anything,” says Velasquez. “Nicholas started wandering over to our house. We fed him apples and fell in love with him. We couldn’t let him get slaughtered. We started thinking what we could trade for him.”
They worked out a deal with the neighbors, but when they went to pick up Nicholas, he took off and disappeared into the neighborhood. “Nobody could catch him!” says Velasquez. “A few days later he showed up at our house. His feet were bleeding. He’d obviously been on a big adventure. We gave him food, and he never left.”
The couple had a son in 2016, which forced them to rethink their living situation. Their house does double duty as a recording studio, but delicate music equipment can be hazardous for tiny, curious hands.
“We have to wait until our son is sleeping, then we take all the equipment out and then take it down again,” says Rosenberg. The two are now planning to build a dedicated recording studio that will run off the solar panel already set up for the house, in keeping with their sustainable lifestyle.
When the rest of the world shut down last year because of the pandemic, the couple, who already lived a relatively isolated life, didn’t really notice — until all of their gigs were suddenly canceled. “That really caught us off-guard,” recalls Rosenberg.
So they became active online.
They started posting content about Sweet Radish's music and farming lifestyle on all major social media channels and watched their audience grow. Rosenberg, who studied videography in school and has run a small production company as a side hustle, shot music videos and other content for the band.
“We found a community in a way I don’t think we would have before,” he says. “We started connecting with people in other parts of the world who are interested in what we do.”
They also started a Patreon page. “We wanted to build a relationship with our fans,” says Velasquez. “They can pick how much they want to spend, and in exchange, they get content we don’t post anywhere else. Some higher-tier contributors also receive special gifts, such as an array of seeds collected on the farm.” All the money goes back into the band, and the names of sponsors are included in album and video credits.
For a while, the couple tried to juggle all of these projects separately: the band, an independent videography business, the farm and the animal sanctuary. “We had this separation in our lives of music versus the farm,” says Rosenberg. “We just needed to combine everything and tell the story like it is, because everything influences and affects everything else.”
They now run all their efforts on the farm and for Sweet Radish under the company name Jack Rabbit Hollow Productions.
They're planning a livestream show on March 21 as part of the Alamosa Live Music Association’s Sundays at Six series. They hope that by playing their first virtual live show, they can reach more people who are interested in their music and their sustainable lifestyle.
“We’re just trying to connect to nature and healing from all the different things we’ve gone through collectively,” says Rosenberg. “It’s a journey of trying to change the world and find something that can heal our planet and our hearts.”
Sweet Radish performs live at 6 p.m. on March 21 as part of the Alamosa Live Music Association’s Sundays at Six series. Watch the livestream on Facebook and YouTube, and hear more at sweetsweetradish.com.
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