We got some great insight into what it is like to start a market farm in a rural area. @Kansasgardenguy is working hard to change the way people shop for produce in rural Kansas. Check out the interview below.
On their family farm once used for cattle, surrounded by cornfields, Tracy and his family are making a name for themselves doing no-till. They are also stirring up some curiosity!"Everything around here is conventional. The farmers in the area stop by and are very interested in what I'm doing."
Growing up, Tracy's mother influenced him with her garden, "So I'm actually in the same 5 acres I grew up on where my mom always had huge gardens. My mom's Vietnamese, and my dad is American. They met in Vietnam during the war. My mom had grown up with access to open markets with freshly grown food, so instead, she gardened. I grew up gardening the traditional way, you till every year and replant, no fertilizer, water it, and what grew, grew. If it didn't, you just had a bad year. In the last seven years, my wife and I started a family garden. We grew in a four by ten plot in our yard without a lot of knowledge. I decided to get on Youtube. I started typing in, "how do you grow tomatoes?"—all the questions. There are a lot of useful references on youtube and some that are not."
What was the catalyst for this new growing venture?
"I work in manufacturing. For the last ten years, I have done the night shift overnight, which gives me time to do what I need to do during the day and to have time to garden. I got hurt last year and couldn't work anymore. I started getting into physical therapy and working myself back up. At that time, income was short since I wasn't working full time, so I thought. What if? So I went to my wive after diving into the research and said, "I've been watching all these YOU tube channels. We could make good money, grow food, and the world would love us." She was willing as long as I could do it without hurting myself or our budget. That being said, everything made on the farm goes back into the farm. The irrigation, high tunnel, all the tools that I needed that we could afford were all paid for by what we could grow and sell at the local market."
Any obstacles in converting this market so far?
We are about 20 minutes from a larger population where they have a weekly market. When I first started going, I noticed a lot of people selling resell fresh produce. At markets, vendors bring in crates from distributors and resell fruits and vegetables they buy off of food trucks and sell at inflated market prices. So it's a mix of local, and then there will be cantaloupe and sweet corn in April in Kansas. People don't think about the fact that it doesn't grow here and that it's often trucked in from Mexico or California. So I'm working on educating people about eating what is in season locally and showcasing the value in that."
In an area where people would instead go to a grocery store, how are you changing the way people shop?
"Here, I can sell my product, but it's a hard sell when you take people who are used to their meat and potatoes, and you try to sell them on microgreens. It's hard to take something like microgreens and sell it to a rural community. The average customers' who buy from me are 65+ and have never seen or heard of a microgreen. I've been working with a local coffee shop with a gym attached to it. So a good portion of my microgreens are grown for them. "
What was it like starting a new business during Covid?
It has been a hindrance and an unlooked convenience. It has helped us because a lot of the customers don't want to go to the store. People come out because they are more comfortable than going to a store. So far, we have had many loyal customers. It pays for what I need to do here on the farm until we can reach the next level. I get approached by restaurants through referrals. I'm currently growing on a 10,000 sq. ft. fall plot and previously on another 20,000 ft. summer garden plot. Next year we will be doing this 100% full time. Sink or swim? We will enter into more of the larger markets where we might increase our microgreens sales. We are at a point where we will have to jump off the cliff or get back in the car. People in the community have been very encouraging. It's something people around here want."
This year you bought a DIY high tunnel as well as your irrigation from Bootstrap Farmer. What made you decide to go with us?
"We decided to buy the Bootstrap Farmer High tunnel because of Piper from your tech. line. She is very passionate about what she does. I called to talk about one of the high tunnel kits. I spoke to customer service, and they set me up on a call with Piper. Piper called me back one afternoon and gave me all the time I needed to talk about growing, and she offered advice on my farm plans. She even recommended a book for me and told me to read it twice. That experience got me to purchases you guy's DIY kits over going with a caterpillar tunnel. I don't think that type of structure would work in the winds we deal with here."
What's in the works for next season?
"I've been kicking around this idea of doing a high tunnel hydroponically. I've been watching a lot of videos of people growing lettuces, arugula, and fancy greens in these systems, and I'm interested in trying it. We are also planning to convert our covered porch to host weekly farm sales. We want to add more to our offering as well. Maybe some laying hens and more high tunnels."
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