We are a third generation family farm. My father in law handed down the farm to his wife, my husband, and his three siblings. They are all tied to the family farm heritage and strongly support my husband and I to be the ones in the family to continue the tradition. My husband has a business degree and I have a degree in Natural Resources and Soil Science. I also worked in agricultural sales for ten years before deciding to stay home with my husband and children. I can use my degree and experience in sales to help diversify and maintain this family farm. We currently raise 1200 acres of corn, beans and wheat. This year we went 100% no till and using my background in agriculture, currently scout all the acres we plant for weeds, insect and disease. We use IPM scouting on all acres grown.
We now growing 32 acres of vegetable crops, selling them retail through a farm market we built on the farm. We increased our sweet corn acres from 15 in 1997to 25 in 1998. We also grew 6 acres of squash, pumpkins, gourds and Indian corn. Our tomato and other vegetables increased from 1/8th of an acre to 1 full acre. Our business has doubled and tripled form 1997-1998.
We also fatten out Holstein steers and contract to finish hogs for a large hog farmer in our area.
Another enterprise we have seen help us diversify is the school tours coming to the farm. Not only is this helping us get people on the farm but it is helping us educate the children about the farm and what farmers do. This will help us put the positive aspects of farming in front of the adults and children.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
A) To capitalize on our location and family abilities by transitioning from a traditional livestock and crop farm to an on farm, road side produce market, to diversify, increase income, and maintain our family farm.
B) To serve as a means to reconnect people to their food supply and importance of a rural, agronomically based community.
To increase the family income after I decide to leave my career in agriculture sales, I started selling sweet corn from the back of the pick up truck in front of our house. After a couple of years and sold out situations we expanded the sweet corn acres (1 acre to 5 acres) and added zucchini and cukes. We built an inexpensive wagon with a tarp cover and set it up in front of the house so we could display the vegetables better and also protect them from weather.
In 1997 with 20 acres of vegetables grown and selling out of everything we decided that a building and irrigation were needed. Our yields were not great due to trying to irrigate everything with hoses and small sprinklers. After attending some meetings on drip irrigation we decided to drip al the vegetables accept the sweet corn. Sweet corn needed overhead irrigation so we drilled a new well and bought a traveler that could do 25 acres in one week.
A building was also needed for the 1998 season. In the fall of 1997 we built a small 20×36 building to protect the produce from hot/cold and help us maintain the quality that the customer is looking for.
We also did a survey of things the customer is looking for. Freshness is the number one thing that the customer wants when he buys produce. When was this picked? Convenience and a selection of vegetables were the other two things that they wanted. Our road runs between two large cities. One of the towns is a historic and tourist town. The other is the cereal capital of the world (Battle Creek). The customer likes to get their produce fresh for that evening’s meal every day of the week. We have customers who buy produce from us every day because they know that it was picked that day. They also like a selection. Some customers will say that sweet corn, a cucumber, a tomato and zucchini is their meal for that evening.
In 1998 we doubled and tripled our yields by drip and overhead irrigation. The irrigation saved our sweet corn due to a very, very dry June. The drip irrigation and black plastic tripled our tomato, cucumber and zucchini yields. The black plastic and drip irrigation improved quality and quantity. We also found that by using IPM and drip irrigation we could reduce the amount of chemicals we needed. In conventional systems the vegetables were on the dirt which causes, weeds, rot and disease pressure (spraying more often). We bought a plastic mulch machine in 1998 to help us lay the drip and plastic and will continue this practice for 1999.
The building was put up and because the customers still liked the wagon we still continue to sell off the wagon and also put produce in the building for the handicap and older people. For some reason the customers think the vegetables are fresher on the wagon then in the building. The building also is used in the fall to sell fall decorations and pumpkins. It also helps us with school tours in case of bad weather.
Our family has learned a lot from this grant and what it has provided. We are now growing quality and quantity. The survey has shown us what the customer wants and with the irrigation and building we can now give them these things. The income we are generating from the roadside market will help us maintain this family farm. It allows me to stay home with the children and also reconnect the farmer and the consumer. Allowing the children to visit the farm helps us educate them about their food and where it comes from (grocery stores do not grow tomatoes).
The farm is opened from June 15-October 31. We have hosted at least 1000 kinds and parents this past fall. Our innovative farmers group is also aware of what we are doing. Brochures were sent to schools and day cares inviting them to the farm.