Field Day Recap: The First Five Years of a Vegetable Farm, July 15
Beginning farmer Danelle Myer welcomed over 60 guests to her farm in Iowa’s far western Harrison County on a rainy Wednesday afternoon. The drizzly weather didn’t stop anyone from coming out to hear about her experience with the first five years starting up her diverse vegetable and herb farm, One Farm. Young and old, farmers and consumers, from near and far; it truly was a diverse group to gather.
Danelle walked us through a brief life history to provide the context for One Farm. She grew up on a farm down the road from where we were standing and she described her eagerness to get away after high school. She pursued a marketing career that occupied her for nearly 20 years—and still claims her time a couple days a week in Omaha, Nebraska. With a passion for local, healthy food, she even uses her marketing skills for a nonprofit that focuses on nutrition and health. Her transition from marketer to farmer began when she started working on an organic farm (through WWOOF) in 2008, and then later went through the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems apprenticeship program at UC-Santa Cruz. She began attending conferences, workshops and training sessions through Nebraska Sustainable Ag Society, PFI, Women Food and Agriculture and others, acquiring knowledge, mentors, and a support system as she started on her own operation.
Danelle officially broke ground for One Farm on her parent’s land in 2011, just as eagerly as when she left after high school. The first four years were spent growing in this location while she moved herself from the farm to town and back, then landed herself and her farm permanently in a new location this spring. She’s on land that’s been in her family for five generations but she never planned to be there. Through these transitions she realized how much easier it is to live on the property where you farm, and she’s learned to adapt and take what comes her way.
The field day took attendees across the farm and through various aspects of her business and production practices. Not surprising with Danelle’s background, she has a solid business plan and has built a robust marketing and sales strategies. She does great with branding, has a nice website and facebook page (“don’t underestimate the power of pretty pictures!”), has an active e-mail list, and a very diversified market for her products. Danelle explained how she sells through more traditional avenues such as the local farmers markets and direct to restaurants, but also through some more unique methods.
One new sales method is through FarmMatch.com, a website that allows consumers to shop One Farm’s available produce and select from a handful of pickup locations and times. Anyone can join her e-mail list to get updates on the available produce, then place their order and pick up the food harvested specifically for them. Danelle also offers her variation of a CSA, which she calls OneBox. Customers can treat it like a normal CSA and pay up front for a season’s worth of produce to pick up each week, or buy a OneBox on a week-to-week basis. Danelle lists the OneBox contents in each weekly e-mail, then folks can order a box and pay at pickup. She offers a pre-pay punch card as well, which is great for gifts and allows customers to pay an amount up front to shop online or at the farmers market.
In addition to this, Danelle markets wholesale to locations in both Des Moines and Omaha, a preferred sales method as it allows her to harvest and sell a large quantity of one product at a time. Last year she had a wholesale cabbage order that was too big to transport in her vehicle, so she worked with local farmer and friend Ellen Walsh-Rosmann to rent a truck for the trip. After that, Ellen launched a kickstarter campaign for a refrigerated truck and a new service: Farmtable Delivery. Danelle invited Ellen to talk to the field day attendees about Farmtable Delivery, which was successfully funded and has been extremely popular with local producers and retailers in the past year.
The day continued with a tour of the crop field, where Danelle and Nebraska Extension Service horticulture educator (and friend) Natalia Bjorklund described the production methods being used. Attendees saw the 40-some beds in production, her drip irrigation line, the wash station (“I consider post-harvest handling to be the most important part of the process”), the tractor, and high tunnel— which is in its second year of production and was cost-shared using $4400 from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Because this is the first full season on the site, part of the production topic focused on the future of the farm, and Danelle welcomed feedback from attendees on a range of topics.
Danelle then passed along some advice she’s acquired from her experience building One Farm, which could be useful for any beginning farmers:
- Farming is ever-changing: Always learning, growing, evolving, taking risks and making mistakes, and always problem solving
- Just do it: You usually don’t have time to research and think through every little thing, you just have to dive in and do it and learn from it
- Work/life balance is hard: This lifestyle is not sustainable, but I’m giving it all I’ve got to create a solid foundation for the business
- Learn how to prioritize: The to-do list is always too long, but if you know the top 3 things that should happen in the next 3 hours it helps
- This is a business:
- Have to think like a business owner, not a gardener
- Have to make decisions for profitability and time management
- Accept help: Learn how to accept help from friends – and even strangers
- Computer time: When you’re not outside sweating or freezing, you’re sitting at your desk doing bookwork, tracking sales, preparing deposits and invoices, corresponding with customers, doing promotion/sales, writing a weekly e-mail, QuickBooks, etc.
- Isolation: Common theme/concern, but if you put yourself out there and represent what you believe in, you do attract likeminded people
- Take care of your body: can’t do this job without it; massage; think about how you’re using it to work; limit how much you lift
The day concluded with an incredible meal catered by a local Woodbine restaurant, Roux’s, featuring an array of ingredients right out of the One Farm field surrounding us as we ate. Roasted beets, swiss chard, coleslaw, bruschetta, and roasted pork loin with cipollini onions were on the menu, followed by a variety of home-baked sweets prepared by One Farm supporters. Speaking of One Farm supporters—there are a lot of them. It’s clear that Danelle has built a community of friends and family that are willing to help if she asks (even eager to help). Her advice to learn how to accept help is probably one that many beginning farmers would echo. Thanks to Danelle and her One Farm community for a great field day!