Type: Specialty Crop
Years in operation: 4
Annual revenue: 10k-50k
(Average over last three years)
Our farm consists of 40 mostly wooded acres situated in beautiful N.W. Wisconsin. We grow using organic, humane and sustainable practices, and are CNG certified. CNG (http://www.cngfarming.org) is a grassroots counterpart to the national organic program. Our farm is very diverse. Our main crop, micro-greens, is grown hydroponically, year-round, in our greenhouse. We provide these specialty greens to approximately 45 grocery stores, co-ops, and restaurants primarily in the Mpls./St Paul area. Our system is set up to eventually convert to an aquaponic system that will have potential to produce about 4,500 tilapia per year. Additionally, we raise about 450 broiler chickens and 50 egg laying chickens each year. This year we added 1 beef cow to the mix. We tap approximately 200 trees for maple syrup production, care for 100 shitake mushroom logs, and grow fruit and produce for 2 farmers markets. We are able to provide extended season produce with the help of our 30x72' high tunnel. We manage all of this with the help of the "A team", our 2 teenage daughters Hannah and Abby, 4 part time employees Barb, Jake, Colton and Heidi, and our fearless watchdog Jessie, along with friends and family that volunteer at critical times.
Inside the Farm
How is your approach to farming different than other farms in the same category?
Though many small farms are diverse, we have worked very hard to set ourself apart by providing a wide variety of healthful, unique and specialty products. We combine hydroponics, extended season (high tunnel) and field grown fruits and vegetables with woodland products such as mushrooms and maple syrup to provide our customers with exceptional products year round. We focus on unique and heirloom varieties and have developed quite a following for our heirloom tomatoes. We also grow using organic methods which have proven to be extremely important and beneficial in an area in which most farms are conventional. We are one of only two vendors at our largest farmers market that are 3rd party certified as using organic, GMO free and sustainable growing methods, and the only ones to provide chemical free berries and chicken. Another area that sets us apart is our micro-greens. When we began our farm, there were virtually no micro-greens in the Twin Cities/N.W. WI market, except for in a handful of food co-ops. After having so much success with them at the farmers market and a local resteraunt, we began to knock on the doors of "non typical' places like grocery stores and quickly found a home for our products that continues to grow.
How does your different approach contribute to a long-term profitable growth strategy for your farm and other small farms like yours?
The sky is the limit. We have so many areas to improve, expand and tap in to. One of the main areas we are continuing to develop though, is to expand our greenhouse operations and expand our wholesale customer base. The greenhouse/micro-green operation provides a stable revenue source year round. This is very important in the long, dark winter months here in the northwoods of WI, where most farming operations come to a screeching halt and local produce is scarce to non-exsistant. There are several ways we will do this. First, we will continue to grow using the organic standards and growing practices our customers expect. This one thing has made a very significant impact on our customer base and we will never sell them short. Second, we will build existing accounts by doing in store demos, education the public on the benefits of micro-greens and by providing recipes. Historically this has been quite successful for us. Third, in order to expand our wholesale base with new customers, we are working with an online platform that connects local farmers to area chefs. They will order directly from us through this platform and we will include them on our regular delivery route. We will use this as a primary means to tap into Twin Cities area restaurants. It's a win-win for all. Fourth, we are working on GAPs certification. GAP's (Good Agricultural Practices) is a certification that meets new federal food safety rules and assures customers these standards are being met. As soon as this certification is complete we will be able to sell through additional wholesalers. This is significant and will increase our sales area far outside of what is currently possible. Fifth, we will continue to increase sales by pursuing new stores and food co-ops as part of our regular marketing strategy. In our greenhouse operation we will be adding additional lighting. This will allow us to produce other hydroponic greens throughout the winter, such as lettuce and basil. We are also working on expanding our watercress production to meet the growing demand. Another part of our long term profitabilty planning is to continually move toward the incorporation of tilapia. Converting to an aquaponic system will allow us to grow another year round product. The plants will clean the water for the fish and fish will provide nutrients for the plants, increasing value while reducing inputs. And last, we will increase long term profitability by decreasing operation costs. This will be done by making upgrades to the greenhouse that conserve heat and and other energy. Though our primary focus is increasing our greenhouse/wholesale sales and profitability, we also plan to improve overall profitability by expanding on other specialty crops we grow, such as mushrooms.
How would you specifically use a Mortgage Lifter Lift or Mini Lift?
We have a critical and immediate need for a refrigerated delivery vehicle. We currently own a 12' enclosed trailer that we have insulated and fitted with a CoolBot (www.storeitcold.com). The CoolBot works with an air conditioner to create a make shift walk in cooler, and in this case, a portable cooler. We run it from a generator while in transit and use battery back up while stationary. This set up allows us to meet the requirement of delivering our micro-greens at between 33-40 degrees. This is critical since our entire order can be rejected if it does not temp. Although this has served us well, it is no longer adequate for several reasons. First and foremost, we have outgrown the space. The trailer is full to the top every week. We can not expand our wholesale business until we expand our ability to transport additional product. Second, there are several vulnerabilities. These include things like difficulty regulating temperature, especially during winter months or on hot summer days. Another vulnerability is theft. We have experienced the theft of our generator used to run the CoolBot/AC while on our delivery route, even though it was securely bolted to the trailer. This left us without a way to keep the trailer cool for the rest of the route. We are currently unable to secure a loan to upgrade our delivery vehical until we pay down previous farm loans used for initial start-up costs. Therefore, we would use a Mortgage Lifter Lift to pay off 4 small loans or a Mini Lift to pay down as much as possible on these farm loans, allowing us the ability to secure financing for this critical vehicle upgrade.
Please share why you are so passionate about your farm and/or farming in general.
We love what we do. We love getting outside and into the dirt, watching the process of a tiny seed grow to produce a bounty of healthy food. We are convinced that our products offer the nutritional density required for optimal health. We also believe farming is a holistic endeavor, not just focusing on food production, but also focusing on relationships with our customers, our employees and the community. Personally, we enjoy the unique opportunities that farming provides such as problem solving, research, and implementing creative ideas. Finally, we wholeheartedly believe that sustainability and organic growing practices are critical to the future health of our families and our world.
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