3 Themes from 2,000 miles of driving visiting farms in TN and KY

Hello Farmers and Supporters,

In early April, I drove almost 2000 miles through Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee to visit Harvie farms as well as some non-Harvie farms. The impetus for the trip was to assist and learn from Bart Gilmer at Falcon Ridge Farm in west Tennessee on the occasion of their first Harvie deliveries. 

The Gilmers in the field, strawberry crop in background.

Three main themes emerged from the six farms I visited:

#1 Cold Wet Spring

The cold and wet Spring-time weather is pushing crop plans back and this is starting to effect first delivery dates of the farm share programs. Falcon Ridge Farm was able to pull off their first delivery with some supplemental produce purchased from another local farm.

The day after I left, a late freeze into the low 20s was expected so the farms were all scrambling to protect crops in the field and trying to find extra space in greenhouses for starts that could not be planted outside yet until the threat of hard frost had passed.

#2 Harvie is a key strategy

The farms I visited are making Harvie a vital part of their marketing plan and their overall farm planning. These are not hobby farms. These are full-time farmers who have families to support and loans to pay off from capital investment.

The first farm I visited was Falcon Ridge Farm on the eve of their first delivery. They wanted to grow their membership for this season. Bart from Falcon Ridge Farm says “Our Spring memberships were up 80% over 2017, it went above my expectations.” Bart is a very committed marketer who does a great job with his farm promotion, but he says of his choice to use Harvie:

“When you start explaining to people what a CSA or farm share is, normally the first question you get when they figure out the gist of it is, “Do you get to pick what goes in your box?”, we’ve always had to say “No, unfortunately not”, this is why, and this is how it works. Now we have the ability to say “Yeah, you do have a say in what you get” and get to pick what is in your box and customize it to your likes and dislikes. That’s been great, we’ve been able to get some of the customers back that we’ve lost before not having that option, they tried the csa but didn’t like not having the choice of what they get.”

Watch a video of Bart’s full comments on Harvie

Another farm I visited was Barr Farms in Rhodelia, Kentucky, about an hour outside of Louisville. Adam and Rae, the owners of the farm, are counting on the customer-focused features of Harvie to help them increase their member retention rate, grow their farm share program, and justify some big capital expenses like the pack house they have built in the last few years.

Adam says, “The idea of growing our CSA and trying to expand to where we were financially more comfortable, Harvie became part of that picture because marketing and finding new customers each year has been a taxing thing for us. We were looking for a way to change that.”

Me, Adam, Rae and baby at Barr Farms.

Full video of remarks from Barr Farms:

Sustainable Harvest Farm is in the old-tobacco-growing hills of eastern Kentucky and serves Lexington and Knoxville. I was treated to a delicious potato soup by the farm owners, Ford and Amanda. We talked about some of the exciting work going on in Kentucky with employer sponsored farm shares as well as his decision to adopt Harvie on his farm. 

Ford commented, “We wanted to stand out as a special and unique farm. I used to laugh with my wife because we wouldn’t sign up for our own CSA, she doesn’t cook with what is in the box, that is hard for her. So we were thinking to come up with a new system for our CSA, we found out about Harvie and thought that would be a great fit. Other farms said that would be tough, but we thought that in order for our farm and CSA to succeed we needed to change things to help our farm succeed.”

Ford's farm innovations, at Sustainable Harvest Farm!

View Ford’s full comments:

One thing that emerged is the farm community that is being built around Harvie. We talk every week through Google Hangouts on Wednesday at 1pm and the farmers are getting to know each other. Even though they are separated by geography, they are finding shared goals and problems. I am really gratified to see this kind of networking taking place because I have a deep respect for all of the farms that have signed on to use Harvie so far and I know that these farms will be stronger if they can learn from each other.

#3 Change is in the air

For all of the farms I visited, including three farms that are not using Harvie, it is a time of rapid change. Our marketplace is changing and those changes are propagating down to farmers as they try to figure out how to compete, retain customers, and grow their business to a sustainable level where they can have a balanced life that allows them to spend time with their families while they have a successful farm business.

However, "change" is nothing new. Farming and business is a process of constant adaption. There is no “end point” that our farms and businesses will get to where everything is easy and stable. Especially for the farms that I visited that have chosen to adopt Harvie, they are tackling these challenges head on and their willingness to innovate into an uncertain future gives me a lot of respect and hope for these farms. I’m proud that Harvie has become a key part of their strategy for success and I look forward to a long and fruitful relationship with these farms. 

Happy farming!

-Simon Huntley
CEO and Founder, Harvie

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