Farm, Journal, Update

Summary of 2014

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We managed to get all the peppers pulled last Tuesday thanks to my  amazing assistant, Gauthier, for helping me. Zack, farmer for the Student Farm, lifted my plastic and we pulled it up Friday afternoon thus completing the final tear down for the 2014 growing season. I want to give a shout out to one of the AKL’s, Mario, for volunteering his time and helping me remove the last remnants of plastic and drip tape. With the powers combined (Gaunthier, Zack and Mario) it made for a quick and simple finale and I am so grateful for their help.

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1/2 acre does not seem to many like a lot of land, especially when you are surrounded by 1,000 + acres of conventional farms, but let me tell you that a lot can be done with a little ole 1/2 acre.  As a beginning farmer this is what I accomplished this year:

-Produced over 5,300 #s of produce that was redistributed back to Hendrick House

-Made over $10,000 in sales which also goes back into the company

-Touched nearly 3,000 students with fresh/ local produce grown less than a mile away

-Gained new clients and chefs who took interest in the program (which is the biggest success to me)

-The farm now sells and distributes to 4 large dorms and 10 fraternities and sororities

-I also found ways to distribute processed farm veg during the winter months so the farm continues to make money during the off season

-Doubled our sales from 2013 (we started charging competitive local pricing so I’m not sure this one counts 🙂 BUT I was able to pick up new chef’s although the prices increased from last year which makes it TOTALLY count!)

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Overall, despite the incredibly strange weather we had this year, it was a fairly successful growing season for us (when you look at the big picture). Although we didn’t make money due to labor, I have a better idea on how to cut costs and grow product that cuts down on labor with a high dollar selling price. I am getting better and better each year. After all, I’m still a beginning farmer 🙂

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None of this would be possible without the shared dream, vision and support of my boss Sue Dawson and Hendrick family. I am so grateful to them for allowing me the time to learn and produce for their company. This project is so personal for me and I am excited to be a part of it with the end goal of a sustainable vegetable farm which provides fresh produce helping to change the perceived image of institutionalized food.

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This goal cannot be obtained without the complete support of the chef’s who work for Hendrick House. Bonnie, an amazing chef, was my biggest supporter and also shares the vision of bringing farm to table to campus, taking all excess and changing her menus last minute to accommodate. Antonio PIKE was the person I could count on to take all seconds and process them down himself (which takes time away from an already busy day). Not only would he take them but I would receive a picture hours later of a fabulous dish he created from them. Jason (Armory), Rich (Presby), Casey (AGD), Nick (AoPi), Christie (GPB), David (KKG) and Ryan and Heath (Newman)  your support was greatly appreciated and this project would not work without you!!

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IMG_1666Big thanks to AKL with whom I will forever be indebted. You guys volunteered your time on several occasions and are the “proof in the pudding” so to speak that it is possible for a young group of fraternity boys to like/ love fresh vegetables. Thank you for being gracious and taking chances, trusting me and being my guinea pigs for eating food you may not be familiar with. You boys have set the standard throughout the company that this project can work! Going into my 4th year as being your chef, you don’t realize it but you have gradually raised the bar on quality and freshness of food which was the plan all along!

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I would like to give a special thanks to Kevin at Phi Delta Theta. Vegetable growing is back breaking physically demanding work and it takes special people to want to do it. Not only did you help me again all summer but you did it with a smile on your face the entire time. Thank you for all of your help and being such a great friend. Thank you for taking produce (even when you knew you didn’t want to) because you have a vested interest in the farm. Thank you for taking a chance with me and this project!

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IMG_1720Lastly, I would like to thank all of my U of I and farmer friends. Rick Weinzierl donates so much of his time to this program and it is so fantastic. I consider myself so lucky to have been a part of it and I have learned and continue to learn so much valuable information. Thanks to Mary Hosier for all of her continued support from the farm to the table :). Thank you to Zack Grant and Matt Turino at the Student Sustainable Farm. Zack, thank you for all the work you do preparing and helping the Beginning Farmers. Matt, thank you for all of your advice and forever greeting me with a gracious smile and warm hello. Jeff Kindhart, my messiah of conventional farming…. you always make me laugh and you and Julie have become such great friends. Your knowledge astounds me and I can’t thank you guys enough for all of your support and donated time to help me succeed. Michael Douglas, thank you for being such a great friend and sharing your successes and failures with me. Kenny and Bryan love you guys!! A great big thank you goes out to Jeremy Shafer as well. Jeremy has been an amazing support system and great friend. He has provided me and this project with everything from manual labor to advice to knowledge. I can’t thank you enough. (Thanks Billy for the laughs and for giving me someone to honk at every time I drive by 🙂 )

I couldn’t think of a better way to end this season by saying WE GOT LAND!!!! See you in 2015!! 🙂

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