A Market Garden in the Kingdom - Reflections on a New Business Venture
Nestled in a fertile river valley in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, my daughter and I have been breathing new life into a sweet old farm stand. I’ve finally been given the opportunity to put into practice all that I have been learning for the past 10 years as I worked my way from farm to farm, learning from our community’s growers.
In the two years since my daughter was born, I have been growing produce in a limited way, commuting from our mountain cabin 10 minutes from the farm. I was selling mesclun mix, cherry tomatoes, and hot peppers to the local food coop and localvore restaurant, Claire’s. Over the winter, I was invited to revive the Riverside Produce Stand as my own business. I proudly accepted this offer, and my family and I moved to the farm in the spring.
The offer to run the farm stand also came with the responsibility of growing a bunch of the produce, crops that Riverside Farm no longer wished to produce. This was my chance to step up my production with a built-in outlet for selling.
This spring, we seeded Brussels sprouts, peas, spinach, kale, artichokes, and mesclun mix. We built a new high tunnel (funded by NRCS’s Seasonal High Tunnel Initiative) which we completed on June 1st, only two weeks before to moving to the farm. On June 2nd, we filled our new tunnel with hundreds of tender young tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, basil, and melons.
The stand opened June 30th with an offering of kale, lettuce, mesclun mix, kohlrabi, snap and shell peas, bunched beets and carrots, scallions, broccoli, garlic scapes, strawberries, dill and cilantro, along with basil and cucumbers from our new high tunnel. I was pleased with our selection so early in the season as it had been hectic getting things in the ground during our move. I put up some signs to direct traffic to our newly opened stand, but decided to wait until the following weekend to place an ad in the paper, considering this first weekend more of a dress rehearsal and a chance to work out any kinks. It was great! My daughter and I were giddy with excitement any time a car pulled down the driveway. We told our story to any willing ear of how we came to reopen the Riverside Produce Stand. Business was slow, but word was bound to spread, and we were happy to begin this long-awaited business venture.
The following week, I placed an ad in the local paper announcing our Grand Opening Weekend. We increased our offering to include zucchini, summer squash and tomatoes, and more than doubled our business. My hammy 2½ year old daughter paid careful attention to the way I interacted with our customers and was quickly promoted to “meet and greet” manager. She greeted all our shoppers quite naturally, asking their name and whether they needed a bag to begin their shopping, always thanking them for stopping by. Business has continued to grow and we have truly been enjoying the fruits of our labor.
Our days are long. We begin every morning with harvest and general farm maintenance. Then we pack a lunch, snacks, and toys, load the car with produce and head down the hill to spend the day at the stand. In between customers, I busy myself weeding the beds close to the stand, while intermittently playing “Go Fish” and reading books and playing blocks with my daughter. After we close shop, we head back up the hill to make dinner for the family, put my “meet and greet manager” to bed, then go back outside to tend to the crops - most of the time until dark.
This coming weekend we will harvest our first succession of sweet corn and watch as our neighbors march like picnic ants to get their fill of the first local sweet corn of the season. In fact, our own mouths are watering as we await that first crunch of buttery sweet goodness fresh off the stalk. I think my favorite part of this whole journey is watching the joy and delight that our daughter takes in grazing all day long on our fresh produce, LOVING every bite. In fact, even young as she is, she can identify several of the crops that we grow, something that I am embarrassed to admit that I didn’t learn until I was an adult. I feel so grateful for finding our home here at Riverside Farm, and for the bounty that we can provide for ourselves and our community.