Focus on customers, nutrition gives farm a new future
To continue farming and sustain a growing family, the VanScoys had to find a way to also grow their business. They could have attempted to buy more land to plant more corn or soybeans, but this Hardin County family chose a different path.
“My dad had a 47-acre hobby farm, but it didn’t leave the opportunity to provide an income for his family or for bringing another generation on. So when we bought here, my wife and I back in 1983, we were looking to start our own,” said Bill VanScoy.
And as his sons, Matthew, Phillip and Wesley, took an interest in farming, once again, their land simply wasn’t producing enough income to sustain them.
“We didn’t want to farm massive amounts of acres scattered all over the countryside,” Bill said.
So the farm switched from grain to hay and built a 3,600-square-foot greenhouse to grow vegetables in 1999. In 2004, a 43,000-square-foot greenhouse was added.
Instead of growing one crop, the VanScoys have divided their greenhouse into mini eco-structures that produce different vegetables including tomatoes, lettuce, eggplant, cucumbers and peppers.
When they first started, their produce was primarily sold wholesale. In 2008, they saw a growing demand from customers wanting to buy directly from the farm, so they started a CSA (community supported agriculture) program, where buyers subscribe to receive a share of the farm’s produce.
They also began selling at farmers markets. It’s a strategy that has helped them stay resilient in a changing marketplace.
“As farmers we need to keep looking for new ways to connect with our consumers. So, one, they see what we are doing. But also so we see what they need,” Bill said.
To keep up with demands, seven acres of outdoor production has been added to grow potatoes, radishes, turnips, onions and others vegetables. They also partner with other family farms to add items to the CSA program including sweet corn and fruit.
Bill is exploring a new concept of basing the CSA program around customers’ nutritional needs.
“We are trying to grow based on nutritional value. Adding items like kale, kohlrabi and cabbage, which are high in vitamins and minerals good for the human digestive system. We can capture a lot of nutrients out of those products,” Bill said.
He hopes a cookbook the farm is developing will help customers make the most out of this produce. And his hydroponic system is turning out to be an asset in this new approach.
“When you’re growing hydroponically when it comes to greens, they have a tendency to be a little bit more lush and a bit more tender. We can take a crop that is good for you and grow it in a way that makes it more palatable, and then have the recipes to go with it that make that a nutritious meal,” he said.
While this focus on his customers will likely never change, if history is any lesson, the farm will continue trying new things well into the future.
“I can see as the boys’ families grow up and they want to stay on the farm, we need to produce more net income,” VanScoy said. “That being said, we have to continue to come up with ways to expand and profit off of what we already have.”
Editors' Note: The VanScoys were featured on Our Ohio television.