Farming with a Pro

by Gabriel Miller / Nov 09, 2013 /

Farming is something that takes patience and love. When I was a little boy, I had a barrel that was cut in half that mom said I could fill with flowers. My sister had one too, and she bought flowers at the store, but I had no money so I went around and got weeds. My flowers grew quicker then hers the first year, but on the second year, I lost patience in waiting for them to grow, so I filled the barrel with water. All the water I could get into the barrel, I put there. Guess what happened. Yup, they drowned. I never saw a flower there again. All the flowers I put there withered and died. I have rarely been a patient guy - and despite that, farming has always been an interest to me.

Farmer Darin Kelly is a really nice guy. He is calm, goes with the flow, and GTD. (My word for Gets Things Done without wasting time!) He has an amazing family and he has a one-of-a-kind farm: Good Life Farms. A while ago, I worked with him for a few weeks on his farm and got to know some of the family. His younger son and I got along really well, waking up at early hours and going out to shoot zombies and giant snakes, using his plastic guns, devouring pop-tarts as an energy food, strobing flashlights as laser beams, and then going in to sleep for ten minutes before I had to get up to work. I enjoyed working with him, living with his family, and my time there greatly. Here is what he does!

 

What is it like working on a farm every day for hours and hours?

Many people who start their own business (not even necessarily a farm) find themselves in a situation where they work long hours and most days of the year. As a small business, I don't have the financial ability to hire many people, so it is impossible to step away for any great length of time. It's hard physically and mentally at times. But to work at something that is truly my own creation, that runs successfully, helps alleviate much of the stress. However, the hours I have to put in are definitely the largest drawback to running my own business right now.

 

Do you eat what you farm?

Yes

 

What do you grow?

Hydroponically, we grow arugula, lettuce, and basil. Conventionally in the field, heirloom tomatoes and kale.

 

How?

We use NFT (Nutrient Film Technique) for our hydroponics, and we grow using plasticulture methods in the field.

 

Is it something you would recommend to someone who has not done it?

Depends on the person. To do this business, it is very beneficial to be a good grower, good at construction, good at electrical, good at working with propane and other heating sources, good in physical sciences, good in plumbing, good in marketing, good in accounting, good at dealing with people directly, technically-minded, and creative (innovative).

 

How do you choose the people you work for?

Right now we deal with one wholesaler, several restaurants and grocers, and the farmer's market in Bloomington. We've chosen to be diversified to an extent. I feel safer this way. We like to supply places that place reliable orders on a regular basis. Predictability equals a certain level of stability. We typically know that our product is priced higher than California-based produce, so we look mainly at higher end restaurants and specialty grocers. The wholesaler we supply distributes to hundred of grocers and restaurants. The benefit to a wholesaler is that they very reliably take large volumes of produce and pick it up directly at my farm. The tradeoff is low purchase price.

 

What are the seasons you grow different things in?

Hydroponics is year-round, although we do some shuffling of our 3 crops. For instance, we grow very little basil in the summer because so many other growers produce it then, so we shift those channels to lettuce, which other growers are unable to grow in the summer. Then in the winter, we move back into full basil production because we're the only one in our area that has the ability to produce it in cold weather.

Field tomatoes are harvested July thru September.

 

Does your whole family work with you?

No, my Mom and [wife] Deb, mainly.

 

What does your day normally look like?

No typical day. Easier to look at it as a typical week.

Monday - Harvest for wholesaler. They pick up at farm. Try to continue any transplanting that needs to be done. Water checks, general hydroponic maintenance.

Tuesday - Call grocers for Wednesday orders. Continue with transplanting. Water checks, general hydroponic maintenance.

Wednesday - Pick grocers’ orders, then do deliveries in Bloomington. Water checks, general hydroponic maintenance.

Thursday - Call grocers and restaurants for Saturday orders. Water checks, general hydroponic maintenance.

Friday - Big Day. Fill all orders for Saturday delivery and harvest for farmer's market. Water checks, general hydroponic maintenance.

Saturday - Farmer's market and grocer and restaurant deliveries. Water checks, general hydroponic maintenance.

Sunday - Planting of next round of seeds. Transplanting. Water checks, general hydroponic maintenance.

Obviously, as the time of year changes, jobs change. In August I live in the tomato field. In winter I'm constantly hauling and loading wood for heat.

 

Why did you choose to farm instead of all the other things you could have done?

I have done other things. I've experienced a few other businesses. But I always loved growing, and being able to find a way to make my favorite hobby into my family’s livelihood is fortunate. It's something I should remind myself of when I get tired and worn out. Most people work their entire lives at jobs they are either indifferent to or outright dislike. I love growing.

 

Good Life Farms - farmer Darin Kelly

 

Tell me, who can read all this and not think he is an amazing person who worked hard to get something and got it, not through complaining about not having it, but by making it happen. He makes me think that I can do it too, which I could, but he helps me because I can look to him for help along the road.

 

I love growing. Is there a more powerful thing, other than love? Some people like wrecking things, taking lives, stealing - and then there are the men like Darin who like to heal things, grow things, and take care of things. There are not enough of those people left today. More people want to fly fighter jets, shoot guns, or do violent things, and then there are the very few, three-in-ten probably, who want to grow things for the benefit of either the world or the things living on this world. I look up to this guy as a man I want to emulate.

 

 

 

 

Gabriel Miller is a member of the Youth Travel Blogging Mentorship Program

 

Photo courtesy and copyright Darin Kelly