Learn. Grow. Have Fun—How I Found Myself Selling at the Montavilla Farmers Market
Guest post from Rick Reddaway of Reddaway Family Farm
I grew up on a small farm in the West Linn area. It was more of a hobby farm for my father. We had 14 acres, with a walnut orchard, livestock, and a bunch of chickens. My job was to care for the chickens and sell the eggs. We didn’t do much gardening, but the little we did intrigued me.
Fast forward 30+ years and here I am farming… for real! After years of working behind a desk, I realized over and over that I wasn’t satisfied. I yearned for something completely different. After shopping farmers markets for fresh, organic, local food and produce, it hit me—Farming! That was what I wanted (or needed) to be doing. I needed to dig in the dirt; create something to be shared; connect with the earth; make my contribution to the local food movement, however small it may be. So, after quite a few discussions with my wife, Heather, we decided it was time to take the plunge. But how were we going to do it? We had no land, very little experience and no idea where to begin. We knew we wanted to grow produce to sell at a farmers market, but the only people we knew that did that were Heather’s parents. They own a few acres in Sandy, have been gardening and amending their soil for over 30 years, and grew for farmers markets back in the mid-80s. We went to them with our vision, and they were willing to let us utilize their land. So, we packed up and moved in. With a small plot of land and built-in mentors, Reddaway Family Farm was born!
We are starting off small… very small. Like our sign says: “Big Flavor ~ Tiny Farm”, (with the emphasis on tiny). We are only growing on about a quarter-acre. Growing on that small scale at this point is fine with me. I am not completely overwhelmed and it is very manageable for one newbie farmer. However, being small doesn’t make me exempt from experiencing some of the same issues that larger farms experience. Some of the difficulties I’ve dealt with along the way include figuring out crop planning, marketing (creating an attractive booth, social media, web page, etc.), determining pricing, dealing with pest problems and more pest problems, and lack of cash flow and capital. I wasn’t sure how much of each variety I was going to plant, since I had no idea what it was like selling at a market, or what kind of a demand there was for certain crops. Having little experience with crop planning I based my plantings on advice from my mentors and books and articles about growing in our region. As a result, I manage to have enough of what is in season to bring to market each week, although I tend to offer varieties a little later than other vendors. Pricing was a huge unknown for me. Fortunately, other vendors at Montavilla are very friendly and willing to give advice about pretty much anything. In the beginning, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with any of the pest problems. It was comforting to know that all the other farmers had similar difficulties and I was able to discuss how they handled these issues on their farms.
In looking forward, we would like expand to selling at an additional farmers market for the 2013 season. We have considered finding more land to grow on, but realized that we have plenty of land where we are currently, which can be utilized more intensely. While we haven’t quite found our niche yet, we do have a long-term vision of our business; in addition to our presence at local farmers markets, we would like to supply local restaurants with our quality organic produce, perhaps highlighting a specific product. In order to grow in the direction we would like to, we will be putting a little more effort into marketing this coming year. With 2012 being our first season, we only have our Facebook page, so this coming year we will be developing a website and possibly some logo/branding changes.
Selling at the Montavilla Farmers Market for my first season has been an incredible experience. I had done some research on various markets around the area, and MFM just seemed to resonate with me. I had lived close to the area before moving out to the farm, and I liked how the Montavilla neighborhood has been growing in the past few years. My intuition was correct—the volunteers and market staff have been such a joy to work with. Gretchan, the market manager, has always answered any questions I’ve had or sent me to a person that had an answer. Sundays have become my favorite day of the week. I get to set up my booth in this great neighborhood with wonderful people coming to the market, great company with the vendors around me, and a wealth of knowledge from the other farmers.
Our mantra from the beginning has been, “Learn. Grow. Have fun!” It’s been a great first year and we can’t wait to utilize our new found knowledge, resources and inspiration from people we’ve met along the way. Our plan for 2013 is to have a bit more exposure in the local food market and movement, and of course, we will be at MFM. See you there!
– Rick Reddway, Reddway Family Farms