If you don’t have a farmers market in your county, chances are there’s one within driving distance. The growth of farmers markets and the emphasis by consumers on knowing where food comes from are helping Ben and Casey Shireman get a foothold in farming.
The young couple is one of several Indiana Farm Bureau members taking advantage of local marketing opportunities for specialty crops to establish themselves on the farm. Here’s Indiana Prairie Farmer’s exclusive interview with Casey, explaining how they’re making their small farming operation successful.
How did you get started in farming? Ben and I moved back home here near Marysville [Ind.] in 2014. He is originally from a small farm near Trafalgar, but I grew up here. My dad and mom raised produce at one time but discontinued it several years ago. We decided to start the business up again once we returned home.
What is the scope of your operation? We farm just over 20 acres, all in specialty crops and most of the planting and harvesting by hand. We start with cole crops like broccoli, cauliflower, kale, turnips and cabbage, and then we grow squash, cucumbers, peppers, sweet corn, tomatoes and green beans. Sweet corn and tomatoes are two of our biggest crops. We come back with cold crops in the fall, and finish the year harvesting and selling pumpkins, gourds and Indian corn.
What is your workforce like? We rely on about four other people for help. I work full time off the farm, and Ben works off the farm in the off-season, plus one day a week in the summer. My dad helps and is especially key when it comes to farmers markets. I usually pick green beans. They are one of the more difficult crops to pick to order for customers. Since we had a baby this year, my schedule has changed somewhat.
How do you market your produce? We sell produce to one wholesaler. And we have a roadside stand here that allows us to sell to local customers. Most of those sales are large quantities, not just a half-dozen ears of corn or a few tomatoes.
We sell the majority of what we produce through farmers markets. We go to four farmers markets each week: Sellersburg, New Albany, Jeffersonville and at a hospital in Floyd County. Most of these markets are growing and get good traffic. Ben usually does three of them, Dad helps at one and I help Ben at one when I can.
Sometimes you’ll run into a customer with questions and concerns about GMOs or who thinks everything is organic. About 95% of our customers at farmers markets are enjoyable to work with.
What are some secrets you’ve learned to being successful selling at farmers markets? First, you must have a good, clean product. We clean our produce at home.
Second, you must be honest with your customers. If something isn’t perfect, we tell them.
Third, it’s important to be at the market every week. You also must return phone calls promptly. Treat it like the business it is.
We use business cards, but we don’t advertise. Word-of-mouth is our biggest asset. If someone wanted yellow corn and we only have bicolor that week, we give them a few ears to try for free. They typically come back for more the next week.