By Tera Fair
In 2011, as a junior in high school, Jake Fair knew he didn't want to do anything but farm.
"I was looking at colleges, and I realized that wasn't for me," says Jake. "Farming is all I've ever known."
With staying on the family farm in mind, Jake approached his dad, Jim, and together they began looking for ways to expand the farm to support two incomes.
"We knew we weren't large enough to compete with rising cash rent prices," explains Jim. "We took a look at our existing business model and knew we needed to diversify in order to support Jake's income when he graduated high school."
At the time, they were running around 100 head of commercial ewes. They quickly saw the livestock was costly, and they could convert sheep pastures into something else — vegetables.
"With the rising cost of grain, the sheep were getting expensive to feed, and we could get more return per acre if we planted vegetables," says Jim.
So the guys did their research. They attended conferences put on by Purdue University Extension and Ohio State University. They talked to other produce farmers and learned what crops to grow, and how to manage them.
They put up a high tunnel to extend the growing season, and planted about 1,600 tomato plants in addition to broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, sweet corn and green beans.
"Our first season in 2012, we targeted a few local farmer's markets," says Jake. "We talked to customers, and tried to get a feel for what people wanted."
For the 2013 season, they added a greenhouse to grow flowers and start all their own vegetable plants, as well as expanding their market.
"This year we started attending 6 to 7 farmer's market per week and expanding direct marketing," explains Jim.
For the Fairs', it's been a learning curve, but one that has been well received.
"Growing vegetables is completely different than growing corn or soybeans," says Jim. "It's more labor intensive, there is more disease pressure, but despite the differences, it's worked for us."
"Every day presents new challenges, but I'll take them if it means staying where I was raised and doing what I love," says Jake.
Tera Fair is a senior in Purdue University ag communications