Farm stand a ‘good fit’ for White County farmers
Julia and Vince Winkler stand in front of the farm sign with employee Miles McMindes. They stress the importance of good employees and partners as keys to their success. Photo by Tera Fair
When Vince and Julia Winkler moved to Indiana from Delaware, they thought they were out of the produce business. They moved here in 2008 planning to produce corn and soybeans and so they could raise their son, Frank, in a less urbanized area. Little did they know that in five years, they would be back at it, selling produce from their farm stand in Monticello, Ind.
“For three years, we served on the (State) Young Farmer Committee. When that ended, we realized we had a little more time, we always enjoyed the produce, and we decided to go back to it,” said Vince Winkler.
This may be the first year the Winklers, who farm in both White and Tippecanoe counties, have grown produce in Indiana. However their experience in the business is deep. Julia’s family raised produce all through her childhood, and Vince got involved selling produce from his own stand when he was a junior in high school.
“It’s very weird when somebody my age tells me they have 30-some years of experience, but when you live on a farm, you start early,” said Julia.
Despite that experience, the Winklers have still faced challenges in starting their operation. Before they opened the business last spring, they did extensive planning. To accommodate customers, they added a driveway and parking lot at the front of their property. They added a small building and a sign to draw customers in.
Because of the drought and the unusually warm spring, produce was ready a week early, which meant they opened earlier than they had planned to.
“This year has been kind of ‘grow as you go,’ and that’s been interesting,” said Julia.
The reception to the stand has been a positive one.
“The folks that live in the subdivision across the street have been really excited. They’ve watched it all grow, they’ve watched the parking lot go in, and they watched the sign show up,” Vince said. “As soon as we opened, we were like ‘OK, is anyone going to show up today?’ All of a sudden people just started driving in, and they’ve just been excited to have something like this close to their home.”
Freshly picked tomatoes wait to be purchased. Produce is hand-picked fresh every day to ensure the best for their customers. The Winklers grow about 8 acres of produce in addition to grain farming. Photo by Tera Fair
Vince and Julia have done very little advertising. Most of their business has come from word of mouth, and they’ve used Facebook to let their friends, family and the community know what they are doing. They also posted flyers around town – all techniques they suggest to other people wanting to start their own produce operation.
Julia also offered a few other tips to new producers, recommending that you get to know your customers – they will tell you what they want. They will tell you how they like their tomatoes or green beans and what they want you to grow, and that can help you make decisions for next year.
Not to mention that it can provide an outlet to talk about almost any agriculture issue because your customers know you, and that’s huge, said Julia.
In addition, she recommended keeping records on what you sell each day. That way you can make decisions on when to stay open or how to adjust what is being grown.
Finally, someone who is starting out needs to know what they are getting themselves into.
“We love produce, and I would recommend it to anyone. But you want to make sure that the seasons are a good fit for what you’re doing,” Julia noted.
It’s certainly a good fit for the Winklers, and something they plan to continue for the future.
Resources help Hoosier farmers learn to take advantage of local
The percentage of food purchased at farmers markets and farm stands in the U.S. is still tiny – but it’s growing fast, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
As of 2007, farmers markets accounted for only 0.4 percent of total sales, the USDA’s Economic Research Service said in a May 2010 report titled “Local Food Systems: Concepts, Impacts, and Issues,” but that nonetheless represents $1.2 billion in sales.read more