Knowledge Meets Passion: Building Bluebird Farms

Knowledge Meets Passion: Building Bluebird Farms

Primary goal

My primary goal (outside of keeping my family safe and fed) for the last four years has been to become the best organic farmer in the state of Iowa. This goal is a lofty one since I’m going up against people who have been growing the fruit of the Earth for years, decades, and sometimes generations.

The idea of defining “best” has been a primary motivator in my educational journey. As I began my MBA, I remember wondering if I would discover the answer to the question of how to define “best in my business.” Is “best” defined through profits? Is it defined through the kind words of the people who consume my produce? Maybe the repeat business from my customer, continuing to purchase this produce? Is it differentiation through science that I would be able to base my claim? I feel now that it is not one aspect, but rather many aspects collectively that put a company or individual into the race to be the best in any given arena.



Working as a team

Interestingly enough, I began with no desire to be part of a team. I simply didn’t see the value in it. I was of the mindset that if I needed something done, it would best be done by me. This year has guided me to truly understand and appreciate the value of a team — to learn how to trust that team and also respect expert advice. The lessons I have gleaned from this journey have made possible the ongoing development of my interpretation of “best in class.”

I have taken the organization portions of this education and applied it directly to my organic certification process. And through these efforts, I have received feedback from my certifying agency and organic inspectors that my record keeping and internal systems are impressively easy to work with and keeps their workload to a minimum.

The team that we’ve developed to guide this farm is a direct result of my various classes that have required group work. I see the value of employing the talents of others and engage their individual strengths in order to move the farm forward.

In addition to the product quality we are becoming recognized for, we have also received feedback from a large customer who says, “The reason we like doing business with you guys is because you are business people before you are farmers…you understand OUR processes, and you make it a point to ensure you can move your product through our channels as we are used to…”.

Financial planning has contributed to this farm in ways that I believe set it apart from others in my field (pun intended). The things that I find important, such as figuring out how much each machine costs to run per hour, setting up processes to help define labor hours for specific tasks, seeking out software that helps in the control of operations, etc., are not often discussed between farmers such as us.



Why organic?

In my 20s, I worked in South Dakota on a cattle ranch. That was my only experience with farming. My wife had family ties in the farming industry, but not organic farming. Still, her family ate what they grew and were healthy – they made their own food, small garden style.

It was five years ago that we started looking at the nation’s trends. The east and west coasts were booming with organic farming and produce, so we decided to pursue that and be ahead of the curve. That, and we knew we didn’t want to use pesticides. We had small children and wanted to steer clear of chemicals. And because we didn’t go the conventional route, we needed to think ahead and pay attention to the insect problem. Fortunately for us, we haven’t had to use our certified organic pesticide (made of flower extracts) much due to the nutritional soil program we’ve implemented. Interestingly enough, insects attack the weaker, less healthy plants – similar to coyotes preying on the weaker deer. Healthy plants and soil take care of themselves. It’s not an instant progress, though. My guess is it’ll be 10 years before we won’t have to use any kind of application. With this program, our soil gets the minerals put back into the soil, which in turn, makes our soil — and produce — healthier and nutrient dense.

We’ve been going strong since then. Today, we grow organic broccoli, asparagus, heirloom tomatoes and a variety of peppers. We’ve been experimenting with what works and what doesn’t, and we use raised beds that allow these plants to perform really well. If you would have told me I’d be selling to our local co-op, a Midwestern grocery chain and a private college in a palletized fashion, I wouldn't have believed you. Today, I’m proud of where we are and I'm excited about where we’re going.

What's to come

We’re not rocket scientists. We’re just normal people who paid attention and worked from the bottom up. We bought our land, all of our equipment, learned about the industry and dove in. We’ve had our share of failings, but we’ve come out on top and have learned so much.

We’re not there yet, but I do believe we’re closer than any of our competitors. I’ll know we have achieved this goal when the day comes that I leave my desk job behind to pursue a full-time position managing this farm. And when that happens, I hope to be in another position…one that allows me the opportunity to share the knowledge from this journey with others who are searching for something outside of today’s standard career path. 


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