Wow, the past 4 months flown by for me. I've taken a while off from writing and have been documenting my progress on Facebook and Instagram through pictures. In this post, I want to update you on the end of 2016 and send some thanks.
Update on 2016
Shortly after I wrote Market Winding Down and Future Plans, where I talked about the push back from the local Health Department for selling my produce to restaurants, my contact there went to a conference and talked with the Southwest Regional Specialist from the FDA about my harvesting techniques and whether or not I can be an approved source for a food establishment. I was so happy when he contacted me and validated everything I already thought I was allowed to do. According to the FDA, an approved source is allowed one harvest cut, which is any cut required to harvest the produce, and the produce is not categorized as Temperature Control Sensitive. This has opened up the market stream that I have been looking to enter since I started. I didn't want to begin the conversations with restaurants until I had the OK from the Health Department because I didn't want to say "I have this product but I can't do anything with it yet." In my opinion, this isn't good business and doesn't keep the conversation open. This also allowed me to start displaying my actual greens products on my tables again at the market. This had a direct affect on how much I sold at the last market day at the Amarillo Community Market. The October 1st market day, I doubled my sales from September 27th. This may be partly because it was the last market day but I also feel it was because I had full bags of my greens displayed on my tables rather than a display bag. It seemed, before I received the approval, that people were looking at the price on my board and the bag on display and deciding the price was too high for what they saw. This is a perfectly reasonable response, especially since the actual greens were in coolers and most people didn't see what the actual product was.
At the end of October, we began supplying our first restaurant, Yellow City Street Food. Scott and Rin Buchanan are awesome to work with. They don't have a set menu and change what they have available almost on a daily basis and want to source as much as they can from local producers. Scott uses my mustard greens in a salsa verde on tacos and uses the salad greens in most of his dishes. The flavor combinations he creates in the food they serve is amazing and the most unique in the area. Its been a pleasure working with YCSF and has given me the experience to be comfortable with talking to chefs and restaurant owners.
I was able to provide my produce to Yellow City almost until the end of December. To do this, I used low poly tunnels over my beds. They are a simple, inexpensive way to extend the growing season. I purchased 1/8th inch metal rods from an online garden supply website and 6 mil painter plastic from Lowe's. Setting up the tunnels was pretty easy, push one end of the rod into the edge of the bed, bend it over, and push the other end into the opposite edge of the bed. I used 4 rods per bed. To create horizontal support for the plastic, I looped twine around the middle of each rod and staked each end of the twine to the ground using landscape fabric pins. With the tunnel structure in place, I cut the painters plastic to fit over the hoops with 2 feet extra on each end and a little extra on the sides so that I could weigh it down at each end and along the sides. After that, I laid the plastic over the hoops and secured the plastic to the hoops using spring clips, which I purchased at Walmart, pulling the plastic tight as I secured it to the hoop. To finish up, I weighed down the plastic using scrap 2x4s.
Overall, they worked ok, considering it was my first shot at extending my growing season and low poly tunnels. They allowed me to provide Scott with fresh greens almost until the New Year, but there were definitely some things I will be doing differently next year. The 1/8th rods are just too flexible and don't provide the rigidity needed to support the plastic. They held up great until the wind started to blow. At 20 - 30 mph, the rods would flex and bend so much that the plastic would billow. The clips were not strong enough at that point to keep the plastic secure to the rods and would pop off. On one exceptionally windy day, I would fix one tunnel, move on to the next, fix it, and have to go back to the previous one to fix it again. I decided I just had to wait until the next day when the wind calmed down. Repeating this process worked fine until recently when we had a windy day right before a snow. The plastic got blown off and it remained windy until the next day when it was snowing. This ended the outdoor produce for the year.
Finally, because I realized that the tunnels weren't holding up in the wind as well as I hoped, I decided that I needed to figure out a way to keep producing. The best solution I could come up with was setting up a spot to grow inside. Between my garage and back door in my house, I have a small space that has cabinets and counter top. To use this space for growing, I built a shelf using 1x1 pieces of lumber which fit on the counter top in between the cabinets above and below the counter top. I also purchased 2 shop lights, using full spectrum bulbs, which I hung from the top and middle of the shelf, to provide the plants with enough light to facilitate growth. I used 2 inch deep trays that are 21 inches long and 10 inches wide for direct seeding gourmet salad mix, mesclun mix, mustard greens, collards, swiss chard, dill, and cilantro. For soil, I mixed peat moss, organic compost, and garden soil and filled the trays. I hand water each tray every 2 - 3 days. So far, its worked pretty well and got my first harvest off the gourmet salad mix and mesclun mix a couple days ago.
2016 was a roller coaster for me. Half way through I had to deal with deciding what my future would be because the company I worked for for over 8 years was closing. That is what brought me to starting Nuke-City Veg, but I would not have been able to do this without the support of a few specific people and all my customers that came to the Amarillo Community Market.
My grand parents, Dietmar and Christa Schoen, gave me money to cover the costs of most of the expenses to get started. Because of them, I was able to purchase my tiller, irrigation supplies, hand tools, and many other supplies. Without their support and belief in me, it would have been so much harder for me to get started.
My parents, Allyn and Annette Melius, questioned and challenged me to analyze and make sure that I could pursue this venture and be able to support household while doing this. While they believed in my ability and drive to pursue this, they encouraged me to evaluate and verify the viability to pursue this as a career. Through 2016, their support and openness to the crazy idea of farming my backyard has continued to help keep me going. Mom even started a farmer's & crafter's market in my hometown of Dalhart because of the conversations we had and success she saw coming from me.
My girlfriend, Rachel Noble, who I started dating in July, has supported me since the very beginning of our relationship. Her unwavering support and belief in me has kept me going through the highs and lows of getting the farm started. She has continued to challenge and encourage me to keep going and push forward. She stepped in and helped with the work that needed to get done from building up the infrastructure to helping harvesting produce and to calming my nerves when getting ready to talk to Scott and Rin about purchasing my produce.
Beth Duke, Lindsey Bird, Timothy Ingalls, and all the volunteers at Amarillo Community Market have created a wonderful market to be a part of. The Amarillo Community Market was the most affordable and accessible place for me to try to sell my produce. Without it, I don't think I would have seen the initial success that I had. The market fees were low, they were understanding, and so supportive and excited about what I'm doing. I was excited every week to go to the market and without their hard work, I wouldn't have had an outlet to sell my produce on my terms.
The start up pains have passed and we'll be pushing into our first full growing season in 2017. I've got big plans for the coming year. We'll be stream lining the processes at home base and the partnership with Square Mile Community Development is shaping up to be awesome. I'll be going into the details of 2017 soon.