Garcia Farms, Inc.
Recipient of 2007 USDA Value Added Producer grant.
On the homestead near Wood River, Nebraska, where Scott Garcia and his nine brothers and sisters were raised, he and his father, Robert, are reinventing their small family farm.
The family moved to the farm in the early 1970s. Robert worked away from the farm and Scott’s mom, Carol, was a homemaker. The farm, for the most part, functioned to sustain the Garcias’ large family.
They farmed five to 10 acres of crops and raised several dozen chickens each year to be butchered for their own consumption. Several hens supplied them with eggs, a couple of cows provided a milk supply, and some hogs and calves were a source of meat, and the garden was full of fresh produce.
As their children grew up and moved away, the Garcias cut back on their farming operations. They only raised a few chickens a year to be butchered, and kept only a few hens for eggs. They no longer raised hogs or cattle and cut back on their garden.
But when Robert retired in December 2006, he wanted to find something else to do. At the same time, Scott, who lives in Marshall, Minnesota, was looking for a way to get back to Nebraska after having spent all of his adult life elsewhere.
Garcia Farms is in its infancy stage, but Scott and Robert have begun laying the groundwork for future growth, starting with what was familiar – chickens. This time around, it was also a matter of economics.
“If you want to raise 300 or 400 head of cattle you need a lot of overhead,” Scott said. “You want to raise a few hundred chickens, it’s pretty easy to get into that business.”
Scott said the family farm has bounced back after a few years, and is now nearing the production level it was at when his parents cut back on operations. They had about 500 chickens in 2008, as well as a few hogs and a few head of cattle. They have the garden going again, too.
As a child, there were ducks, chickens, turkeys, hogs, cattle, goats and other animals on the farm. Scott said his mother “was always experimenting with some new animal,” and he intends to take a similar approach.
Central to their operation is a dedication to natural farming methods. They do not use pesticides, herbicides, growth-hormones, antibiotic feeds or animal by-products.
Scott said it is also a good time to be a small farmer as consumers push for sustainability and improved safety while also working to become more aware of where their food comes from.
“There’s a real big move by people who want to have a closer relationship to the people who produce their food,” he said. “So I think it’s a very good time for small farmers who can provide some of those kinds of answers for the customer.”
By contrast, the Garcias have struggled to find a nearby facility that is designed to process smaller quantities of birds from small farming operations such as theirs. Only two or three people in the state of Nebraska have that type of processing operation.
The pair received a USDA Value Added Producer Grant in 2007 in order to launch their poultry business. They used the funds to establish an incorporated business and to develop a business plan and a marketing plan.
Additionally, the grant covered the cost of a feasibility study that will focus, in part, on processing. Through the study, they will examine the feasibility of building their own processing facility.
“So (we’re) trying to determine, if we were to go to the expense of building a USDA facility, if there would be enough need in this area to support it,” Scott said. They will have to determine how many other small-scale producers are in the area that would utilize the facility, and how many chickens they would need to produce in order to make it viable and worth their time and money.
From a financial perspective, getting into the farming business full time is challenging in itself, Scott said. The high cost of land alone has proven that to be true.
“Really, the world isn’t geared for small farmers,” he said.
Farmers operating a commercial processing operation know the steps they must take to get their products into the distribution chain. For the Garcias to sell chickens at a farmers market, not even government regulators know where to send them, whether it’s the state of Nebraska, the USDA, the local health department or some other entity. At times, they have received approval from one agency only to have a separate agency turn them down months later.
“So that’s been a real challenge for us – trying to nail down what we can do, what we can’t do, who needs to inspect, who we need to talk to ahead of time, and some of those kinds of things,” Scott said.
As they launched Garcia Farms, Robert and Scott’s initial goals were quite simple. They wanted to make it worth Robert’s time to put the effort into raising animals. They also wanted to generate enough income from the farm to have employees, “preferably myself,” Scott added.
But the farm has also been about connecting with family.
Scott, who holds a master’s degree in food science and works in product development, has returned to Nebraska every weekend for the past 10 years. A 6 ½-hour drive separates his home in Minnesota from the family farm.
With all but one of his siblings still living in the area, Scott hopes the farm will provide part-time employment for some of his nieces and nephews during the summer months, and would also be “just an excuse for everyone to come out to the farm,” he said.
The Garcias hope to be able to expose other people to the homestead life in which he was raised. They want to make the farm friendly for school groups and other visitors – it is located near Interstate 80 and U.S. Highway 30 – to learn about farming methods and how different types of livestock are raised.
As children, they made their own soap and butter and ground their own wheat for bread. Opening the farm up to visitors would allow them to “show people how to do some of those kinds of things, those arts that nobody does anymore,” he said. “We love to raise animals and do those kinds of things, and want to be able to share that with people.”
About USDA VAPG
VAPG funding has been offered by the USDA periodically since the early 2000s. A new round of funding is anticipated to be announced in the coming months. To be considered value added, projects must show how products are differentiated in specific ways from commodity crops. Typically, projects must also show how they may deliver greater returns to producers.
Independent producers, farmer or rancher cooperatives, agricultural producer groups, and producer-owned business ventures, including non-profit organizations, may apply. In previous cycles, applicants were required to be producers of the raw commodity who will maintain ownership of that commodity through the process of creating a value-added product. Grants have been available for planning projects (such as marketing and business plans and feasibility studies) and working capital projects (which might include wages or packaging supplies). (http://www.rd.usda.gov/)