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Growing our Generation: Pumpkins, corn mazes and business plans

Levi and Kryisti Morrow of Morgan County are editors of the April 10 Growing our Generation e-newsletter, featuring insights and ideas directly from Ohio’s young farmers and food and agricultural professionals.

We’re Levi and Krysti Morrow, owners and operators of Rocky Knob Farms in McConnelsville. Rocky Knob Farms finished its first year as an open to the public agritourism farm at the end of 2016, one of very few in our southeast Ohio area. This past year we sold pumpkins and gourds of all shapes and sizes, invited 4-H clubs and church youth groups to spend an evening around our campfire and successfully found all who were lost in our corn maze. With the help of our family we are working to transform the 36 acre farm into a place for our community to learn and ask questions about agriculture.

Levi grew up next to where Rocky Knob Farms now sits and still works alongside his father day-to-day on the family farm which raises cattle, hay, corn and soybeans. He was active in 4-H and FFA. Krysti grew up in the city limits of Bowling Green where she was also very active in 4-H and FFA. Both of us earned degrees in agriculture from Ohio State University where we met. Like many of our peers, we work off the farm throughout the week, Levi at Miba Sinter as a supply chain specialist and Krysti as the district technician for Morgan Soil & Water Conservation District.

As we’ll discuss in this edition, with the help of many organizations in our community and resources for assistance, we’re slowly chipping away at the dream of farming full time. Thanks for joining us this week! Follow us on Facebook and Instagram (@RockyKnobFarms) for farm updates all year round.

Budgets and business plans

Levi, with a degree and background in business, loves to crunch numbers and think of marketing options for the goods we produce and sell at Rocky Knob Farms. When Rocky Knob Farms was first an idea, we had so many thoughts and dreams about what all the farm could be and do. It took some serious discussions to decide what we wanted to promote and focus on at our farm. It may be small, but the potential fomorrow-business-plansr impacting the public’s view of agriculture is enormous and we didn’t want to take that lightly. A detailed business plan with a purpose, mission statement, and goals is critical to the success of a farm or farm business, especially an agritourism farm. We stumbled across the Farm Answers website by the University of Minnesota which has thousands of publications, links, apps, podcasts, etc. about anything and everything agriculture.  There we found a great publication from the University of Arizona Extension with an all-encompassing list of things to think about when creating a well-rounded business plan.

Knowing what’s available

There are so many resources out there for young and beginning farmers. The industry wants to help us get on our feet, why don’t we take advantage of that help more?! When Rocky Knob Farms was just a fleeting thought in our minds, we had no idea how we were going to get our hands on the land we wanted to make it happen. Farm Service Agency (FSA) has low interest loans for beginning farmers to purchase property with the intent of the land turning a profit that will help repay the loan. These loans can be daunting because there is a lot of paperwork that go along with them, but if you can work through the stack of papers that need signed you are one step closer to making your dream a reality. FSA also has programs for crop insurance and commodity storage facilities as well as being the first step for other assistance programs through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

A joint venture between Levi and his father is raising the calves born each year on the farm which are fed out and sold on the rail to friends and family in our area. The original farm struggled with access to water for the cattle in pastures more than 200 feet from the barn, which was a problem. Purchasing the land where Rocky Knob Farms is now came with an added bonus of a spring producing more than enough water for both farms to thrive off of.  With the assistance of the NRCS office in our county, we’re now able to water cattle in all the pastures and even sub-divide pastures to better utilize the grass we depend on so heavily. NRCS or your local Soil & Water office is also the place to go if you’re interested in creating a full farm conservation plan and putting your plans for the future on paper.

morrow-availableThe Ohio State University Extension network has been extremely helpful as we learn about the dos and don’ts of hosting the public on our farm.  Along with the push from Ohio Farm Bureau in the Statehouse to pass legislation protecting agritourism operations, Extension has done its research and is hosting conferences for owners to learn about liabilities, insurance coverage, and strategically expanding your operation.  A new sector of Rocky Knob Farms in 2017 will be vegetables for sale at a roadside stand and through the McConnelsville Farmer’s Market. Levi and his brother spent their summers through high school growing vegetables and selling them at our local farmers market. The entire Morrow family has a green thumb – it’s truly a gift. In our community the Extension office has been our go-to source for help with farmer’s market and overall marketing information.

In Morgan County, a group of beginning farmers have been casually getting together a couple times a year to learn about the resources that are available to them. So far, we’ve met for dinner at a local establishment and heard from FSA and NRCS and even visited a fellow group member’s farm who has taken advantage of the resources that are available. The group hasn’t morphed into a true YAP group, but I think it may have the potential to if that’s what the group wants. Levi and I have also helped friends of ours walk through the FSA loan documents and go over business plans and budgets that are needed to receive the loan.  I think the more we help each other out and use the resources available, the stronger Ohio agriculture will grow and be for the future.

So, what will you do with your leftover pumpkins?

morrow-leftover-pumpkinsIf we had a dollar for every time we heard this question during the first season of Rocky Knob Farms, we would be about $500 richer! It seems like everyone who bought pumpkins in the fall was curious about where our extra pumpkins would end up when the season was over. The first few times we were asked, we really didn’t have an answer – it just wasn’t something we had really thought about ahead of time. After a little research and calls to some local livestock producers we were able to line up farms that wanted the pumpkins as a supplemental feed. Many homesteaders jump at the chance to feed pumpkins as a natural wormer to their chickens and hogs. The mama cows on Levi’s father’s farm, a friend’s hogs and even our own backyard chickens enjoyed a pumpkin snack throughout the early winter.

And of course, with a family full of outdoorsman, quite a few pumpkins became target practice just in time for hunting season.

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This e-newsletter is brought to you by Ohio Farm Bureau’s Young Ag Professionals. Learn more about Farm Bureau membership, including a discounted category for those 18-24 years old.

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Levi and Krysti Morrow own and operate of Rocky Knob Farms in McConnelsville, an agritourism farm selling pumpkins and gourds and offering a corn maze. Levi also assists his father day-to-day on the family farm which raises cattle, hay, corn and soybeans.