Family maximizes cash flow for their small farm
RED BUD, ARK. – Brandon and Catherine (Cat) Gordon have a passion for growing things, especially fresh produce. The Gordons own and operate Five Acre Farms in northern White County, Ark., where they raise a variety of crops, including lettuce, carrots, turnips, tomatoes, winter squash and cut flowers.
Brandon is the family’s green thumb, but much like the crops he produces, his background and education has been nurtured. Brandon is a graduate of the University of Arkansas with a degree in horticulture.
After college, he worked with a large nursery in eastern Oklahoma before returning to the family acreage to start his own horticulture business in 2009 on land owned by his grandfather.
“I didn’t have very good luck my first year,” Brandon said. “It was a lot of trial and error, but I was determined to make a go of it, so I learned from my mistakes and kept trying.”
It was about this time Brandon and Catherine started dating. The two had known each other in high school, so it may have been fate they would marry. Cat took a different path of studies at Arkansas State University where she majored in political science. Her degree aside, Catherine is an integral part of the operation, running the farm’s social media accounts, managing the online and wholesale accounts, and keeping the household running. Running the household may be the major element for Catherine as they have twin 7-year-old boys, Liam and Jasper, and their 3-year-old daughter Delilah. Catherine has also been responsible for initiating and promoting the farm’s cut flowers crop.
“This is a labor-intensive business,” said Catherine.” I found out early on if I was going to see much of Brandon, I was going to have to be a full-time farmer. It has worked out well for us. We both are passionate about our farm. I especially love the cut flowers crop. There is a huge market for fresh cut flowers.”
Marketing is a crucial element for the Gordon’s success. Initially, farmers markets were a large outlet for the farm’s produce. But an extensive online and social media presence pushed the markets to the background.
“We don’t participate in farmers markets anymore,” Brandon explained. “We have all we can process with our online and farm share program. Farmers markets helped us to get started, but the logistics were just too much compared to running things from here.”
Customers include restaurants, natural food stores and their community-supported agriculture programs (CSA). Year-round deliveries are made to Batesville, Searcy, Cabot, Little Rock, and seasonal deliveries to Memphis. On-farm sales are also available year-round through the small store on the farm.
Being labor intensive, there are times that additional labor is required. Extra labor comes from two sources. Aspiring farmers have proven to be very valuable to Five Acre Farms. They tend to share the same enthusiasm as the Gordons. High school and college students also provide excellent part-time labor. The major disadvantage for these groups is they are both temporary. If the farm continues to grow, hopes are to hire a full-time employee to allow for constant help and allow the Gordons to spend some time away from the farm.
While the farm is not organically certified, Brandon and Catherine follow strict USDA standards for organic production using only approved pesticides, fungicides, and fertilizers. In the last two years, they have made a conscious effort to move away from pesticides and rely more on cultural practices and improving soil health. Beneficial insect activity has been a direct result of this increased focus on sustainable production. Several high tunnels allow for year-round food production, but plans are on the table to add more.
With increased production comes the need for increased storage. So more coolers are planned to hold all the farms production which will allow for the year-round crop rotation.
“Adding cold storage is crucial for our continued growth,” Brandon said. “It will allow us to offer a wide variety of crops throughout the year.”
In addition to being producers, Brandon and Catherine believe in being ambassadors for not only their farm but for the industry as a whole. They give tours to various organizations and schools, and gladly provide hands-on assistance to individuals considering starting high tunnel production. They are also involved with numerous community, state and national organizations.
The Gordons’ hard work and community involvement came full circle this year as they were named the White County Farm Family of the Year.