Working in politics became unbearable for Brian Kowalski, and now the spin he is doing is s-mall p-lot –in-tensive. He traded his desk job for moose, working by his truck headlights in –degree weather and tan lines. When he made the career switch to farming in 2011 with the help of SPIN-Farming, he didn’t know it would lead him to Newfoundland. But the lure of his partner’s 200 year old farmstead was irresistible. Its days as a working farm were a distant memory, and its fields lay fallow. In 2012 Brian and Evan Murray dug in. It was rough going. The rocks ate tillers for breakfast. The wind turned greenhouses into kites. The growing season barely lasted half a year. Brian was working the fields in long underwear – in July.
But he and Evan disked, picked rocks, harrowed, picked rocks, tilled, and picked rocks, and finally got 36,000 sq. ft. in SPIN production. In 2013 they opened for business. Then the going really got tough. Fresh, high quality, locally grown food? No one in Portugal Cove wanted it. But a different market actually came in search of him. In spite of his rocky start, Brian is targeting $75K this year from his 36,000 sq. ft. Here Brian tells about starting up Murray Meadows Farm and his plans for this year.
Why did you go into farming?
I was working an office job that I hated, actually just hated working for other people…was always on the look out for a business idea to become self-employed…heard about “young farmers” in the city…did some googling and found the SPIN-Farming experiment in Philly, and knew what I wanted to do!
What was your growing experience when you started the business with Evan?
I had some family hobby farming and vegetable garden growing experience, Evan’s family owned a nursery, garden center, landscape company and few acres of fallow farm land.
You started up in 2012. What were your major start up investments.
We received $12,000 in government grants to buy 3 hoophouses which cost $5,000 each plus shipping). We also bought drip lines for the hoophouses for about $400, an electric fence for about $800 and a a new BCS rototiller 732 for about $7,500.
Your field of dreams was actually a field of dandelions. Lots of Garden Heroes can relate to that.
Yes, we started with fallow pasture. We used the garden center’s tractor to plough, harrow and prep.
Did you grow anything that first year?
Rye and an abundant 2000 square foot garden. Spent the time to build fence, pick rocks, build greenhouses, manage cover crops, worked at the nursery, prepped area for the following year. Pick rocks…pick rocks..
2013 was your first year in business. How big was your growing space that first year?
26,000 square feet (13-2000 square foot SPIN segments with 6 2×100 beds in each.)
How many different crops did you grow that first year?
21 – mostly single or bi relays. Swiss chard, arugula, kale, baby lettuce, baby cabbage, radish, scallions, potato, zucchini, basil, cilantro, dill, parsley, spinach, beets, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, beans, sunflowers, calendula.
What sales channels did you use?
We sold at the St. John’s Farmers Market, an onsite farm stand, Murray’s Garden Center, via email for pickup at Murray’s Garden Center and at three St. John’s restaurants – Rocket Bakery, Hungry Heart Café, Fixed Coffee and Bakery. I couldn’t believe how much money we made the first year!
How much was it?
What were the best sellers?
It all sold like hotcakes.
What is the outlook for this year?
We are targeting $75K. We are selling to more restaurants and are now growing on 36,000 sq.ft.
What are your other goals for this year?
I’m going to have less crop diversity to increase the time and amount I can grow and harvest of the best sellers., and focus more on restaurant sales,
My crops this year include baby beets, carrots, baby carrots, radish, a few Asian greens, fennel, lettuce, kale, cilantro, dill, basil, thai basil, pickling cukes, beans, zucchini, new strategies for tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers.