As consumers crave locally grown fruits, vegetables, eggs, and meat, local farms answer the call. But maintaining a farm and being profitable is a challenge. D2D visits with 4th generation Hindinger Farm in Hamden, Connecticut.
2018 Farm Income is at a 12-Year Low
You might be surprised to learn that the family farm still prevails! 99% of the farms in the United States are family-owned, and these farms account for approximately 89% of total farm production.
But the bigger picture of American agriculture is sobering. A volatile commodity trading environment, higher operating costs, and lower crop prices have farm income forecasts at a record 12-year low.
The effect of these factors, which are beyond a farmers control, ripple down to the grocery store. For every dollar consumers spend on food at the supermarket, the farmer receives just 14.8 cents.
“The prices that farmers have been receiving for their products aren’t paying the bills, and too many are being forced to give up farming.” – National Farmers Union
The Row We Hoe – Hindinger Farm
On a broad vista of 120 acres in New Haven County, Connecticut, fourth-generation Hindinger Farms grows a variety of fruit and vegetable crops from early spring until late fall. Seven days a week, fourteen hours a day, George prepares the fields, nurtures the plants, weeds, keeps crop pests at bay and harvests the crops. Liz takes care of the farm stand, finances, and marketing.
As with many smaller farms, the costs of running their farm can sometimes exceed the income they produce from growing and selling their fresh fruits and vegetables. These substantial costs include insurance, electricity, fuel, loan payments, equipment, labor, irrigation, seeds, nursery stock and much more. So, they are always looking for ways to increase revenue and get people to eat more fruits and vegetables!
The Hindingers – Anne, George, and Liz run the 4th generation family farm in Hamden, Connecticut. The farm produces vegetables and fruits from May through November.
The Dirt-to-Dinner team chatted with the Hindingers to get a better sense of their farm and operations.
D2D: Tell us about the beginnings of Hindinger Farm.
HF: Our grandparents emigrated from Germany in the 1890s, bought the farmland, and started raising turkeys, pigs, and a few vegetable crops. They did all the farm work themselves and would sell at the wholesale market in New Haven. In 1955, Liz and George’s father expanded farm production by adding more fruits and vegetables.
Picking strawberries at Hindinger Farm, 1914
D2D: Do you grow with organic or conventional methods?
HF: Actually, for over 30 years we have practice Integrated Pest Management (IPM) which you could consider the best combination of the two. IPM allows us to prevent pest damage to fruits and vegetables while minimizing pesticide use.
We regularly test our soil, rotate crops and scout the fields for pest damage to stay ahead of their cycle. We utilize the resources of the Connecticut Agricultural station to help identify and manage crop pests. Fallow fields are cover-cropped to nourish the soil, and beneficial plants are planted alongside crops to help produce a healthy and biodiverse ecosystem.
Kale and Collards — two late-season crops.
D2D: Do you require seasonal labor?
HF: Yes, we hire H2-A workers from Jamaica. We provide housing, transportation and comply with the rules and regulations of The Immigration and Nationality Act. These workers are vital to our operation as without them we would not be able to farm. We cannot find local labor to work long hours, come back season after season, and genuinely care as much about our farm.
D2D: There is an upward trend in consumers’ desire for buying locally-grown food, and research forecasts that this trend will continue as consumers demand transparency and sustainability. What do you think of this?
HF: We earn the majority of our income by selling directly to consumers through our farm stand and seasonal Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscriptions.
But, we live in a town of 60,000 people and have approximately 300 CSA subscriptions. So, consumers are shopping elsewhere or not eating enough fruits and vegetables! This may be out of convenience, time constraints, or a better price point in the grocery store, but the reality is you cannot compare the freshness and variety of locally-grown produce with that you find in a grocery store.
“We estimate that if our customers would spend just $5 more per week on produce, we could be ahead of our expenses.”
Sweet corn – a summertime favorite.
D2D: How do you try to differentiate yourself to bring in more customers?
HF: We are the farmers, and the people who meet us can get honest answers on anything they ask. We work the same soil as our great-grandparents did, and think that heritage resonates with a lot of people. We also sell vegetables from other farms, milk and cheese, jams, jellies, and gift items to help customers get more shopping done in one place.
George Hindinger promotes the annual strawberry festival on Connecticut Local TV
D2D: How have you adapted to social media?
HF: A social media presence on Facebook, Google Search, and even Tripadvisor have helped bring in customers to our farm. People and families have fun when they are here: they meet us, can visit with our petting goats, and enjoy a tractor ride or tour of the farm. And they go home with fresh fruits and vegetables to feed their family.
D2D: What else do you do to bring more customers to the farm?
HF: We host our famous Strawberry Festival every June, with ice cream, face painting, and music. The festival is excellent exposure and brings in many people outside the community to learn about our farm. We also host a fall harvest where we make and sell apple cider and sell lots of apples, pumpkins, gourds, squashes, and any other fall vegetables in season.
The Hindingers grow the most delicious peaches!
D2D: What will you plant differently this year than last?
HF: Every year we grow something different for our CSA customers. Maybe it’s a new type of squash, bean or tomato. The seed companies always have a great selection in January when we do our seed purchasing. Additionally, we will be growing more cut flowers this year so that people can have a fresh bouquet adorning the dinner table.
D2D: Farming is a lot of hard work. Why do you do it?
HF: We love the farm, the land, and our community.
D2D: What about the next generation – will they assume the farm?
HF: At this time, we are still working with the next generation to carry on with the farm. They have witnessed our struggles, good years and not so good years, and are not sure they want the same life. But we remain optimistic: as we modernized the farm and brought it into the age of technology, our children have the opportunity to take the farm again to the next level.
Do you know a farmer who would like to share their story? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Bottom Line
Support your local farmers and you will enjoy the freshest, best-tasting fruits and vegetables. You will also help to preserve America’s agricultural heritage. And while farming is tough, farmers are tough too! Every day we need to thank these wonderful hard-working people because, without them, we would have no food.