With 160 vegetable and nearly 100 flower varieties growing in north Springfield, Millsap Farms LLC owners Curtis and Sarah Millsap found that striving for work-life balance hasn’t hurt their bottom line, but has actually helped it.
Curtis says he learned this lesson the hard way after four years in business. He and Sarah had been farming on just 2 acres, but around 2011, he decided to expand to 7. Unfortunately, it also was a time of drought.
“Each day, our to-do list was longer than what we started with,” Curtis says. “We were losing ground in terms of our ability to water, weed and harvest, which are the basic functions of the farm in the summertime.”
That year, Curtis recalls missing out on time with Sarah and their 10 kids. He even missed the family’s summer vacation and would till dusk on the tractor until 9 p.m. On one of those late nights, he says he heard a voice.
“It was not an audible voice,” he says. “But it was a very clear impression that said, ‘What are you doing on the tractor? There’s a bunch of little girls in the house who want a bedtime story and instead, you’re actually doing what you said you weren’t going to do, which was devote your life to some sort of work instead of understanding that the work is just a means to an end.’”
Less is more
Inspired to achieve a slower pace of life, the couple pulled back to farming on just 2 acres and hired additional staff, including a full-time salaried farm manager, Kimby Decker. Now, Curtis never misses a family vacation. In fact, the Millsap crew is able to take five to six weeks off per year.
Aside from investing in new hires, Curtis says finding ways to remain profitable during the traditional farming offseason has allowed the family to slow down a bit in the summer.
By growing on 30,000 square feet of covered space, Millsap Farms is able to offer produce all winter. The business provides an extended community-supported agriculture system that lasts through December, and they are even able to sell produce at farmers markets and their farm stand during the cold months. By expanding their growing season, the couple says they have welcomed more balance into their business model. Last year, they raked in $320,000 in revenue.
Additional revenue streams
The Millsaps have learned to welcome unconventional ideas to grow their business. Take their seasonal weekly pizza nights, which they began hosting on their farm in 2012. The produce that tops the pizzas comes straight from the farm.
“It’s a great way to turn our seconds produce into a profit,” Sarah says. “A lot of times, that stuff is lost to businesses. You can’t really sell things that aren’t perfect, and this has been a way to capture income.”
While vegetables were the farm’s original main focus, the floral side of the business is blossoming. The company provides wholesale flowers to a few local florists like Ozark Mtn Flower Truck, but the majority of their flower revenue comes from CSA and farmers market sales.
According to Sarah, it was Decker who encouraged the farm’s expansion into flowers, even though Curtis was hesitant at first.
“She persisted and we brought a few little bouquets to market early on,” Sarah says. “They quickly sold while Curtis’s radishes sat there on the table, and he said, ‘Oh, maybe we should grow more flowers.’”
Additionally, their summer and extended fall CSAs help give the farm stability and structure. Currently, Millsap Farms has 223 members enrolled in their summer CSA, which continues through October. CSA membership packages for produce range between $10.50 and $31 a week with optional add-ons, like bread, flowers, fruit and meat.
“The thing about CSA business-wise is that there is social capital there,” Curtis says. “You’ve got the financial capital investment each spring, which is really a big deal. We don’t have to take out debts to buy seeds, fertilizer, labor and so on.”
Kris and Al Clement, owners of Clement Clayworks, have been Millsap CSA members for 11 years.
“I have done the math on it, and it is a lot less to purchase produce through the CSA than it is to use a middleman,” Kris says. “And it has been really fun over the years watching them develop to grow the farm. They are constantly learning new techniques, getting new plants and trying new things.
“It is never the same old same old. It just gets better and better and better.”
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