Iroquois County, Illinois
New experiences don’t necessitate traveling far. Marty and Crystal Gray grow fresh organic produce for local customers that they distribute through a 20-week community supported agriculture (CSA) business, at farmers markets and via farm-to-table restaurants. Together, they seek to provide customers exhilarating food experiences close to home.
In addition to feeding their customers, the Grays also prioritize educating them about their food. Each week, the Grays provide their 100 CSA members an e-newsletter that details the week’s efforts on the farm. These stories exhibit the Grays’ passion for growing local, organic vegetables. According to Marty, a fresh plate of produce offers an exceptional eating experience differentiated by flavor you won’t find at the grocery store.
The farmers market also provides valuable opportunities for the Grays to connect with consumers. “We see the farmers market as a blank canvas that we paint with our vegetables,” Marty said. “We draw people in by offering quiet help and telling our story. There aren’t a lot of small family farms providing vegetables anymore, so we want to share what’s happening on our farm to anyone interested.”
When they started, Crystal and Marty grew vegetables on an acre and a half of land. After gaining experience and building up their business, the Grays decided they were ready to expand. That’s when they turned to Farm Credit Illinois. With the help of their loan officer, the Grays’ farm has since grown to include 20 acres of vegetables, four greenhouses and 500 acres of corn and soybeans.
“Our needs are pretty small in comparison to row crop farms, but small loans have made a big impact on our farm,” Marty said. “I was taken seriously from the start and Farm Credit took the time to go through each of the one thousand cells in my balance sheet to make sure the financing options were best suited for our needs.”
Beyond credit, Farm Credit Illinois also assisted Gray Farms in securing crop insurance coverage. “We had struggled to find a way to cover a diversified vegetable farm because it’s difficult to quantify what is yet to be sold when the weather so greatly impacts output. Being able to provide projections based on years past gives us a guarantee when things are volatile” Marty said.
This story originally appeared in Farm Credit Illinois’ bimontly e-newsletter, Essentials.