Tim Huth: The Michael Fields Incubator Program was a Seminal Experience
April 3, 2013
When Tim Huth was studying sociology at Carroll University, he did not know what direction his life would take. Tim met some farmers while he was at Carroll who taught him some things and inspired him to consider farming. Tim started with just some pots on his porch and a rented garden plot. He had the habit of hard work and an appetite for challenges but had no idea how to turn his dream into reality.
The first step was to get a job on a real farm which he managed to do in 2006. He worked hard and he worked long hours, but still he dreamed of an operation of his own. He was encouraged to attend some workshops at Michael Fields Agricultural Institute. He took that advice and attended as many workshops as he could and in the process acquired much new and useful information. He attracted the attention of Janet Gamble, the Garden Manager at the time. Janet invited him to take part in a Michael Fields farm incubator program. Janet, knowing that Tim was a savvy guy and that he already had many skills, set him up on two acres of Michael Fields land. With the occasional guidance of the Michael Fields staff and the use of Michael Fields’ equipment, Tim set up his own agricultural business. He called it” Lotfotl Community Farm”.
“The Michael Fields incubator program was a seminal experience for my business. I wouldn’t have the scale of a business that I have right now without having practiced something like that. Renting all that land, having access to all that equipment…” Tim is very grateful for the help he got at Michael Fields but he admits he would have benefited from more direct assistance. “I would have liked to have had more mentoring. This incubator program was a good deal, but I missed someone who had dedicated more time to training me. I wish I could take a few more years of mentoring and working as an apprentice. You can pick up some of that in a workshop” but that is not the same as hands- on experience in the field. “For me, that is the most valuable”.
Nevertheless, even with a minimum of help, Tim substantially increased his business. In order to get more customers around the area, he started following the business model of CSA. The Community Supported Agriculture is an organization all over United States where people receive weekly a box of fresh locally grown fruit and/or vegetables from a regional farmer.
“The first year as an incubator I just sold to restaurants and grocery stores and at farmers markets. I just work for myself. By the second year I had two employees and 80 CSA members. I did two farmers markets and I expanded into grocery stores and restaurants.”
Tim admits that without the incubator program at Michael Fields he would not be able to grow so quickly and to learn so fast how to manage equipment and how to make day to day decisions as a farmer. He recognizes that the incubator experience was excellent training. It allowed him to make mistakes in a protected environment and to learn from them. He knew that program was temporary and that there were some built-in inconveniences.
“The cooler was always a problem because there wasn’t enough room for me. I also had to share the equipment. From early on, this program was really valuable but also difficult because it was hard to get things done when I wanted and sharing the tractor among five people was complicated.”
Tim, now in his early thirties, moved his Lotfotl operation to Quinney Farm two years ago. Quinney Farm is a 144 acre spread near Elkhorn, Wisconsin. This historic farm has a connection with Michael Fields inasmuch as the owners of Quinney Farm leased some 160 acres to Michael Fields a few years ago. Tim and his girlfriend, April Yuds, are now farming about 25 acres. They expect to provide vegetables to some 450 CSA members and also to restaurants, grocery stores and farmers market. The only major change that came with the move to Quinney Farm was the loss of half his “worker shares”. These are people who volunteer to work at the farm for four hours a week for a free CSA box.
“It’s good to have them here because it creates a beautiful community, but at the same time you have to train people who sometimes don’t know a lot about farming. It’s not easy and it takes some planning, but we need their help”.
This coming season, Tim wants to make some changes. He will grow some new crops and will concentrate on weed control.
“We use different mulches, especially straw, to spread on the field. We spend so much time cultivating and managing weeds that I am excited about finding ways to cut them back a little bit.”
Lotfotl Community Farm has done something interesting with the CSA boxes. Their most successful box is a mix of basic products such as tomatoes, lettuce, onions, potatoes and so forth.
“We are not from a culture where we know how to cook different kinds of products. If I give people some radicchio or fennel, they don’t know how to cook it. So we created our small box with basic products and in two years it has become the most popular box.”
With his business vision and countless hours working in the fields, Tim has achieved his goal. He is providing healthy food to his community. He hopes that Lotfotl will be certified as an organic farm next year. This will be one more step in his effort to develop Lotfotl Community Farm and to serve more customers. It hasn’t been easy to arrive at this level. Tim admits that much of the time he has had to shoulder all alone the weight of the business and all of the physical work in the fields as well. He is quick to admit that the incubator program at Michael fields Agricultural Institute was the basic element of his success. Now he is on a roll, and his business is growing successfully and very rapidly.