Agritourism In A COVID-19 World

Sep 8, 2020  | 30 min  | Ep320 | Podcast

Podcast

The Ryder Family is three years into their chase of the agritourism dream. They'd done farmer's markets near their home area of Golconda, Illinois, but once the lockdown caused by COVID-19 hit, the couple worried their farm's business would dry up. But a shortage of eggs in a grocery store prompted a scramble to fill a need which was followed by more orders for their CSA. Now that the fall season is here, the Ryders are tired as they prepare for what they hope to be a boom in business. Click here as Nathan and Tailina Ryder talk about mum placement and the all precautions taken to make sure goat yoga happens this year at Ryder Family Farms. 

 

FULL Interview Transcript:

Paul Yeager  Okay. Is this the number I call to get a goat for my meeting?

Nathan Ryder : Yes, this is the number you call to get a goat for your meeting, whose idea

Paul Yeager: You jumped on that or did you see somebody else do and go? We could do that.

Talina Ryder: I think we read an article about it. We read an article about a farm in California that was doing it a goat sanctuary. And we know goats have always been a focus like on our farm and people like asked to stop by and come cuddle a goat, you know, randomly. And so like an alpaca or something. It was some weird animal and we were like, goats and people love goats. It's just a strange trend right now. goats are trendy. I don't know why Yeah.

Paul Yeager: We're gonna talk about goat yoga in a moment. I don't want to that's just a tease, you know how it works Nathan in the television business because that's what you used to do. So prior to four years ago, had you even had a goat? Not spent much time with a goat?

Talina Ryder: No, no, no, we, we ended up with goats because our our middle child is not able to drink pasteurized cow's milk and back in the day when Nathan was on the news, and we lived in the big city, we were able to get raw cow's milk from a local farmer and you know, being surrounded by resources and things in the city and then when we moved we were like, do we get a cow? What do we do like we don't need it we don't need that much milk and then you know, goats make less milk. We were like we can milk a goat let's Okay, we're and then we just bought a goat. So

Nathan Ryder: Yeah, that was that was one of those things where you you quickly learned that regulations from state to state the farmers have to follow are very different. And so in Indiana, we were allowed to be members of a raw milk dairy. But when you came to Illinois, it was Oh, no, raw milk is bad. And so yeah, we had to find an alternative. And that meant getting a goat. And we started milking every day. So our daughter could have milk. And then it grew from there.

Paul Yeager : Yeah. And it grew from there. All right, your background is a is a varied one. You do have children, and I'm guessing they're probably like many doing school a little differently. But you two have had a little bit of a different path. Television News is a little different. It'll take you around the country. Nathan for a while it was where do you want Where have you all been?

Nathan Ryder: Well, so we we both were born and raised in the Phoenix metropolitan area. So we came from, you know, the big desert city out in Arizona, and we knew when we were living in Phoenix that we wanted to branch out and get away from Arizona. You know, we wanted to sort of get out and see

Talina Ryder: Get out of Phoenix.

Nathan Ryder: Yeah, Phoenix and so I was working in news at the time and my job took me up to Flagstaff, Arizona where we actually lived up in the mountains and it was beautiful and that was nicknamed poverty with a view because basically every every dollar you earned went to just paying your housing there, but it was beautiful country. Oh, we couldn't grow anything. It was like 60 day growing season and so no, half the year by the time you got your first right tomato, it was time for the plants to frost anyway. So anyway, we stuck with news for a while and that brought us out to the Midwest, took a job in Evansville, Indiana, and then at that point, we were having children. And I think as talena can attest, like news life just was not conducive to family life. And so we decided to start sort of start making some changes at that point and I got into public relations for a few years ago, we were looking for farmland over in southern Indiana. But, you know, starting out we knew we couldn't take on 1000 acre farm. We wanted something small that wasn't fitting into our ideal and so we ended up coming this direction and landing on finally our 10 acre forever farm we hope here in Southern Illinois. So, yeah, so we

Paul Yeager: Talina tell me the name of the town. I'll let you pronounce it first.

Talina Ryder: Golconda.

Paul Yeager: So was Golconda. Describe the differences between Golconda, and Phoenix? Oh my gosh,

Talina Ryder: Yeah, everything is different. So

Nathan Ryder: Yeah, I mean, look, Pope County, which is the county that Golconda resides in is one of the least populated counties in the state. And in fact, the joke around here is there's more deer per capita than there are people. So I think for every one person that lives in the county, there's probably about 10 year and we only have one traffic control. device in the entire county and that's a four way stop sign.

Talina Ryder: Yeah. Totally defeated city like, but I mean, some people are like, why would you move to a small town to try to like, have a farm like how does that sustain your farm but the one thing that is totally different from the city is that the people, like bond with you and care, like we have a awesome community. It's a small community, but it's awesome. And they're like our champions behind us on everything they shop with us. Like, we you don't find that in the big city. Nobody cares about you in the big city. It's just one business against another and here it's like, you're part of something bigger and so I guess that's the biggest thing that's Yeah, city life and here and you would think it wouldn't be a good thing, but it really is.

Paul Yeager:  Talina, what's your background?

Talina Ryder: I was a I was a performer I was a singer and a dancer back in Scottsdale Arizona and I did choreography for working groups marching bands and then to pay the bills. I worked in hospitality so yeah I did a lot of

Nathan Ryder: Yeah I think she worked resorts in Sedona and Flagstaff and yes got a pretty deep hospitality background too.

Paul Yeager: So at what point you talked about family was a possible reason for the move and you needed life to be different but at what point did you realize a I want to get into agriculture be I want to have some land and see how do you make it all happen?

Nathan Ryder: Well, I mean, I we really started fall in

Talina Ryder: like with everything with the farm, we've just kind of fallen into it and gone with it. I mean, we we farmed in our in our subdivision.

Nathan Ryder: We lived in a tiny patio home over in Indiana when I was working in news and our backyard was seriously probably about oh gosh 30 feet by 30 feet and we turned we we divided half of it off for the dog. And then the other half we turned into raised bed garden and we did Mel Bartholomew square foot gardening method and we packed all these plants in there and then we had a little mini chicken coop because we wanted to try chickens and so we got half a dozen chickens against the HOA is you know, in like the

Talina Ryder: First crow was a bad day. Yeah, the

Nathan Ryder: First Crow was a bad day I had to quickly learn how to butcher a rooster very quick. But

Talina Ryder:  In front of the kid Yeah, in front of..

Nathan Ryder: Wwhile you took him to the grocery store or something or the park. I don't know what it was. But anyway, I mean, we started out just trying to feed ourselves and be sustainable and then we had so much extra that we were giving food door neighbors and sharing eggs with our friends and

Talina Ryder: We're like You should sell this at the market. And we're like, yeah, we could. And so like what they say about chickens being like the gateway drug is absolutely true. Like we started with a garden, we got like six chickens. And then it was like turkeys. And then we were like, Whoa, we want goats back here. But we can't do that. And so we knew. We just grew out of every tiny area we put ourselves into, and we just keep growing. I guess. We're just we roll with the punches.

Paul Yeager: Yeah. So you're in year three or year four of being on the farm.

Talina Ryder: This farm this farm

Paul Yeager: Okay, so when you moved your three How different is it from then to now?

Nathan Ryder: It's, it's really different. I mean, we have been, I think we were just talking about this the other day, like ever since we've put feet on the ground here on this farm. We've been in Build Mode, I mean, so it's just been It's sort of exhausting. Like right now we're really excited to get to Halloween and then shut things down for November and December and January and rash and get ready for next year. Because Yeah, I mean, for three years, it's just been one sort of project and hurdle to jump over after another. And, you know, we've been trying to do it very incrementally where we, we save and we build up and we, you know, add the next improvement to the farm, as opposed to moving on and taking on a bunch of debt and putting all this stuff up at once and trying to go from that point. Well,

Talina Ryder: and I think that that's how that's why we're able to be successful is because we we don't have a huge debt load. And we're not stuck in our ways. Like we don't, we don't pretend like we know everything. So every year, whatever we do, if it didn't work, like we're going to change it back to the drawing board. Like let's move the mom's like, let's do something fret and so I think that's what keeps us afloat because we just are constantly adapting and so we can change and get better. 

Paul Yeager: Do you think the change was necessary for financial stability? mental stability,

Talina Ryder: Mental stability? Yeah, it's definitely not a huge financial financial game right now, we're still so small that you know, we're not making millions and we don't really care if we do, honestly. And that's the difference. Like we don't have a huge debt load so we don't have to sell you know, hundreds of thousands of pounds of corn this year to make our house payment. Um, but so we can do small things that are more, I guess. They grow us personally, I fulfill us and, you know, that we can give to our kids and do with our kids know,

Nathan Ryder : Yeah, the fulfillment of providing fresh food to our community. I mean, we're in an area that is Predominantly corn and soybeans, and a lot of people garden for themselves. But there's a large contingency of elderly people or people who live in public housing in town, and they don't have access to grow a garden. And so where they can't

Talina Ryder: anymore they used to, and they know all about it, but they're too old to get down and pull the weeds.

Nathan Ryder: Right. And so on one level, we feel like we're providing a community service, you know, there's a, you know, a market here that people weren't being served, you know, who need to have access to fresh, locally grown food too. But at the same time, we're also able to provide an amazing experience for kids, you know, growing up on the farm and just learn, like going out learning about, you know, daily life, like one of our daughters, you know, her four h project this year was rabbits, and so she wanted to breed one of her rabbits and, oops, we actually bred three rabbits. He

Talina Ryder: had a lot of oops' Yeah,

Nathan Ryder: that's so you know, they they really get to learn Some of those life lessons that I think are so important that a lot of kids don't have access to these days.

Paul Yeager: Give me a snap. Nathan, let's get us the TV way. Give me the soundbite. Describe your operation. Yeah.

Nathan Ryder: Boy put me on the spot. Okay, so we are a 10 acre diversified farm operation. We're not organically certified, but we try to grow things as organically as possible. You know, and really, we want to gear ourselves towards agritourism. Like we want to have people come out and see how their food grows and visit with animals and enjoy themselves and share this kind of slice of heaven that we have, you know, with them, so.

Paul Yeager: So how did agritourism look in 2018 and 2019? If I would come out on a Saturday for a visit What did it look like at your place.

Talina Ryder: Small in the beginning?

Nathan Ryder: Yeah, very small. You probably have the place to yourself and do it have one on one personal tour around through the garden and to see the chickens and you know, you would get to hang out for a long time. So yeah, we're coming into this this season, we're expecting things to be a little busier, we know people have been cooped up. And there's a lack of activities for people to do, especially in COVID. And so we're almost a little like on edge right now about influx of people that we might end up with at the farm. And so like everything will just roll with the punches, and I'm sure it'll be a learning experience for us and we'll grow from it.

Paul Yeager: So, well, what were the big changes for 2020 because of COVID, or were they more because of the lessons you've learned in '18 and '19 and knew you needed to move the mums like you said, from here to there.

Talina Ryder: I think it's been a mix of both. I mean, we learned a lot of things that we wanted to do differently. Business wise like from getting to know our clientele better who buys mums? When do they buy them? How do we get them ready before the Walmart has them ready, you know, all of that stuff. But then everything kind of like changed when COVID happened because everybody needed food. Like there were no eggs in the grocery store. People were nervous about how how well farms were going to do and they didn't know if they were going to have produce, you know, is the grocery store going to have produce in the summer? Like, I don't know. Let me buy your CSA share. Um, and so we use kind of like, adapted as best as we could to what the clients were asking for what the customers wanted. We saw that we sold out of our CSA shares, we were like, Oh, well, let's add more. Can we grow more? How much can we do?

Nathan Ryder: Definitely pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone in terms of growing before we were ready to grow, you know, before we would have done it ourselves. And so for that that's kind of been a silver lining, I think in the whole COVID pandemic for our business model is that it's forced us to rethink things. But you know, Talina had to spend hours upon hours, sort of retooling our website and our e-commerce platform and putting products online and setting it up so that people could schedule a time to pull up into our driveway and pick up stuff that they'd already paid for. We had all of a sudden expand our refrigeration capacity. So we had the ability to hold stuff for customers, aside from our normal pickup days, so yeah, it's there been a lot of interesting growing points this year. And I think that's part of the reason why we're so like, you know, exhausted

Talina Ryder: in a lot early on. Yeah.

Paul Yeager: So at what month Did you notice that you needed to make these changes, I mean, March is when a lot of the country started to head into that lockdown mode. So was it late March, April, May, when you notice he needed to make a change.

Nathan Ryder: It was almost right away. I mean, I think there was probably about a week just like everybody else. There is a week of sort of shock and awe. Yeah. Is this really happening? Like what's going on? And then, from that point, I think, yeah, we knew pretty quickly, like we had to step it up.

Talina Ryder: Yeah, in March, our soap sales went through the roof. And we were even offering to deliver eggs and soap to elderly people who couldn't get mobile and come to the farm and get what they needed. But I mean, our local grocery store had no eggs for weeks and weeks and weeks. And it's spring, chickens don't lay a whole lot of eggs when it's that cold still. So you know, we were selling eggs as fast as they were laying them and delivering and getting them ready for pickup and it was just right away. It was they were like Where's the produce? And we're like, it's still cold. You have to wait.

Paul Yeager: You m ight be in southern, might be in extreme Southern Illinois, but it's not that warm. They are growing produce in March.

Talina Ryder: No, it was not not okay. I mean, we we were putting up a high tunnel to I mean, we had just got all of our materials for a high tunnel and so well Nathan was not working his off farm job and we were like, okay, let's get that high tunnel up and see how soon we can get the first produce out of it. And our first thing was potatoes. Yeah. And but I mean, we just keep adapting and keep pushing in. So far,

Paul Yeager: With your CSA Do you anticipate now and expansion for something that is a little more year round or the ability to have something ready that's locally grown in January in February? That's the goal.

Nathan Ryder: Yeah. And that's that's really why we wanted to get the high tunnel. I've had the ability to work with high tunnels, and a couple different capacities while we've been down here, and we quickly saw the benefit to having a high tunnel to get that season extension, you know, we can add almost to at least two months or a growing season maybe even longer, depending on the different techniques that we use. And so, yeah, we we've been watching, you know, folks like Eliot Coleman and and all these other sort of market gardener gurus, I guess. And, you know, they're able to produce food in colder climates pretty much all year round. And so, yeah, it's, it's definitely something we've had our sights on and we knew we wanted to get into the NRCS high tunnel program to see if we could get a high tunnel and, and sort of provide some of that fresh food in the shorter season around here.

Paul Yeager: So in the checkout lines at the farm there when I come to get a mum or a pumpkin or something this year, while I have social distance stickers and hand sanitizer, all these places, I mean, if you had to do a lot of that to that other retailers are trying to add?

Talina Ryder: Not initially, but we're looking to the future, we're definitely going to have to do social distancing. And we're going to have to ask people to wear masks, which they're not going to like. And we're going to have hand sanitizer all around. But we haven't had to do that yet. Because we're able to control the flow of, of our customers coming to the farm for CSA pickup and for, you know, random lab orders through our e commerce platform. So it's that's been nice. We haven't had to deal with it yet, but we're trying to get ready for it.

Nathan Ryder: Yeah, we, you know, we sort of made the decision to bring some of our friends in. You know, we have friends that sell antiques that we invited them to come to our open houses starting in September, so they can sell their antiques because they haven't been able to go to foreign markets or anything and sell their stuff. And it adds to what we've got here at the farm, but then they can also sort of be there to help us control the crowd. You know, we don't We don't have enough revenue to hire staff. We are,

Talina Ryder: We are the staff.

Nathan Ryder: And so just in the event that we do end up with a lot of people, we've got some some really good friends who also volunteer their time and help us out, you know, through the growing pains,

Paul Yeager: And they can put out their table I think is what you said, right? If you've got antiques, put them out there. So now you've become your own shopping center or your own farmer's market. Are you still going to learn? Yeah. Are you still going to the local farmers market? No,

Nathan Ryder: No, no are and I'm on the board that sort of helps manage the local farm market in the state of Illinois Farm Market Association had put out a bunch of guidelines and rules to help markets get open during the covid pandemic, and they were doing a lot of drive through markets and the area that we live in.

Talina Ryder: Just all of that wasn't real, politically conducive. And we knew if we were following the guidelines State put into place that we would probably have to deal with a little bit of political backlash. And plus we didn't our market doesn't have the financial resources to be able to pull off a lot of those things that were regulated. And yeah, either a great idea and we want to be on board. But how do you afford to rent a hand washing station every weekend, and there's just things

Nathan Ryder: And a lot of times we were the only the only vendor selling produce at our local farm market. I mean, it's a really tiny market. It didn't used to be it used to be really big. And so for us, we've always kind of viewed our local farm market as more of a marketing and outreach tool as opposed to a sales venue. I mean, we make more sales on the farm direct to consumers than we do at the farm market.

Paul Yeager: And where did that knowledge come from on that direct to consumer that's been an offshoot, I've heard state by state, all over the country. They've had improvements in That relationship?

Talina Ryder: Well, I think what we had to do as outsiders when we came here was we had to be at the market, we had to put in the hours. And we had to talk to people constantly, and not make sales and tell our story and become friends with people before they even cared to be a consumer of the farm. And so when we put in that time, then we were able to we had already won every we've won hearts and minds. And then at that point, you know, they understand that we have three kids and we can't sit at the market every Saturday and not make money like we my kids need to be home playing. They need to eat lunch at a reasonable hour. You know, like all of those things. People understand more when they make a connection with you and you're not just some eggs on the table, you know? So I mean, you have to put in your time, you can't just be a new farmer and show up and be like, come to me, that doesn't work.

Paul Yeager: Yeah, I really did learn from your hospitality background and your public relations background. So your history really did help you in that.

Talina Ryder: Yeah, we do. We're sort of a power couple in that respect, because we have we do have things that make a big picture.

Nathan Ryder: I don't know. Yeah, I mean, I think I think in this day and age, especially like people really glom on to that personal connection, and I think even in in the food realm today, like we've been so used to big agribusiness and, and there's, there's certainly a niche for that, like, we need to have big agribusiness because we need to feed so many people. So it's not bashing on big agribusiness. But at the same time, you know, big agribusiness is sort of impersonal, you know, you go to the store, and you're used to the things and bright shiny packages, but how does it really grow and who are the people that are picking it and packing it and producing it and so I think we've seen a lot Have people really start to say, Hey, you know, maybe I need to go back to my local growers and pay more attention to them. Because it's, it's, it's personal to them. And it's also a food security issue at the same time. 

Paul Yeager: So it may cost just a tiny bit more, but if you understand what the labor was and the growing condition and the distance the product traveled, you may have that leg up.

Nathan Ryder: Yeah. Yeah. And, you know, nutritionally, it's better for you because it's fresher. And you know, we're we don't have a whole lot of inputs going into our produce. And so, yeah, I mean, there's a lot of different different ways. You know, different ways to highlight what you're producing.

Paul Yeager: On the social distancing front, there will be one activity that you do there to Lena that we have to be spaced out and that is become a popular thing at the Iowa State Fair. I did go to Got a couple of years ago, you're gonna be doing the same thing.

Talina Ryder: Yes, yes. And so the funny thing about go yoga, like it's not hard to social distance, because if you're really really doing yoga like you're gonna kick your neighbor if they're close anyway. So you need to be spaced out. So yeah, when we we have a huge interest for goat yoga this year, and we were kind of nervous about it. Because the last thing you want to do is bring a bunch of people together in a crowd. But also like people are so star for out for things to do, like they're tired of being cooped up, they're tired of watching the news, like, we need a mental break. And so goat cuddling and yoga like that does that that accomplishes the mental break perfectly. So we're going to have people wear their masks when they come into our pasture. And then once they're on their mat, they can take their mask off, we'll have them six feet apart. You know, we've limited our class sizes so that no No huge crowds will exist. And we'll add as many classes as we need to our instructors are pretty chill to, to bring on more dates if we need to. So we're excited that goats are really awesome. So I think it'll be good. It's something that we need to do.

Paul Yeager: Yeah. All right, let's close with this. You get to have a final thought. What have you learned most each of you in 2020?

Talina Ryder: What have we learned most? I just to keep adapting and keep swimming. I mean, it's it's been exhausting, but that's life. Right? I mean, really, you just can't give up and you just have to keep trying to find new ways to make the day better and 2020 is really driven that for us, I mean, we're gonna be proud as all of us when we come out of this, you know, next year we're gonna be like, wow, you can give us anything and we got this like, Right, he's survived a lot. So, yeah, I think

Nathan Ryder: Definitely adaptability and persistence in 2020. And the ability to to quickly pivot and change, you know, what you had perceived and what you had planned out? No, you got to be able to quickly throw that out the door and change to what's happening, you know, in the moment and so I think that's probably been the biggest challenge for us is not knowing what tomorrow is going to bring, you know, is our sales going to be good this fall? Are they not? What is it going to look like next spring and so you kind of just have to keep watching what's going on and changing and adapting as you

Paul Yeager: as you grow? Well, good luck this fall. I know September is gonna be a big month for you for bringing people there and it's it's an adventure to say the least you to

Nathan Ryder: Yes, yes. Adventure, we probably wouldn't change for anything in the world.

Paul Yeager: Alright, at We still need that package for 10 o'clock though Nathan uh, don't forget to write your morning VOSOT 

Nathan Ryder: Oh, shoot. Okay.

Talina Ryder: I'll make another pot of coffee.

Paul Yeager: All right, that's Talina and Nathan Ryder, the Ryder Family Farm in Illinois. Thank you both.

Thank you.

Contact: Paul.Yeager@iowapbs.org

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