COGGON, Iowa — When T.D. Holub and his wife, Sarah, began farming in 2013, the business gave new definition to the idea of a “small” farmer.
“We had one quarter of an acre that first year,” Holub says.
The farm has grown since then, but it is still small by Midwestern farm standards, and Holub likes it that way. Garden Oasis Farm comprises only about 10 acres on the farm where Holub grew up. But that little piece of ground supports two people through the sales of about 35 types of vegetables, with a number of different varieties of each.
It includes double and even triple cropping, high tunnels and a multi-tiered marketing plan.
Still, that first year was not especially easy.
“I think the biggest challenge was funding,” Holub says. “I remember the first time I talked with a loan officer in the area. If I were not so strong-willed I might just have walked away.”
The problem, of course, was that starting in agriculture is not easy. It is even more difficult when not joining an existing farm business.
And it can be even more difficult when not growing the type of crops or livestock banks and insurance companies are used to dealing with.
Let’s face it, Holub says, there is no federal crop insurance for most fruit and vegetable production. He didn’t start out with a contract from a large company to buy his product.
But there are rewards in farming and there are reasons to start small, Holub says.
The whole idea of starting a vegetable farm probably was planted a long time ago, Holub says. He grew up with his mother and grandparents on a small farm near Coggon. When he went to college at the University of Iowa, he had no intention of returning to the farm.
His grandparents rented out the land to one of his uncles. Holub studied health and human physiology.
But by the time he was a senior, the idea of farming became part of the career discussion. He had also begun dating Sarah, who was also from Coggon.
“I got to grow up on a farm and always had a passion for all the stuff involved with it,” he says. And after studying in college, he began to think about food and farming and nutrition and the ways they were all linked.
So after graduating from Iowa in 2012, Holub began farming in 2013 on that quarter of an acre.
He and Sarah started a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) model, with members paying a fee for weekly deliveries of produce during the growing season.
They went to small farmers markets. They learned. He worked for a friend and also worked to build or adapt tools for the vegetable operation.
“Our idea was to start small and expand a little bit every year,” he says.
And that has been the way it has worked so far. They erected a couple of high tunnels and added a few acres. They began selling to several restaurants and to the New Pioneer Food Coop as a way of getting into the wholesale market.
The hope is to continue to expand, but not necessarily by adding more acres. Instead, Holub says, they may look at adding a greenhouse or more high tunnels as a way of extending the growing season and allowing for more double and triple cropping.
All of that is important to building income because the couple is expecting their first child.
Of course, Holub says, that coming addition to the family is also a reminder that the farm is a good place to grow up.