Micah and Ashley Venhaus have a bit of notoriety in OC, because they are the first married couple to be OC apprentices. They completed their last blog post about their apprenticeship earlier this month, and we're excited to share the things they gained from their experience.
At the beginning of the year around April, we met Darryl and joined the OC apprenticeship. We then crafted a work plan and also scheduled to attend our first orientation with Ogallala Commons. Over the rest of the year our 2014 Ogallala Commons Community Apprenticeship offered us work experience in local food production, the development of a CSA program and farmers market, partnership building with other local growers in our area, and the development of a business plan.
One of our focal points was to research and secure information to launch seasonal high tunnel production and greenhouse production. The high tunnel structures that we used gave us multiple advantages to help have a beneficial crop. The structures are covered in a 40% aluminate shade material. With the use of theses shade cloth we can now reduce the amount of water use age, reduce soil temp by reducing solar radiation, reduce wind damage on the plants, protect the plants from hail damage, and reduce the ambient temperature around the plants. The structures were faced in a north south direction to help even out light penetration on the plants, and help with the west winds. Overall through out the season we were very impressed with the high tunnels and the benefits gained by there use.
Another task we had was to strengthen our business plan and improve marketing strategies to help promote MV Produce better. Our social media skills were also improved through the development of the CSA and farmers markets. MV Produce also started a Facebook page to help with advertising and we also joined the Go Texan Program. We also took advantage of the EDG program in Tulia to help with improvements on our business plan. This was a very good task for us, all businesses have to go through these same steps when starting out in order to make a positive forward motion.
Peer learning with other local growers in our area was also another goal. We met with several growers in our area at the farmers markets and through the connections made with Ogallala Commons. One of the local growers we are now friends with, and exchange ideas with all the time one how to improve our operations. Other growers helped me to gain in cultural practices that might help me out next season with challenging weather.
Before we joined the Farmers market we developed a CSA program in our home town. This way we could now sell produce through the farmers market and also have a guaranteed market for the other produce. The CSA program had five members in Tulia and two in Amarillo. The members received over ten pounds of a mix of vegetables per week for 14 weeks. Between the two markets our produce was sold out each week, which only means more growth next year. The Canyon farmers market turned out to be really great for us. There we were able to build more connections in our business and develop better social skills. The market also allowed MV Produce to help build a name for ourselves and show we have quality produce.
With the development of our CSA program our focus was to build a relationship between the producer and the grower. So through out the year we had two tours out at the farm and one field day later in the year. These tours and field day helped my CSA members to understand how and where the produce comes from, which is the beginning to build a trust between the grower and consumer.
Towards the end of the year we attended the Quivira Coalition Annual meeting in Albuquerque New Mexico. This meeting is great for gaining in new knowledge and networking with several others growers from all around the United States. The talks held at the conference are full of knowledge that can be applied to my future operations, and the experiences of the others growers really help with future up coming problems. This conference will definitely be a tool in our tool box.
Overall this apprenticeship helped MV Produce to gain in multiple ways and also improve our business skills as a person. It truly was a blessing for the experience! Thanks OC!
Micah and Ashley, it has been a pleasure to get to know you more. We wish you all the best in your future at MV Produce!