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Being My Own Boss MAG
Growing up in a subdivision, I classified myself as a “city girl.” I had very little knowledge about farming and rural areas, but all of that changed six years ago when my mother and stepfather married and we moved to my stepfather's farm. Surrounded by cows and cornfields, I felt out of my element. I was not accustomed to hundreds of acres of farmland separating me from my closest neighbor; however, I did enjoy the beauty and peace of the countryside.
I had lived on the farm for about three years, and had helped with odd jobs like feeding cows, when I was old enough to get a real summer job. My step-father said I could choose between two options – getting a job at our local Dairy Queen or selling produce that I grew on our farm. While I came up with a short list of pros for working at the fast food restaurant, I found more advantages to selling produce. Shorter work weeks, more free time, flexible hours, and the potential to make more money appealed to me. Yet I realized the numerous disadvantages to selling produce: responsibility for the success or failure of the operation, manual labor, early mornings, and long days. Ultimately, I decided to start my own farming business.
My stepfather and I began planning in March. Together we chose three varieties of seeds, prepared the land, and planted the first batch of sweet corn at the end of April. Throughout the spring, my stepfather continued to plant sweet corn every two weeks as I rode in the tractor with him.
Great care was taken over my growing cornstalks. As the corn began to tassel, we applied nitrogen fertilizer and sprayed pesticide to prevent worms. I watched the stalks grow taller, and as time passed, I dreamed about the money I would soon make. We planned to harvest and sell the corn at our local farmer's market with paid help from my friends. It sounded easy and looked good on paper, but it worked out a little differently.
Nonstop rain stunted the first batch of corn and delayed the harvest by a week or so. When my sweet corn was finally ready to pick, I found that a pack of raccoons had raided the field at night, ruining about half of it. How could this happen? Raccoons were supposed to be cute. We picked what was still good and prepared for market.
This was it – my first day at market! I was excited to see my hard work finally pay off. I loaded my materials into the pickup truck and arrived early at the farmer's market to find a good spot for my tent and set up before the market opened. There were many customers and several other vendors. Probably because I was young and new, potential customers would look at me and smile, then head straight to my competition, Mrs. Cates, who had sold corn and other produce for years and had an established following. At the end of the first day, about half of my corn was left, so I donated it to a local homeless shelter and went home disappointed.
Soon I noticed that Mrs. Cates and her crew did not arrive at the farmer's market until about 11 a.m. So I decided to show up an hour earlier. This meant that we had to start picking corn at 6 a.m., no easy task with teenage workers. But the effort paid off; I was selling half of my corn before Mrs. Cates arrived, and most of it by the end of the day. Things were looking better. Not great, but better.
Although the farmer's market was only open three days a week, the corn needed to be picked and sold daily because it would not keep. On days the farmer's market was not open, I developed a marketing plan that included personalized e-mails to family and friends. I also went to local businesses to sell corn and distribute business cards. Customers began calling, and I took orders over the phone. Before I knew it, I had a loyal following. I stayed busy by making weekly and sometimes daily deliveries to these businesses while maintaining my produce stand at the farmer's market. Then something wonderful happened.
Mrs. Cates announced that she would be out of sweet corn for the next two weeks. For me, this was like finding the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. I knew that this was my opportunity to shine at the farmer's market, and I took advantage of it. I sold the majority of my sweet corn during this time, making more money than I ever had – as much as $400 a day. By the time my competition returned to the market with corn, the season was nearly over.
I had made more money than any of my friends with typical teenage jobs. I was satisfied with my success and have continued to sell produce grown on our farm for the past two summers. Each summer, I have been more successful than the year before. I am proud to be known around town as “the young girl selling sweet corn.” I feel a sense of accomplishment when I see people bypass my competition and buy produce from me.
Although many days I would rather have slept in or hung out with friends, I would not trade this experience for anything. My farming operation brought me a monetary profit, taught me how to work with people, and gave me determination to never give up. I know these are lessons that will help me throughout life.