Scandia growers help other farm-to-table businesses find markets

Christi Janssen, Scandia, walks other small business owners through one of the C&C High Tunnel Farms greenhouses in a regional program for value-added business owners hosted by Kansas State University Extension earlier this year. Janssen and her husband, Chris, have operated the retail and wholesale vegetable business for nine years, and recently expanded onto more lots in Scandia. Chris Jannsen laughs that their farm is considered “urban agriculture” because it operates on a limited acreage within city limits.


Janssens invite others growers to join Community Supported Agriculture venture

By Deb Hadachek Telescope editor

It’s a business that keeps growing into more of a hybrid.

When Chris and Christi Jannsen, Scandia, started C&C High Tunnels nine years ago, their vision was to sell locally-grown fruits and vegetables wholesale to grocery stores and privately through farmer’s markets.

Then in their fourth year of business, they introduced Community Supported Agriculture, which makes weekly deliveries of a variety of produce to customers throughout the region.

Last fall, they opened a storefront on main street of Scandia that they hope will reduce the need to attend farmer’s markets every day during growing season.

And this year, they’re partnering with six other farm-based businesses in the region to bring more farm-to-table products to customers. The variety will range from beef and lamb and chicken to honey to popcorn and more.

“Farmers coming together makes us all more sustainable,” says Christi.

“We’re doing this to help us and them,” says Chris. “We hope to share our marketing expense, and create our own food hub.”

The group will get assistance from an intern sponsored by Nextech this summer who will help with marketing.

Scandia recently hosted a meeting for about 30 producers of value-added agricultural products, sponsored by Kansas State University Extension. The Jannsens were among presenters, and talked about their enterprise. C&C High Tunnels recently expanded from three city lots to five in Scandia.

“I recently discovered we’re considered an ‘urban farm’,” laughs Chris. “We’re purchasing and using lots in Scandia that wouldn’t be used otherwise.”

C & C High Tunnel Farms is a recent sponsor for the RCED table tents.

Value added

“If other people can do it, why not us?”

That was the thought that Kurt and Kelly Childs and Clay and Jaci Siemsen had when they decided to make grass-fed beef available for sale.

“We like to know what we’re eating and where it comes from, and we can help other local people do that as well,” says Kurt Childs about the venture of C&S Farms, which is one of the businesses partnering with C&C High Tunnels CSA this year.

The business takes orders for Black Angus beef bundles and specialty cuts. The CSA allows them to share marketing costs with other farm-based businesses, but they take orders and make deliveries to customers themselves.

The Childs and Siemsens had mostly abandoned the commercial cattle business. Then they decided to return to older genetics of cattle that producers finished on grass and foraged 20 years ago. Their beef is hormone free, but not organic, which would require them to change the way they grow and maintain forage.

Along the way they’ve also learned about Kansas versus USDA-inspected processors, and the biggest challenge: how to advertise their product.

Prior to the CSA, they relied on family and friends, word of mouth, and social media.

“We believe in what we’re doing,” Kurt Childs says.

 From scratch

Hard work, successes and failures, and a willingness to experiment are hallmarks of businesses like C&C High Tunnels and C&S Farms.

C&C High Tunnels was born in 2009 when the couple’s three children were young.

“Through this business they learned about hard work, and how to get out in public,” Chris says. “They learned people and presentation skills.”

Today the company’s market is about 50-50 retail and wholesale. Tuesday through Saturdays through the summer finds the couple or their staff at farmer’s markets or making deliveries as far away as Hutchinson, Wichita, Salina and Lawrence.

“The beauty of wholesale is that you deliver a lot, drop it off, and go home,” says Christi.

“The downside is to be able to get the amount that the customer wants,” says Chris. Two of their biggest wholesale crops is okra and turnips.

“The CSA deliveries take a lot of produce and variety,” says Christi. The business tries to add unusual vegetables to the individual customer’s weekly delivery, “but you don’t want to put in a lot of oddball stuff. We’re tomato growers.”

Christi has nudged customers towards unusual produce like Romanesco by providing recipes or other ways to “teach people how to use them. Some customers tell us it’s like Christmas to see what’s in a bag,” she says.

“The first winter we planted kale, nobody knew what it was,” she says. “The second year it was getting a lot of press as a superfood, but still no one knew what it was. Now everybody knows what kale is.”

Much of their staff during the summer is gleaned from junior high and high school age students, they say. “We’ve helped buy a lot of cars in Scandia,” says Chris.

The couple has learned to juggle seasons and crops to the point that “we throw very little away,” Christi says. When possible, excess is donated to places like the Republic County Food Bank or Golden Bell Haven.

“Knowing we have a perishable product can be stressful,” Chris says. “We try to diversify so all our income is not tied to one item.”

Chris says the couple are often asked at farmer’s markets if their produce is organic. C&C High Tunnels tries to use natural management practices, he says, but will use pesticides if necessary.

“This isn’t an organic business, because it’s our business, and we can’t afford to lose the farm,” he says.

Joining C&C High Tunnels in the CSA this year are C&S Farms, Belleville-Kurt & Kelly Childs/Siemsen; 4K Ranch, Washington-Teresa and Chuck Penning family; North End Farms, Salina, Jeff Cooper and Agnes Zadina; Marble Road Honey Farm, Belleville- Annette Bredthauer and Terry Marcotte; R Family Farms, Smith Center- Emily and Kaden Roush; Free Day Popcorn, Belleville, Nate and Stacey Frietag; Carlgren Farms, Formoso, Lori and Ryan Carlgren and family.