How one small-scale farmer cobbles a business together

In his ideal work life, Moses Momanyi would farm full time. He says he has clients for his lettuce and peppers: Chipotle and Chisago Lakes school district. He also sells direct to consumers through mini markets around Minneapolis. All this on about two acres of land at the Minnesota Food Association‘s farm at Wilder Forest in Marine-on-St. Croix and another parcel across the St. Croix river in Wisconsin.

Since he only cleared $10,000 during the latest growing season, he found he needed a job come winter, a common situation for even long-time farmers in the U.S. Once a farmer in Kenya, Momanyi feels a strong connection to the lifestyle, and he’s an example of how some immigrant farmers are trying to scale up in the local food movement. But where to expand?

Through a seminar, he met a farmer who had land to rent with hoophouses, unheated greenhouses where crops grow in the soil. The ability to extend the season is critical for Moses Momanyi because he sells to schools who don’t need produce in the summer. He can stretch his growing season by two, even three weeks in both spring and fall with hoophouses. And his new land is five acres instead of the two 1-acre parcels he had before.

The catch? Momanyi’s new land is in Amery, Wis., a two-hour drive from his established customers in Minneapolis. He still wants to sell at mini farmers markets in the city three times a week.

While he juggles the financial complications of his current situation, Momanyi hopes to add new clients. He says he’s talking with the Washington County Public Schools and Hastings school district to see if he can sell vegetables to them. Kathy Burrill directs food service at Chisago Lakes school district. She says the district bought 45 pounds of produce from Momanyi.

We purchased field greens, baby lettuce and baby spinach from Mr. Momanyi. We were very pleased with the quality of the produce. It was well received by our staff and students, and I hope to purchase from him again next year.

For another look at how mini markets worked in Minneapolis and more about Moses Momanyi, check out this story from this summer by MPR’s Madeleine Baran.

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