Kansas Farm Profile: Pure Prairie Organic Farm
by Tom King
Jim Rowh is a pioneer in the organic food movement in Kansas. After certifying Pure Prairie Farm (Clayton, Kansas) as organic with OCIA in 1992, Rowh worked as a certification committee member and chairman for Pacific Rim and Central American countries for OCIA from 1995 to 2003. In 1990, primarily as an outlet for his own produce, he opened Pure Prairie Natural Foods, an organic grocery with a bakery and a 35-seat restaurant. Rowh sold the store in 2011 and now focuses solely on farming.
Pure Prairie Organic Farm has 30 acres of tillable land, divided into three nine-acre parcels. One parcel is planted in white wheat, one in vegetable crops – primarily melons and winter squash – and one in cover crops, such as soy and mung beans, and winter peas. Organic practices require crops to be rotated annually, to build the soil. Rowh sends some of his wheat to a mill in North Carolina and sells the rest through Kansas Organic Producers, a marketing/bargaining cooperative for about 60 organic grain and livestock farmers located primarily in Kansas. He wholesales his produce to a variety of outlets, including Whole Foods stores and Tree of Life, a nationwide natural foods distributor.
Pure Prairie Organic Farm (Clayton, Kansas)
– Hard white winter wheat
– Melons: Cantaloupe, watermelon
– Winter squash: Butternut, acorn and spaghetti squash
– Tomatoes: 300-500 plants per year
– Snap peas
– Retail – None
– Wholesale – Whole Foods (Kansas City metro), and independent grocers in Salina, Topeka and Lawrence.
Rowh sells his wheat through Kansas Organic Producers.
– CSA – Rowh supplies the Rolling Prairie CSA in Lawrence with produce on an occasional basis.
– Institutions – Local schools buy Pure Prairie’s tomatoes.
– Distribution – Common freight carriers, when available. Rowh makes additional deliveries himself, using a flatbed trailer.
– Sourcing accounts – “Getting your foot in the door with large-volume accounts like Whole Foods takes time and effort. They need reliable quantities at high quality standards. But it’s getting easier now – a lot more places want local foods.”
– Insurance – “The liability insurance I have to carry for volume sales is expensive. That’s often prohibitive for smaller local growers.”
– Product appearance – “Groceries want uniformly shaped, unblemished produce. I have to baby my crops all the way to the store. But when stores have high quality standards, they’re willing to pay a better price.”
– Organic Certification
“’Natural’ has no real definition; certified organic has a specifically defined meaning. Certification costs are expensive – about $800 per year – but it allows me to put a higher price on product.”
– Kansas Organic Producers
“You send them a sample of wheat and tell them how many bushels you have. They have a list of buyers and they set up the sales. They arrange the trucking and handle all the paperwork for five percent off the top. It’s a real good thing for grain farmers.”
– Signage and displays
“I don’t have any particular signage requirements needs. I did use stickers in the past but it took too much time. Usually, the produce managers promote my farm with in-store signs and displays.”
“I have a listing on the Kansas City Food Circle site. Referrals from that account for five to ten percent of my business. I get calls from the Squash Blossom co-op pretty regularly.”
“I’ve been around the organic scene a long time. People know the Pure Prairie name and the quality of my product.”
Rowh is a bulk farmer, growing a short list of produce in large quantities. Volume growing is difficult enough, and with the extra attention to appearance that accounts like Whole Foods require, it gets even trickier. “It’s not a good way to start out,” says Rowh. “Beginning farmers should get their feet wet at farmers markets or with a few restaurant accounts. Learn how to gauge production and quality as accurately as you can before you commit to high-volume accounts.”
**This Farm Profile is an excerpt from Finding Your Niche, A Marketing Guide for Kansas Farms, published in January 2013 by the Kansas Rural Center. You may CLICK HERE to view the guide’s full Table of Contents and print or download other profiles and resource documents. Finding Your Niche: A Marketing Guide for Kansas Farms offers a great starting point for envisioning the potential your farm has to increase and respond to local demand.
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