May 15, 2008Award-winning Farm Market Puts Emphasis on Education
Weston Red Barn Farm puts an emphasis on authenticity. The farm has an old-fashioned feel to it, and that’s no accident. Brick and lumber are used instead of concrete, and power lines are buried underground. According to the farm’s Web site, visitors are given the opportunity to experience the traditional American farm the way it was before it went the way of the dinosaur.
The Weston, Mo., farm’s authentic feel might have been the reason it was named Farm Direct Marketer of the Year in February, at the annual convention of the North American Farmers’ Direct Marketing Association in Wisconsin.
Owners Steve and Cindy Frey weren’t sure why they won the award, but they were honored.
“It’s nice to be recognized by your peers,” Steve said. “I really wish it wasn’t a competition, though. Nobody is better than anybody else.”
Perhaps they won because of their emphasis on education. Last year, school tours brought about 18,000 kids to the farm. Those visits spread the word elsewhere, which is all the advertising the farm seems to need, Steve said.
“I’ve done no advertising at all,” he said. “Word-of-mouth is how it spreads.”
Every spring he sends out a newsletter to local teachers, 80 percent of whom bring their classes back the next year. Steve puts a big emphasis on “kid things” because that’s what got him into farming in the first place, he said.
“I don’t have a farming background, but I always loved going to my uncle’s farm as a kid,” he said. “There aren’t many farms like that anymore.”
Fond memories and a desire to give other kids the same experiences he enjoyed are what drove Steve to start a farm with his wife in 1990. He worked in the airline industry before that.
School tours are their main niche, but they’ve also had success hosting weddings. They did 22 of them last year. They don’t cater the weddings. They just supply a picturesque, clean and authentic facility. Hosting weddings was difficult at first, but now it’s one of their most profitable activities, he said.
Besides school and wedding groups, many churches, businesses, military and other groups have held picnics, meetings and parties in the restored tobacco barn or outdoor fire pit areas, according to the owners.
Weston is about a 30-minute drive north of Kansas City. The location gives suburban families a chance to get out in the countryside, visit a real farm and educate themselves about where their food comes from. That knowledge is certainly lacking nowadays, Steve said.
Pumpkins are the biggest crop, but they also grow peaches, apples and blackberries (they’ve done strawberries in the past). They sell as much as they can through the on-farm store, but occasionally sell at farmers’ markets, too, he said.
Much of the credit for the farm’s success has to go to its “wonderful” employees, he said. The farm employed 75 part-time farmhands last year, 90 percent of them spouses of military officers stationed at Fort Leavenworth.
“We cannot even begin to describe how fantastic these families are,” Steve and Cindy wrote in a description of their farm. “They are the No. 1 reason (our farm) is successful.”
The Freys host a lot of community events, too. This year, they’re working with a local bank to organize a party for emergency responders. The bank will take care of the food, while the farm will provide the facility and activities like hayrides. Such events are good ways to introduce people to the farm, Steve said.
The growers are working to minimize their farm’s impact on the environment, with things like waterless urinals and fluorescent lighting. They’re also looking into solar and wind power, he said.
Steve and Cindy have two children, Donovan and Amy, and two granddaughters, Isabella and Addison. For more information about Weston Red Barn Farm, visit www.westonredbarnfarm.com.