Dec 16, 2011Central Kentucky farm market keeps diversifying
When Kevin Trunnell started growing sweet corn on the family farm near Utica, Ky., and selling it from a roadside stand after he got out of high school back in 1990, he hadn’t really planned on it taking a much bigger role in his life. The Trunnell family had mostly grown livestock, tobacco and wheat on the farm, but now they grow more vegetables than tobacco.
Currently, Trunnell grows 20 to 25 acres of sweet corn, 2 to 3 acres of mixed vegetables, 30 acres of pumpkins and squash and 1,600 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat. Kevin is the fourth generation of Trunnells to farm the land. He built a new market in 2007 that opened for the 2008 season.
Behind the market, Kevin recently planted a wide variety of peaches and apples on high-density systems. He planted Gala, Granny Smith and Pink Lady apples, among others, on Bud-9 rootstocks with 18-foot by 6-foot spacings. He plans to add a u-pick operation to his market and agritourism operations. He also plans to add more fruit trees over the next four years, and maybe add blackberries.
The past season was challenging for Trunnell. The year started out extremely wet, with more than 40 straight days of rain.
“It was tough,” he said. “We were about a month late planting, which put us back about a month for picking, too. It was really hard to get the pumpkins in on time for when we needed them, but we did.”
After the rain ceased, it got hot and dry, Trunnell said. He irrigated his vegetables and some of his sweet corn.
“Even with all the challenges, it ended up being a pretty good year for the vegetable crops, yield wise.”
The new market replaced an old barn he had used until it was damaged by a storm. The new Trunnell’s Farm Market has restrooms, climate control and a certified kitchen where they make jams, jellies, salsas and baked goods.
“We grew this year on the farm market side,” Trunnell said. “It was kind of up and down monthly, but October was exceptionally strong. Weather really seems to affect the market. If it is good, people come in. If it is bad, people just don’t come in. We had really good weather this fall.”
Recent agritainment additions have brought in more customers, he said. A series of fall festivals has helped.
“It has been going very well,” he said. “Our venture into agritourism went from basically nothing to having a fall festival virtually every weekend in just three years.”
Trunnell has a corn maze, a pedal car track and a corn pit with shelled corn and toys for kids. There is also a rope maze, hayrides and straw bales for the kids to climb on. Those attractions get people in the market to see what it has to offer, he said.
The market employs about nine people, Trunnell said, all of whom are local. The farm side of the operation employs about 12 seasonal workers around harvest time, who tend to be foreign guest workers. Retaining them is getting to be a big challenge, he said.
“It is getting more and more difficult, and I don’t see it getting any better,” he said. “When we started using the H-2A system, it worked great, but every year it has gotten worse. They have just about ruined that program. I don’t know what will solve it, but something has got to change. They are biting the hand that feeds them.”
Trunnell suggests to anyone with a farm market to get out there and see what others are doing. Learning as much as you can from as many as you can is the key to success, he said.