Simmons Farm Finds Success and Gratitude in Trying Times
Simmons Farm in Middletown is an all-organic operation that has been in the family for more than 300 years, selling vegetables, eggs, meat, poultry, and the most recent addition, goat cheese.
Keeping the farm in the family is top priority for Simmons Farm.
“We have always treated it as a family business,” Brian Simmons said during a recent visit to the farm.
It was not until Brian and Karla took over the farm that the transition to organic farming began.
In fact, it was previously a dairy farm and commercially grew sweet corn. Simmons recalled, “We were known for growing sweet corn which is kind of the antithesis of organic farming. We felt it was important to have that certification when we started just because we wanted people to know that we were not going to be doing things this way anymore.”
He has chosen to make some adjustments from what his parents and grandparents had done.
Adapting to the times and establishing themselves with the community have been important evolutions for the farm.
“I remember watching my grandfather struggle, not being able to pay the grain bill with the milk check that was coming in,” he said. “We are just going to do a little bit of everything, so that in a bad year, something is going to be covered. We try to look at the farm as a whole.”
Simmons noted, “The big thing that we do differently than my grandparents is we try to get out there and hustle things. We don’t wait for people to come to us...we want the community involved in the farm. We need them.”
Balancing the farm as a business while still working from the heart is a tipping scale. However, Simmons doesn’t usually see it that way.
“I try not to look at the farm as a business,” he says, “I have a hard time thinking of it strictly in business terms because sometimes you are doing things just for people’s enjoyment.”
Simmons Farm uses their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program and farmers market stands as one way to get to know the community and build new customers.
“The CSA is one of the most incredible things we have ever dealt with,” Simmons said. “When it’s hard, you think about these people, that even in this economy, are giving you large amounts of money months and months before they even expect a single thing from you. It is an amazing thing.”
In the last couple of years, the Simmons family has made adjustments in their CSA model in order to accommodate those who no longer have the budget. They have been flexible by making payment plans and even giving away some shares to families that cannot afford the expense.
Other CSA members have even stepped up by paying more than their share in order to include those families.
“It’s good to see that people that can afford it are able to help people that can’t afford it, enjoy the same food,” he said.
Karla and Brian have always seen the need to be a part of farmers markets, but only attend a few each week in order to always have one of them present. “We felt that it was important that we were there and to communicate to people.”
Although there has been an increase in business because of the use of EBT cards at local farmers markets, Simmons noted, “That’s a sign of the bad economy when you see so many people buying at farmers’ markets with EBT cards.”
‘Just keeping up with the demand…”
Despite the shaky economy, Simmons Farm continues to progress with their latest development, the addition of goat cheese. It has been a slow process over the last six years because, as Simmons explained, they "wanted to do it the right way."
One of the reasons why the Simmons family initially ended up with goats was because "everybody can handle them," explained Simmons. "The goats have worked out very well for us. We have catered some of our decisions for what would be best for the family.”
The farm's goat cheese officially launched last May and the reaction, said Simmons, has been “excellent, just keeping up with the demand.”
The farm has been selling out constantly and “couldn’t do more this year even if we wanted.”
They plan to double their herd of goats next year in preparation for more business.
Economics aside, Simmons believes that natural food can be tangible for everyone, even if it takes a little bit of faith and support from the community.
Says Simmons, “We want people to see that you can farm, you can farm naturally and organically, and succeed at it.”