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Feature Story Small Local Farm = Big Hit

USDA NRCS Feature Story

Bryan Crump’s family began farming 30 years ago on 120 acres in McLean County, Illinois. Today, most of that acreage is in row crops the family cash rents out, but they use the remaining 21 acres to supply fresh produce, herbs, vegetables, fruit and flowers at a number of popular Farmer’s Market outlets in Central Illinois. Though it’s considered a small acre operation, dividends reveal 21st Century niche marketing at its best. Crump keeps busy, his soils stay fertile, and he has absolutely no problem finding eager buyers for all he grows.

Crump’s operation is not certified organic - that would be impossible as he is literally surrounded by full-scale, large ag production operations. He’s as close to organic as he can be; and as close as he needs to be for the customers he serves.

While he’s always had two greenhouses, the most recent addition to the family is an even larger Seasonal High Tunnel. The 30’ by 96’ plastic covered structure, made possible through USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has been up and operational for just a season and a half now. Crump is happy with the new system and is already feeling the benefits.

Photo of a Seasonal High Tunnel“There’s already been a great production benefit with my high tunnel,” he confirms. Crump’s window for planting and growing produce has been broadened. Control against pests is easier and protection from other air-born agents and predators is significant. Water and nutrient management are easy to manage as well.

Crump’s locally grown operation lies in the heart of McLean County’s wind turbine area. Here, more than 100 tall, white churning turbine units cover the landscape, demonstrating strong local support for 'home-grown’ and 'natural’ solutions for 21st Century progressive systems. Crump’s produce fits right in.

Crump’s family farm operation sells onsite at their roadside storefront. They reach even more buyers as regulars at many Farmer’s Market events held in spring, summer, fall, and now, in the winter months.

Photo of Crump family storeCrump also supplies a few local specialty restaurants with special produce items and herbs. This spring, he’s just put in extra rows of basil based on the specific request of a local chef. Even though temperatures are still chilly and although not all his neighbor’s row crops has been planted, Crump’s home-grown basil will be ready for the first green salads of Summer.

Even on a windy, chilly Illinois morning, when you enter Crump’s seasonal high tunnel, you step into a different season. Once inside, there is no wind; the air is warm and moist. Your eyeglasses will immediately fog up but once you wipe them off you’ll see large and leafy lettuce and zuchinni plants you’d expect to see in early July, not in May.

Photo of crops inside High TunnelUnlike most large-scale agricultural producers who use large implement equipment to plant and harvest their air-dried crops, growers like Crump rely on smaller, soil-covered tillers for seedbed preparation. He doesn’t use anything fancy, just what is required to get the job done. More than that, Crump relies on his most reliable tool: his own two hands.

The hands-on business of growing fresh and local food is labor-intensive. But Crump doesn’t mind the hard work. He literally 'handles’ all his produce from start to finish. He hand plants his seeds and starter plants. He collects seeds for future use. He weeds by hand. He harvests and hand-washes his produce. He loads and delivers it in a refrigerated truck. He attends farmer’s markets and meets with customers face to face. It’s all very simple, very personal, and yes, very fresh.
Photo of Bohnhoff kneeling down under high tunnel
“Crump is a different kind of client for me,” says NRCS District Conservationist Kent Bohnhoff. Bohnhoff worked with Crump to apply for the program that helped cover initial costs for the new structure. “He’s got a small scale operation compared to most of my other customers. It’s easy to see he has a healthy and rather intimate relationship with his crops and with his resources.”

Although Crump has different management strategies and different farm priorities from most of Bohnhoff’s producers, he relies on soil and water resources just like all farmers NRCS serves.

For that reason, NRCS has valuable information and technical assistance for growers of produce, organic, and specialty crops--just on a little smaller scale.

Crump did experience one setback with the tunnel when extremely high winds damaged the plastic, ripping it from the frame. “Other than that, I feel confident that we’ll be able to call this pilot project a success. I wouldn’t be surprised to see more and more of these here in Central Illinois and across the state,” Bohnhoff adds.

To learn more about conservation solutions and program options for Illinois producers, visit www.il.nrcs.usda.gov or call your local NRCS Field Office today.

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For more information, contact:
Paige Mitchell-Buck, IL NRCS State Public Information Officer
IL NRCS State Office
2118 W. Park Court
Champaign, IL 61821
(217) 353-6606
Paige.buck@il.usda.gov