Summit County farm faces trouble, looks for funding
Most farmers would see Summit County’s elevation of more than 6,000 feet and annual average of 300 days of frost and move on to greener pastures with more ideal conditions. But Andrea Morgan would not want to be anywhere else.
Morgan is the owner of Ranui Gardens, which grows vegetables and flowers on a total of 2 1/2 acres of farmland in Oakley and Hoytesville. She said it is challenging to maintain a farm and compete with commercial prices, and even more so when the farms’ tools and facilities are outdated. The 35-year-old company is in need of a makeover, which is why Morgan recently put out a call to raise funds for the business.
One of Morgan’s biggest struggles running Ranui Gardens is dealing with the elements. The growing season is short — there are only approximately 60 days without frost every year — so Morgan and her team have to implement season-extension techniques such as covering the crops overnight and uncovering them in the morning.
“It is incredibly difficult to grow food here,” Morgan said. “We have to work extra hard to make the kind of food that people want to eat grow here.”
The work is time intensive, and the hard work is coupled with a lot of uncertainty. Morgan said there are some times a random frost hits the gardens in the middle of the summer and kills some of the crops. Other times, deer break into the farms and eat the crops. Ranui Gardens primarily grows salad greens such as arugula and lettuce, but it also grows garlic, root vegetables, heirloom tomatoes and flowers.
Then, once Morgan and the team successfully raise crops, they have to sell them to consumers at a price that can compete with commercial produce. Running a small farm and using eco-friendly practices can be expensive, and Morgan said her profit margin is small. She said Ranui Gardens breaks even with some of the crops it grows.
“Most of society does not value food, or understand what it takes to produce food, especially without chemical fertilizers, pesticides, major machinery, things like that,” she said.
She said there is a movement to support local farms that is gaining momentum. She partners with several restaurants in Park City and Salt Lake City to provide vegetables, and more people shop from local farmers at farmers markets during the summer. She hopes to see the movement continue because she has big plans for Ranui Gardens.
Morgan became the owner of the company last year after she started working at it five years ago. Park City born and raised, she grew up visiting Ranui Gardens with her family to buy produce.
She is proud to be at its head alongside Sue Post and John Garofalo, who have run the gardens for the last 15 years and continue to be partners of the operation. Morgan said last year, she, Post and Garofalo sat down to talk about the company’s future. It was then that Morgan realized she needed to make some big investments if she wanted to sustain the farms and one day enhance production.
She applied for and received two micro-grants to buy some new equipment, and she planned on applying for a $35,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture a few months ago. But the grant cycle did not open during the 35-day government shutdown earlier this year, and Morgan was unsure when it would open.
She said Ranui Gardens needs the funds to pay for new infrastructure, including a repaired deer fence to keep the animals out and new tools that will help the soil remain healthy. Plus, she wants to buy a flower processing shed where the team can cut and arrange flowers. Currently, workers have makeshift shade structures they move during the day as they chase the shade because flowers are fragile.
When Morgan realized the grant application might not open for a while, a friend suggested she turn to another form of funding — a crowdfunding campaign. Morgan said her options were limited. If Ranui Gardens does not receive a large chunk of funds soon, it may have to scale back production and reevaluate its business plan.
Morgan said Ranui Gardens will likely be able to get through the upcoming growing season because of its community-supported agriculture program. Customers purchase the produce they want to buy before the growing season starts and receive food throughout the summer and fall. After this year, she is not sure.
She launched the fundraiser last Wednesday and has until April 23 to hit her all-or-nothing goal of $22,000. If the company does not reach its funding goal, it will not receive any of the funds donated. She is raising the money on Barnraiser, a crowdfunding site specifically designed for farmers, gardens and other food-related businesses.
She is hopeful that Ranui Gardens will raise the funds, but like many people in the agriculture industry, she knows that there always needs to be a backup plan. She hopes to do what she can to keep the business running regardless.
“We are not even just acting as a farm, we are acting as a habitat provider. We are taking care of our soil, we are taking care of our water,” she said. “We are a small part of this major movement that is taking off globally, where really it is about connecting people, connecting people to the land that supports them and provides for them on the most basic level.”
To donate to the farm, visit http://bit.ly/2YqqRsH.
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