DOVER, Ohio — “We work seven days a week and at the end of the year we look — and it’s all in the red, it’s frustrating,” said Nathan Steel who farms with his parents, John and Paula Steel, and brother, Clinton.
Nathan focuses on herd health, breeding and calf care, Clinton is in charge of herd nutrition, does most of the field work, and serves the farm as the mechanic. His parents do the milking and feeding.
“You need to deal in semi loads in today’s market — there are so many discounts the bigger you are; cheaper feed and labor,” Nathan said, but his family isn’t interested in getting bigger.
“We’ve got to find ways go directly to the consumer,” he said.
The Steels have three little girls and the Fosters have two, so with such young families, it takes planning and coordination to keep the market stocked and manned.To take farm products directly to the consumer, Nathan and his wife, Megan, took a leap and bought Gooding’s Farm Market, near the Dover exit of Interstate 77, in June 2017, with friends and now business partners, Jerrid and Brandi Foster.
Two weeks after purchasing the market and nearly seven acres, they opened the doors again, with the help of Dave Gooding, who owned the market since 1974.
Although the couples made a budget together, Megan said. Nathan and Jerrid went $10,000 over on the building budget the first year.
“They are all reserved — I just go for it,” Nathan said.
They have expanded the market by 1,200 square feet, doubling the cooler space to 14 by 32 feet and adding storage.
They purchased showcase coolers, built displays and cast a wide net to source produce.
Education: High school diploma
Head of cattle: 220
“The public is so far removed, as farmers, it is our responsibility to bring them back. GMOs, Round-up Ready, it all has a place.”
“We have to show them how they are raised — cows have a better life than we do.”
“We look for ways to sell directly to the customer,” Nathan said as the milk market continues to put the farm in the red.
“I don’t know about the future; we are losing money kind of fast right now. We have to do something different.”
Nathan says the farm needs about $17.50 per hundredweight to break-even. In the U.S., June’s average is projected to be $15.25 per hundredweight, according to the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service.
Nathan goes to produce auctions and picks up produce directly from growers. They also truck in produce from the South, stocking citrus, papayas and produce like strawberries and sweet corn before the local crop is ready.
He has tilled land at the market this spring to start growing their own produce, as well.
“My goal is for the farm to continue. The farm has sentimental value — that is irreplaceable, we’ll always have cows,” Nathan said, with hopes of one day selling their own dairy products from the market.
The farm market business is growing, he anticipates they will sell 300 cantaloupes, 800 dozen ears of sweet corn and 800 pounds of tomatoes a week this summer.
“If you aren’t throwing some out, you’re not trying hard enough,” he said about his aggressive buying.
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