Last week’s column featured the new partnership between SCORE and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
As the face of family farming changes, the USDA is encouraging the development of ag-related businesses by offering an array of loan programs. Among those is a microloan program that is being administered by area Farm Services Agency offices.
Suzi Sevcki, who owns Sleepy Hollow Farm in Kewaunee with Kelly Rortvedt, looked to the microloan program when expanding a barn on their 34-acre farm.
“Originally, we went to our main bank, but they couldn’t give us a fixed rate for 15 years and we wanted to have a locked in rate,” Sevcki said. “With the microloan, we did have to jump through a lot of hoops, but there were a lot of good hoops. It was good to have to provide financials for the farm and sit down and look at what we were projecting.”
She said financials are easy to put off, especially when working long hours of the farm. And, with the partners both having full-time jobs in addition to the farm work, the daily chores take precedence.
Sleepy Hollow Farm began when Sevcki did something she never expected — go back to farming. Having been raised on a farm, she planned to put that life behind. But, by her junior year in college, she found herself working on a farm in the summer and milking cows. She went on to graduate with a degree in corporate fitness at UW-Stevens Point, and although she spent 14 years in marketing, farming was in her blood.
She said, “In the mid-'90s, the internet was new, and I got my feet wet there and learned a great deal about businesses and how they work. It was one of the best jobs I could have had to prepare me for the future.
She purchased the Kewaunee land more than a decade ago and didn’t start her business, originally in community supported agriculture (CSA) until 2012. She explained that a CSA is a partnership between a farm and local community of supporters providing a direct link between the consumption and production of food. CSA members cover the farm’s operating costs by purchasing a share of the season’s harvest.
From 2012-2016, Sevcki watched the business expand, but it was taking a toll.
“What is realized is that it was killing me. I had one part-time person and a little help from there, but it was too much to do while holding down a full-time job,” she said.
After reviewing the farm’s operations, which included a horse farm with boarding, Sevcki changed focus to two areas that were more profitable and less time-consuming. The decision was made to take a year off from the CSA to re-evaluate whether to continue it, and instead work on custom baling and gourmet garlic.
With good quality soil that is perfect for hay, she has had very high production per acre. Having already purchased a baler for the horse farm, she found it ideal for making and selling small bales. Rortvedt, who is a mechanical planner full time, is the one who keeps the equipment running.
With the expansion that was made possible by the microloan, Sleepy Hollow Farm has a place to store hay and equipment. Going forward, there are plans to redesign the business website and work on promoting www.organicgarlic.us for the sale of their variety of garlic.
Sevcki applauds the new SCORE and USDA alliance and the help it will provide.
“Farming looks like a great lifestyle, but if you don’t understand what it will take and the business aspects, it will be hard to make it," she said. "Anytime you have folks who can share their business knowledge — people who have been there — that’s huge."
Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and past district director for SCORE, Wisconsin.