AMULREE, ON – When Ryan Bergman was searching for a name for his new farming enterprise, he, his girlfriend and a close friend chuckled over the concept of Loco Fields.
“We were sitting around and thought to ourselves, well you would have to be a little crazy to do this kind of thing,” Ryan says. “It’s an awful lot of work and I had no farming background. But I liked the name and, besides Loco is catchy because it also plays on the word local.”
Now starting his second year in agriculture, about 13 kilometres northeast of Stratford, the idea doesn’t sound so crazy anymore. In fact, the 37-year former information technology expert, loves the work and is busy looking into future plans to expand his 1 ½ acre mixed organic vegetable business.
“We moved from downtown London to a rural setting five years ago,” he explains. “I didn’t have any agricultural experience but I was looking for a career change after being in information technology for so long. We found a house surrounded by 200 acres of organic farm land. After a couple of years of consideration and research, I just thought to myself – what not give this farming idea a shot?
“We started last year. The only two working on the farm are me and my 72-year-old father Luke, who is retired from the construction industry. He actually has some agricultural background. The family moved from Holland to the Woodstock area in the 1950s, and bought a farm where he worked. He later moved on to construction.”
Ryan admits starting up Loco Fields has been quite expensive, already investing more than $10,000 of his own funds last year. Yet, while he put all of his personal assets into the business, he is pleased with his present situation as he embarks on year two.
“In addition to farming, I also have a couple of other full time jobs,” Ryan adds. “I started a rural internet company out here, with 50 subscribers within a 10-kilometre radius. This provides a steady cash flow. As well, I do some work for another internet company on a contract basis, providing some customer installation, sales and other things.
“There’s no question that it can be difficult juggling your time but the more you do it, the better you get at it. In terms of the internet work, it is great that I’m dealing with like-minded farm people. For example, if the weather is good, they know I’m out there in the fields working on my crops with my dad. They are very understanding so it’s great being a part of the agricultural community.”
Ryan has managed to find outlets where he sells his certified organic products. That includes Your Local Market Co-op and Gentle Rain, both in downtown Stratford. He is also a seller Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Slow Food Market, which moves from the indoors to the outdoors this month, and the St. Mary’s Market from 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays.
“Last year we were very successful,” he says. “We sold everything right down to the last carrot. There are 50 different kinds of certified organic vegetables and more than 100 different types. With the Local Market Co-op, if I have an abundance of product, I can offer them a good deal. It’s great to sell everything you grow, instead of wasting anything. And the co-op is good promo for us – a great way to get your name out there.
“My dad and I were really tired after our first year so this time around we’ll be working on greater efficiency and maybe seeing if we can take some time off periodically. I love the work and have been doing a ton of planning. I have hundreds and hundreds of spreadsheets on my computer for management purposes, as well as the government forms to fill and sites to sign up for.”
While agricultural education was not a part of his life before Loco Fields, Ryan has been proactive these days, attending a variety of workshops throughout the region, while seeking further information on the internet. In January he took as many sessions as he could and volunteered at the Guelph Organic Conference.
As for short-term and long-term goals, he hopes to increase his operation by as much as double, also toying with the idea of heading in the co-op direction to attain some committed help. There are also more marketing plans and new methods of getting food to buyers in the works.
“The next step would be to source a new place which means purchasing some sort of leasing agreement,” he adds. “And that may mean we might have to go for financial assistance. I want to move ahead because there is so much satisfaction in farming.
“My dad and I get a real sense of pride when you see that field of green out there, harvest your products and hear comments from buyers at the market face-to-face who tell you how much they enjoy your carrots and other vegetables. It’s a great feeling.”
And what advice would he offer other potential new farmers?
“You need a lot of planning and it takes a lot of dedication,” he says. “It does not end after harvest and when the snow is on the ground. Farming is year round. You also have to make sure you have buyers for your food. In the end, I would encourage anyone who wants to try farming but understand this is hard work…..very satisfying but hard.”