Supplement to “21st Century Farming”
In Carter County, Joleen Ramey grows plants outdoors in natural conditions at Ramey Oakridge Farm. She made the switch from tobacco to ornamental plants using a series of steps over several years. With help from her local County Extension agent, Ramey’s careful research turned up several possibilities for her small acreage. She chose field-grown garden mums to be direct marketed to the public because that crop and sales method would be unique in her area.
“Our farm is on a road that gets a lot of tourists on the way to and from state parks,” Ramey says, “and we offer them and our local customers a choice: we dig the plants and put them in containers for immediate sale, or the customers can do the work themselves in our ‘u-dig’ section.”
Ramey renovated an old tobacco planter to use in setting out plugs of ornamental plants each spring, and cultivates her new crop in a similar way to tobacco, although the work is much less intensive. But there’s another very important difference.
“One year we had to pay a $2,000 commission for the sale of our tobacco crop,” Ramey recalls, “but with the mums we’re direct selling ourselves so all the money stays here.”
Over the last five years Ramey’s gradually added more choices for her customers, including herbs and dried flowers. In 2006 she set out 250 daylilies by hand for this past summer’s customers to dig.
As she’s learned more about her local and regional customers, Joleen has expanded the ways she sells her farm products, too. At certain times of the year she sets up at a local farmers’ market and also contracts to supply items to some local florists and landscape companies as far away as Ashland. Ramey’s customers have turned into an important part of her marketing strategy, spreading news of her plants by word of mouth, a completely no-cost method.
To read the Kentucky Living January 2008 feature that goes along with this supplement, go to 21st Century Farming.