During the winter months, the Naber family farm may not have much produce growing in its greenhouses. However, the off season isn’t always a time for the family to sit back and relax. The family devotes time to getting the work done on the farm to ensure that they are set up for success the next growing season.
While farmers’ market vendors spend the majority of the spring, summer and fall months growing and selling their produce, they spend the winter months ordering seed, cleaning up around the farm or doing building maintenance.
“There’s a break but there’s not because the three months that we go hard are then followed by the next four months of repair and making sure that the office end gets taken care of, the books, making sure the financials are taken care of, and then right into January we’re back in it again,” Angela Tonniges, successor to Naber Farm, said.
Kathy Naber owns the farm with her husband, Greg Naber. Angela Tonniges is one of their two daughters. She said she considers November through January their off season. During these months, they stop selling at farmers’ markets and start looking forward to the next season. On the Naber family’s 30 acre farm, the main crop is corn. However, they sell everything from tomatoes to watermelon to potatoes.
These months are vital for getting things done that can’t always be completed during the busy season. One of Greg Naber’s winter projects was to build a sweet corn harvester. Before having this machine, the family had to pick all of their sweet corn by hand.
Other farmers’ market vendors who don’t sell produce say they don’t have an off season. The owner of Hunter’s Honey Farm, Doug Hunter, says he and his family work with their bees year-round.
During what people would consider the off season, the Hunter family does everything they can to ensure their bees are as warm and healthy as possible. This includes treating them for Varroa mites, a parasite that feeds on the blood of adult honey bees and putting up candy boards, a 100% pure sugar mixture that allows bees access to a food supply and to have proper ventilation and insulation during the winter months.
Not selling at the farmers’ market doesn’t always hinder vendors’ income levels. The Naber family owns a company that builds machinery. Naber’s Ag Equipment builds everything from asparagus carts to strawberry harvesting machines, selling them to bring in revenue.
The Hunter family takes orders online all year long and has a shop set up at their house that they sell from when not selling at the farmers’ market.
“There really is no downtime for us as far as sales go, people come to us all year long,” Hunter said.
While the work never stops, Naber said there are upsides to the off season.
“During the summer, I put in pretty long days, we all put in really long days. I mean, it’s nothing to work eight to twelve hours a day,” Naber said. “During the off season things are more casual. Our days are shorter, we can take a longer coffee break and a nap at lunch.”
In the coming months, Kathy Naber says the family needs to get a bin dumper to make transferring corn from pallets to their transportation vehicles easier. Currently, without a bin dumper, they have to use a tractor to move their corn. A bin dumper would make the process easier and hopefully reduce bruising on the corn.
Another of the family’s plans is to begin establishing their orchard.
“We don’t really have access to a whole lot of apples that are local so we thought we’d try growing it ourselves,” Tonniges said.
She says the family plans on growing apples and peaches. This winter, they will start contacting tree companies and getting seeds ordered. Tonniges said that adding fruit to their produce repertoire would add good variety to their stands.
In April, the Hunter family will go back to their bees to take the candy boards and winter covers off and start on their regular season beekeeping.
“We’re back at it sooner than people think,” Naber said.