Kyla & I began our day somewhat late because we took advantage of not setting an alarm and sleeping in on the first day of a long holiday weekend. Sleeping in for us is 7am – but it always feels amazing when you wake up on your own power & can face the world with your own force.
We didn’t really have an agenda today other than to prepare boxes of veggie plants for our friends & family who bought starter plants from us. It’s been incredible to see the overwhelming response that people have to our garden and to our plants. Just with our small circle of family & friends I feel like we have begun to sell a decent amount of plants – I just wish I started marketing the plants earlier!
But on the flip side of that, I think that this whole Covid situation has amplified people’s interest in gardening & growing their own food – plus it completely changed my focus for the Garden of Gains this year.
For the past 2 seasons we have offered our CropBoxes – a bi-weekly box of fresh produce from the garden. Once lockdowns began, and it became clear that we wouldn’t be going back to work anytime soon, I completely changed gears & rather than grow a bunch of quick-turn crops for 10-20 people, I needed to double-down on food production for our household & for our families.
What this meant is that I would plant a ton of plants that would produce a high yield of food, or things that would store for an extended period of time. Tomatoes, peppers, and herbs were the crops I chose for producing high yields, and offering veggies that we could can. Root crops such as potatoes, turnips, carrots, and beets are the veggies that will store for 3-4 months in the proper conditions and keep us fed for a while.
While my aim became more selfish with the garden, I saw that I had plenty of space to grow plenty of plants on my Grow Rack in the Plant Lab. The Grow Rack is a 4-tiered rack that holds 4 trays per level and each level has 2 Stratum LED Light Bars. I have started all of my seeds on it for the past 2 years & absolutely love the results that I’ve gotten with starting tens of types of tomatoes, jalapeños, habaneros, Banana peppers, Anaheims, Dill, Cilantro, Basil, Thyme, Lavender Hyssop, cucumbers, squash – you name it; we’ve grown it!
So with all that extra space on the grow rack, I decided to grow tons of popular tomatoes & peppers so that people who are looking to start a garden can get all the basics from us. It’s funny because in a way it feels like we have been “working” the past couple days that we have prepared plants for people, but it also makes me so happy that I can’t quite quantify it – there’s something about it that makes me realize that that could be my whole life; growing plants & putting smiles on people’s faces because of the seeds that I pushed into soil.
I sit here sniffling on a chilly Sunday morning in November talking with Kyla about our dreams to buy a house on expansive acreage. Somehow I’ve got her roped into this whole farming thing & I really believe we can make this work as a lifestyle, a business, and eventually, an empire.
Right now it’s just a dream, but something that I’ve been inching towards over the past 5 years that I’ve been working at AM Leonard. When I was in college I studied psychology & philosophy with intentions of becoming a psychologist, but after going through the process of writing my senior thesis – writing & working my ass off for no direct compensation – it hit me,
“What if I put all this hard work into something business-related? How much more impact could I make on the world through a freer environment that wasn’t crippled by intellectualism & political correctness?”
Writing my thesis & working in the realm of academia forced me to change who I was on a certain level. You’re forced to remove your thoughts, feelings, and intuition in favor of objectivity devoid of any personality – and that’s just not my style. Passion has to be a by-product of the things I do in order to continue to fuel the journey into the subject.
My decision to go into business, or sales, or marketing came towards the end of my senior year of school. I really had no idea what I wanted to do but thought marketing would be a good fit. In my mind, studying psychology was the perfect field because it was the basis for everything – understanding people & developing relationships is the foundation of business & life – relating to people, knowing yourself & the value you can provide to others.
It was by luck that I ended up at AM Leonard; I had probably applied to 50+ jobs, but they were the first (legit) company to give me an interview, and eventually, my first real job.
My first real job was as an Associate Account Manager – entry-level sales – and I worked with landscapers, growers, governments, & universities to supply them with their horticultural tool & supply needs.
As time went by, I began to learn about the industry through email newsletters, articles, YouTube videos, and basically anything I could get my hands on. This fueled a lot of learning & my passion began to grow, but I realized I was still having trouble relating to growers – they seemed to be a breed of their own. It was easy to bullshit with landscapers because I had done a lot of that work, but growing was something that I didn’t know much about. So instead of just reading, I realized I had to get growing.
Something made me very hesitant about growing – maybe I was afraid to fail, maybe I was worried what people would think, but either way I got over it because I wanted to take on this challenge to learn.
Not only did I want to learn, but I was seeing that my customers were able to make a living by growing plants of all kinds – why don’t they teach you about this stuff in school? or life in general? I have always said that I wanted to be a farmer, (since at least the third grade maybe?) but I never realized it was something I could make a reality!
My first year of gardening was pretty experimental with broccoli, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, spinach & strawberries in Root Pouches, because my garden area at my parents’ house was on the ground where our swing set used to sit. The pea gravel was mostly scooped up, so the garden-area was a couple inches below the surrounding lawn & the ground was basically pure clay. For this reason I grew in Root Pouches (fabric pots) that I filled with potting soil.
That summer ended up being one of the rainiest years on record and my “garden” was flooded for most of the growing season. Because of this, there was a lot of disease, and eventually, a lot of weeds growing wild.
And there was nothing I could do but sit there and watch the rain fall into the pit I tried to make into a garden.
My next mission was to fill this pit & make it the Garden of Gains.
I started by hauling countless loads of top soil from my Grandparents’ house to the garden. Gradually it filled with dirt that I tilled into the clay bottom. Further soil conditioning was necessary – over the years I have added multiple bags of peat moss and perlite, ashes from the fire pit, leaves, grass clippings & several loads of horse & chicken manure.
Through loads & loads of work, I finally had a garden plot where I planted the seeds that would eventually grow into my passion & my big moonshot dream – to become a grower.
In the beginning, it was the learning & the challenge that really excited me & piqued my interest. It was like this super secret special talent of being able to grow things – and not only that – but being able to sell them & make a business out of it is incredible if you really think about it!
You quickly learn that growing things is not the hard part – it’s the keeping them alive that poses the biggest problem for most people. Growing teaches you the delicate balance of nature – you must be patient for things to grow & think long-term, while at the same time taking a proactive approach to the plant’s life by monitoring for pest or disease pressures.
It’s such a micro/macro game & that’s what I love most about growing – it’s all about managing perspective.
And that is exactly what I have done with my gardening journey. I did initially start off to learn, but then I wanted to grow flowers, starter plants, and veggies at the farmer’s market; a short-term sight.
When I actually started to grow plants, I began to realize how hard it was to grow from seed, how hard it was to keep any type of plant alive without disease or pests dominating it, how important fertilizer is, and ultimately, how this was not a get-rich-quick type of business, but something I enjoyed regardless of my results. I also realized that I had plenty of time to learn to grow, AND THEN think about going to a farmer’s market; a long-term sight.
So, as I have grown as a gardener, so too have I grown within my role at AM Leonard – the core reason why I’ve fallen down the rabbit-hole of gardening & greenhouse growing. After my first year of being an Associate Account Manager, I was promoted to Account Manager – essentially working with bigger clients & growing my account base to a larger level. My interest & passion for the green industry only continued to grow and I really enjoyed sales – not at first, but it’s something I had to grow into.
I believe that we’re all fed certain prejudices about business or sales – you instantly think of the “used car salesman” or a telemarketer – but real sales experience will give you so much empathy for those people, regardless of how pushy or horrible they are. AM Leonard did a good job of working around those objections, teaching how to provide value & be other-centered – it sounds crazy but in my first few weeks of training I felt like I learned more psychology than I did in 4 years of school. And that is because the knowledge was PRACTICAL, not simply theory, discussion groups, and assignments.
Entry-level sales was a great role to start in because I was in the trenches from the get – handling customer service calls from homeowners & professionals, calling on some of the largest growers in the nation to some of the smallest landscapers in our local area. You get a ton of requests for things that you’ve never heard of, learning things about chemicals & fertilizers that you never knew, start understanding the operations of different types of businesses & also identifying their pain points.
I began incorporating this knowledge into my own garden, slowly perfecting my methods in the same way I view my game of golf – it will never be perfect, but I can always improve. Not only did my growing methods improve, but so did my social media efforts – blogs, videos, Instagram, Facebook, and my podcast – they weren’t perfect, but I had to allow my passion to spill out into something tangible.
It is this expression of passion that I believe helped me advance my role at AM Leonard from an Account Manager to an Associate Product Manager. The title bothered me at first – “associate” – but I kind of like it now because I can just continue to climb thru the ranks. And because titles don’t mean shit.
A leader isn’t chosen because of a title, they’re chosen as a result of their actions & execution.
So now I have decided to mash my job as a Product Manager with my life as a Gardener & completely immerse myself in providing value around gardening, growing, and the healthy lifestyle communities.
Recently, I have realized that I was setting some goals too far down the road. I keep saying that I can’t wait to own acres & acres of land; I can’t wait to become a farmer; one of these days we’ll be growing x; yet I am failing to recognize that I am already a farmer – just not in the traditional sense. I grow with organic methods & grow my plants in Root Pouches – fabric pots made from recycled water bottles, using a custom-blended soil concoction that I have created that includes beneficial microbes that a natural soil would have, but this is better because it eliminates the possibility of soil-borne diseases that could already exist in your garden.
My plan has drastically shifted from owning acres & acres to pumping as much food out of my small backyard as I can. I believe that growing only in Root Pouches will increase our space efficiency in the garden & in other spots around the garden perimeter / patio area – hopefully doubling or tripling production capacity since we’re adding an additional 300 of 10/15 gallon Root Pouches.
For the 2018 growing season we were able to feed 10 people with our CSA CropBox (CSA is Community Supported Agriculture & essentially provided our customers with a bi-weekly box of fresh produce). Peppers, cucumbers onions, garlic, turnips, potatoes, and some herbs were grown in the ground, but tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, radishes, spinach, cabbage, rainbow chard, and other herbs were grown in 70-80 containers – for 2019 we should be able to add another 300 containers at our current location – PLUS I should be able to put AT LEAST that many containers at my parent’s house (where we grew potatoes last year & where the deer obliterated my Sweet Corn patch). We will fence off the corn & put the potatoes in Root Pouches – the yields will be HUGE, just wait!
A lot of the additional containers will be optimized for succession planting of carrots, lettuce, radishes, spinach, greens, and onions. Not only will the increase in containers help, but I also have a plan to build a seed propagation rack with a sample LED grow light I got from a potential new supplier & I added some new LED lights at AM Leonard made specifically for vertical growing & propagation/seed-starting that will occupy the other shelves. We should have plenty of plugs to plant – and maybe we’ll even grow enough microgreens to begin to offer them as well!
So far here’s what I plan to offer in the CropBox this year:
Lettuce – Head & Leaf
Potatoes – Purple/Red/Yellow
Our revised plans may not involve 1,000s of acres, but if you’re an entrepreneur then you can make an acre out of a 1,000 square foot garden – if there’s a will there’s a way!
Stay tuned as we document the process of our growth in the garden & within the business we’re building!