Visiting Walker Farm with Jack Manix : EP10 | Show Notes

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Andy Chamberlin: Today’s episode takes us to East Dummerston Vermont, where we visit with Jack Manix of Walker Farm. Jack is celebrating two major milestones this spring when I visited. The first being 50 years of marriage with his wife Karen. And the second milestone is, this is also their 50th year farming.
[00:00:30] This interview gives us a tour of the farm and garden center, which include 25 varying greenhouse structures. Some of these are the earliest of designs with simple hoops in plastic, and some of them are the highest of tech featuring fully automated glass houses that operate based on the weather. We then take a ride in the truck to set eyes on the fields and visit the Christmas Tree Farm where he then shares some of the wisdom that has kept their farm business in operation for their entire career.
Jack Manix: [00:01:00] This is Walker Farm in downtown Dummerston, Vermont. We do a wide variety of 140 varieties of heirloom tomatoes, probably 40 to 50 varieties of hot peppers that we sell as plants where we make much more money than when we plant them in the field and sell the produce. So, I encourage other farmers to look to diversify [00:01:30] from charred and parsley and think about selling plants along with their produce and making the profitability margin much higher.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah.
Jack Manix: So, this is our garden center season, and we do one third of our gross in May.
Andy Chamberlin: Wow.
Jack Manix: Yeah, so it’s crazy. And with the garden center season, the window goes up mid-April and it starts [00:02:00] going up and it goes up and it gets to be like Mother’s Day and it’s almost all the way up. And then, it’s in mid-May and it’s up and Memorial Day it’s starting to come down again. And then mid-June it only stays open because you need a little breeze in the summer.
And you sell some perennials, trees and shrubs and nuts and then some things and we sell some fall flowers. But there’s a window of air of about a couple of months that you really need to move tons of greenhouse stuff out. So that’s why it’s all about [00:02:30] sunny weekends. We had one May where there was, what, was it nine or I think it was 11 possible weekend days and the holidays. And it rained nine of those. And we’re still here.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah, right.
Jack Manix: So we made it. The nice thing about gardeners is that a lot … The real diehards, they don’t care.
Andy Chamberlin: They want flowers, rain or shine.
Jack Manix: Yeah. It’s very important to them. And also vegetable people too, so-
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah.
Jack Manix: … we have two [00:03:00] sort of facets. We have sort of the flowers, horticultural stuff and my wife does one of everything in the world, more than one of everything. Let’s walk this way.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah.
Jack Manix: So we have different departments which is nice so we can spread people out a lot. So this sort of alley here is for certified organic vegetable plants. And we start bringing, and so we have everything from artichokes to eventually [00:03:30] we’ll have a hundred varieties of heirloom tomatoes and crazy stuff and maybe 40 varieties of hot peppers including the exceptionally hot peppers like Carolina Reaper and the Ghost and Chocolate Ghost and Peach Ghost and all kinds of different ones like that.
And then this is the perineal area. And so, we get weekly deliveries of second year perennials here, which is nice. [00:04:00] And not many garden centers do this. My friend Andrew at Clear Brook Farm, I think he still does it because learned from us and it’s real because he worked with us for a long time.
Andy Chamberlin: Okay.
Jack Manix: He’s great. We call it Walker Farm West. So, we do these perennials in six packs from seed. And so this is a great way for gardeners to get going inexpensively. But the only thing they need to have, what most gardeners don’t have, and that’s patience. You need a little extra time. [00:04:30] But the people that need to fill in a large area, this is a good investment for them to buy six for 6.29 instead of 9.99 each.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah.
Jack Manix: So, it’s a good thing. And then, this is all perennial section here. And so, we have a lot of the diehard perennial people there. And then we have our little pottery barn that used to be our sugar house.
Andy Chamberlin: Wow.
Jack Manix: Yeah. So the goal [00:05:00] was not to be the biggest, it was to take care of our customers and they wanted pottery so we got pottery. We teamed up with some great nationally known horticulturists who happen to be living in the area years ago, [inaudible 00:05:16] from Northfield Garden Associates and Tasha Tudor and the authors and illustrator for kids. She’s like famous or she passed away [00:05:30] and we grew … She had us grow things and they had us grow things.
And Jamaica Kincaid, who was the garden editor of the New York Times, of the New Yorker, had us grow things for them. And then the leftover things we would start selling to our regular customers. And so, it was a symbiotic relationship where we all advanced horticulturally. Wayne and Joe would bring stuff back from France and Italy and Germany and it’d all be like in metric [00:06:00] and trying to figure out the germination times and the days till sail. It was difficult, but it was fun.
And so we got all these unique varieties and that sort of … And the same thing happened, really, with vegetables, we hooked up with these great caterers and they wanted oddball-
Andy Chamberlin: Unique stuff.
Jack Manix: Yeah. Yeah. And heirlooms especially. And then, I got carried away with the heirlooms. [00:06:30] Everybody at the farm was like, “Cut back on the heirlooms.” I’m like, “Okay, I cut one out.” But they’re just so unique. So I think we had 140.
Andy Chamberlin: Wow.
Jack Manix: I think I’m down to 139, so that’s good.
Andy Chamberlin: You cut way back.
Jack Manix: Yeah, cut way back. They can’t say I didn’t try. So, yeah, this young woman who works with us, has worked with us for years. She’s an artist and you can see what she does. I mean, it’s just amazing. [00:07:00] And so, we try to assess the talents of the people that work for us.
Andy Chamberlin: So she makes all these pots?
Jack Manix: No, she doesn’t make them. She sets them. She sets some color.
Andy Chamberlin: I see.
Jack Manix: Colorful. Rainbow style.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah. It’s pretty in here.
Jack Manix: And we have this other young woman that worked for us years ago and we don’t have it up yet, but she designs our theme sort of painting that we … It’s a huge thing that we put in this [00:07:30] greenhouse, which I’ll show you. And she’s got the, maybe if we see her, she can show you the prototype.
So, this other area over here is trees and shrubs. And so, I bought this iron fence on eBay, came out of Chicago, and then we bought that telephone, English
telephone booth over there came, I think, I got that in White River at a second-hand type place. [00:08:00] And then, we started to plant a bunch of different specimens that we brought back, those taller things in there, it sort of helped advertise the other things that we sell.
And so, we have that sort of a little enclosed area. And then, this is what we call, because when we set this display greenhouse up, it reminded us of, it reminded me, especially because I used to live after my mother moved away from the farm in Connecticut and used to go to New York a lot on the train, go down [00:08:30] to the village and it reminded me of Grand Central Station.
So, we have this train sort of theme-
Andy Chamberlin: Theme. Yeah. Yeah.
Jack Manix: … with the station sort of thing in it. And I need to go plug in my railroad crossing sign. Daisy, our propagator sort of handles this. And another thing that we learned, we want to make it a destination and experience and not just lay stuff out-
Andy Chamberlin: [00:09:00] Right, which is why you’ve got these decorative elements to it.
Jack Manix: Yeah. So it’s like Home Depot and those places will just throw it out there on the rack and you take what you want. And the thing is, and I brought this old stove down from a cabin that my parents had, so it was kind of cool. But you want to make it something that people will sort of remember and you want to mix it up a little bit. This has sort of been with us for a long, [00:09:30] long time, not this particular one, but we like to have Elvis in the building and he sort of greets us. Yeah.
These, when we were first getting going and we teamed up with these horticultures, they said, “You must come out to Oregon with us and visit the nurseries.” And we said, “Yeah.” We don’t know. We don’t know nothing about nurseries. So, they were saying, “Well, you got to see the Chamaecyparis.” [00:10:00] And we say, “Chama, chama, what?”
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah.
Jack Manix: And now, Chamaecyparis Nootkatensis Glauca Pendula rolls off our tongues because we went to all these different nurseries and learned so much and they taught us so much. This is a Chamaecyparis Green Arrow, which is this digit.
Andy Chamberlin: That’s one.
Jack Manix: Yeah, yeah. And it just sort of makes a statement.
Andy Chamberlin: Decorative greenery. Yeah.
Jack Manix: Yeah. And that’s a tall Picea. [00:10:30] And then one of my favorites is that one behind the phone booth. It’s called Picea Orientalis Skylands and that has the golden edges on it. It gets more gold. And this is tree here. And a lot of these are grafted as a Tsuga Canadensis, which is a hemlock-
Andy Chamberlin: Okay.
Jack Manix: … which is nicer.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah.
Jack Manix: And we were able to get those before the ban on them because of the hemlock woolly adelgid. It’s an invasive species that started coming around. So, [00:11:00] you can’t import hemlocks anymore into Vermont, which is kind of a bummer because-
Andy Chamberlin: Because they could bring bugs with them?
Jack Manix: Yes.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah.
Jack Manix: Yeah. But it does so well here. It’s like native.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah, it is.
Jack Manix: So you have to buy them from native nurses, but the native nurseries don’t really do a lot of graphing and things that make them interesting. Some of them do so. But they’re always kind of cool. And so, we don’t have that going right now. But we had an old truck I turned into a fountain [00:11:30] and that just sort of sprays down there. But let’s go down and check out the scene in the back.
So we have different departments like water plants and, yeah, I got these metal coconut palms. And Lindsay did handles all, she manages our organic production and the backs of it. She’s handling the herbs now. All our vegetables and our plants are certified organic. And she runs a smaller crew than we need. [00:12:00] No, we need a larger crew. She runs a small crew out back until we get our additional help coming in like the college kids and the high school kids that should start coming in mid-May or so when they get out of college out. Yeah.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah.
Jack Manix: These are things that are a little more difficult, the tropicals that we buy in and sell. And this is a place called Land Craft, which is unbelievable. It’s like a
conservatory almost that the rare plants down on Long Island. And so, we bring them [00:12:30] up here to check them in.
So we have 25 greenhouse structures. Does that sound crazy? Yeah, I think-
Andy Chamberlin: No. No.
Jack Manix: It is a little bit.
Andy Chamberlin: It’s a lot.
Jack Manix: Yeah.
Andy Chamberlin: No, Chris was telling me how it’s really a greenhouse museum out here.
Jack Manix: Yeah. I have this about greenhouse from every possible greenhouse company. Yeah. This is one of our horticultural houses that ready to roll for May. [00:13:00] And this is one of our organic houses that Lindsay has mostly herbs and that will stock up. And this is-
Andy Chamberlin: Whoa.
Jack Manix: … tomato house.
Andy Chamberlin: May 4th and they’re already six feet tall.
Jack Manix: Yeah. I used to have this old timer that I used to always try to get at least a pink tomato for his wife on Mother’s Day. And we used to plant them a little earlier [00:13:30] than we do now. Now, we’ll probably get some ripe tomatoes by about the 22nd or so and start picking. And then, we switch our farm stand, sort of our garden center sort of becomes a farm stand more first week of June when we start selling a lot of food.
I go down the market and get grapes and bananas and stuff like that.
Andy Chamberlin: Are all your houses named or numbered or?
Jack Manix: Well, after 12, we got to name them.
Andy Chamberlin: Okay.
Jack Manix: Because nobody wants a 13. [00:14:00] Yeah. These are ENTP type houses, ENTP persons.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah.
Jack Manix: And this house here is called Polytech, from a polytech in Minnesota that they make. And you can see from the peak, we’ve never ever had to shuffle that one. And what’s nice is it has a ridge vent so it can let the heat out in the summer. And greenhouses actually use a lot [00:14:30] more energy in the summer keeping cool-
Andy Chamberlin: Keeping them cool.
Jack Manix: … with fans like this than they do with the heat. It’s just a heater really running and maybe some lower powered HAS. But with this, in the summer, these sides are like air mattresses. They drop and the top drops and you get this natural convection that keeps them cool. And you can go in that greenhouse when it’s like 90 and it’s cooler in there than it is outside because you got air movement coming through-
Andy Chamberlin: Passively.
Jack Manix: Yeah. And with tomatoes of course, you don’t want them to get them over 90 [00:15:00] degrees or they drop blossoms. So that’s good. There’s another flower house.
Andy Chamberlin: Nice. Do customers come back here or is this all just gets starts and brought-
Jack Manix: No, yeah, no, we don’t let them back here.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah. Yeah, right.
Jack Manix: It’s all display out there. And that’s why we have a great team that scrambles to keep things going. This one, well, of course that was Fenway. Fenway Park and Seinfeld was named because Seinfeld closed down. The season’s closed down when we built that. And this is Wade who’s named after one of our dogs. [00:15:30] And also, Wade Boggs who used to play for the Red Sox.
Andy Chamberlin: Okay.
Jack Manix: Yeah. So Wade Dog is we used to call them. And this is mostly peppers and hot peppers and stuff. We keep this a little warmer than some of the other houses. Then there’s a couple of our lower profile organic houses.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah.
Jack Manix: And then another duplicate of the Polytechs. We plant the tomatoes. We have what we call the perpetual tomato machine. So, we plant in stages so [00:16:00] that we have plants from end of May sort of until Thanksgiving.
And so these will be in different stages that they’ll start coming along because they do tend to peter out a little bit after a bit. And then, we’re able to clean
that house out and start putting winter greens in later. But a lot of these houses will have three crops. This house will be bedding plants, which is of course the most profitable.
You can fit like 750 ten, twenty [00:16:30] flats in a 14 by 100 and a 28 by 100. And if you do the math and the plants are selling, I think we’re getting what, five bucks a six pack now times 8, 40 bucks a flat times 750 flats. It’s like $30,000 and it’s a lot of spinach.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah. Yeah.
Jack Manix: But then, after this, we might put ginger in here or we’ll put BHNs, [00:17:00] a determinate, tomato or another crop. And then, we’ll in the fall and winter, we’ll run greens here until January, February.
Andy Chamberlin: Okay.
Jack Manix: So we got three crops moving through these houses and that makes them a little more profitable. But the major one, the one I’m more most concerned about, of course, is this one.
Andy Chamberlin: Right now.
Jack Manix: Yeah. And this is another flower house here.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah.
Jack Manix: And this [00:17:30] is our main organic propagation house.
Andy Chamberlin: Okay.
Jack Manix: And we use an organic soil mix in this house from McEnroe Organics. And after we’re through with bedding plant production too, and even now, I mean we’re producing, our farm starts in here. We have our sort of last planting of greenhouse tomatoes. So after we do five plantings of greenhouse tomatoes, [00:18:00] then we have three houses of tunnel, San Diego style basket weave type tomatoes are the term BHN 589s.
And then, after those, we’ll start at the end of May and we’ll transplant June 20th or beginning of July, we’ll transplant fall greenhouse tomatoes. And we’ll have a couple houses of those and [00:18:30] cherries that’ll carry us through October, Thanksgiving, sometimes a little into December if the weather’s right.
And we also do a lot of greenhouse rotations of KEQs too. And then, we can just walk through here and we got sweet corn here, almost ready to go in transplant. We transplant all our sweet corn.
Andy Chamberlin: All of it?
Jack Manix: Yeah. We did 10 acres and we-
Andy Chamberlin: Whoa.
Jack Manix: … transplant sweet corn because we have to use untreated [00:19:00] seed being certified. And if the weather’s not right, the seed can rot or can get a seed corn maggot or something. But-
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah.
Jack Manix: … we’ll have 100% stand when we transplant it and we know we can actually predict what we’re going to harvest from that.
Andy Chamberlin: Right. Right.
Jack Manix: Yeah. Also, we’re big on using biologics. We have four people that are really trained well in scouting and [00:19:30] biological pest control. So, we use habitat plant, which is salism, and that attracts the good bugs that fight the bad bugs. And we use trap plants which are the marigolds that the bugs are attracted, especially in the organic houses, because there’s not a lot of flowering. They’re attracted to the yellow. And so, each week, we get the good guys and predators and parasites and we’ll spread them through the greenhouse and dump them on these trap plants and they’ll eliminate [00:20:00] the bad guys.
And then we have banker plants, and I’ll show you that later in number one, where it’s like our own little insectary. So we can buy the good guys in and then we breed them to distribute them on the other greenhouse, saves us a lot of money. And really …
Andy Chamberlin: So it’s really effective?
Jack Manix: Yeah, each year. Each year we learn more. This year has been the best so far because we found an answer to one of our biggest problems, which is [00:20:30] an aphid, it’s called the Foxglove aphid. You have to know the type of aphid you have in order to get the correct control. And so, we found, thanks to Carol and also Cheryl at UVM extension, that we could raise fava beans as a host for aphids, which don’t affect really the rest of the clouds.
[00:21:00] And then, we’re able to get Aphidius ervi, which go after the Foxglove aphid which are other aphidius colemani did not go after because they were too fast and too big. And so, it worked really well on controlling the Foxglove for the first time in a long time. We haven’t had the spray at all, I don’t think. So knowing the problem and knowing the solution is the key and also, following through on it.
This used [00:21:30] to be our display house years ago, but now it’s another tomato house. And so, this is sort of the second last stage of the greenhouse tomatoes.
Andy Chamberlin: Okay.
Jack Manix: And then, outback, we have five tunnels. Two of those are the rowing thunders, the movable tunnels, and we’ll put mostly high looms, from Johnny’s, a combination heirloom and hybrid. They’re bred to taste [00:22:00] and look like the old fashioned heirlooms, but they’re more consistent on having a nice shape and yield and doing well in a greenhouse.
And this is Pegasus, which remind us of Pegasus because it’s winged, sort of. And this is an organic house. Actually, it needs to be vented just a little bit. We can leave that door open and I’ll vent one side of it a little bit here. [00:22:30] We got some cut flour, some early vegetables. This is ginger here that we put in a house.
Our onion crop, that’s half of our onion crop, the rest of it is outside. Ideally, we’d be transplanting that now because the weather’s been so wet and we’re holding off on the profanity there. It’d been so wet we haven’t been able to get into the fields.
And so, we’re a little behind on strawberry onion planting. [00:23:00] But hopefully, this next week we’ll catch up and intersperse we have some greenhouse cubes, we’ll plant in between here. Later on, this will become tunnel, all tunnel tomatoes, and maybe a few cherry tomatoes and stuff for midsummer and later. We don’t grow many tomatoes outside anymore because the weather is just too unpredictable and too many issues.
But still a few cherry tomatoes and our first planting of regular [00:23:30] heirloom tomatoes go outside. This is just a little field. We have three or four acres out here where we plant a lot of greens and handy stuff. We have a couple of fields. I have a 16 acre field down on the Connecticut River that’s like the best soil in the world. As the old timer that sold it to me said, “Half the fertilizer, twice the yield.”
It’s like plowing butter. And [00:24:00] then, we have another field, it’s a little stonier that we lease four acres up the road. And then we have eight acres out back here and another three acre field.
Andy Chamberlin: What’s your total acreage, roughly?
Jack Manix: Well, the total acreage, I don’t really know. The total acreage, if it includes Christmas Tree Farm, we have 25 acres of organic. Christmas Tree is on 138 acre farm.
Andy Chamberlin: Okay. Yeah.
Jack Manix: So crop land, all total is about [00:24:30] 35 to 40 acres, I think.
Andy Chamberlin: Okay. Yeah. How do you want to slice it?
Jack Manix: I mean because we have 40 acres of woods here-
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah.
Jack Manix: … and that’s a garden too, really. We’re under forest management and fighting invasives and everything else. This was kind of cool. We had excavators. We used to have cows and we had a few dairy cows and we raised heifers and they used to come. This used to be slanted down. I had [00:25:00] them carve this out so we could fit in another greenhouse. And you can see this is another sort of rotation of the flowers.
These will be coming later on in May, the warmer stuff, or second rotations. Because what’s nice about our location is we’re able to attract people from a lot of different zones. We get people because of the unique stuff we have, we have people coming up from Connecticut and even New Jersey, which are in zone six, five, and definitely [00:25:30] five and six.
And then, Brattleboro might be a good zone five. But then, you need to have the later stuff for people that live in Marlboro and Westminster or Halifax or someplace where it’s a definitely zone four or Wilmington. And so, we need to have stuff for them later, because they’re not ready to go. They’re probably still shoveling snow, right?
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah, they’re just melting out.
Jack Manix: Which is nice so we’re able to attract [00:26:00] and then keep rotating stuff. I had some work done this year because I wanted to combat the invasives that are just everywhere. So, this used to be all that when I had cows is all grass and then you stop using it for a few years and poof. It just was like crazy.
And the flower greenhouses too, we rotate crops through those. This house that was all the pretty annuals that’ll have fall, [00:26:30] Chrysanthemums and Astros in it afterwards. So one of the things that’s kind of cool that might be interesting for other growers because of we don’t have a real good POS system for scanning things because we grow so many different things. We use different colored trays and pots for price points.
These yellows are more expensive. The plant center are more expensive. So when they come to the cash register and they’re adding things up, they can see this right away. You don’t have to scan anything.
Andy Chamberlin: So [00:27:00] are all the yellows the same price point or they know it’s a certain range of prices?
Jack Manix: All the yellow is the same price point.
Andy Chamberlin: Okay.
Jack Manix: Yeah, make it easier. And then, we have on pots, we have green, blue, white and black pots, four and a half inch pots that are all different price points also. So, things that are hard take longer to grow or they’re harder to mark up. I mean, harder to propagate so [00:27:30] then we mark those up. Yeah. So, this is just the other end of the tomato house, but what makes these things work well, because we have to plant in around March 18th or so.
So we have this underground little hot water system here and it’s a very simple system because-
Andy Chamberlin: Underground meaning?
Jack Manix: … you can get the air warm, but you can’t get the ground warm without hot water. So, just run a black plastic on about [00:28:00] 8 to 10 inches under these beds for a few days before we start planting.
They get the temperature up at least about 50, hopefully towards 60. And then that makes them take off well. And then you can see we’ve got bumblebees for pollination. We buy those in from a biological supplier. Of course, honeybees don’t like tomatoes. Honeybees, they like nectar and bumblebees, they like pollen. They make bee bread. And they have these little sacks on their legs that’ll [00:28:30] fill up with the pollen so they do a great job.
Early in the season before we have enough blossoms to afford the bees, we use this. I’ve had this thing for years, it’s a little hand pollinator. It’s like an electric toothbrush. Let’s see if the battery’s still got a charge in here. But we’ll go around to put this under a blossom cluster and ideally pollinate [00:29:00] between 11 and 1, And when the pollen is nice and dry and you can see it flying if it’s really dry. So it’s-
Andy Chamberlin: Between 11 and 1 in the?
Jack Manix: Yeah, in the morning, late morning, early afternoon. Yep.
Andy Chamberlin: How long does it take to do that?
Jack Manix: You walk through here in 10 minutes, 15 minutes. Yeah.
Andy Chamberlin: It’s quick.
Jack Manix: But the bees do a better job.
Andy Chamberlin: Is that something you have to do-
Jack Manix: And they were cheaper. Every day.
Andy Chamberlin: Every day.
Jack Manix: Every day? Yeah, every day. And so, we’ll do that when the first clusters come out and then start the second clusters. One, they have two solid blossom [00:29:30] clusters. Then, we start getting the bees in because you got to have something for the bees to eat.
Andy Chamberlin: Right.
Jack Manix: When they ship the bees, they’ll ship a little extra bag of pollen with them that you put by their hive and-
Andy Chamberlin: Kind of get them started.
Jack Manix: Probably get them going. Yeah. So this is our main propagation house. We keep this one and that one going all winter. These are our stock plants. They’re things that you can’t find easily in the trade and they’re not [00:30:00] patent protected, but there’ll be like a lot of fuchsias and things that are rare, coleus and salvias and things that plant enthusiasts are excited about, but they’re really hard to find.
So, we have certain things here that you just can’t find to buy wholesale. And somehow growing in the winter with a plastic [00:30:30] structure, somehow it pays off. I’m not sure how. But somehow it pays off. But this is a really nice house. I think this is our best company, Nexus.
We have a two-inch Styrofoam metal baseboard around that goes two feet in the ground. And then we have the cement floor, which of course holds some solar heat. And then we have computer-driven environmental system [00:31:00] that this is energy curtain. It’s not just for-
Andy Chamberlin: Oh yeah.
Jack Manix: … not just for cold. This is for keeping things cool also. So now, we have the roof turned off today, otherwise the roof would be venting. And these roofs are nice because they don’t open summer so they just open like this and you don’t get that much. They open like this, atrium stuff. So, they really let the heat out in the summer.
Again, you don’t need the fans. This side comes down over here on the left. And in our display [00:31:30] house, they call that a guillotine side. It goes up and
down. You just want to keep your head out of the way. So, that really, again, has a nice convection where the air will flow up through here.
This is what is her side. She can keep her side. My side is getting smaller now because we’ve got the greenhouses full. A lot of this heated stuff, although I keep going a little bit more. It’s a heated bench. [00:32:00] These are hot water. This is hot water. Put your hand on that and you can feel that’s just a hot water tank with a circulator.
And this is how you get things to root and how you get seeds to take off a little faster. And we have these soil machines are probably our biggest labor saving devices.
Andy Chamberlin: How many of these do you have?
Jack Manix: I have four because-
Andy Chamberlin: Same type of model?
Jack Manix: Yeah. Jake [inaudible 00:32:28] and I were on a tour [00:32:30] one time. Vern took us on to Canada and we were in a vegetable seeing Keqs grow in the greenhouse and stuff. And this grower said, “Hey, would you like to see the soil machine?” Of course he said it with a heavy, heavy French accent, but, “The soil machine that my sister has.” And we said, “Yeah, sure.”
And so previously, soil machines, you had to buy three pieces. So, you had to buy a bale buster and an elevator and a pop filler and it went from here to halfway down [00:33:00] the greenhouse and it cost her like $30,000 in 1980 money. It wasn’t fancy like this, but she had one and said, “Yeah, my husband is a welder and he made this for me.” And I said, “If he ever makes another one or he wants to sell another one, let me know, call me. Yeah.”
And Jake was interested in one also and poof. And so, I got this call, ” [00:33:30] Bonjour.” And I could barely understand it, but I had a call Jake too. And Jake had a worker that was fluent in French. And so, we negotiated for the first two commercial machines that he made. He had this metal dome building that was more or less his welding shop on the airport hanger because he flew a plane.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah.
Jack Manix: And we bought the first two, I think, they were like 5,000 each. It was unbelievable deal. And then, [00:34:00] he sold the distribution rights to Ball Horticultural, which is this huge seed plant business. And the next time I went up there, he had started to build a factory. And then we bought, I think, that was the second one I bought. And then the third time I went up there, he had eight guys working for him and he had all different conveyor belt models and things and they just [00:34:30] really take it off because he does a great job.
So, we were mixing up by hand in these things and we had shoulders and arms like Popeye. But it saves so much time.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah. Option one versus option two here.
Jack Manix: Yeah. This is my water system here and this is the-
Andy Chamberlin: Taken away.
Jack Manix: This is the reason that they keep me alive because nobody else can figure this out. So we have three wells [00:35:00] and an irrigation pond that fills a 5,000 gallon tank and a bunch of pumps that pump from that tank so we can water all the greenhouses and not have to wait for somebody to finish one before we move on to the next one.
Andy Chamberlin: Right.
Jack Manix: And this is sort of our main potting shed. We have to keep the machines separate. So we have two for these, two are for flowers and then I have the two for certified organic.
Andy Chamberlin: I see.
Jack Manix: Because you have to have your own soil.
Andy Chamberlin: Keep separate.
Jack Manix: [00:35:30] Yeah. So this one for this house. And then this is where the potting for the flowers happens as you saw the potting for the organic material hemps and the other. Most of my greenhouses now have these efficiency 93s from Modine. They’re 93% efficient and that’s really saved a lot of money for us.
Andy Chamberlin: Nice.
Jack Manix: Yeah.
Andy Chamberlin: How new did that come out?
Jack Manix: I think they’re probably [00:36:00] about 8 to 10 years old now. They’re a little bit expensive. I negotiated a deal because I have a bunch of greenhouses and I told them I want to get them for all the greenhouses, but I can only afford one or two a year. But I want a good price. I don’t want to pay top dollar each time I buy one.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah.
Jack Manix: So my sales-
Andy Chamberlin: I’m going to buy a dozen, it’s going to take me-
Jack Manix: I’m going to buy 20.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah.
Jack Manix: Tell them I’m going to buy 50. They said, “Wait a minute, you only have 25 greenhouses.” But tell [00:36:30] them what you want to do and negotiate. And there’s room for negotiation on just about everything we buy soil, pots, not labor. We pay actually top dollar for laborers because I’ve always felt it’s good to pay a good person more than pay two workers who aren’t as good and you just get a lot more done.
Andy Chamberlin: How big is your crew throughout the year?
Jack Manix: [00:37:00] Well, at the height of the season, we have about 40.
Andy Chamberlin: Wow.
Jack Manix: A lot of high school and college kids. This time of year, we have probably about 20. But this is the first year I’m getting two H-2A workers. I haven’t ever had to do that before. Last year was a real challenge with the workforce.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah.
Jack Manix: It is everywhere, as you know, everybody’s got the now hiring signs out. And [00:37:30] so, I have two actually coming in about 10 days because I had this other young guy that has a farm over in New Hampshire and I grow tomatoes for him. And he had heard that maybe I was thinking about it and he had the place … On the Christmas Tree Farm, I have a couple houses, but there’s an old timer that lives in one and that eventually would probably be converted to worker housing, but it isn’t quite yet.
Not that I’m in any hurry. I hope he lives to be 110 [00:38:00] because the remodel of that house is going to cost a fortune anyway. But anyway, so the opportunity was there, so I thought I’d give it a shot. It’s appealing because a lot of our high school college kids go back August 15th, 20th and we’re still going till Christmas Eve with the Christmas Tree Farm.
Andy Chamberlin: Oh yeah.
Jack Manix: And deep winter CSAs and things. So it’s good to have the help for harvest until mid-October and then our regular crew can sort of take it over from there. But, [00:38:30] yeah, this was the first, the gutter connect, that we put up. And it was always like, “A gutter connect in Vermont. I don’t know.” We did get that snow this year. But when we’re forecast to get over a foot of snow, I turn on heat on these things to like 75 degrees and try to start about four or five hours
before the storm so that everything is warm so when it hits, it melts. And it’s a lot cheaper to do that than to rebuild a greenhouse.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah. Yeah. So, I imagine it’s quite expensive [00:39:00] to build one of these.
Jack Manix: Yeah. But what’s cool, this actually has an energy curtain also. And I got fooled by the computers in the energy curtain when I got my first one. I came in the evening one time in a snowstorm in my number one greenhouse. And I found that the energy curtain wasn’t shut, it was open a quarter to a quarter to a third of the way. And I was like, “What the heck? It’s cold.”
Well what happened was the weather station said that there was precipitation. [00:39:30] And it told the controls that it was 32 or below. So it opened it up a quarter to let some heat up to melt of snow on the roof. So-
Andy Chamberlin: It actually did know what it was-
Jack Manix: Yeah. The technology was smarter than I was. So that-
Andy Chamberlin: Go figure.
Jack Manix: Yeah, but Daisy, this is all her stuff. She does this whole greenhouse, well, she has a helper but helps a little bit, but she does mostly everything here and just does [00:40:00] a fantastic job. You see all this stuff and you go, “Oh my god. We sell all this stuff.”
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah.
Jack Manix: It’s amazing.
Andy Chamberlin: So many plants.
Jack Manix: Yeah. I have a bunch of tractors with the various implements. Fortunate enough, I have two guys out there working today that can run tractors. One came to us and he’s just working like three days a week and he came up, worked on some big organic farms out in California. He started his own little place, but he needs a little help before he gets going.
Andy Chamberlin: Yup.
Jack Manix: And [00:40:30] then a worker that worked for us for three or four years, a couple years ago, he said he’d like to come in and do a day’s work when he has a day off. When I hired him, he called on the phone, they said, “There’s a guy who like to apply for a job.” And I answered the phone and I said, “I think I’m all set, but do you drive a tractor?” And he said, “Well,” he said, “I’ve driven everything from a lawnmower to an eight wheel tractor. My family has a 3000 acre farm in Iowa.” [00:41:00] I said, “You’re hired.”
Andy Chamberlin: I can learn something new.
Jack Manix: Yeah. So on the main farm back here, we have about eight acres I guess or so. It’s a little bit sandy, but it’s good for a lot of crops. It’s not like a river bottom soil, but we’ve learned what we need to plant there and what doesn’t do well. This is our strawberry crop. We do everything [00:41:30] retail. And so, I got these guys spreading compost. We’re lucky we have a good dairy farm that supplies us with compost from their methane digester. So I have them.
We spread pretty heavy as you can see to build organic matter. But having two guys, one, I have two spreaders. I bought an extra spreader last year. And to have one guy loading and one guy spreading constantly really knocks it out. These are the movable tunnels and [00:42:00] we’re going to be tarping their empty spaces to knock down the weeds.
So, we have some early carrots, greenhouse carrots, in there that will hopefully be ready by mid-June or so. And then, once they’re ready, we’ll move that greenhouse up to this spot and we’ll plant probably a second round of heirloom tomatoes [00:42:30] in a greenhouse. And then we’ll move it back and cover spinach or greens for the winter.
And the same thing with this, which is nice, we don’t have anything planted in there now, but we’re going to put some early … I have a bunch of the high looms that’ll go in there and then we’ll move it back over here to plant some BHNs or something and then move it back and forth to do cold and hot.
Andy Chamberlin: Do you like the movable tunnels?
Jack Manix: I [00:43:00] do. I do like those movable tunnels. They’re pretty easy to move.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah.
Jack Manix: And we have a video on YouTube if you search for movable tunnels, which just shows us Walker Farm moving them and my son put a cool soundtrack on.
Andy Chamberlin: Nice.
Jack Manix: And this is just another round of greens before we put in the San Diego style or basket weave type BHN determinate [00:43:30] tomatoes, because as you can see, well a lot of tomatoes.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah.
Jack Manix: And then, what do we have in the back there? We have onions in that next one back there. You want to go see those or?
Andy Chamberlin: Sure.
Jack Manix: Yeah. Can we get down through there? So we try to use a lot of cover crops, mostly buckwheat and rye and oats. The kind of stuff we need to die off quick. These onions will get us started in mid-June or so.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah.
Jack Manix: And these we just seed [00:44:00] down in January and never had really good luck. And a lot of people have better luck over wintering it, but I find it’s just too many issues with weeds and bugs and stuff. So having these houses freeze out and then planting them, rotating them around and planting them has worked well for us.
And then the back one, we prepped that and I was going to plant today, but probably 37 tonight so I’m going to wait one more night. And [00:44:30] we’ll put our last round of those tall high loom type tomatoes in there and string them up and prune them. And this over here, the other side here is called Berry World.
We saw actually our composts over there. But we have blueberry. We have like 250 blueberry plants and a bunch of fall raspberries. And these are kiwis, which desperately need pruning. You know the hardy kiwi.
Andy Chamberlin: Okay, yeah.
Jack Manix: Yeah. I got to go along, go [00:45:00] alongside them with a chainsaw and knock them down because they’re going to collapse … I have this super strong trellis they’re on, but I think it might collapse.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah, they’re a little thick.
Jack Manix: Out back, we have a nice irrigation pond, which is crucial, really, more crucial for our horticultural operation than the field crops even. Because when we have all these greenhouses going and it’s 90 degrees and then all that plant material out of there that sometimes needs to be watered twice a day, [00:45:30] we can go through quite a bit of water. It’s not surface water.
There’s all these new rules with the surface water and-
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah, right. Depends how you’re irrigating them.
Jack Manix: Yeah.
Andy Chamberlin: You get started farming?
Jack Manix: Well, after college I always used to come out and visit my grandfather’s farm. It’s been in our family since 1770 and I used to come up and visit my grandfather. My wife and I came up, we were going to go out. I was going to be
a, [00:46:00] well, I was supposed to be a lawyer. But I put the kibosh to that fairly early. And my mom worked for a law firm and that they paid my tuition and I was supposed to go that route. But I decided that I wanted to try to be a fisherman out in the cape.
And Karen, my wife, was going to do crafts. But we came up here, stayed with my grandfather and my parents have a camp that my grandfather gave them about five miles away. And every day [00:46:30] we started coming down, helping out my grandfather. He had a few things going on and said, “Hey, this is a lot of fun.” And so, we started really small and I don’t know what happened, I’m not sure how all these greenhouses got here.
But this was our original little farm stand right here by the road. So we converted this, it was a garage, we converted this to a a farm stand and I put some add-ons on and things. [00:47:00] And on weekends, we have a traffic cop because there’ll be 70, 80 cars here and there’ll be no place to park and we don’t want people getting hurt.
So now, the garden scene is crazy. Gardeners all have to have their special stuff.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah.
Jack Manix: We do a lot of lisianthus, I don’t know if you’re familiar with that. It’s a cut flower and it’s like the best cut flower. It lasts the longest in the vase. [00:47:30] They call it the desert rose. It looks like it’s got a rose like blossoms. And it was a native to Texas, Arizona, like hot days and cool nights. And then, we sent it over to Japan and they developed all these different colors and varieties of it and sell it back to us as plugs and seeds.
But we sell a ton of that. And then, the vegetable people, they all have to [00:48:00] have their sun gold cherry tomatoes or their brandy wines. This is used to be a dairy farmer. He didn’t have this building here. Dairy farmer, Albert Moore is a great little fire plug type of guy. He owned a farm down in Massachusetts that was taken by eminent domain by the University of Massachusetts. It’s now their football field-
Andy Chamberlin: Oh geez.
Jack Manix: … in Amherst. And so he moved up here and when he passed away, [00:48:30] we used to call this Dummerston International, there was a landing strip here. And the guys had planes and that was the hangar for him there. But then they sold it to a dairy farmer and he actually stopped farming now leases it to another large dairy farm.
But we still call it the Moore Farm because Albert Moore was such a character. He used to sell us calves and we would raise them as heifers [00:49:00] and sell them back to them.
But when the other guys bought this, we had been leasing this field for 16 years and then they said, “Well, you’re going to have to move your compost because we sold the fields.” And I said, “Oh, well, it looks like we’re just going to be a garden center. Which probably wouldn’t have been a bad idea, probably would’ve netted more.”
But I went up there with my daughter and there was the father and the son who went to Cornell [00:49:30] Ag and they were in their office and I would say lease, I was talking about leasing it and he was doing these figures and it was going to cost a ton of money to lease because all the yield they could get from it. And I said, “Well, if you decide to sell it, I’ll give you X amount of money.” And they both looked at me like, “X amount?”
So I got home and an hour later they called me and said, and it was a crazy amount of money, but flowers paid for it, so it didn’t matter.
Andy Chamberlin: [00:50:00] That’s good.
Jack Manix: Yeah, it didn’t pay for this with bee greens. But this is really good soil as you could see. Last year for some reason or another, we had crops growing so late we did not get the cover crops on that we usually get on. I mean this is usually all cover crops. Some of it has already been dissed in.
Andy Chamberlin: This is a pretty good sized field.
Jack Manix: Yeah. And there’s two little fields across from it and a total of about 16 acres from this, some nice [00:50:30] looking garlic. Oh, I wanted to actually go out and see if the carrots had germinated here yet. It’s been so cool that we haven’t had … The peas are up, but carrots aren’t up.
Oh yeah. It’s just starting to come. I bet this heat. Now’s the time, actually, I could tell my son now we need to flame them-
Andy Chamberlin: Just as they’re coming up?
Jack Manix: Yeah, I think, or just before we missed the boat on the beets. I don’t know. That looks like it could still be flame. Oh no, this is too late. The gold beets. See these [00:51:00] just up little bit. But we can flame these carrots and boy, that’ll really save a lot of time. And the first planting of pieces, I’m going to text my son actually to tell him right now.
Andy Chamberlin: What’s his role on the farm?
Jack Manix: He’s the heir apparent.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah.
Jack Manix: The prodigal son. Yeah. He manages pretty much the most of the field crops and does a lot of the tractor work. So, although I plant the peas and look at this stand of peas, [00:51:30] it’s beautiful.
And his job is to say, “That’s way too many peas.”
Andy Chamberlin: Awfully thanks dad.
Jack Manix: But that’s a lot. I mean, this is the first of three plantings, so we sell. But it’s funny gardeners, some of the, I mean, the customers are so ecstatic about fresh peas. They go crazy.
Andy Chamberlin: The taste-
Jack Manix: I remember years ago, [00:52:00] it was a Friday evening, we were about to close the stand and one of our customers who was from New York City, he was vice president of Mobil oil, one of the vice presidents. And he came up and he said, “Fresh peas? Fresh peas? And I said, “Oh gee, I’m really sorry we sold out. We’ll be picking more tomorrow.” He goes, “What? No peas.” And he started stamping his feet and he was having a fit. He’s the vice president of Mobil [00:52:30] oil-
Andy Chamberlin: Stamping his feet over fresh peas.
Jack Manix: He was so crazy about fresh peas. And a lot of farms don’t grow some of the things we grow like peas and beans and labor intensive stuff. But that is why people come to a farm stand because they get that kind of … You can’t buy fresh peas in a supermarket. What are they, a week old at least. And green beans are machine harvested and they’re half stems. So, those are the things that really make that farm stand, I think, unique. [00:53:00] So that’s really, really cool.
And we are fortunate that so far we’ve been able to have the labor to get them picked. But it’s not easy. It’s not a high profit item. But strawberries are labor intensive. They’re more of higher profit.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah.
Jack Manix: This is a pretty high organic matter and it’s like 40 feet of topsoil here from the glaciers. So, it’s really nice. I had a well [00:53:30] drilled number of years ago there so we can irrigate this whole field and get 60 gallons a minute.
I mean, it’s not pumping from a river. But we had a young woman that worked for us and she eventually turned into a doctor of hydrogeology. And she told us, “There’s a river that runs alongside the river,” because you think of it, the river’s not in a cement funnel. It’s saturated soils all along it. And so, we tapped that. It
took me five [00:54:00] drills because they kept hitting ledge, which is the drill was like, it’s pretty unusual to hit ledge down here.
I said, “Yeah, well that’s my luck.” I said, “Let’s try one more time up here.” And they tried they got 60 gallons a minute. So we’re able to use sprinklers to germinate carrots and stuff. But mostly we use drip. My black raspberries are dying out. I planted a new batch at the farm. But these black raspberries are really profitable crop [00:54:30] that people are becoming more and more fond of.
They’re high antioxidant. We prune them pretty heavy to get bigger ones. But they used to be more prolific. See this section here that just sort of died out. I had some smaller ones planted there. I don’t see them. They’re still coming up. Yeah, they’re still coming up a little bit. And this section we used to store compost down here. So I’m really interested to see how this garlic will do.
This is a little overflow garlic area, but we might use that section for seed [00:55:00] garlic for next year.
Andy Chamberlin: How many years have you been farming now?
Jack Manix: Well, we came up to live with my grandfather in ’73.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah.
Jack Manix: And we started off with a, I think, the second year we were with him. We bought a seven by nine foot glass greenhouse from Agway and-
Andy Chamberlin: And there it started.
Jack Manix: It’s been 50 years.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah. Nice.
Jack Manix: Yeah, don’t tell anybody. [00:55:30] Yeah. And so we started this also it would be our 50th wedding anniversary because that’s when we got married in ’73. We weren’t married, we were hippies. And we said, “We don’t need to get married. We don’t need to get married.” And our parents said, “Yeah, you need to get married.” And we said, “Well, it doesn’t make any difference to us. Why don’t we get married? And then my grandfather will be happy and all our parents will be happy.”
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah. Congrats. That’s an accomplishment too.
Jack Manix: Thank you. And we’re a great team. My wife just is [00:56:00] probably one of the most knowledgeable perennial tree and shrub people in the state and she has amazing printing, which you wouldn’t believe how important that is.
Andy Chamberlin: Like handwriting printing?
Jack Manix: Yeah. For all our signage and stuff. That’s just-
Andy Chamberlin: One of those skills you didn’t know you needed.
Jack Manix: I tell people, I interviewed people for their printing before I got married. But no, she just does a great job. And plus, she usually [00:56:30] puts the breaks on some of my more extravagant, extravagant ideas. But you want to take quick, got time to take a quick ride up to the tree farm or?
Andy Chamberlin: I got as much time as you’re willing to give.
Jack Manix: We’ll go. We’ll go visit a tree farm then. We’ll probably have to call it quits. We were up at this tree farm, I think, it’s been eight years. So nine, eight, nine years. And we should be thinking about retiring, right?
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah.
Jack Manix: But we’re not going to retire. My idea of retiring is when I lay down [00:57:00] on the compost pile.
Andy Chamberlin: And then that’s it. Yeah.
Jack Manix: But we were up there buying our Christmas tree and I said, the Schmitz, the old folks that have run it, they have it for sale through the land trust and my wife says, “We should buy it.” And I’m going, “What have you done with my wife?”
So, it was more of a competitive process, but because we were established and close by and had the knowledge, [00:57:30] we took it over and we converted it to an organic operation. Or we don’t use weed killers or chemical sprays or chemical fertilizer. And somehow, we make it work pretty well. But we’ve had a few different tree managers, but the one we have now is just unbelievable. It was enough.
I was going to horticultural conventions and meetings and seminars and vegetable, [00:58:00] vern stuff in Manchester, the fruit and vegetable growers. And now I go to a Christmas tree meeting. And Christmas Tree Growers Association was, well, at first, I thought they were a little to the right of Genghis Khan. I am political. But they’re really nice guys and everybody talks to you and helps.
It’s just Vermont, how we network so well together.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah.
Jack Manix: You go down to Massachusetts and they don’t do that.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah.
Jack Manix: It’s very competitive. And I’ve had [00:58:30] people come up from Massachusetts work for us and they go, “I can’t believe everybody’s friendly up here.” And I think most growers feel that, you can give 10 different people a recipe for apple pie and you come out with 10 different apple pies.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah.
Jack Manix: So this was sort of handy and it made it nice because we were able to employ our crew, a lot of our crew, for another solid month after Thanksgiving. It’s a nice way to wind up the season, it’s only about 5% of our gross. [00:59:00] But everybody is happy at Christmas time.
Andy Chamberlin: It’s a fun time of the year.
Jack Manix: Yeah. It’s just a fun time. And we buy trees from this great old tree grower and decorate them and we sell some. So we have just a little spot out back there that needs mowing real bad. You can see the trees up there-
Andy Chamberlin: Oh yeah.
Jack Manix: … four or five years old. And then we just [00:59:30] planted these a couple years ago and then that section over there, we just keep planting. We have a bunch of different plots and this is really busy actually during Christmas time, but this is our Santa’s workshop here is where we do the res and stuff in there. And this is our little farm store. And we also sell greens and stuff. We have the cooler in there and some extra stuff and some cheese and apple cider and stuff from local farmers and stuff.
And this is [01:00:00] the old folks’ home. She passed away on her own terms a couple years ago and he’s like early 90s. So someday, we will have to manage that place too. And this is our retail lot where we’ll set up the racks and the trees for people that want to buy. But we also do cut your own.
So, this is what probably two thirds of our trees are cut your own. And then we don’t have enough trees, so we [01:00:30] buy in. I go up to north to this old timer and of course he’s retiring so we won’t be able to get them forever. But he supplies those beautiful trees.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah. Yeah.
Jack Manix: And this is a barn we turned into an event barn. So we have some marriages as the side there and stuff but-
Andy Chamberlin: These black locust trees?
Jack Manix: Yep.
Andy Chamberlin: They’re beautiful. Huge.
Jack Manix: That’s something-
Andy Chamberlin: Huge.
Jack Manix: That’s something they don’t fall over.
Andy Chamberlin: yeah.
Jack Manix: But it’s a lot of wildlife up here too. It’s so different from [01:01:00] our farm being directly on route five. We won’t go too far up in there, but those are the stone trees.
Andy Chamberlin: That’s cool. Okay. Pretty cool.
Jack Manix: Yeah.
Andy Chamberlin: So who built those?
Jack Manix: I’m not going to go up here actually. It’s still a little wet. So Jared Flynn, who was the sort of a protege of Dan Snow, who’s sort of like nationally known stone work guy. There were two of them up here the previous owners had. And so, we [01:01:30] commissioned him to do the third one beyond that, the third one up there. So yeah, they’re kind of cool people like that.
Andy Chamberlin: It’s super cool.
Jack Manix: The third one is nice. They never did cut your own because they’re worried about liability and stuff, but we opened up the farm more. And that’s why I like the third one because it’s more open and it’s designed so that kids can crawl on it and stuff.
Andy Chamberlin: Wow.
Jack Manix: And get up on there. It’s pretty sturdy. Where the other ones you don’t want to get kids on because it’s so meticulous work. And then [01:02:00] you can see that next year’s trees and the couple of years after that are beyond that towards the woods. We buy the trees in. They’re about four years old when we get the seedlings. And then we grow them for seven, eight years. So it takes a while.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah. It’s not a quick-
Jack Manix: It’s really like a slow crop of broccoli. And what’s nice that people say, “You’re cutting down trees. You’re cutting down.” Just as soon as you cut down trees, you’re planting them. So [01:02:30] you’re getting the same=
Andy Chamberlin: Something’s always growing.
Jack Manix: Yeah. And you’re getting the same air purifying effects because you constantly have this in trees and it’s much better than putting a plastic tree from China in your house.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah.
Jack Manix: It’s still a lot of water coming out of these springs and snow. I also lease, I have a bunch of sugar maples here, at least to a sugar maker. We used to do sugar in, but [01:03:00] the greenhouses got too intense, so it was just too hard to do the cleanup and keep track of all the sugar.
Andy Chamberlin: Well, and there’s a lot of overlap and-
Jack Manix: Yeah. It’s too much. Yeah.
Andy Chamberlin: It’s too busy that time of year.
Jack Manix: Right. And the weather is so unpredictable because we didn’t use reverse osmosis and the pumps and things that they use now. So, it was more susceptible to the extremes. [01:03:30] We plant like 1500 trees a year, but last year we lost probably 300 to 400 because of the drought.
Andy Chamberlin: Oh wow.
Jack Manix: So we just didn’t have the time. We should have come up and with a transplanter barrel and watered them in. But it was just not enough help and not enough time. So, we had to buy some extra trees to fill in the holes this year.
Andy Chamberlin: So you’ve been farming for 50 years and the business is [01:04:00] healthy and going to continue on. What do you think has been one of the big things that led to its success?
Jack Manix: Well, I think, the good farmers I know, and there’s a lot of good ones in Vermont, they just sort of live for farming. It’s 24/7. And you go on a vacation for a week and you want to get home to the farm. So, it’s a lot of that. Also, I think, adjusting to the markets. When we first started, we used to sell [01:04:30] 50 pound bags of potatoes and a lot of cabbages. And now, we sell a lot of cherry tomatoes, cut salad mix, Brussels sprouts instead of cabbages. And you’re adjusting to what people want.
And also, I think we visited other garden centers and farm stands and a lot of people don’t put the money back into their operation. You’ve got to [01:05:00] keep it looking fresh. People want to think that you’re doing well and that they want to be associated with a place that’s doing well, not a place that’s going out of business in a couple of years or something.
It’s listening to the customers and adjusting to what their needs are. I mean, it was kind of crucial. We’ve been able to develop a rapport with our [01:05:30] clientele, so we take care of our fields and we cultivate our clientele. But I think another thing that farmers have that’s their greatest marketing is their family.
People come and they saw our kids growing up. We were struggling at our little farm stand and selling lettuce for 35 cents a head. And so, they grow up with you and they [01:06:00] like to see that. And also, we’re fortunate. We have great people working there. Some of them have been working there for 25 plus years. So they like that continuity, I think, of knowing who’s here and that is familiar.
But changing up displays and introducing new products and changing with the times.
Andy Chamberlin: What advice would you [01:06:30] give to a young farmer?
Jack Manix: Well, what I give to a lot of vegetable farmers is to get into plant sales. You’re an expert at growing plants, you’re going to farmer’s markets with lettuce and charred and stuff. Well, maybe you specialize in hot peppers. There’s a much higher profitability in plants than there is in vegetables.
Andy Chamberlin: Right.
Jack Manix: [01:07:00] And you’ve got the people coming to you, so give them what they want. Maybe you don’t want to compete with the flower growers and the nurseries in the area, but you’re an expert at growing vegetables. So, specialize in heirloom tomatoes or purple cauliflower or plants or something. Yeah.
There’s a lot of opportunity. There’s a million ways to make income in this business and you just have to figure out [01:07:30] what they want and give it to them.
Andy Chamberlin: That’s a sound business advice.
Jack Manix: Our business philosophy too is it’s from a movie. I wish I could remember the name of it. But it’s a story about this guy, this tourist. He’s traveling in Arizona and he’s driving down one of the state highways and he sees this Native American selling pottery by the side of the road. And so, he stops and he’s looking around. It’s really nice pottery, and he says, “I [01:08:00] got a question for you. I’ve got a pot here for $20. It looks like the exact same pot here for
$10.” And what’s the difference? And he says, and the old timer says, “Well, some people like to pay $10, some people like to pay 20.”
So we try to go for the people that like to pay 20.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah.
Jack Manix: Jack and Karen Manix at Walker Farm in downtown [01:08:30] East Dummerston, Vermont. And we have about 35 acres of organic produce, 25 acres of organic Christmas trees, 25 varying kinds of greenhouse structures. We try to do a diverse line of products. We have everything from artichokes to zucchini with ginger and turmeric and a lot of heirloom tomatoes thrown in 25 acres of organic [01:09:00] Christmas trees and an amazing group of employees that somehow keep it all going and keep us interested and continuing.
It’s like a scene from Breaking Away this bicycle racing movie where the townies are on a hill overlooking the college. And they see all these young people down at the college and one of the guys says, and this is our story too, and said, “We just keep getting older and they stay the same.” [01:09:30] So we get all these young people with energy in and it keeps us going.
And that’s what’s been, I think, the success of our farm is that we’re able to attract amazing employees and otherwise we wouldn’t be able to do it, so.
Andy Chamberlin: I’m Andy Chamberlain and that was the Farmer’s Share. I hope you enjoyed this episode, learning from Jack and getting a virtual tour of their operation. [01:10:00] Be sure to check out and subscribe to our YouTube channel to see any relevant footage from these farm visits. The Farmer’s Share is on Instagram so please give that page a follow over there. You can visit the to check out more episodes and interviews.
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Thanks for listening.