Griggs Bros. Farms helps to spur area’s interest in local food production
AUGUSTA, Kan. – Todd Griggs admits that he was skeptical the first time that Butler County extension agent Larry Crouse brought up the idea of building a greenhouse to grow tomatoes and support his family.
Griggs, owner of Griggs Bros. Farms, was doing fairly well growing field tomatoes and a few other crops south of Augusta. And he figured that dealing with the weather and the various pests was just part of doing business.
But then fate came knocking at his door.
“I was offered a high tunnel (greenhouse) for sale, so I purchased it and the next year we produced in it,” Griggs said, “and I corrected my thinking.”
That was in 2010, and Griggs had been getting about four pounds of marketable fruit from his field tomatoes. In the first year of growing in the high tunnel — also called a hoop house — he harvested 18 pounds of fruit per plant.
“That changed me,” Griggs said. “Here I was fighting drought outside and trying to get four pounds per plant of something that was marketable. We have high quality standards and I just was not getting that out in the field.
“Once I saw what the yield was coming out of that first house, I changed my thinking and we headed down that road and purchased our next houses.”
Griggs is now growing in seven high tunnels, with five more being built. The family continues to grow produce in fields south of town.
“I am not quite big enough to call a truck to back up to my door and load up a full load of tomatoes on any given day,” Griggs said. “But we are at five farmer’s markets that we’ve been doing for a couple years and that’s quite a bit. We have a roadside stand. We do a little bit of pick your own, I furnish some roadside vendors with their stuff, and then other farmer’s market vendors.
“What I’d like to do and where we’re headed is to be able to cut back on those farmer’s markets that we’re headed to and get that contract to where we are actually growing for a distributorship.”
Griggs’ success is indicative of the role that county extension agents can play in helping to advance local food systems.
“The great thing for me in working with Todd is his willingness to learn, his willingness to implement what needs to be done and having the wherewithal to do that,” said Crouse, who has been an extension agent in Oklahoma and Kansas for 27 years.
“Now that he is successful and has this business going, it’s so much easier for me to talk with other people and show other people what can be done. We can talk high tunnels in the classroom all day long, but when you can bring somebody out to an operation like this and tell them six years ago none of this existed and this is what can be done, that opens a lot of eyes.”
Crouse routinely brings extension agents, Master Gardeners and others to Griggs Bros. Farms to learn more about growing produce in high tunnels.
“He has no secrets,” Crouse said of Griggs. “He sees the further development of vegetable growing in this area as a win-win for everybody. The more people we can get doing this, the better market atmosphere we can create for the entire area.”
Griggs does his part to boost the local economy by hiring local high school students, and others for summer work. He’s also working to expand production and talking with area groups about developing new markets through a food hub.
“I personally see that some kind of distribution network down here would be good for the business,” Griggs said. “Local food is still pretty hot and I don’t see it dying down anytime soon.”
This year, Griggs said he picked his first tomatoes on April 16 – “the earliest I have ever picked tomatoes.” Because of the high tunnels, he was able to pick tomatoes last year until just before Thanksgiving.
That extended growing season “keeps the markets open longer with more viable produce,” Crouse said. “And when markets stay open longer with more viable produce, then more people visit them for longer periods of time. That’s just keeping more Kansas dollars in Kansas.”
“There’s plenty of room for everybody,” Griggs said. “The more vegetable production we get in this area, the better this area is going to be for everyone, including myself. If there were some other growers that would get started, it would only benefit all of us.”
Griggs also doesn’t mind admitting he’s now the guy trying to coax others into growing in high tunnels.
“I do feel that if it wasn’t for K-State Research and Extension, I probably would not have headed down the road that I did, developing my high tunnels and my greenhouse business,” he said. “I’d still be out there in the field wondering how come it’s raining all the time and I have bad product.
“It’s a great benefit to the development of my business, and how we’ve been able to do what we’ve done in the short amount of time that we’ve been able to do it.”