LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Farm Bureau has given a statewide achievement award to a 28-year-old, first-generation farmer who had a profitable year by diversifying his offerings.
The bureau recognized Scott Thellman, owner of Juniper Hill Farms, LLC, as its Young Farmer and Rancher of the Year, the Lawrence Journal-World reported .
Thellman is unique because he doesn’t fit the mold of the average young farmer working within a multigenerational family farm, said Edie Doane, an official with the Kansas Farm Bureau. It’s challenging for first-generation farmers to enter the industry, Doane said.
“He has clearly done it well and has made a lot of sacrifices with his time,” Doane said. “But he has big goals and dreams and is working at them incrementally.”
Thellman owns 50 acres (20 hectares) near Lawrence where he grows vegetables, half of which are organic. He sells specialty crops, including lettuce, watermelon, pumpkins and winter squash.
He plans to add a greenhouse this year to grow tomatoes.
Thellman said he sells to local grocery stores, restaurants and the Lawrence school district, and ships some of the farm’s vegetables out of state. He has five employees during growing season but that number drops to three over the winter, when they help with ordering seeds and supplies, bookkeeping and marketing.
“I have been learning quickly what works and doesn’t work on the farm,” Thellman said.
Thellman faced a $40,000 loss in May after a hailstorm wiped out his spinach, Swiss chard and bok choy, he said. A drought last summer followed by an early freeze also hurt his winter squash, he said.
But Thellman worked out a deal to broker produce for a few farmers in the area and in Missouri.
“There are challenges you can’t control, and he does a good job finding the best options,” Doane said of Thellman. “That is the common thread with successful young farmers who make the best decisions in the long run.”