You won't find bunches of Rice Family Farms' rainbow carrots or bags of its purple potatoes at the Boise Farmers Market this season. After 22 years in business, the local organic farm is scaling back its operation.
"We were growing quite a diversity of wholesale crops and it just wasn't enough margin in a large enough percentage of them to make it profitable anymore," explained owner Lee Rice. "Some of it has to do with the economy-of-scale thing--you can be small and do mostly retail or you can be really large, like the California farms, and sell large quantities of wholesale."
What's more, Rice said organic wholesale prices have plateaued over the past four years, making it even harder for his medium-sized farm to contend with inexpensive organic produce grown in California.
"If the cost of production is high enough that it takes you out of the ballgame, then it just takes you out of the ballgame," he said.
Though Rice will still grow two or three wholesale crops this season on his 18-acre farm, he's putting most of his energy into mentoring new farmers Ian and Kelsey Kilgore of True Roots Organics.
"We're working really hard to bring this young couple along to step right in where we left off at the [Boise] Farmers Market, and they're going to have a CSA, as well. They'll be also doing a little bit of wholesale," said Rice. "It's going to be a big learning curve for them probably for a couple of years."
The Kilgores worked for 24 West Ranch last season, farming 12.5 acres of summer crops like corn and squash. But when 24 West stopped selling produce to focus on grass-fed beef, Rice Family Farms offered to mentor the Kilgores and lease them five acres and some greenhouses.
"We are growing the same number of vegetables as Rice Family Farms, just not the volume because we're not going to do wholesale," said Ian. "We'll ... focus on local families through CSAs and the farmers market."
True Roots Organics will have a booth at the Boise Farmers Market and sell cut flowers and bedding plants through Idaho's Bounty, the Boise Co-op and Whole Foods. They will also offer full- and half-sized CSA shares for $425 and $250, respectively.
"Our CSA is starting in May and it goes for 20 weeks. ... We're hoping to get somewhere from 25 to 50 CSA customers," said Ian.
Though Rice is passing on the organic farming torch, he still plans to be involved in the local food community.
"This business move that we're making, it frees my time up to have more balance in my life and eat regular meals and do more things for advocacy of organic and local food," said Rice.