Healthy Grown Grower Feature: Gumz Farms
It was late 1990’s when Gumz Farms in Endeavor first joined the Healthy Grown program, which then lead to the organization taking a break to focus on requirements of the newly-formed Gumz Muck Farms that had occurred a few years prior in 1994.
This hiatus from the Healthy Grown program was a direct result of focusing additional efforts and resources on improving the production of potatoes and onions on the farm. While owners like Rod Gumz still saw benefit of the program back then, they “just were not able to prioritize marketing or sustainability at that time,” Gumz says.
The hiatus didn’t last forever though as the organization re-joined the program in 2016. Gumz says at the time they re-joined, it was easier given that the farm had diversified and the team had prioritized marketing the farm to a broader base. Now they see the program as a fantastic public relations tool during a time when more and more people are questioning agriculture and becoming farther removed from farming. “We feel that the general public prioritizes the things that [the] Healthy Grown program exemplifies,” Gumz states.
If you aren’t already in the program and the time commitment is a struggle that’s keeping you from joining, Gumz says it isn’t as much of a commitment as you might expect, especially if your farm already undergoes food safety audits.
“We already have a lot of systems in place for food safety audits; therefore, the HG program requires less time than is spent on food safety/GAP certifications,” says Gumz. “If you are doing any of those programs, this work meshes well and is well worth it. The first year may take a little more time, but once you have a system, it is very manageable the following years.”
It’s a manageable system that produces a positive image which Gumz says the whole industry could benefit from. All too often, he says the public focuses only on the negative and being part of Healthy Grown helps to balance this as it proves growers are doing their part to protect Mother Nature’s resources.
So what about the small yet important aspect of “value-added” and getting a return on your investment? Healthy Grown has been around for a long time and yet growers still aren’t getting a premium. Gumz says his “value added” isn’t necessarily financial, at least not initially.
“I feel that the time spent on the program has improved our farms’ production. It forces you to come up with an Integrated Pest Management Plan with the input of UWEX Specialists, which is very valuable. Though this process, I have gained knowledge and a better understanding of production on my farm.” And it’s through this knowledge of improved production and the strength in numbers of having additional growers participate in the program that Wisconsin growers could see the “value-added” benefit come through in other forms.
What is the alternative to expansion then? Gumz fears it will be Wisconsin becoming stagnant and falling behind in its overall approach to production and marketing.
“I think once growers frame the value of Healthy Grown as a whole farm marketing tool and not as getting a premium for their product, they will see the value of it and start participating in it,” he says.
Gumz adds that with Wisconsin already being known as the “green state,” and other regions looking to compete, it’s important to stay ahead of the curve which includes staying progressive and keeping the program fresh. All the more reason he wants to encourage widespread participation, unify the state’s efforts and be leaders in the industry.