Yesterday in Midwest Entrepreneurs class we had our second “farmer as entrepreneur” guest speaker in a row; Dusty Spurgeon, a 2010 Biology (major) and Chemistry (minor) graduate of Monmouth College. However, Dusty—who co-owns and operates Spurgeon Veggies in Galesburg, IL with her mother-in-law Eloise Spurgeon—is a very, very different type of farmer than Paul Rickey (our last guest speaker in the class).
Links to the Spurgeon Veggies webpage and Facebook page are provided below.
While the students witnessed discussion of the great differences between Dusty Spurgeon and conventional farmers such as Paul Rickey, they also heard that both are entrepreneurs running their respective businesses in the face of the some of the same risks (e.g., weather, fluctuating seed and other material prices, and dynamic market demand). A key takeaway is that while the two farmers are quite dissimilar in some important ways (e.g., scale of operation and target market) they are in other ways quite similar; mainly, at a macro-level, that both are entrepreneurs who must continuously adapt to market conditions to effectively run their increasingly complex businesses.
Below, Midwest Entrepreneurs class member Kayla Moore tells the story of Dusty Spurgeon and the ongoing growth of Spurgeon Veggies.
Only six short years ago, Dusty Spurgeon was in the same place that I am now in—a senior at Monmouth College wondering what to do with her life when she got out into the real world. I have learned from listening to many of the speakers we have had in class, that there is not one set path for each of us to take in life; that your degree does not limit you to only working in a certain field. Dusty was a biology major in college, but after realizing that she did not want to go through any more schooling, she gave up the long path to becoming a scientist and was left not knowing what to do after college.
Dusty’s passion for growing fresh produce in environmentally friendly ways began when she took a class here at Monmouth College called Food For Thought. The different books that she read for the class opened her eyes to the way food is processed in the United States, and even led to Dusty changing her own eating habits. The class also made her want to have her own garden to grow fresh fruits and vegetables someday. Little did she know that someday soon she would co-own a 3 acre farm and produce fresh fruits and vegetables for not only herself, but an entire community.
Dusty married, and not too long after, her mother-in-law Eloise asked her if she would like to partner up to help with Eloise’s small CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) business. What started out as kind of a gardening hobby for Dusty became a life-long commitment. Through a lot of passion and hard work, co-owning, managing, and farming Spurgeon Veggies has become a career with which Dusty can now make a living wage. Dusty started to no longer think of Spurgeon Veggies as just a garden, but rather a farm and a business, which she said was the turning point in the business and her career. With little education outside the field of science, Dusty had to teach herself how to do many of the things that are required to run a successful business, and through a lot of trial and error, she had to gain skills in agriculture as well.
Dusty is a very different type of farmer than Paul Rickey, a “conventional” farmer that spoke to us in class last week. Dusty and Eloise use a small European made walk-behind tractor to work all three acres of land that they farm. Whereas on a conventional farm, 1-2 crops are grown on many acres of land, Dusty and Eloise grow hundreds of varieties of vegetables and fruits on only a few acres, which they are able to do because their crops produce much higher yields than conventional crops do. They also have different methods of protecting their crops against pests and weeds such as using row covers and plastic mulch.
Today, Spurgeon Veggies CSA firm in Galesburg, Illinois has around 100 members and 4 drop off sites for CSA members to pick up their shares of produce. Spurgeon’s Veggies is continuing to use environmentally friendly methods to manage their land, and continuing to grow in part because of the marketing that Dusty has done on their Facebook page and website. Dusty and Eloise hope to hire their first employee this year, as well as grow their CSA program to around 200-250 members, and expand the farm by a couple of acres. Dusty hopes to purchase a bigger property outside of Galesburg someday to expand Spurgeon Veggies and keep the business growing and growing.
Thank you Dusty for being our guest speaker!