Farmers: Rodrick Brown
Location: Cutchogue, New York
Native Country: Jamaica
Acres farmed: 5
Years with NFDP: 4
Products: Tomatoes, cucumbers, Caribbean pumpkin, callaloo, okra, scotch bonnet peppers, sweet corn
"I know the quality my customers need, and I make sure that I produce that level of quality."
Interview with Rodrick Brown, July 2011, by Susanne Stover
What did you do before you became a farmer? I worked as a farmer advisor & extension officer for diploma of agriculture. Teaching farmers all my life; that's the only job I've had.
What was your motivation for becoming a farmer in the United States? I used to have about 7 acres as a kid, and I was buying and selling things from other farmers because I had contacts at all the retail markets. I used to import and sell to the Korean produce stores, and then I started buying from other farmers out here in Jersey and selling to Korean stores. I did a course with NFDP in 2007 and I went to some conferences, met some farmers, got access to land through the conference and then started just like that.
In what way has your previous experience helped you in agriculture? Immensely. It's the foundation, because I did the courses in different crop production, livestock production, soil, everything related to ag. Then I started to teach farmers how to work with it all. Every single day I use what I learned on my farm.
In the beginning as an NFDP farmer, what was the experience, tool or advice that helped you the most? The field trips and the contacts through NFDP with other farmers. That's what motivated to say "yes" I want to do it on my own; I want to find some land and do it.
If you could go back and do over that first year of being an NFDP farmer, what would you change, or what do you do differently? Well, I wouldn't do any sharecropping with other farmer's because I put my money up front, without a lease, and I lost a lot of money trying to do that the first year.
Which benefit from being part of NFDP would you say has been the most important for you?
The outreach to other farms and farmers, because originally, even before NFDP, I tried to get some land for myself, and my experience was terrible. But then, with NFDP, I got a clear-cut contact because I went to conferences, where I met farmers and discussed these things together. So without NFDP's outreach and networking, I don't think I could have made the right contacts.
Where do you sell your products? For Greenmarket, Fridays I'm at Parkchester, Saturdays I'm at Grand Army Plaza, and Sundays I'm at Cortelyou. I also sell in Crown Heights on Thursdays in a farmers market organized by Seeds in the Middle. and Saturdays in St. Albans, a Fresh Connects market.
Who helps you on the farm? I made local contacts to help me.
Whats the best part of being a farmer, in your experience? I enjoy being out here, doing it myself. I enjoy being out in the field, doing it hands-on. I don't want a farm where I send people to go out and do the work on the farm. I want to be out on the farm showing poeple how to do the work. I want to be there, doing a hands-on approach. That's what I love.
What keeps your customers coming back to your market stand? If I sell to anybody, my emphasis is on quality. I know the quality they need, and I make sure I produce that level of quality for them. I used to go to Jamaica and pick out the products myself, and deliver the best to my clients, so that's my priority is to provide high quality.
What about your farm are you most proud of? I have to be doing most of everything myself -- because I lack the cash -- with very little financial and very little physical assistance. It's a test, and I know I can do it, I know I will master it, because I know what I want to do.
What is the most important lesson you have learned as a farmer? I know I can manage all the operation, keep it afloat, but that I can't do EVERYTHING I want to do by myself.
What advice would you give to a new farmer? You have to know where you're going to sell your prodcuts. Even when you know pleaces to sell, it's not all always guaranteed, because people won't wait on you. You have to know your market, and where the markets are.
What will your farm be like in ten years? I'll have some good tractors, good equipment, and I'll be producing specialized crops that bring in good revenue through wholesale.
What will be your next big investment in your farm? A small tractor for cultivation purposes.