Taters and Giggles: “Laughing Child Farm”
Ripe with farmer’s markets and organic products, it can be difficult to stand out among competitive farming businesses. Farmers Timothy and Brooke Hughes-Muse learned this first-hand while they were selling eggs, vegetables, and meat birds as a side-business years ago. Realizing there were many other farms in the area already selling such products, the married couple decided they needed to produce a crop that was missing from the Rutland County area: Sweet potatoes.
Timothy researched the soil and climate at his Pawlet, VT home and discovered that it was perfect for a sweet potato crop.
“We have gravelly, sandy soils, which are good for sweet potatoes,” Timothy said. “At the same time, we didn’t want to compete with other farmers at the market because we felt like it could take fifteen years to build our name there. We needed to be up and running.”
With that decision, Laughing Child Farm was born.
Timothy and Brooke chose the name for their farm while living in two yurts on a dairy farm before they moved to their present location. Timothy said they were considering Laughing Duck Farm because they owned ducks, when they heard their four young daughters laughing outside the cloth walls of the yurt while collecting eggs.
“As soon as we heard that, we named the farm Laughing Child Farm” Timothy said. “It’s kind of our mantra: ‘Giggling girls’. We really value family life.”
Sweet potatoes became the perfect crop for the family. They can be stored for extended periods, unlike other produce which has a short shelf life, and allow Laughing Child to differentiate its business.
Timothy said that sweet potatoes are not easy to grow and require different types of storage than Irish potatoes or zucchini, which are popular crops in the area. Because Laughing Child Farm only grows sweet potatoes for market, the couple was able to invest the resources necessary to create a specialized storage facility.
We contacted Opportunities after our first harvest for a business line of credit and have been with them ever since.
In addition to the accommodating climate and soil, Timothy said that they chose Pawlet as the location of their farm because the great community.
“We have former professors and friends that live up over the mountain, and our neighbor just two houses down here let me lease the farm and her barn while this place was under contract,” Timothy said. “Another neighbor up the road lets me borrow his tractors while myself and Andy, down the road, share equipment back and forth.”
Wanting to return the favor, Timothy and Brooke assist their community by treating both their neighbors and employees well.
They pay their employees well and all the sweet potatoes raised on the farm are organic in an effort to protect the environment, which is still a passion for Timothy and Brooke. They have also planted a buffer zone along the river with assistance from the Natural Resources Conservation District. As the family lives downstream, the buffer zone helps protect other lands downstream, which is another way in which the Hughes-Muse family pays it forward.
Having been farmers for years, Timothy and Brooke had their agricultural process down to a science.
“We knew how to farm, but we didn’t know how to handle the business side of things,” said Timothy. “The first year we financed the farm using credit cards, but as we grew, we needed more operating funds because materials had to be paid for in January and fertilizers in April.” At harvest time, the farm had to pay employees, collect the crop, place it in the barn, sell it, and wait 30 days or more before being paid. All together, the couple was looking at nine months before they earned any money, something Brooke said was scary.
“It is actually a good problem to have, the fact that we’re growing and we need more funding to keep up with the growth,” Timothy said.
After speaking to other banks that did not offer the answers they needed, the couple reached out to Opportunities Credit Union.
“We contacted Opportunities, where we had a savings account, after our first harvest for a business line of credit and have been with them ever since,” said Timothy.
The Hughes-Muse family worked directly with Greg Huysman, the Senior Business Development Manager at Opportunities.
“He is really easy to work with,” said Timothy. “In the beginning, we did not have a firm grasp on what we were asking for and he worked with us and helped guide us through it. Now that we’re established, we only meet with him once each year since we live so far from Burlington, and we communicate mostly through email. He’s always very polite and on top of things.”
Timothy and Brooke said they would, and have, recommended Opportunities to small business owners. They said that Opportunities understands the unique niche market and are able to assist with business advice as well as the financial support necessary to keep businesses up and running.
Opportunities Credit Union has provided Laughing Child Farm with the capital they needed to grow and thrive as well as assistance with the business side of their farm—something Timothy and Brooke were unsure of how to approach. They suggest that anyone in the area who wants to start a new business or needs working capital should contact Greg Huysman at Opportunities to learn what options are available.
Laughing Child Farm sweet potatoes can be found at Healthy Living and City Market in Burlington, Hunger Mountain Co-op in Montpelier, the Brattleboro Food Co-op, Rutland Area Food Co-op, and Stone Valley Community Market in Poultney. They can also be found at Honest Weight Co-op in Albany, NY and from distributors throughout the Hudson Valley and Massachusetts.
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