Brad Dilts traded in his cubicle for the free range a few years back, making his return to the farming business.
Dilts, a former engineer, now owns and operates Serenity Farm (just outside of Sedgwick on his family's land), which has been producing various vegetable crop shares under the community-supported agriculture model for four years now. Growing up, his family harvested wheat, milo and soy beans on 2,000 acres of land, playing a large part in his career decision.
Coming back into the industry with the support and help of his wife and children, Dilts had less land to work with (40 acres total, to be exact), which was a factor in the decision to set up the farm as a CSA.
"The way that works is people will purchase what's called a vegetable share up front at the beginning of the growing season," Dilts said. "What that does is that allows the farmer to have some money to buy seeds, equipment that might be needed, fertilizer, that type of stuff, to be able to get started for the coming year a little bit easier without going in debt so much and to have some income coming in before we're actually producing a lot of stuff, just because it takes time for vegetables to grow."
Mid-May until the end of October is the typical growing season and last year Serenity Farms sold 30 shares (20 full and 10 half shares) to its customers, who receive a box of produce — with three to 10 different types of vegetables and/or fruits, depending on the size of the share — each week for the duration of the season, either to be picked up at the farm or the Old Town Farmers Market in Wichita.
In total, Serenity Farm grows upwards of 40 different types of vegetables each season, which can vary based on growing conditions as well as customer demand. Dilts noted each season there is a focus on harvesting the standards (i.e. tomatoes, peppers, squash, etc.), as well as branching out based on personal preference and that of those the farm supplies.
"We ask for requests and ideas, stuff to grow, before the season starts," Dilts said. "We send out a survey at the end of the previous year and they can let us know what they liked, what they didn't like and we try to incorporate as much of it as possible into the following year."
Experimental crops this year include fennel, a flowering plant in the carrot family (with a taste similar to anise), while last year Dilts and his family had a successful trial run with a unique — yet not uncommon — vegetable.
"It's not really obscure, but celery is something that is not grown here very well. It's kind of a difficult crop to grow and we actually managed to pull it off last year," Dilts said. "The bunches weren't as big as what you'd expect in the store, but the flavor on them was far and away different and it was incredible. We had a lot of people who bought it to try it out at the farmer's market. They came back saying they don't like celery generally, but this was actually good."
Using the CSA model benefits both the farmer and the customer base, as Dilts said it stabilizes the income in case of crop failure, while money to invest in shares helps him diversify so that if there are difficulties with certain crops he can supplement weekly boxes with other items.
On top of produce, Serenity Farm also raises chickens and hogs for meat (sold by individual pieces at the farmer's market or by half/whole hog on the farm), while they also sell eggs and a variety of homemade goods including jams, jellies and breads.
Throughout the daily routines on the farm (tending the seedlings, laying down compost, etc.), organic procedures are very important in every cross-section of the business — like the type of chicken raised (which forages and eats natural feed, to build up more Omega-3 fatty acids) to the ingredients used to make the bread.
In fact, for the sprouted wheat bread Dilts makes (where the wheat is soaked until it begins to sprout, then mashed into the dough), the organic process creates a number of benefits.
"You end up with a very dense loaf, but it's also very bio-available and very healthy for you. I have people come buy it who have Celiac disease, and they're able to eat that bread because it's actually good for them," Dilts said.
Family was a big factor in bringing Dilts back to the farm, not only because he grew up in it, but he wanted his kids to grow up in it — and around their father — as well.
While there are some very personal perks to owning and operating your own farm, the care that Dilts and his family put into the entire production process is something he sees as a benefit to all those who buy from Serenity Farm.
"There is a real value to having food that is fresh," Dilts said. "You also have, in general, a safer food supply, too, when it is coming from a small grower like me. We care very much about it because it's our whole life."
More information on Serenity Farm and where its products are sold can be found at www.serenityfarmcsa.com.