Subscription-based farm a growing venture

Mark Beckner and Shauna Rhyne are surrounded by lettuce, herbs and other crops growing inside a greenhouse at Rooted Gypsy Farms in Grand Junction. Mark and Sara Becker own the operation, while Rhyne serves as a manager. The subscription-based farm delivers boxes of vegetables, eggs and meats to Grand Valley customers each week.

Mark Beckner and Shauna Rhyne are surrounded by lettuce, herbs and other crops growing inside a greenhouse at Rooted Gypsy Farms in Grand Junction. Mark and Sara Becker own the operation, while Rhyne serves as a manager. The subscription-based farm delivers boxes of vegetables, eggs and meats to Grand Valley customers each week.

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Mark Beckner wanted to find out whether or not he could develop a viable business out of a small farm. The answer, it appears, is yes.

Taking advantage of both the growing demand for locally sourced foods and growing popularity of food delivery services, Beckner and his wife, Sara, have established a growing venture in Rooted Gypsy Farms in Grand Junction.

Working with managers Cody and Shauna Rhyne, the Beckners produce a large assortment of food on a small acreage. Lettuce, kale and other crops grow year-around inside a greenhouse, while other vegetables soon will sprout from outdoor gardens. Chickens produce eggs and meat. Cattle and sheep grazing in the pasture produce meat as well.

A combination of vegetables, eggs and meats go into boxes that are delivered each week to customers who pay a flat fee as subscribers to Rooted Gypsy Farms.

Mark Beckner expects the contents of boxes to become even more varied once a commercial kitchen opens and begins to supply breads, processed meats and other foods

Thinking outside the box, Beckner also sells meat with whole and half beef and pork packages cut to order.

Still other changes are planned as the operation evolves and the Beckners and Rhynes strive to expand their product line as well as the number of subscribers who purchase those products.

What won’t change, Beckner says, is the personalized service. “We’re very customer-centric. We know everyone by name.”

The Beckners have operated Rooted Gypsy Farms for a couple of years from a 13-acre property in Grand Junction. They also use other property to raise livestock.

Mark Beckner said he grew up on East Orchard Mesa in the Grand Valley in sight of the orchards there, but wasn’t previously involved in agriculture.

The potential for operating a farm on the property in Grand Junction, intrigued him, he says. “Can you make a viable business out of a little boutique farm?”

He says he’s since discovered that it’s possible, but the undertaking requires a substantial investment in infrastructure and work.

While the farm initially sold produce to local restaurants, Beckner said those sales alone wouldn’t support the operation.   So they went with a subscription-based business model. “People were very excited about it, very happy.”

Subscribers have a choice among three options.

A meat and salad box contains 4 to 5 pounds of antibiotic-free meats, which can include beef, pork, chicken and lamb. The box also includes a dozen eggs and a bag of freshly harvested salad greens.

A light meat box includes 2 pounds of meat, two dozen eggs and three bags of salad greens.

A vegetarian box includes two dozen eggs, three bags of salad greens, a bag of kale or other green, a bag of parsley, a bag of herbs and a caffeine-free tea blend or other hand-crafted item.

The boxes also include recipes, other produce and culinary herbs.

The boxes cost $60 each and can be delivered weekly, every other week or monthly.

Rooted Gypsy Farms grows lettuce, other salad greens and herbs year-round in 3,000-square-foot greenhouse equipped with an aquaponics system.

The system includes large tanks holding tilapia, freshwater fish indigenous to Africa and the Middle East that have become a popular farm-raised species. The tilapia  produce nutrients the plants extract from the water. The system works well, Beckner says, in quickly growing produce.

Other crops are cultivated outside during the growing season. Chickens produce eggs and meat. Cattle and sheep grazing in the nearby pastures produce meat as well.

Beckner says he hopes to expand the operation with the addition of a commercial kitchen.

That in turn will allow Rooted Gypsy Farms to offer even more variety in subscription boxes, including breads and processed meats. He envisions a box that includes the ingredients to pizza, including dough and pepperoni.

“The box is going to continue to evolve,” he says.

Responding to demand for high-quality meats, Rooted Gypsy Farms sells whole and half beef and pork. The meat is processed to customer specifications and delivered to their doors. Beckner is considering selling tilapia as well as turkey and perhaps buffalo.

Rooted Gypsy Farms has responded to the increasing popularity of  both locally grown foods and delivered foods, Beckner says. “You know where everything comes from.”

That also fits in well with the way Beckner likes to do business — getting to know his customers on a first-name basis and responding to their individuals preferences.

“It is fun for us,” he says.

For more information about Rooted Gypsy Farms, call  640-5419 or visit the website at www.rootedgypsyfarms.com.

Phil Castle is editor of the Grand Valley Business Times, a twice-monthly business journal published in Grand Junction. Castle brings to his duties nearly 30 years of experience in editorial management positions with Western Colorado newspapers. In addition, his free-lance work has appeared in a variety of publications, including the Washington Post. He holds a bachelor's degree in technical journalism from Colorado State University.
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