Jake and Lara of McGreal Family Farm dream to bring their farm's naturally produced harvest to their community in a new way with a food truck. They hope to grow their business and their brand while bringing healthy, wholesome food options to farmers' markets and local events in Northeast Iowa.
Farming in and of itself is not unique. Nor is the younger generation taking over the family farm, as has been done for generations. McGreal Family Farm is the result of taking the road less traveled (while living on a gravel road less traveled). Jake and Lara are changing the family beef cattle business, raising and finishing their animals 100% on grass. They are marketing and selling their beef into an emerging local market in Iowa. They are taking strides to keep their product in their community.
Currently, they make most of their income from selling off the farm and at three farmers' markets in Dubuque. Dubuque's markets are well attended and Dubuque County has been growing at a rate of 3% since 2010. The Saturday Dubuque Farmer's Market is Iowa's oldest market and receives a great deal of customers looking for local produce and meats. It also has an increasing number of food trucks and food stands which fuel market attendance, especially for young people and college students from Loras, Clarke and the University of Dubuque. Jake and Lara also attend the Millwork Night Market, a monthly market which targets a young, environmentally conscious and health focused crowd. This market provides a very good opportunity for food vendors looking to provide customers an ethically and locally sourced dinner. Jake and Lara will add a unique Cuban flavor; one that is lacking in the county as a whole. The market, therefore, is healthy and growing in Dubuque. The local food movement is ever-expanding with the city and county's population and has room for more education and growth. The last market the farmers attend is the Mid-Week Market, also in Dubuque, which highlights local and organic ingredients and local musicians. This market helps the farmers reach customers who might work or have other obligations on Saturday mornings or Thursday evenings, the operation times of the other markets. While diversifying market availability has allowed the farmers to reach a larger crowd, it has also taken away from production time on the farm. With more money made per market in prepared food sales, the farmers could fine tune their production and increase quality control. McGreal Family Farm's current income helps keep the farm running, but it does not cover all the expenses. Jake and Lara work remotely and part time off the farm to fill the holes in their income and supplement it by working as independent contractors. The couple wants to expand their business into a modern, efficient, experiential and educational farm, while maintaining their commitment to quality over quantity. They value using what they have and participating in contests such as these to avoid undertaking debt.
With a food truck, the farmers plan to use fresh ingredients from the farm including their 100% grass-fed and pasture-raised beef, garden vegetables and maple syrup. They plan to develop unique menu items that highlight the quality of the ingredients in delicious meals available in minutes. As Lara is a second-generation Cuban American, the farmers have chosen to feature Cuban food on their menu, which is something that has yet to be found in their part of the state and calls for lots and lots of beef. To engage with the community, the food truck will travel to local farmers' markets, festivals, events and gatherings, expanding the availability of wholesome food and creating a connection between people and their farmer. In the process, they will educate consumers about the power of locally produced and healthy foods in a world where customers have been disconnected from the sources of their food. Their customer base will range from locavores and foodies to people who want a classic burger and who are pleased to find that grass-fed is not only delicious and healthful but can be reasonably priced as well.
Jake and Lara believe strongly in collaboration over competition. They have been working this past year to support other small farms in the area by purchasing or trading their products, volunteering with them or collaborating with them in joint offerings. They've also made efforts to promote other local businesses online to help bring more attention to rural, Clayton County, Iowa. They seek out networking opportunities and have never turned down a farm tour, no matter how busy they may be. By working with other small farms, they have shared and inherited knowledge to help their business grow.
Despite the above said, competition does exist. Jake and Lara have seen food trucks at markets with long lines and busy staff. Meanwhile, they have been working with a modest but growing market share, selling their frozen beef from a cooler at the same market. While they support the slow food movement and value their raw products, they also understand the economic opportunity involved in value-added, prepared foods that a food truck business would provide for their enterprise. The market exists, there is room for growth, and there are no food trucks in their local market that use primarily products from local producers. By using the products that McGreal Family Farm and other local farms produce, the farm will continue to support the local foods movement in Northeast Iowa.
Lara and Jake dream big, and they realize that they would be taking a huge step by using Grow Your Future funds to invest in a mobile food unit. This will take up a lot of their already precious time, but they feel that with a profitable food truck they will be able to quit one or more of their side jobs and focus more on the farm business. Funds from the award would be used to purchase a truck, outfit it with a commercial kitchen and license it to sell prepared food in Iowa. In the future, the farm plans to use its earnings from the mobile food unit to continue to expand and diversify with things like on-farm retreats, workshops and education in sustainable agriculture. After all, Jake and Lara are involved in farming because they believe in hard work, local connections and the infinite power of nature.
Jake and Lara are entering this contest to grow their dream of a farm business. They are the owners, operators, designers, social media managers, and marketers for McGreal Family Farm. While the farmers receive family support through advice and resources, their mission is to give a fresh spin to family land and the traditional agricultural industry. In doing so, they honor the history of farming in their family while creating a farm built for tomorrow. Their hope is to make farm to table mobile, as they bring delicious wholesome foods to their local communities in Driftless Iowa.