Published on Friday, October 21, 2016
Over the last nine years, Loren and Gina Thurn have been diligently working to grow their farm in a way that supports their family and hungry community. Through innovation and challenging themselves, the couple has built up their ornamental business and expanded into produce production. With greenhouses and hydroponics, the farm is able to provide healthy food to the local community year round.
For both Loren and Gina, other experiences helped shape who they are as farmers. Loren’s agriculture involvement began with FFA. He became interested in dairy, which lead him to work for other farmers for 25 years, learning all he could about corn and equipment along the way. After seeing the financial challenges of dairy, Loren realized his interest in plants.
Gina started her career as a high school agriculture teacher, giving horseback riding lessons on the side. “My grandfather was a farmer, but my mother not so much.” Gina recalls. “But I’ve always had a really strong interest in animal agriculture especially. When I was teaching, the school initially had an all plant science program. That ended up rounding out the other side of it, doing greenhouse stuff and horticulture.”
Then, everything began happening at once. “We got engaged, and got offered this place, got married and bought this place.” Gina laughs about their whirlwind first year of farming together. “Three months after we bought the farm, the economy tanked. So we bought high and then everything crashed. We had to reinvent the wheel a bunch of times, ‘Who are we? What’s the next thing that’s going to happen that’s going to put money in the bank, food on the table, and pay the bills?’” After suggestions from a friend, the Thurns experimented with hydroponic tomatoes. It was a success! “From there, it has expanded every year.” Loren smiles.
Solving one problem lead to another challenge, “How do we sell them?” It wasn’t possible to staff a produce stand full time. Their only option was the old fashioned, honor system. “We just put a wagon on the side of the road and the response to it was a lot better than I expected. Now, it’s developed into a really nice comradery with our neighbors. It’s awesome. We find a lot of the customers actually respect or appreciate the fact that they don’t have to find somebody. We trust them. They can help themselves. They kind of watch the other customers themselves to make sure everybody is being honest with you. There is definitely a lot of self-policing. People keep an eye out for what’s going on and if something is wrong, they let you know. That’s encouraging.” In addition to what they sell at the farm, the Thurn’s produce can be found at the farmers market and is served in local restaurants.
The sense of community the farming lifestyle brings is something the Thurns really appreciate. “When somebody’s tractor breaks down, we’re in a position where we have that flexibility and we just roll with whatever happens and help each other out. There have been other times when that same farmer has helped us out. The first year we were here, when our oldest son was born, it was peak planting week. They showed up with their whole family to help transplant so I could be in the hospital having a baby. Not everybody does that for each other. That’s something that’s really awesome within the community.”
The Thurns do their part to give back, and encourage others to do the same. “We also have what is called a suspended produce box.” Gina explains. “If someone else has a little extra change and wants to prepay for somebody else that can’t afford it, they can do that. It’s been a really nice network. A lot of people that really, truly need the help won’t come get it. There’s a senior trailer park down the road and we have a couple produce elves. They know, because they live down there, who really needs it and they know who won’t come. So they’ll come and pick stuff up out of that fund to help other neighbors. It’s just cool. You hear about a family that fell on tough times and you can drop off a box of produce for them. We’ve been able to make connections with some of the local public welfare groups and stuff, and when they have somebody they know is in need, they’ll give us a holler. And then there’s tons of people that you know, they take some when they need it, and they give back when they have extra. It’s become a way for us to have a direct, local impact. That ability to help out people we know is really huge for us.”
Gina is thankful they can raise their sons to have a deeper understanding of life and community at such a young age. “That ability to just climb a tree is lost on so many kids now. The creativity of being able to go outside and make a tree fort and have an adventure in the woods. To be able to run and jump and climb and really play. Unstructured creativity. A lot of kids don’t get that anymore, and that is so valuable. We’ve been able to see them grow up. They’re with us. They see what happens here. They see how we work. We get to be active role models on a daily basis in our kids’ lives, and that’s not something a lot of parents have the luxury of.” Loren loves having a sidekick or two as he makes deliveries. “It’s not a nine to five job. You work long hours, so I am with my kids rather than them seeing me for a few hours at the end of the day.” He smiles.
“I farm for the sunrise in the morning. I farm for that connection with life. I farm for the ability to be with my family. And the knowledge that I’m producing a healthy product that I have no qualms about eating or feeding my kids. That I get to be my own boss and do things I love with both plants and animals. Having already done other things, you couldn’t pay me to go back to them. It’s just part of your soul.”
That’s why Loren and Gina Thurn farm.
Author: Natalina Sents
Categories: Why I Farm, Why I Farm Roadtrip
Tags: Why I Farm, Why I Farm Roadtrip, produce, Rhode Island, Loren Thurn, Gina Thurn, Our Kids Farm