JEFFERSON CITY — Ronald and Sonya Antonini, owners of The Salad Farm in Bolivar, Missouri, grow and market their fruits and vegetables. The Salad Farm has grown rapidly over the last six years, but despite the constant growth, it has not always been easy. Ronald and Sonya found that understanding how seasonality affects fruits and vegetables and financing the operation to be the hardest obstacles to overcome.
“We moved to the United States from Venezuela with nothing but the clothes on our backs,” Ronald said. “We borrowed money from friends here and there to help us get started. Being from Venezuela where it is warm year round, we did not understand the seasons. The first year we planted we lost everything to the frost. People warned us it would freeze, but we did not expect that, so we learned the only way to grow year round was in greenhouses.”
Unlike most businesses, The Salad Farm did not start with a business or marketing plan, it started when Ronald planted too much produce. Ronald was new to the area, so he took his produce to the local farmers market, where he sold out of produce in record time. This gave him the confidence to plant more to sell around the local markets.
“Don’t lose your courage and always ask for help,” Ronald said. “Our fellow farmers are helpful.”
Ronald and Sonya started expanding their business by purchasing high tunnels to grow fresh produce all year. They used the Missouri Agricultural and Small Business Development Authority’s Bridge Loan Program to help get two high tunnels installed on the farm, allowing for additional produce to be grown that may otherwise be out of season.
Their goal has always been to provide fresh foods for institutions like their local schools. The Salad Farm has sold fresh produce to the Bolivar R-1 and Hickory County R-1 Schools, kick-starting their goal.
In the years following, Ronald and Sonya utilized the MASBDA Value-Added Farm-To-Table Grant Program to build a new facility with processing equipment and a walk-in cooler. This allows them to wash and process all produce indoors and keep foods fresh longer. Since the expansion, The Salad Farm now sells fresh produce to the four schools that make up the Bolivar R-1 School District, Mama Jeans Natural Market and several local restaurants.
The Antonini’s feel the best advice they can give to businesses sharing similar struggles is to learn to balance nature, ask for help and hold onto your passion.
“Learn how to take care of nature while also taking advantages to grow,” Sonya said. “You want to help people too because you are growing healthy foods for people around you; help your community.”
For more information on the Value-Added Farm-To-Table Grant, Bridge Loan or other financial assistance programs MASBDA offers, visit Agriculture.Mo.Gov or call (573) 751-2129.
— Maddie Berwanger, loan officer for the Missouri Agricultural & Small Business Development Authority
For more news from Missouri, click here.