My Journey into the Land of Plenty- Literally!
Today’s blog post comes from our guest blogger, Nichole Kemp. Nichole is the marketing and event specialist for FarmTek’s parent company ESAPCO where she manages and organizes all our trade shows, open houses and workshops. She is also the brand manager for our building division, ClearSpan Fabric Structures, and the self titled “ClearSpan Brand Evangelist”. Last month Nichole had the opportunity to visit our Dyersville, IA manufacturing facility where she observed one of our fodder workshops. This is the tale of her travels and, as she likes to put it, her journey into the land of plenty!
To start when I say I live in the country, apparently I’ve been mistaken and have not fully understood the meaning of “the country” until my trip to the Midwest! The area where I live in Connecticut has a lot of land, but its land with plant life, forests and trees. Let me tell you, I’ve never seen such wide open space before and I loved it. I always pictured Iowa as flat and boring, not the beautiful rolling hills with a speckling of farms that I witnessed while driving from Moline, Illinois (I flew into Quad Cities) to Dyersville. I was in awe that I saw land as far as the eye could see without the interruption of buildings or trees. It was so mesmerizing to look at that I almost veered off the road into Iowa’s version of guard rails—a ditch! Luckily I managed to make it safely to our Dyersville campus (all without a GPS or navigation system, thank you very much).
Once at the facility I was even more amazed. I’ve seen pictures of our campus, but nothing prepared me for the enormity of it. After my initial shock I entered the main office building and met some of my co-workers for the first time. They set me up with a computer and a desk and then our VP of Operations and General Manager showed me around. I was extremely impressed by the hustle and bustle of the production lines and weld shop. Seeing Burt and Ernie (our computerized welders) was hypnotizing. I found a great appreciation for watching the product I market everyday come to life piece by piece.
The fun didn’t stop in the ClearSpan buildings; I got to witness the warehouse loading and receiving area too. The organization and logistics of gathering all the components for our over 30,000 products and shipping them accurately is simply amazing. I never really thought about what happens once a customer or sales person clicks “submit order,” but I got to see firsthand all the behind-the-scenes work that goes into it.
Although I loved seeing the action around campus, my main focus was day two of my trip, fodder workshop day. Currently we host one-day workshops and three-day CEA schools in Iowa where our customers get a chance to tour our state-of-the-art greenhouses and learn about sustainable growing practices, such as year-round hydroponic growing, fodder production and aquaponics. Since I promote these events and we’re considering the idea of hosting some at our Connecticut location it only made sense for me to experience one for myself.
The day started with registration and refreshments in the morning, followed by the presentation. Sam and Brittany manage our greenhouses and run these events, and let me say, they do a phenomenal job. I’m the one who assembles the power points for the presentations and they still managed to surprise and impress me. Throughout the presentation, we’d break for hands-on activities. Customers got to work together and construct part of our Fodder-Pro 2.0 Feed Systems to learn the simplicity of the design. After another break we went into the store and got to watch Brittany juice some barley from our fodder system and try a shot of it. I have to say, better than I was expecting. There is nothing like tasting fresh-cut lawn in the morning!
My favorite part of the workshop was when we toured our greenhouses. Not only did I get to see our fodder systems in action, but Sam gave a detailed explanation of every facet of the greenhouses. I am proud to say I was the first Connecticut employee to see our brand new aquaponic system in action. They had just received the tilapia a few days prior. Since I’ve returned home they’ve added crayfish to the system, too. We also practice raised-bed growing in that greenhouse.
Later, we ventured into our double-bay greenhouse where our hydroponic growing happens. From seven different types of lettuce and herbs growing in NFT channels to tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers growing in Dutch buckets, we utilize several different hydroponic techniques and produce fresh produce daily. We sell about 50% of our produce to a local restaurant, and then the other 50% is divided among employee purchases, selling it in our store and donating to food pantries. It is quite an intense operation!
I had an amazing time in Iowa, not only because I got to see our facility in person and spend time speaking with some of our customers at the workshop, but because I was able to meet my fellow co-workers. Even though it is located in a different region of the country, it still felt like FarmTek. My colleagues run an amazing operation out there and it is truly the heart and soul of this company. Meeting everyone and going out to dinner with a few at the end of the day has given me a new appreciation for the work we do here and it has renewed my pride in ESAPCO.
Nichole mentioned a lot about our IA campus. Is there anything you’d like her to go into further detail about?