How One Mom Dug Her Way into a New Business. Advice on Becoming an Urban Farmer.

Name: Jenny Quiner

Business: Dogpatch Urban Gardens

Location: Des Moines, IA

After six years as a high school science teacher, Jenny Quiner decided to take another path: urban farming. The mom of three boys turned a quarter acre lot in Des Moines into a farm where she grows vegetables and microgreens. She sells her crop via a FarmStand, CSA, and partnership with local businesses. And she's serious about seeing her business succeed! She pushes back against critics who question the profitability of urban farming: "I’m very purposeful with what I grow, I use my land to its full capacity, I keep good numbers, and our FarmStand is something new and unique to our area."


The Business Details

Image:  Made in DSM

Tell me about your mompreneur business. What do you do?

I own Dogpatch Urban Gardens (DUG).  DUG is an urban farm located in Des Moines, Iowa. I grow annual vegetable crops and microgreens using organic methods on roughly ¼ an acre of land. I sell my products through a modified CSA (called a Salad Subscription), at my FarmStand, at a local farmer’s market, to Des Moines restaurants, and through the Iowa Food Coop. Along with growing crops, I also run an on-site FarmStand which sells locally grown goods/products from myself and other small scale producers from around Iowa.

 

Is your business full-time or part-time? 

That really depends on where I’m at in the farming season. 

During the shoulder seasons (spring and fall) I like to devote 3 days/week to farming. Typically I have Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday set as my farm days because that is when my boys are either at school or daycare. Along with working in the field, I also sell at a farmers market on Tuesday evenings and run the FarmStand which is open on the weekends from 9-1. During the summer I need more time in the field, so I like to work there almost every day in the heart of the season. I still have my typical M/T/Th at the farm, but I also get out there on the off days at sunrise and sneak in a few hours of work before my boys wake up. Winters are my “off season” so I’m not working in the field, but I still have lots of farm tasks to complete (data crunching, taxes, crop planning, etc) but the time demands slow down.

My first season was a whirlwind and I felt like I was being pulled multiple directions in both my work and home life. This season, I’m really focusing on incorporating systems that make my work more efficient. I have better methods for collecting farm data, my planting plan for the season is already created, I’m hiring employees, and I’m using new tools that will make farm tasks easier.

 

Are you a solo mompreneur or do you employ a team? Tell me about the business structure.

I run most of the business on my own. My husband, Eric, plays an integral role when it comes to helping build infrastructure for the farm, but he doesn’t help with any of the crops. This season I will have some employees helping to run the FarmStand and also some part-time employees helping me out in the field. I also have volunteers that periodically help out with various farm tasks.

 

What was the impetus for opening DUG? Tell me about the on ramp process for you? How long did it take for you to feel like you were finally “up and running?”

I’m in my second growing season. I’m a very driven person, and I’m focused on making this business as successful as possible. It’s not uncommon for people to hear what I’m doing and be skeptical about how I can make any money. One thing I’ve noticed (which I don’t love) is people like to ask me, “is your business profitable?” It tends to rub me the wrong way, because that is not a common thing you ask other professionals (how many times as you asked your banker or teacher friend how profitable they are?) and I don’t understand why they feel like it’s okay to ask me that. I recognize, and realize, people don’t understand how growing vegetables on such as small amount of land can make money, but trust me, there are ways to do it. I’m very purposeful with what I grow, I use my land to its full capacity, I keep good numbers, and our FarmStand is something new and unique to our area.

 

What in your background prepared you for running Dogpatch Urban Gardens? 

I was a high school science teacher for six years before switching careers and taking on the farm. My specific content area was biology, but I also taught environmental science. I do not have a background/educational focus on farming, but my background in health and science does compliment growing food.

When I decided to start this farm adventure I devoted lots of time to education and learning all I can. I took an online course from an urban farmer in Canada named Curtis Stone. I joined a great farming group here in Iowa called Practical Farmers of Iowa. This group allowed me to network and connect with many local farmers (which has been incredibly impactful). I attended conferences, I toured farms, and got to know other people in the farming community. I joined agricultural groups and really focused on diving into the community.
 

What’s the vision for your business? Where have you been and how does your vision guide where you’re going? 

Our farm slogan is, “Cultivating Community.”  My vision is to educate our community on sustainable agriculture while enhancing our community and bringing people together. I also want to make a positive impact on our environment. I do this by growing with organic methods, limiting my use of fossil fuels (I do not use a tractor), and educating citizens on the importance of eating local food.

Jenny's  Dogpatch Urban Gardens  website

Jenny's Dogpatch Urban Gardens website

 

How do you approach financial management now that you’re an entrepreneur? Do you use specific tools or resources? Do you hire help at tax time? 

I will admit that last season I was not the best with the financial aspects of running the farm. I got overwhelmed with the production side of the farm that I let the numbers/financial management slip. Luckily, my husband is very business-oriented and helped to take the reigns on the finances last season. He met with a CPA and set up our Quickbooks account to help with our number tracking. It wasn’t perfect, but it was definitely very helpful to have him help out with the finances.

This past winter, I really dove into the financials and spent quite a bit of time discovering Quickbooks. I now use it for invoicing, tracking Cost of Goods Sold, reconciling my bank account, and more. Every Sunday I take some time to enter my financials into Quickbooks so that it never gets away from me.  
 

I also use the Square app to track my sales. Anytime I sell product (whether at the FarmStand, farmers market, to restaurants, to a food coop, etc.) I always enter that data into the Square app. I enjoy the app and it allows me to look back and see what products were money makers. It helped me to plan my crop data for this season. For example, this season I will be growing less radish and more carrots based on the financials.


We use a CPA for our taxes. My husband has multiple businesses (he sells real estate, flips houses, and runs a music festival), so he has multiple LLCs. Our taxes can be sort of complex, so we find it worth its weight in gold to let a professional do the work for us!

 

So, how’s your business doing? Are you happy with it’s progress? 

Last year was my first growing season, and I will fully admit, I had a lot to learn. That said, I’m very happy with how the season went. I am so happy with how the community has supported and accepted us. Starting a farm within a neighborhood is not common here in Des Moines so I had some hesitations about how people would receive this business. I have been overwhelmed with the support and happiness this farm brought to our community. Periodically, people will see me working in the field and just stop by to tell me how much they love this farm and how impressed they are. That fills my heart with joy! I have regular customers who shop at the FarmStand and our customer base is expanding. Our CSA subscriptions sold out within two weeks and the buzz for this farm is growing. 

I am happy with our progress, but of course, I want to continue to see this business grow financially.


The Mom Details

Taking a quick break from the farm to enjoy lunch with the birthday boy! • • • • • #oliverharle #happybirthday #dogpatchurbangardens

A post shared by Dogpatch Urban Gardens (@dogpatch_urban_gardens) on

Tell me about your mom life. 

I became a mom when I was 28 years old. I’m a proud mama of three boys, Oliver (6), Walter (4), and Lewis (2).  My boys keep my life busy, messy, and full of joy!

 

How does being a mom impact your business vision?

Being a mom has a profound impact on my vision. I want my kids to appreciate the earth and respect where there food comes from. I love the fact they get to grow up with a better understanding of where their food comes from.  

 

How has your work habits changed after you had kids? 

My kids are all in the young, and in a mommy dependent age, so I have found I need to make my work habits as efficient as possible. When I get time to work I don’t have any time to waste. I make lists throughout the day/week as a way to keep me focused and on task.

 

Tell me about your childcare arrangements? How do you balance work and mom life? Who helps you out? 

We are blessed to have an amazing woman that has been in our lives, watching our boys, for almost five years. Stacie is our in-home daycare provider and she is more than someone who watches my boys: she is a friend and loving caregiver for our family. She takes care of the kids during the week while I’m working and will also periodically babysit them when Eric and I need a night out.We also have all grandparents in town which is amazing!  Plus, I use my connections as a former high school teacher to line up babysitters in the evenings.


Bringing it all Together

What are some financial lessons learned that you’d offer up to other mompreneurs?

Keep good data!  It doesn’t matter what system you use, but you need to make sure you are tracking your expenses and income in a meaningful way. In order to be a successful business person you must make money, and tracking your financial data can/will help you make important business decisions.


Also, don’t be afraid to get help. Hiring a professional may seem expensive, but their input can be totally worth it.

 

If you could go back and talk to yourself the month before you became pregnant with your first child, what would you tell yourself about how “things” would turn out? 

I would just let myself know that life is about to get as crazy as you can imagine. Realize your personal time will be limited, so cherish it when you can. When you’re with your kids, working your job, and spending time with your husband make a point to be present in that moment and enjoy where you are in your life.

 

When people ask you, “how do you do it all?” what do you say? 

I’m lucky to have a great support network here. Both sets of grandparents live within ten minutes of us and they are very present in our kids lives. Having them around is so great and they truly help to lessen the load of our hectic lives. My husband sells real estate so his schedule can be crazy as he needs to be as accommodating to his clients as he can.  Just knowing we have a great support system helps to relieve the stress my husband and I both have as business people.

 

How do you recharge and keep your personal energy up when you’re running a business and raising a little one?

It is tough to find time to recharge. I have to make a conscious effort to get alone time. I really enjoy yoga and have found that to be the best boost for me both mentally and physically.

 

What advice would you give to fellow mompreneurs or moms who are thinking about jumping into entrepreneurial territory? 

I’m by no means great at this yet, but one thing that stands out to me is to find a way to devote time specifically to your business and then find ways to devote time specifically to your family. If you are trying to work while watching/entertaining kids it just doesn’t seem to go well. Find ways to be present with your kids and not be worried about the business.  

One thing I want to be better at is waking up early and getting computer things done before my kids wake up. I find that when I try to work when my kids are around I end up getting frustrated and mad at them when really they haven’t done anything wrong. I’m working to be more present with my kids and not allow my work to get in-between family time.


Takeaways

Jennt RECOMMENDS

  • The Market Gardener by Jean Martin Fortier  
  • Seeing your iPhone as a top business tool: "I post business photos on Instagram and take crop pictures to make note of their growth/progression during a specific time of the season."
  • The Square app to track sales