Today’s post features an interview with our founder, Ryan Schleman. When Ryan talks about farming, his eyes light up and his voice takes on an extra note of enthusiasm. Farming is in his blood. From the age of six, he has spent every spare minute outside, working in the soil. By eight, he had his own vegetable garden, and then as a teen he worked in the fields alongside his family. Now he spends his time working on his latest farming adventure—Freedom Foods Indiana.
Why do you farm? What’s your motivation for doing what you do?
I think of it as… as an occupation that is doing something far more important than anything else—we’re feeding people. And I think that anybody who is able to be part of this group of people called farmers should feel privileged.
What made you decide to start Freedom Foods Indiana?
Well, you see, with commercial agriculture (which is what I was involved with before starting Freedom Foods), a lot of what gets produced doesn’t go directly to customers, and most of it doesn’t ever end up as food that people actually eat. I wanted a more direct connection with the consumer—I wanted to know that what I grew was going to end up on someone’s dinner plate. I wanted my work to feed families. With Freedom Foods, I get to do this. And it gives me a bigger sense of accomplishment and fulfillment than what I was doing before.
I wanted to know that what I grew was going to end up on someone’s dinner plate.
Starting a business can be challenging. Do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
The biggest piece of advice I would give anyone is to have a solid plan. It needs to include startup costs, operating costs, and a solid market and demand analysis so you know exactly who you are selling to and if they will buy it, and it has to be something you can follow easily. You’ve got to know what you are going to do before you start. No plan is going to be perfect, but having it will help manage unexpected circumstances.
What is your favorite/least favorite task around the farm?
Oh, my favorite is definitely planting. Taking a seed, not knowing exactly if it will germinate or not and be fruitful, and the whole process of what happens to go from seed to plant… well, it fascinates me. My least favorite? Paperwork!
Do you have a crop you particularly enjoy growing?
Tomatoes. Because, we can raise really good tomatoes in Indiana and everybody loves them! People always ask for tomatoes over other vegetables. Also, tomato plants are resilient and forgiving, so we work well together.
Any final thoughts you would like to share?
I just had a phone call today from a person who received one of our produce boxes that I had donated to a fundraiser. This person said the flavor was so much better than anything they can buy in the store—and they want to get on our produce delivery list as soon as possible. It’s the unexpected feedback like this that totally makes my day and keeps me going.