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Customer Feature: Scott & Rebecca Ramsey (Wyndale Gardens)

Wyndale Farms

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Young, Beginning, Small & Veteran Farmers

Scott and Rebecca (Becky) Ramsey identified a need in their community and combined that need with their joint passion for science and healthy food systems to create Wyndale Gardens, an aquaponics operation in Abingdon, VA. Aquaponics is the combination of two farming practices: hydroponics (growing plants without soil) and aquaculture (raising fish). The primary function of the operation is growing green butter lettuce, which the Ramseys sell to wholesale customers, including the local Food City grocery store, as well as the local school districts.

Green butter lettuce production

During the pandemic, the Ramsey family was living in Colorado and realized being at the tail-end of the food chain without much understanding of their food system was not a particularly advantageous position to be in. “It was very scary for us to watch our grocery store shelves depleted overnight,” Scott remembered. “We didn’t know where our food came from and we didn’t have one green thumb between the two of us, but we started researching different farming methods and ended up buying a home hydroponic system, just to play around with growing our own food indoors,” he shared. Then, one thing led to another… They learned about aquaponics and did more research into best practices. They hired a consultant, toured several commercial farms, put together a business plan and ultimately bought their 34-acre farm, named Wyndale Gardens, in Abingdon, VA in 2022. Scott Ramsey is a native of Abingdon and it was always his dream to move back to the area with his family. 

Wyndale Gardens Abindon, VA

Sustainability and being good stewards of the land are at the heart of the mission of Wyndale Gardens. The Ramseys were able to revamp and reuse the three greenhouses that were already on the property to accommodate their aquaponics production, and they have a variety of other sustainable practices in place, as well. Last summer, Scott and Becky worked with Virginia Tech to develop food safety practices and become Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certified. 

Wyndale Gardens Buildings

Scott and Becky run Blue Nile Tilapia as part of the aquaculture system, and they’re able to convert fish emulsion into nutrients for the plants, eliminating the need for synthetic fertilizers. The Ramseys also reuse the waste that comes out of their filtration systems as fertilizer that goes back into the grow beds, and also fertilizes the hayfields on the farm. The fish need the water temperature to be about 82 degrees, so they have to heat the water year-round. They recently purchased a wood fire boiler, which provides a heating source for both the water in their six fish tanks and the air in their three greenhouses. The Ramseys receive scrap firewood from their neighbors, Thad and Camille Finney, who own a landscaping and sawmill business, so they are able to heat the facilities at Wyndale Gardens for a very low cost.

The process of growing the butter lettuce begins with Scott planting organic seeds into biodegradable growth foam cubes, or “grow cubes,” where it takes about two days for the seeds to germinate. Once the plants have germinated, they go into grow lights for about two weeks, which allows enough time for a root ball to form. From there, the plants go into grow beds, where they’ll stay for about four more weeks until they reach maturity. It is roughly a six-week process from seed to harvest. The original system in 2022 supported 1,200 plants per month and they have grown to harvesting about 4,000 heads of lettuce per month. 

green butter lettuce production

In addition to the aquaponics operation, the Ramseys have a chicken coop, from which they sell fresh eggs; an on-site apiary, where they harvest their own honey; and host farm stays to support agritourism through Harvest Hosts. Recently, they formed a partnership with Sweetbay Brewing Company in Abingdon where the brewery purchased honey from the Ramseys and hops from another local farmer, with plans to produce a Summer Saison that will hit the taproom this summer. The Ramseys have also partnered with Abingdon Olive Oil Company to develop a specially blended salad dressing that pairs well with the butter lettuce they produce.

Through a connection made at the local farmers’ market with Dave Cheek of River Mountain Farms, the Ramseys were able to meet the school nutrition director for Bristol, Virginia schools, who was able to connect them with other school nutrition directors in the area. They learned more about the farm to school program where the USDA provides funding for school systems to acquire produce from local growers, and get that food into the school systems. Between the school districts they serve (22 schools total), the Ramseys’ lettuce provides about 10,000 meals per day. The Ramseys find the most rewarding aspect of their business to be providing a nutritious and delicious product (the butter lettuce) to their community and the local schoolchildren. Their motivation lies in knowing that they are having a significant impact on their community through what they are able to produce on their farm. 

Regarding their relationship with Farm Credit of the Virginias, Becky shared, “We have a wonderful partnership with Farm Credit, from the moment we closed on our loan to relocating here just seven days later. Our loan officer, Tina [Puckett], met us out at the property and it was fantastic to get to know her off the bat.” Scott continued, “Farm Credit was the linchpin to getting this all started. It had always been a dream of mine to get back to Abingdon, where I was born, and raise my family here – and Farm Credit really made that happen for us.” 

The future is bright at Wyndale Gardens. Scott and Becky plan to build a pollinator habitat on the property, which will allow them to sustain the bees in their apiary with natural forage. It will beautify the land, help with erosion and improve soil quality. They also plan to build a high tunnel specifically for growing produce for educational purposes and sharing their knowledge with community members. For now, they are enjoying perfecting their operation, managing hurdles, fostering relationships to support new market opportunities and raising their youngest daughter on the farm.

aquaculture fishery

As beginning producers themselves, Scott and Becky have the following advice to others looking to get started in agriculture:

  • Develop strong goals and know what you would like to accomplish then persevere through the challenges as they come.
  • Build relationships in your community. Learn who may be doing something similar to you and find out where you might be able to combine forces to have an impact on your community.
  • Become friends with your loan officer – it’s very important to have a strong, trusting relationship and available credit to be able to grow your business. 
  • Don’t discount certain markets just because you might think they aren’t a good fit. As producers of fresh produce, we thought the farmers; market/CSA route would be our market, but we sort of fell into the wholesale market, which has been far more lucrative.
  • Take advantage of any educational opportunities that are offered to you. It’s never a bad thing to get advice and hear different perspectives. We attended a Farm Credit Knowledge Center Transition Planning dinner, and it gave us a lot of things to think about for the future, even though we’re only in year two of our operation.
  • It was also a great opportunity to network with and learn from other producers who are further into their farming journey.

This feature story was published in the June 2024 Leader Magazine. Access the full magazine (digital version) HERE.

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