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April 17, 2015
Size of Operation: 80 acres
Years in Business: 10
Farm Credit Partner: Farm Credit of the Virginias
Years Working with Farm Credit: 6
When duty called him back overseas, Marine veteran Calvin Riggleman didn’t let a little thing like distance stop him from managing his fledgling produce farm. Instead, he directed his parents by telephone in harvesting and selling through the summer, and planting seeds throughout the winter.
“My old unit put out a call for volunteers, and I signed up to go back overseas for a year,” says Calvin. “With help from my parents, I was able to start planting the day I got back.”
Calvin grew up helping out on his grandparents’ orchard, and thought he’d continue on that path after his service. It was in talking with his comrades overseas during his first tour of duty that he realized that producing high-value crops, or turning them into products for which consumers would pay a premium, was a better financial bet. He returned home in 2004 and worked with a local commercial kitchen, Gourmet Central, to make fruit jams and jellies that he quickly sold at local farmers markets. That success was encouraging, and he started raising a variety of produce like peppers and strawberries on six acres of his grandparents’ land, eventually using a line of credit from Farm Credit of the Virginias to buy his seed and inputs.
Three years later he was called back to duty, after which he returned to his farm and his value-added farm product strategy. He’s now co-owner of Gourmet Central, which provides custom canning and jarring for other farmers as well as his own crops, and has expanded his farm to 80 acres of vegetables and fruit orchards.
What he doesn’t turn into jarred specialty items he and his employees sell fresh at six farmers’ markets in the northern Virginia/Washington, D.C. area, through area Community Supported Agriculture programs (CSAs) and at his grandparents’ fruit stand. He also provides some of his produce as well as his cooking skills to the annual Blue Ribbon Tastes from Farm Credit event.
Calvin is a proud member of the Farmer Veterans Coalition, and was the first farmer veteran in West Virginia to start using the organization’s Homegrown By Heroes label. That label is used on his products and his market stalls, and it does make a difference to the consumers he meets. “People can walk up to my stand they know I’m a veteran without me having to say anything,” he says. “They thank me for my service, and I think some do buy from me because I’m a veteran.”
Never complacent, Calvin is already looking forward to his next enterprise: a distillery where he’ll make fruit-based spirits, which he’s financing with Farm Credit. “When I was starting out, I heard that they offered lines of credit to beginning farmers so I started with them then,” he says. “They’ve always been easy to work with, and now a big reason I want to keep working with them is their support for Homegrown By Heroes.”
Calvin attributes his success to never giving up and being willing to try new things. “It’s all about taking advantage of opportunities,” he says. “I won’t say that I’m never scared, but I’m not ever going to let that stop me.”
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