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Combining Expert Farming Knowledge with Technology

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Nathan Heath is the Co-Founder of Cultivate and a master farmer with a lifetime of experience who has supplied the best chefs in Central Texas with gourmet produce. With his brother Luke, they are united behind a common love of people, farming and technology to realize their vision of growing fresh, sustainable food in yards across Texas.

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Welcome to the Establishing Your Empire show. A podcast that inspires entrepreneurs, creatives and future business owners to pursue their passions, grow their organizations and build their empire. My name is Daran Herrman and creatively I’m best known for my photography. But business wise my claim to fame is growing a company from $15K per month in online sales to breaking the one million dollar a month barrier. And I’m sitting down with interesting people to talk about their process, the lessons they learned and how they have Established their Empire’s.

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(00:00):

For me personally, I’ve never gotten over the amazement of planting a seed and then seeing that sprout and then eventually harvesting it. I just, it’s always blows my mind that, you know, I love systems and things to be efficient, and nature’s just figured it out. It doesn’t waste energy. And I just, I think that’s so cool. No matter how many times I experienced it, I’m always just like, I don’t know. I’m a total dork when it comes to

(00:28):

On this episode of establish your empire. I have Nathan Heath. Nathan is the co founder of Cultivate. And as a master farmer with a lifetime experience, the split, the best chefs in central Texas with gourmet produce with his brother, Luke, they have a United behind a common love of people, farming and technology to realize their vision of growing fresh, sustainable food and yards across Texas.

You’re listing to the establishing your empire show, a podcast that inspires entrepreneurs, creatives, and future business owners to pursue their passions, grow their organizations and build their empire. My name is Daran Herrman and creatively. I’m best known for my photography, but business wise, my claim to fame is growing a company from 15 K per month in online sales to breaking the $1 million a month barrier. And I’m sitting down with interesting people to talk about their process, the lessons they’ve learned and how they have established their empires.

(01:29):

Why don’t you start off with just a, maybe a little brief background of to you are what you do, kind of your story. Sure. Thanks for having me kind of got involved in informing the natural way I was born on a farm and spinning a lot of my time on and off involved in agriculture in different ways until my early twenties where I went and did some other things for a while. And then I got back involved in it a little over a decade ago here in central Texas, where my family and I had organic vegetable farm in backdrop. At first, we mainly sold what the markets and then over time met chefs and spent the, the last five years we had the farm selling just direct to them. So that’s kind of how we got to here. About a year ago, I sold the farm and Luke and I we’re discussing technology and already installed some boxes at his house.

(02:23):

And he had some really innovative ideas of how technology could actually make billion food easier. Prior to that, everybody had approached me. I’d always been, why did you develop an app to help me sell it? Which was not the neat my problem is. And I think this is what you’re trying to solve is we, we did a raised garden in our backyard, right. We get all excited, spend a couple hundred bucks. I even had like a wired water deal to drip it and we killed three quarters of it. Didn’t overdoing. It was fun. So how would you help, like, is that something that you would help somebody like me or what’s kind of the game plan there? I know we really wanna be able to meet people wherever they’re at. So some people or more accomplished, and they’re just looking for a system, which is the, the farm box, which contains a custom one it’s soil and the watering system, and then suddenly more of a, the partnership where we would come by on a biweekly basis and help you.

(03:21):

So there’s, you know, no shortage of things that can go wrong with a plant, especially here in Texas, because the weather is so extreme and the blood pressure can be pretty high. So in that situation, yeah, it’s always best for me if I can help you from the start so I can make sure you pick the right soil, get going on the right foot. Mmm. But you know, we kind of talk to people and see what the level of engagement they want and what are they really wanting to achieve out of their farm boxes. And then we go from there and you talk about technology. Like, what does that mean? Like, because the world is so connected, right? You, you know, you’re 10, but you can change your temperature, your house when you’re away, you can, I have a camera. So you can see when somebody comes to the door, like, what are you guys kind of thinking, or have done or going to do with your technology aspect?

(04:12):

Luke’s definitely one more focused on the technology roadmap than I Mmm. But I guess the easiest way would be taking some of that smart home technology and bringing it outside. Mmm. There is technology for large scale agriculture, but it’s incredibly cost prohibitive and it’s not designed for home users. It’s designed for yeah. Farms that are 50,000 acres are going, gonna be dropping $10 million. Mmm. So it’s bringing more of the smart home technology outside and taking some of the tedious tasks such as watering and making that more advanced. So you won’t forget. Mmm. And then yeah, the phase three is taking some, I guess, so my knowledge and make it an accessible through technology. Yeah. So let’s actually before we go into kind of your knowledge, which I do want to dive into, what’s it like working with your brother? I have three brothers.

(05:09):

So I’ve thought about it multiple times. I have a brother who’s a computer programmer. I think it probably like you, Oh, here we go. Somebody for technology help me out. And I’m pretty, pretty tech savvy, but not a programmer, but I think that’s, that’s good. You got to have some kind of interesting piece there about working with your brother and launching a company with him. I also have three brothers and a sister, so Oh wow. Every sibling, as you know, has a different dynamic and in some just personality wise, it doesn’t work very well. And no, we definitely, you want to have clear communication and you know, I definitely don’t ever want your business to damage your personal relationships. So really we try and stay in our own little houses of where we feel Mmm. We’re the best app. And then we have joint conversations about things that overlap, but really is, you know, trusting him, his vision and him understanding of how to take the technology where we need it to go.

(06:05):

And then him trusting me that I know what I’m doing with plants and communicating that to him, how that interacts with technology. Mmm. You know, I I’ve been involved in family businesses before, so it does presents its own unique challenges, but it’s also rewarding in its own unique way. Mmm. And Luke, and I generally have always gotten along Mmm. Long ago he was in a band and I used to go help him be a road manager when they went on to her and stuff like that. So, Nope. We spent a lot of time hanging out over the years. It really does. It sounds like it’s very similar to any partnership. Really. You gotta be able to trust each other and have a good communication in be able to stay out of their way a little bit. So why don’t you give me a little bit more detail about so you you’ve been a farmer for a long time, but from what I’ve read, you, you split, you have supplied a lot of the local restaurants and stuff like that.

(07:03):

Maybe just give me a little bit more detail, like what that looks like and why, you know, cause farming, a lot of people don’t know what that means is, you know, is it just selling beans to a big company or what, so maybe give us some more background in detail there. Sure. I mean, that is an option being a, what’s called generally a monocrop farmer where you grow one or two vegetables and you sell it to a, usually a food distribution house or a business, you know, and that’s some of the stuff you see on the news at the farmer’s thrown away a couple hundred thousand pounds of bikini because that’s obviously all like grow and they don’t have a distribution system set up. Mmm. What I did is I grew, Mmm. I wouldn’t exactly say custom, but we grew up between 120, 150 different varieties of vegetables every year.

(07:48):

And so as a farmer, that’s super exciting for me. And fun is after you kind of learned to grow. Yeah. Some of the standard vegetables, it can get a little monotonous. So growing a lot of unique vegetables that taste different. And I have slightly growing different growing challenges. Mmm. As a farmer for me, it was super exciting. And then the chefs loved it because they got access to stuff that they really couldn’t get anywhere else. So different varieties from all over the world also taste things like that. So, Mmm. You know, over the years I developed a pretty strong relationship with a lot of the shifts. I treated it very, very much like you should, that it’s a business. So I use technology, I use text and email. Yeah. Obviously it’s not super tech savvy, but in the farming world, it is. What, what was the kind of fun things that you grew, like some different stuff that we might not know about?

(08:46):

Sure. I mean, I love peppers. I’m originally from Southern Arizona and then grew up in New Mexico. So I’ve always loved peppers. So love growing lots of the different varieties. They started developing some that we’re like, I hate this habanero, so it’s sort of you, by the end, you think it’s going to be super hot and kill you like a habanero, but then no heat ever comes. And it kind of has this fruity aftertaste there’s another one called an [inaudible] that it’s a tiny little yellow pepper. And at first it has this lemony flavor and then that tremendous heat hit you. Which you don’t forget. Those are some I love, I also love potatoes. I just always have in Texas, we can’t grow. I mean, there’s thousands of varieties of potatoes. Mmm. But yeah, we can’t grow all of them, but we can grow quite a few.

(09:37):

And probably my favorite would be the German Butterball. Mmm. It tastes like a potato that you’ve already coated in butter, but doesn’t have any on it. As I say that already sounds good. Like just the name of it. We always, we always joked around, we look at the seed catalogs that we call it farmer porn. Cause there’s this committed this amount of seeds. And as someone who is obsessed with growing things, that’s the exciting thing for me. So let’s talk about seeds for a second. Cause you, you read all these articles and you know, and Oh, by the way, I’m from Kansas. So I grew up in the country, you know, a couple acres in front of me before a town of 200 people and 99 acres behind me. Right. We didn’t own all that. We only went to acre, but all, everyone else around us owned a bunch.

(10:22):

But so you read a lot about seeds and how they’re controlled and all that. It was that the case. Did you have a good experience with that? Like tell us a little bit more about that world. I mean, unfortunately, a lot of, a lot of the stuff you hear and read is sort of sensationalized. No, I’m not, I never grew GMO seeds, but the reality they get access to them is you have to sign legal documents because it’s can full property. So you’re not going to just stumble across them at home Depot. Mmm. Yeah. Is there less and less varieties? Yes. But that’s, I do too cross being grown for ship ability and durability. And so there is a resurgence of airline props and different things like that. Mmm. From a commercial perspective as a farmer, there’s always that way, like, can I grow this crop?

(11:14):

And yes, maybe it tastes 25% better, but it yields. Yeah. And so then you have to be able to have that conversation for me to be with the chefs and express. Yeah. For me to grow this crop. Yes. It does have this different tastes, but you’re going to have to pay this much more. Otherwise it’s not sustainable for me to grow it. And you know, and sometimes it’s just, it doesn’t make sense to actually grow the crop. And then there are some that are heirlooms that have been commercially grown for a long time, but are nuts, tomatoes and stuff. So, you know, it is a fine balance as far as access to the seed. I never had a hard time until COVID-19 when all the seed companies so interesting. Well let’s dive into COVID then like, so what is this? Is this how you guys came up with this idea?

(11:59):

Like and how has COVID affected your life? Mostly in the Cultivates slash farming world. It is how Luke and I started working together. I had kind of been doing it. Yeah. Since I closed the farm. Cause I just can’t really stop growing things. Yeah. So he, then he’s been in software for a long time. Andy has done some pretty cool stuff, but he’s always sort of had that feeling that it wasn’t fulfilling this deeper life mission. And I guess seeing everything that was happening, I don’t know if that’s what sparked the idea or, and I know, I know we’ve talked about technology in the past, but just never it’s linked up. Absolutely. That is what, how Cultivate was born was because of the coal prices. Mmm. Yeah. As someone who’s been around food for a long time, I’m not, I’m unaware of the, a delicate balance America has with food.

(12:56):

And then a lot of people started thinking about that after they started realizing, wow, the food supply can be interrupted. And I don’t think, you know, and also there’s a lot of benefit and happiness that comes from growing your food, relaxation, just that kind of security of knowing, Hey, at least I got some tomatoes in my front yard or my backyard. Mmm. So, I mean, it was definitely the catalyst as far as how it’s affected us. I’ve never launched a business before or during a pandemic. So and this is a little challenging. Normally I go out and talk to people and I would be going to meetings and things like that, but they’re not existing now. So it’s a little harder to get awareness about a business outright now. Yeah. W I can only imagine I do think that sometimes, and by the way, my background, I’m more, I’m very much in the online world.

(13:42):

E-Commerce online stores telling your story online, doing podcasts online, obviously. Mmm. But I also think it’s going to force you to use the technology to lean on technology even more, not only to launch your business, but to grow your business, whether you’re starting now or you’ve been in business for a long period of time. So I, I there’s some benefits, but it is painful when you just want to go out and shake hands with somebody. Right. And just go and meet them. Right. And then as a farmer, I’m sure that’s how you’ve grown your business for a long period of time. So what about any recommendations of one somebody that wants to all right. It’s June 1st, we’re here in Texas, central, Texas, Austin. What can I grow? Is there anything I can grow right before summer starts? Like, is that just dead? No way. Or, or is there some stuff that actually you would recommend?

(14:30):

No, you can still grow some stuff. Now you can still plant melons, watermelons. There are some cucumbers that are actually technically in the Mellon family. They originated from India. So they’re able to handle the heat gulping and serpent. Some people call them straight to number cause they don’t like the name serpent and their food. Mmm. You can also go to Southern, Southern beans. You can do okra for sure. If you wanted to, you can do eggplant, tomatoes and peppers. And you know, it all depends on the heat because the plants will grow just fine. But tomato stopped setting around 77 degrees of an average temperature. So that’s the daytime nighttime combined and then divided. Mmm. So yeah, if temperatures stay lower, like they kind of have been for here, you might be able to get away with it. I probably wouldn’t recommend it.

(15:17):

Mmm. But you can really start kicking off again then. Mmm. Mid July and then August again, before you know it, September will be here. And that’s the, that’s really the exciting time to grow in Texas because the amount of stuff you can grow, you can still, you can still plant some know late season, summer stuff, zucchini at the same time we plant in broccoli. So it’s a little, a little weird, but yeah, sure, sure. So when September rolls around, what are you going to be growing yourself? Myself I’ll put in some more zucchini and squash carrots, beets, radishes. Mmm. Can’t wait to start some salad. I love fresh lettuce. And that’s one of the things people don’t think, things like that taste different, but once you get used to eating it, you don’t really want to eat it not fresh. Mmm. And I love a cabbage cauliflower and broccoli.

(16:08):

Mmm. I don’t know if there’s really any vegetables. I don’t like actually. So again, like I said, I grew up in the country and we did have a pretty good size garden and I didn’t realize like radishes don’t taste the way that I thought they did. Like, what we had was these really good, intense radishes, lot of flavor. And then you go to the store and you’re like, Oh, they killed it. They, you know, they just removed all that, all that intense. Like, I don’t know if you call it, it’s not really heat, but it’s like this intense flavor. Mmm. And that’s interesting to me, and that’s not just the case for radishes as I started, figuring out even lettuce can be even too much sometimes or cucumbers can be sometimes a little tarty. But, so how did, is that part of, I don’t know my question there, but like maybe just talk about that for a second.

(17:02):

The difference between your store bought big brand stuff versus kind of some of this locally, locally grown stuff. Sure. I mean, to me, I don’t, I think that most people are going to convert their whole, you are into I’m an urban farm and supply all their own produce. My hope is that they get a part of it from there, their own yard. And they have that connection to growing food again and realize that things taste different. And if they have kids that their kids are exposed to it and you know, maybe we have some, some younger people coming up from them that are inspired to change the food system to get nutrition back in vegetables. Yeah. Just, I think by people eating the food, it makes that light bulb go off, which makes you wonder how do they make it tasteless. And does that mean yeah.

(17:53):

They continue to buy the rest of their food from local farms. Yeah. That would be ideal and great, but I, yeah, I’m kind of a pragmatic person. Convenience of the grocery shores is just really hard to beat, but if we can start getting people demanding that the local grocery stores carry local produce and they work out agreements with the local farmers, wherever they’re paying a fair price and both people make their money. That would be my dream is that people just start understanding food a little better, you know, tomatoes, aren’t supposed to be mealy. They’re supposed to be full of tastes. There’s tons of tomatoes. And now some other civics, some are sweet. Some are Tandy skin. Yeah. There’s a reason for all of that, but you have to experience it to understand what it is. And I think there’s more legs and you think with that stuff.

(18:42):

So we get we use a service called lettuce kind of similar to like a blue apron, but it’s a local and they just deliver the food. Right. And then we can get extra, like, so I don’t have to go to the store. So when covert happened, we were very lucky is I’m I am a little bit of a doomsday prepper in the very, very slight sense. Like, you know, I got 30 days with the food, right. Not stuff that you’re going to want to eat, but a lot of beans and rice, right. I got, I got some extra water. I was a boy scout, so I can worry about that stuff. But then we have lettuce. So like they would deliver three meals that we’d cook, but then we also got add on just extra vegetables. Right. So I think that, look, you’re not going to convince me to go to a farmer’s market three days a week.

(19:27):

Yep. But you might convince me not to go anywhere three days a week. And I’m in on that. Because if I can trust the source that it’s coming from, that they’re curating it for me, which they do a better job than I would do at the store. Right. I think that’s where a lot of this technology will come into play and I’m very excited to see what that future is. Mmm. Yeah. So conversations with other farmers, when I used to sell at farmer’s markets, they always get frustrated that people weren’t coming and I eventually asked them, what would you be here if you weren’t selling it? Like, I don’t want to stay in here when it’s 95 degrees, when there’s an air conditioned building, that’s just being realistic about how are you going to change people’s habits? Like that’s, you know, you just have to be realistic.

(20:15):

You can wish one thing, but the reality of how it’s going to be is just fairly different. And there’s some fantastic here in Austin. And I have a lot of listeners all over the country and in the world actually, but Mmm. So in Austin, it’s, it’s very hot often, but a lot, we have a a plethora of very nice days. We have over 300 days of sunshine. So like, Hey, it’s a Saturday and it’s, you know, 10:30 AM and it’s nice outside. Yeah. My wife and I take our dog out. We’ll go there and, and hang out. But like, if it’s, if it’s 105, like I’m not going, like, it’s just, I think you hit the nail on the head there. Yep. Mmm. Talk to me about, you were featured in a book called America farm to table. Give us the story about the author cause he’s you probably going to give a better intro about the author than I will.

(21:03):

And maybe that what happened there? Mmm. Well, the author, I guess, was technically named after is Mario Batali. Mmm. And he kind of got caught up in the me too movement. So yeah, now the actual, the person I ever met from the book was actually the guy who wrote it, it was Jim Webster. Mmm. So he came down with a photographer and everything. I actually never met Mario. I’m actually still friends with Jim. He’s the, a food editor for the Washington post now. Mmm. So we got into book Bryce, Gilmore of barley swine. Mmm. He’s in the book as well. And I asked him, who’s your favorite farmer? And he told me, and so that was how we ended up in the book. Mmm. But it was a lot of fun. I gendered a character and he’s, I’ve been involved in several other books with some famous chefs as well.

(21:56):

So yeah, it was a first for me. So it was fun. Did you end up getting any new business out of something like that? Or was it just kind of cool, one of those fun things? Mmm. I don’t know. I mean, honestly I had to stop accepting new chefs because I was full. And so we ended up having a waiting list, the tough problem to have. It’s a very tough problem as a business person. It’s a little frustrating cause I had a hard time finding that the labor I needed. Yeah. That’s a common problem in farming and that’s one reason there’s more and more of the monocrop farms. It is because they have technology to solve the labor issue. But you know, it’s a machine that does one thing. And so yeah, they have a machine that could say harvest, romaine, head lettuces, and that’s pretty much all it does.

(22:44):

But to justify that half a million dollar machine, they’ve got to grow more romaine head lettuces. And so you end up with a farmer who grows jest, romaine, let us partly to pay for the machine. As far as all former, we just don’t there isn’t a plethora of usable technology. So I think I could get what you’re saying. There is. If you could get more people to work in the farming industry, you could have probably scaled up even more your farm. Is that, is that kind of a right way of looking at it? There no shortage of demand. None whatsoever. I mean, it was more demand than I could have possibly met. Yeah. You know, I, I arranged at one time I was doing four different avenues for, for sales. And then the last five years I just did one and I couldn’t even keep up with that.

(23:40):

Very interesting. And I think there’s a lot of pockets of this in the, in our, and as well as the world you know, you’d listened to Mike Rowe, talk about the, you know, the labor jobs and they’re just no demand for them. And it’s very interesting because you look at the unemployment rate right now. I understand COVID and I totally get it. And that’s, that’s a tough deal. And it’s also puts people in an interesting spot, but this is a moment in time. So let’s just remove covert from that conversation. Mmm. You know, if you’re struggling, you know, maybe it’s time to find something a little outside your comfort zone, get a skill or two that’s outside. I also think it’s very rewarding process. Is it hard? Yes. But it’s good. It’s very different, you know you might be replacing stress to your body from the stress, from your mind that you’re getting at your current job, but Mmm.

(24:32):

Yeah. That’s interesting. And so like when you talk about the labor issues that you had, like, was it something where you were needing one or two people or it was just literally like, you couldn’t even find any, like maybe give it a little bit more story there. Cause I think it’s interesting. I mean I can find people and that they would generally stay three to six months and then it is kind of warm out. Yeah. So turnover was high. Yeah. I’m not a fan of, this is a hard job. Mmm aye. You know, it took its toll on my body, honestly. So that was the big issue is people think of it as unskilled, which is kind of unfortunate. It actually takes quite a bit of skill when you’re do anything. Commercially time is money. And so it takes you awhile to learn the most effective way to pick up pepper or fix flash or anything.

(25:25):

Yeah. Oftentimes I would get people trained up to the level where they were highly proficient and then they would get bored and quit. So that happens in a lot, a lot of jobs. So talk, tell me about maybe define what a farm box is for people who don’t know. And my guess is like a four foot by eight foot type of, kind of like the raised garden we have in the backyard and like what you suggest or what you think those should, you know, maybe give us just a little bit of overview of what a foreign box is and w w and in your description of it, you pretty much hit it on the head. It’s a four by eight box. Yeah. We can build them out of pine or Cedar or some of this different jobs where we’re working with landscape architects. There’s lots of weather materials, but four by eight is the optimum size for being able to reach it.

(26:11):

Huh. Then we fill out with a custom made soil blend of, so I left kind of developed as my own secret recipe over the years, or I lots of other amendments and things like that really give the vegetables up. This rocket growing medium, it’s all organic. And then we supply a drip irrigation watering system. So you’re watering the plants right at the roots, which could be a huge issue in Texas. If you fill your water by the Leafs of sharp going fungal diseases, and it wastes a ton of water. And then we also nearby the plants and the seeds. And then if you’re signed up for our ongoing farm partnership program, we’ll come by wa biweekly Cultivate the, the beds check for past fungus diseases. And then we planted on our agreed upon kind of planting schedule. And then as far as your involvement, the only thing you’re required to do is water.

(27:04):

Turn the water on and off. And if you want to be more involved and learn more about what’s going on, that’s great. If you want us to handle it, you just want to come out and harvest it, enjoy the bounty that works too. Yeah. That’s kind of the system. And, you know, you can buy one box or you could buy 10 boxes depending on how many people in your household and how much you want to eat out of it. We kind of generally recommend one box per adult. And it sounds to me from what you said, that you like your only way to get your soil, that’s exciting soil is to get a box from y’all too. Yeah. I mean, you know, I guess kind of like KFC, I’m not going to give away my recipe.

(27:43):

I like it. That’s super fun. And I think this might be an obvious question I’m gonna ask anyway. So why do the box as opposed to just like going in the ground, right. Like, why do I need this? Well, in Austin, we are blessed to have in tremendous amount of soil types and some where there’s a quarter inch of top soil followed by limestone rock. Somewhere says black gumbo, clay, and, you know, it’s all over the place. So really the kind of the only option is to go up for any sort of know a system. Yeah. Obviously commercial farming. You’re generally still doing it in the dirt, but you know, agricultural land is getting harder and harder to come by in the Scottsdale and the suburbs. Yeah. Just to add a point to what you’re saying. Cause I already knew the answer obviously, but I like to ask questions.

(28:38):

So I’m from Kansas, like I said, and it’s funny how much I’m bringing this up, but we said, you know, you could tell the garden, you do a bunch, you can drill, you could use a hoe, you can get really fat. You can do a lot real quick. So we’re, we this is two years ago or so three years ago before Tom petty passed away, we were able to, we had tickets to this concert and I had about an hour before we needed to leave 45 minutes. I was like, Oh, I’m going to do this raise garden and no time, like, yeah, you just, it’s just, you just got to go down like six inches, four inches, whatever it is, this will take two minutes. And no, it was like rocks. Every, like I was sprinting along the lines of trying to get, get it done in like 50 minutes, took a super fast shower to leave.

(29:21):

I couldn’t, I couldn’t get anywhere. Like, and I was just like, all I had to do is like shoveled down like a couple inches. Like this should be so easy, but nothing would grow in that without the raise. But I can guarantee you that, that, that, that is not the fertile ground of the middle of Kansas. I can tell you that my brother one install, a pit is place [inaudible] he spent the whole weekend pick ACCE like an eight inch divot. And so when he decided he wanted to grow some food, it was the same type of thing. It’s like, yeah, we gotta go up. No, in the boxes you get about 11 inches of soil, which is enough really, you know, provide plants are really good place to grow. So, yeah. So what about any myths to the farming world that you kind of hear often?

(30:12):

And it could be farming or any world that you’re in? Just kinda any, anything that you hear that you’re just like, that’s not at all how it is. Oh, well, Mmm. It’s a myth. Unfortunately it has often become true. And I don’t know, I don’t know exactly how it happened. But that you have to be poor to be a farmer. It’s like a trade off between income and love of farming. And it as a farmer and a businessman was something that offended me in a very, very deep level. I’ve been in business for myself pretty much my whole life. I started selling tomatoes when I was nine and I just don’t have that personality that I’m going to walk around with my handout and, you know, right. I feel like there’s most problems. You can figure it out. You know, we got hit my Harvey, horrible.

(31:05):

It probably hit us for $50,000 and yeah, yeah, that happens a whole bunch of times in a row it’s to be the coffin, but you know, it’s the same as like any bad business thing that happens. So that was the one that offended me the most. And I don’t really know why it started because most farmers, particularly larger scale ones are some pretty I’m determined folks that don’t easily ask for help. And yeah. So I don’t really know where that one got started. That’s probably my biggest one actually. And the other one, the seeds that it’s like, yeah. Somehow they’re hiding, like waiting to jump in your garden. I mean, Monsanto or now it’s bare chemical. Yeah. Controls that they’ve spent a lot of money perfecting their seeds to be what they want them to do. And it’s their trade secrets. They don’t want to just give them out.

(31:55):

Mmm. So I, I don’t know why that got spread as something too go against GMO seeds to convince people that they’re hiding in every pocket and going to jump in your garden. Yeah. The debate, if they’re good or not as for a different time, I suppose, but I don’t think it really helps the situation. And everybody’s worried about everything being GMO. Well, the GMO, I always loved the, just went out, looking at banana from a hundred years ago to the banana eat now. And there’s your, there’s your best GMO. Now I get it. There’s a balance there’s balance in life. There has to be a balance. You can’t go too far one way or the other, but I guarantee you’re not eating that banana that with full of seeds and way different than it is nowadays. So yeah, this is, you know, like say cotton.

(32:42):

I used to live up by Lubbock, which is a big cotton country in North Texas. And the farmers there used to say, they’re in cotton seeds. And over the years, they’ve when transition to GMO Cod because it’s Roundup ready. They can be fully weighted, et cetera, et cetera. But you know, when they first introduced it, it was like $50 for a 50 pound bag. And w every decade they just keep adding in their fifth year, a hundred dollars. And now it’s like $350 and the price of cotton has hardly gone up. So that’s where I see the downside that the farmers really get hurt. Mmm. Is that intentional? Probably. I think it’s controlling the market. Yeah.

(33:23):

So, so, so why don’t you walk me through like a normal day in your life? You know, you don’t have to do it like so much. It could be the COVID day, but, or, or maybe when you were a farmer whatever’s kind of fun and instinct like you know, is it something like where you’re waking up four in the morning type of thing, or like, you know, walk me through that.

(33:41):

You know, when I was farming, that was much more the case. So I do admit that I don’t have that schedule anymore because most people don’t want you in their backyard at six 30, it’s a little creepy. So that is an upside to actually, cause I am not a morning person by nature. So generally now, you know, it depends if we usually install into the plan, the boxes out several weeks, cause I actually grow the plants because it’s very important to me that we have the right varieties. So say if you’re going to have a box installed, it’s gotta be four weeks from now, so I can grow the plants out. So some days we might have an install someday, I’m going to people’s houses doing a site console, making sure they have enough son’s level enough different things like that. So as you know, when you’re a business owner, there’s always lots of different stuff, especially as you’re starting.

(34:25):

Cause you’re wearing all the hats. Sure. As far as in the normal day in the life of a farmer, probably one, maybe people that go to farmer’s markets, but they don’t think about yes. So I would get up about four 30. The farmer’s market starts at nine, I believe. So we would have to load up all of the produce cause they were all in walking coolers and you can’t just leave them in here vehicles overnight, that doesn’t work. So we would load up Oh, 2000 pounds of produce, drive it to the market, set up the tent, set up the tables, unloaded all, display it, then be there until two o’clock. So it’s 10 to two. Yeah. Tend to too. But some people got there earlier, one 91, one, three, it was four hours long. So after the end of it, we kept everything load up and he said, he didn’t say, I’ll take it all back home.

(35:13):

Mmm. And by the time you get back to the farm, I’m loaded, it’s five o’clock and it’s a very long day and he’s a lot of work. And a lot of people, no, if the farmers are counting on you to be a customer, you kind of need to and make that commitment because they’re going to pick the stuff and it can’t go back on the plant. So it’s something that people don’t often think about. Oh, well, I’m not going to go today. I’ll go next week. And it’s like, well, it won’t be there next week that that’s gone. So yeah. So what would, what would happen say you sold half of what you’re, what you brought to the farmer’s market. What happens to the other half? Mmm. Well that was, it was a bigger problem when we first started. That was that, that was our food for the next week we had animals and stuff or yeah.

(36:04):

You know, we’d give to people in our community, in the Eden stuff. We, yeah, the food bank and bass, we actually gave him so much food. They asked us to stop. When we, we gave them, when we had a whole bunch of chickens, I, it was something crazy, like a hundred dozen eggs and they just didn’t have room to stole them. Yeah. Yeah. It makes sense. They were a pretty small food bank and weren’t equipped to handle it. So when we would show up with like 200 pounds of cucumbers, yeah. What are you gonna do? Like a mixed selection. I was like, well, that’s not generally how it works here. So, but you know, as you get better and over time, and it’s one of those things, it’s important to keep track of that. So I can look at my records and we would know this is what we sold on average.

(36:48):

We kept track of all that. The re you know, there was no point for me to load up all a bunch of stuff or pick it. I knew it wasn’t going to sell. So, you know, we always try to have just like one or two of everything left. Cause then we know we didn’t reach market saturation. And if we had 10 of something left, well, we certainly didn’t pick that much next week. And sometimes there’s fluctuations in the weather and all that, but Mmm. There’s one reason that actually working with the chefs was a lot better for me. Cause there was predictability you know, in all restaurants have seasonality too, but over years of working with the same chefs, you kind of own their seasonality. And so you can have pair with them. So yeah, there’s a lot of variables in farming. Yeah. Well, it’s, you know, it’s very similar to other businesses.

(37:35):

You gotta have your inventory management, you don’t want to over stock your inventory, the big problem with your inventory. It’s not like you can just hold onto it for another six weeks. Yeah. It goes to zero real quick. [inaudible] Yeah. I always it’s very much like owning most small businesses and I have on some different avenues. Actually. The only difference is you’re growing, making the widget and it’s outside. But besides that, it’s the same type of things. You gotta know your cobs and all of that. I talked to farmers and they don’t even, I understand basic business terms. It’s just, I think that’s where the poor farmer thing comes in. Sure. That makes sense too. So, but what with Cultivate, what’s kind of the give me more the three, five year plan. I mean, is that something that you want to expand outside of the you’re the Austin, Texas area to like nationwide or is it, you know, or do you just want to kinda just whatever it is, you know, what’s kind of the longer term plan.

(38:36):

The dream is definitely to expand it as far as possible. I would love to help yeah. Everybody that they could possibly reach, grow food, however I can. Mmm. Yeah. Again, I don’t, I’m not, I don’t think we’re going to be replacing the vegetable needs a hundred percent, but if we had an impact of five or 10%, I would be incredibly pleased with my life for that. And so that’s one, it’s one thing with the technology that will allow us to do is to expand more. Mmm. Because everybody won’t have to be trained by me. We will have technology to do that. And so, you know, like when we had the farm, I had training manuals. And so it’s sort of like that kind of idea of taking that knowledge, transitioning to technology and then using some of the machine learning to help us. Mmm.

(39:24):

But yeah, having that, Nope. That’s both. Our dream is basically to help as many people as we possibly can grow food. And what’s been some of your favorite memories or stories over the course of whether it’s just the Cultivate or farming or whatever, wherever you want to take that of, of, of being in this business. To me, it’s seeds, we had the farm, we had a lot of the restaurants, they would send their crews out to volunteer. And a lot of that was for education that they understood what farming was like and how vegetables do, but seeing people that trap connection made, you can almost always see it in their eyes. Like, ah, that is so cool to me. I love seeing little kids, like when I’m at a client’s house, let’s say they’re at a client’s house too. They were you picking stuff and just look on the kid’s face like that new connection of learning something.

(40:23):

Oh yeah. My kids are teenagers now, so I can’t teach them anything anymore. But you know, I love that part for me personally. I’ve never gotten over the amazement of planting the seed and then seeing it sprout and then eventually harvest unit. I just it’s always blows my mind that yeah. I love systems and things to be efficient and nature’s just figured it out. It doesn’t waste energy. I just, I think that’s so cool. No matter how many times I experienced it, I’m always just like, I don’t know. I’m a total dork when it comes to it. They’d admit it.

(41:00):

I love it. That’s actually pretty, pretty fantastic. So what does success look like for you? We came up with what we kind of defined for that is our success is measured by your harvest. So I really, I don’t feel like this can be a successful business if people are successfully harvesting vegetables, that’s, that’s actually like, you actually had an answer for that. A lot of times people that, that stumps them, although it’s a very basic question. Right. Mmm. So as far with the Cove with your current, the Cultivate, which is, you know, a pretty new company, it sounds like was there any light, any things that you wish you would’ve known right when you started or has it, or is it to kind of knew that where, where you’re still just kinda figuring it out as you go it’s really kind of too new?

(41:54):

Yeah, I guess it would be May 1st. We didn’t officially launch until right. May 22nd or so now maybe a little midnight or something like that. So yeah, it hasn’t been long. So I’m sure we’ll find new things. You know, the biggest thing is, pardon me, not knowing how to launch a business during a pandemic. I just don’t have any experience with that. Really. No one else does. So I’m happy to go ask other people, but you asked 10 people and you’re going to get 10 different answers. You know, it makes sense. So I guess my question back to you on that one would be, would you have done a podcast or reached out to get on a podcast if it wasn’t COVID? I would have, I don’t know if I’m going to put the same level of priority, but you know, I like technology. I like video. I like podcast. I like communicating with people in all the forms, but I probably would have, I went back to my old knee jerk reaction, go into garden groups, go into libraries, talking in front of 10 people, which, Mmm. Yeah. I don’t consider myself a Luddite, but sometimes I’m a slow learner.

(43:08):

So I, you know, I am an optimist. So I just look at the silver linings here a little bit, you know, and I think I, I may, I am excited about some of the stuff that is going to stay around, like this type of stuff and getting somebody like you that might not have done this as much. And I, I just, you know, I even look at it too. My business wise is like now almost all my meetings are done through this video chat and we share screens and I used to have to like pull teeth to get people to do that. They would never, they would just call, there was always a call, a number and they just, and then [inaudible] sharing screens would have helped so much sometimes. But I think that’ll stay around and that’s a very basic one. I think, I think really what it’ll be is people are gonna want some of the conveniences.

(43:49):

Like if I go to a store or if I’m going to order a sandwich, I don’t want to, I don’t want to talk to anybody. I just want to order, I just want to pick it up or have it delivered whatever. I don’t need to wait in a line and talk to somebody. Right. I think some of that stuff’s going to stay around. What about any mentors or any, any people in your life or books that have kind of helped you through your journey? Mmm. Yeah, there been a lot of people throughout my life that have really helped me. Some books. I really liked the Michael Gilbert books, the E-Myth again, touch on systems. One book I actually found really affable was bill McKibben. And we wrote a book about the economy and how having a sustainable economy and what that looks like.

(44:35):

It’s actually the book that got me back into farming. Cause I had gotten out of farming for probably any agricultural stuff for five years. I was just kinda, I dunno, I wouldn’t say disgusted with it, but this didn’t feel like it was going in a direction that I wanted to be part of. And that was more larger scale agriculture. Mmm. So and that’s a new economy, I think it’s called by bill McKibben. Mmm. No, I’ve been lucky too. I have a lot of really smart people around me. Mmm. Sometimes. Yeah. So I can’t really name one person. Yeah.

(45:15):

I had a lot of friends throughout my life that own their own businesses. And I like to have friends that are totally different businesses. Like some, I haven’t initially been friends with a lot of farmers cause you hang out with farmers and that’s all they talk about. Yeah. I mean, but sometimes I want to talk about something different. Mmm. So, you know, and everybody has different ideas. One thing I really love about working with Luke is cause he is so much, I’m like, yeah, he loves Slack and all that. He’ll send me Slack calls randomly and I’m like, who’s calling my computer, but it forces me to realize, wow, there’s some really useful technology here. Oh, that’s so funny. A part of the hiccup is that where we had the farm we had satellite, we did not have fast enough internet to even live to stream Netflix.

(46:02):

And so I gotten used to being out of the loop, which, you know, well, it’s frustrating even out there. So and I think as far as country, that is something we need to fix. We need to get rural high speed internet everywhere because you’re leaving huge segment of the American population behind the technology. Boom. Yeah. And the Internet’s a, the ultimate it levels the playing field. And to me, that that is so important in education will lift somebody out of poverty faster than anything Mmm. In any program. And with the internet, there’s a lot of self-education that can happen. And if you do not have fast internet, I tell you what I learned more from YouTube than probably anything. Right. You know, it would probably more than actually not, probably more than college. So, you know, that is something that I’m very passionate about is to get high speed internet to everyone.

(46:56):

And I mean, everyone, not just us to me, everyone should have that. Right. The company is already working on other countries, high speed, internet balloons and stuff. Yeah. Oh yeah. That’s definitely a thing. Yeah. And that’s just one, one idea. There’s going to be a lot of different. Do we need a permanent structure to get this? And then technology will also help you know, unfortunately with the way that our technology profile is happening with internet is the, the faster, the speed, the lower the S the shorter it reaches. So that’s actually kind of backwards in helping that, but, Mmm. I think we’re in a moment in time here of this stuff. I think this will change. What about any, any regrets along your journey? Hm.

(47:49):

Woo. Not really. I mean, I’ve lived a pretty interesting life. Yeah. Probably a lot more grants when I was younger, but just talk about the wild days. Yeah. I really don’t. I feel like I’ve learned something from everything. Yeah, it was really hard. We had to sell the farm that was due to some health issues I had had partly from there’s abusing my body and not treating it correctly and just working yeah. 70 hours a week for a decade. That way doesn’t your body eventually says, no, sorry. Maybe I regret not treating my body with a little more respect, but I think it led me here because I never would have had the time to do this and run a farm. And so I can’t really regret because then I wouldn’t be here and I feel like this is where I’m supposed to be.

(48:41):

And so I guess I always do that sometimes it’s hard, you know? Yeah. Very emotionally connected to my farm. It was a sad experience for me. It was hard for my kids. That’s where they were pretty much raised. But you know, like you say, if you look for the silver lining, you can often find it so I could have chose to be sad and bitter about it, or look for something else to present itself. Oh yeah. Would I ever preferred it? Not yet global pandemic. Yes. But it happens. And so we’re going to try and do something. That’ll help people maybe do a shift and who knows where it’ll be in six months or a year. I try not to. I have too much control over things cause it doesn’t seem to matter anymore.

(49:24):

Speaking of those wild times any advice you’d give your 16 year old self? Oh, don’t break so many bones. They do come back to get ya. Yeah. I mean, I had a lot of fun, but I, I definitely believe in living to the fullest, you know, didn’t really worry about that aftermath too much. I could attest that as well. And kind of my, this is my last question I asked everyone, this question is how would you like to be remembered? I would like to be remembered as someone who gave more than he took. Well, I love it. Well, Nathan, it was a super pleasure to have you on any establishing your empire podcast. I really appreciate your time. And I’m really excited to see what Cultivate, where it goes. And hopefully we could get more small farms locally grown produce of have more people experience it, right? Yes, sir. Okay. Thanks for having me on. I appreciate it. All right. Cheers.

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