Andrew Erickson, Funk, NE
Holdrege Farmer’s Market every Thursday May-September from 4:30-7 p.m. on the courthouse lawn (715 5th Ave. Holdrege)
or in Kearney at 4623 2nd Ave.
FFA Project Becomes Full-Time Career for Andrew’s Garden
When Andrew Erickson was 9, he started his first business – buying and selling antique farm toys at auctions and sales.
He opened his first checking account, made a little money and started learning some important business lessons, like negotiating, and buying low and selling high. The entrepreneurship bug had bit him.
Five years later, at age 14, Andrew enrolled in the Future Farmers of America class at Holdrege High School in which he was required to start a “project,” or supervised agricultural experience.
Andrew always enjoyed helping his mom, Kay, with the family vegetable garden on their farm north of Funk, so he decided to expand on that idea with his own fruit and vegetable garden. He planned to sell his produce at the Holdrege Farmer’s Market, which had just started the previous summer.
Twenty years later, Andrew’s Garden is the main attraction every Thursday from mid-May through September at the Holdrege Farmer’s Market. The variety, quality and great taste of his fruits and vegetables keep customers coming back week after week, season after season.
He sells more than 25 different fruits and vegetables from cauliflower and cabbage to broccoli and zucchini with his most popular being tomatoes, watermelon, cantaloupe and sweet corn.
“It’s a lot of work to grow the variety I do, but I think that is what has helped with my success,” he said.
He also focuses on quality and flavor.
“I’m always trying new varieties to get better flavor,” he said.
New Store in Kearney
From the beginning, Andrew also sold his produce in Kearney at its farmer’s market in the K-Mart parking lot. When the K-Mart closed and sold its building this past year, a new location for the market was in question. With 25 years of entrepreneurship under his belt, Andrew was used to solving problems and thinking outside the box. That thinking led him inside – to his first indoor sales location.
He rented a building across the street from the old K-Mart parking lot in the Nebraskaland Centre, 4623 2nd Ave., and has been selling his produce there this summer. What seemed like a problem in the beginning has actually turned into an opportunity for Andrew.
“I wanted a store where I could be open more days of the week and more hours to catch more people,” he said.
Sales have been strong at the new Kearney store, Andrew said, and he’s even able to help other entrepreneurs (Garcia Farms jams, jellies and salsas and Scottish Highlander beef raised in Gothenburg) by selling their products at the store.
The Kearney Andrew’s Garden store is open Saturdays, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sundays & Mondays, noon-6 p.m.; and Wednesdays, noon-7 p.m. He still sells on Thursdays from 4:30-7 p.m. at the Holdrege Farmer’s Market, and when he’s not selling, he’s harvesting and tending to his 10 acres and 18 greenhouses of fruits and vegetables.
Andrew built his first greenhouse just three years after starting his business. He received a USDA rural youth loan, which offered him low-interest money to build a 20 x 96-foot greenhouse.
The greenhouses allow him to start selling produce earlier in the season and help him manage weather risks.
On July 25, 2009, Andrew was helpless against Mother Nature as he watched wind and hail “pretty much wipe out” his outside crops.
“I was down for a couple days afterward,” Andrew said. “I felt pretty bad.”
But in true entrepreneurial spirit, he came up with a new plan.
“That fall, I built four more greenhouses to have more inside production so we have less risk,” Andrew said.
Currently, about 60 percent of his crop is outside, while 40 percent is grown inside greenhouses.
Andrew, who is now 34, said that set-backs are part of the game as a rural business owner, and he’s learned to be mentally tough to survive.
“Don’t let things get you down,” he said. “If something goes wrong or something goes bad, move on and look on the bright side.”
Hard work is another necessity for a rural entrepreneur. Andrew puts in long hours to make his year-round business work.
“It’s a lot of work, but it pays off in the end,” Andrew said. “It takes a lot of management to keep a continuous supply of tomatoes and green beans.”
His work begins in February planting seeds in the greenhouses. He orders bees from Canada to pollinate the indoor tomatoes.
He continues to plant seeds through mid-July to give him that steady and continuous supply of produce the entire season.
As any gardener would guess, one of his biggest challenges is weeds – specifically pigweed. He prevents weeds by laying down black plastic and avoiding tilling the soil as much as possible to not stir up the harmful seeds.
When farmer’s market season begins, harvesting is added to the workload. He hires neighbor kids to stay on top of that task, and his family and wife, Megan, help, too. Andrew and Megan married in October 2016, and she resigned from her job at the Harlan County Extension office to help Andrew full-time with his business.
Each morning, they harvest at least a pick-up load of produce and several pick-up loads if it’s sweet corn or watermelon season.
Once the growing and selling season ends in late September, the work doesn’t stop. In October, the gardens and greenhouses need to be cleaned out. Then, it’s time to make repairs, build greenhouses and begin researching and ordering seeds for the next growing season.
Andrew said he never dreamed his FFA project would yield a full-time successful career selling fruits and vegetables, but he’s glad it did.
“I enjoy watching plants grow, producing something from nearly nothing,” Andrew said. “I enjoy selling to the people, seeing people buy my produce and then eat it and enjoy it.”