Homefront Farmers plants a growing business

When Ridgefield resident John Carlson first started his at-home farming company, Homefront Farmers, the responses he received in his first two years of business were a mix of curiosity and disbelief.

“‘Is that really a thing?’” Carlson says people would ask him. “‘People really hire somebody to help them with their vegetable garden?’”

But he figured if people hire companies to care for their lawns and bushes, why not someone to design, build and maintain their vegetable gardens?

“It just seemed like there was an opportunity for a company to be focused on that and specialize in it to help people,” he says. “There was also a strong belief that there are a lot of people interested in this kind of thing now. People interested in organic, in getting back to the basics of growing their own food, but really had no knowledge of how to go about doing it and certainly no knowledge of how to do it efficiently.

“I just had someone write me an email saying they grew up in Rhode Island and their parents and grandparents always had a garden and they loved having it, but they wish they had paid attention because now they want to have it for their kids, but they don’t know what to do,” he adds. “That is a very typical intro we get from people.”

Miranda Lubarsky Gould, Carlson’s right-hand woman, is one of many twentysomethings who came to Homefront to follow a passion for agriculture.

After working wih elderly Penobscot Native Americans in Maine through AmeriCorps VISTA, Lubarsky Gould, a choral singer and graduate of St. Olaf College in Minnesota, says she could not go back to a typical 9-to-5 desk job:

“I love growing things. I am just addicted to it.”

She has been with Carlson since the inception of Homefront in 2012. Like her, many of the nearly 20 seasonally fluctuating staffers are avid agriculturalists who did not go to school for their passion but cultivated their passion through experiences on working farms and farm volunteer programs.

“I think everybody is doing it, because they love to grow and teach people how to grow,” she says.

With consistent year-over-year growth and the company’s roots firmly planted throughout the region, Carlson says he has set his sights on growing his business to five times its current size.

“I think there is a market out there to be significantly bigger and I would certainly like to do it before someone else does,” he says.

While Homefront’s gardens can be as large as 1,600 square feet, or 40 feet squared, and range in price from $5,000  to $12,000 to design and build, Carlson recently began a new chapter in his business to include gardens as small as 10-by-16 square feet, ranging in price from $3,000 to $6,000.

“This is not your grandma’s garden where if you end up with some tomatoes at the end of the year, you are happy,” Lubarsky Gould says. “We are not a farm where as long as it produces in the end it doesn’t matter what it looks like in between. With this every step of the way it has got to be perfect.”

In addition to building the gardens, Homefront offers year-round maintenance and hands-on education for its clients at an additional cost. The company tailors its service according to whether a client wants simply to set up a garden or have it fully serviced from seed to harvest. Carlson says he serves about 120 clients on a continual basis with about 50 to 60 new garden projects per year, 70 percent of which retain the company’s maintenance services.

While Homefront specializes in produce — everything from greens to goji berries — it will also tap homeowners’ own maple trees to create handcrafted maple syrup and set up beehives for honey. It has yet to incorporate livestock like chickens and rabbits, but Carlson says those are on the horizon.

“We could get into sheep and goats, but the market and interest is smaller,” he adds.

Looking ahead, he plans to expand his business, possibly through franchising, to reach farther north along the Connecticut shore into New Haven County and adjacent counties.

The company also recently purchased 11.5 acres in Redding to establish a base of operations to source produce internally in addition to its network of local farmers, including The Hickories Farm in Ridgefield and Gilbertie’s Herbs & Garden Center in Easton.

A marketing consultant for more than two decades, Carlson says reconnecting with a tradition largely lost in today’s society has been a welcome sea change in his life.

“I spent a lot of years in a business where our only mission was to make money in the consulting firms I worked for,” he says. “It is rewarding financially, but it’s not very rewarding in other ways. I was determined in this business to have some meaning beyond just achieving business success.”

For more, visit homefrontfarmers.com.

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