Kellie Pettyjohn is the proud owner and founder of The Wily Carrot, an organic farm located in Mancos, CO. She came to the lovely Mancos Valley in 2010 via Washington, D.C., to pursue an idyllic lifestyle, work with her hands in the outdoors and become her own boss. Kellie first got her hands dirty when she tended to two acres of vegetables on Dave Banga’s farm in Montezuma County. She interned with him for a full season to learn the business and production sides to farming.
Kellie leased an acre of farmland the following year and put into practice what she learned. She planted over two dozen vegetable varieties, and had sold them at farmers markets and wholesale. “It was a lot of work and there was a lot of volatility,” she said. “I kept records which showed what worked and what didn’t, and my decisions were driven by that.”
During that season, Kellie heard through the farming community about an upcoming class sponsored by the Small Business Development Center (SBDC). The class was titled ‘Tilling the Soil of Opportunity’ and was led by Cindy Dvergsten. Classes began in January 2012, and met once a week for ten weeks. Each class focused on a specific business premise that would be implemented into a personalized business plan. The classes were highlighted by a guest speaker who specialized in that area. “An accountant would speak of budgets and cash flow one week, and a marketer would explain advertising the next.”
With each class came a homework assignment, which led to the business plan’s construction. Kellie learned how to think about what her ideal farm would look like as a business and how to make that successful. She was taught to think of a farm as separate enterprises. For example, “Crops would be marketed and sold differently than livestock.” Another take away was “realizing just because you may have a higher profit from farmers markets may not be the most profitable for a farmer because I’m spending the previous day prepping for it. You need to run your numbers to include hourly wage and transportation.”
The greatest lesson for Kellie was that she had to consider the lifestyle she wanted to live as a farmer. She took that to heart. “Farmers like to work outside and for themselves while needing to consider how to make a business while doing what they want to do.” Kellie knew right then she no longer wanted to work markets because they took up most of her Saturdays.
When the classes ended in March, Kellie had a completed business plan. For each student who finished their plans, it was then submitted into a regional SBDC contest to judge who had the best one. The winning regional plan would advance against other SBDC regional winners in a state level contest. Kellie wound up winning first place regionally and in the state! She received $500 as a regional winner. The state prize was three boxes of organic tea and a meeting with Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper. Unfortunately for Kellie, the governor’s visit was scheduled during her off season. She was employed as a kitchen staff at a research science center in Antarctica at the time. Cindy met the governor in her place.
In 2014, Kellie bought three acres to expand her farm. She currently has two acres under production. Kellie grows mostly greens, along with tomatoes and peppers, for her CSA (community supported agriculture). Customers pay a fee at the beginning of farming season and receive eight to twelve vegetables per week throughout, until the season ends. She decides what to plant based on what grows well and what people want. This past summer, The Wily Carrot received the classification of ‘Certified Organic’ under the US National Organic Program.
SBDC’s Tilling the Soil class has helped empower Kellie to follow her dream. “This is my seventh year of farming. Each year I am getting smarter, making refinements, and making business better. It can be scary at times and takes a lot of work. But, being in charge of my destiny is very powerful.”