Baby tomatoes

Baby tomatoes

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Over the Garden Fence - an interview with JMs Garden

One of the really nice things about living in a rural location is our nice big yard. Lots of gardening space. And we do love to grow things. As a canner, I love to grow things that can be canned and used the rest of the year and SAFE canning practices are very important to me. That being said, many of the new hybrid vegetables, tomatoes in particular, are not as acidic as their heirloom cousins.

Growing vegetables from seed just makes sense. It's by far more economical than buying plants and you can get exactly the variety of vegetable you want to grow if you start from seed. If you are concerned about chemicals and GMOs and all the different things mass producing companies do with vegetables and seeds, you can be assured heirlooms have not been subjected to all of that.

This winter I discovered a WONDERFUL seed supplier right here in Iowa- JMs Garden. Not only are the seeds heirloom AND organic, but they are hand raised and harvested.  JMs is also a small business, which is something very important to me- supporting our local small businesses. Add reasonable priced, hand-packaged seeds, dedication to customer service AND participating in charitable organizations, such as their recent Dollar Days Sale with proceeds donated to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and you cannot find a better supplier to buy your garden seeds from.

I had the opportunity to ask the owner, Jason, a few questions about the business, and I want to share his story with all of you. 

1. I just recently discovered your website- how long have you been in business?
We have been in business for almost a year. We started by selling our seeds and some other random things I was collecting like old coins on Ebay. Then, unfortunately around December, we had some major miscommunication with Ebay that really hurt us, so we decided to change routes. Our website was up and running in January.
2. I know you are a smaller business operating from Dubuque, Iowa. What have you found to be some of the obstacles in reaching a wider audience and gaining customers ?
Our biggest obstacle is just that – reaching a wide audience. Because we are a very small business, with absolutely zero loans or grants, we don't have too much extra money to put towards advertising as of now. It's all pretty much word of mouth from Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Youtube, articles we write, and wonderful interviews like this.
3. Do you find your location to be an issue or the abundance of online "big boys"?
Our location isn't an issue at all. With our greenhouse set up, we can literally grow anything, at any time. We just harvested some 10 pound papayas the other day, and there's 3 feet of snow on the ground. Our competition will always make more money then we do, companies like Burpee. The thing that separates us from them is truth. As I mentioned, we don't have a whole lot of funds for advertising, so we definitely don't have funds for any inorganic nonsense. The thing with the bigger companies, that most people don't realize, is that just because they may say something is organic, doesn't make it true. There is a legal loophole that I talked about in a blog post about dog food, and it holds true with seeds as well – companies like Burpee will not personally spray their seeds with “preservation” spray as I call it to make it last on the shelf longer. They have their companies that package and ship everything do it, so they don't have to mention a word about it. The toxins from these sprays grow into the fruits and vegetables we eat.
4. Many of the readers of this blog are cooks but probably just as many are not- but enjoy gardening. You have something for every level of gardener, correct? Flowers, herbs, vegetables, as well as books and other materials.
Yes. It is very important for us to be thinking of the garden and the kitchen at the same time. I've written millions of recipes over the last 12 years, and I like to share them or implement them with what we grow. We like to entice people with a recipe to grow the ingredients needed. We don't do a whole lot of flowers yet, but we will be soon.
5. I hear you have a series of eBooks coming soon. Can you tell me a little about those? 5a- I see you already offer an eBook- "Brew Your Own Beer" by Jason Meyer. Have you ever tried brewing? Thoughts?
The eBooks we are working on now is going to be a 3 part series called “From the Garden to the Kitchen”. It basically holds to my theory of including every aspect. Hundreds of tips for the garden and the kitchen, and of course some of my recipes. The “Brew Your Own Beer” eBook was really a great adventure. We brewed every single beer that you get in that recipe book. We failed, countless times, but every time we succeeded, we added the recipe. It's definitely a great option because there are so many people out there who can't find the exact beer or flavor they are looking for. With over 640 recipes in the book, you're bound to find something you like.
6. You have a lot of great information on your website. What are some highlights and must-see areas that you recommend NEW gardeners check out?
Our blog posts, for sure. Along with our articles and weekly newsletters, our blog posts show so much information. Tips, how to's, stories, or just rambling. It's where we can really just let out whatever is on our minds or whatever topic we are discussing at the office.
7. Let's say I am a new customer, and I have a new home with a wide open canvas for gardening. All I want this year is a well stocked herb garden. What are the must-haves that you would recommend?
Basil, parsley, rosemary, cilantro, and although I'm allergic to it, dill. What I do in my personal home garden is plant all of my herbs around the stem of a tomato plant. The tomato and the herbs add minerals and nutrients to the soil that benefit each other.
8. I'm sure you get asked this all the time. but how do you advise a novice gardener on starting a new garden? With so much information on the internet it's almost overload- can you think of 3 or 4 KEY things that a new gardener should do to prepare a brand new bed for gardening? and how about prepping for the second year?
We do get asked that a lot. The biggest thing to do with a new garden is to plan it. It's a good idea to draw out how you want it to look. You also need to decide exactly what you want to grow. I won't tell anyone to start off small, because I never do. You will want to test your soil; see what it's made of, how fast water drains out of it, and what the pH is. The other major part to planning a garden is placing things in the right location. I never like to grow at the bottom of a hill – that's just calling for a wash out. You also want to look at what plants you have that need full sunlight or partial shade. All very important.
9. Have you ever had a plant just totally fail on an epic scale to the point that you never wanted to try and grow it again?
We have had thousands of plants fail miserably, but we never give up. Each time we have one that fails, we take a look at what we did that could have caused it to die. We do some research, come up with a different watering or lighting schedule, different feeding of compost versus worm compost, and anything else we can come up with that will hopefully help us succeed. Right now we are actually having some issues with an old heirloom tobacco plant. We've done all the research we can, but we can't figure out why it won't grow.
10. Tell me about your culinary art background and how you bring some of that into this business-
I started cooking in a restaurant when I was 14 years old. My boss at the time was a graduate of a high priced culinary institute. He taught me quite a bit, convinced me to get a second job at a nicer restaurant, then convinced me to go to college. I worked with him all throughout high school, then in 2006 went to Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It was a 2 year program, which some people look down on, but I say this – I learned in 2 years what some took 4 years to learn, and I spent a quarter of the money doing it! Throughout college and after, I've worked in dozens of restaurants all across the state. Now with the seed business, I went into it with a big thought. We are just after the seeds. I didn't want to have all of the waste just being used as compost, we have enough of that cooking as it is. All the empty peppers, tomatoes, lettuce leaves, etc. get donated now to shelters across the city. When we move our greenhouse, we will have a professional kitchen where we can expand into canning, jams and jellies, and stuff like that.
I know where I will be buying all my heirloom seems from now on! Besides the exceptional customer service and amazingly fast shipping, the guys are awesome to work with, chat with and talk gardens with. Even if you don't live in small town Iowa YOU can help support this business be successful. Visit their website by clicking HERE and go shopping!!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 55: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

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