Estes Ward just started By the Yard Produce and Flowers, a business that seeks to connect backyard growers with local restaurants. Find out more at bytheyardproduce.com.
Tell me about your new business.
It’s basically a marketing service for backyard growers. The whole basic idea is I truly believe that Reno can feed Reno. No disrespect to Fernley and Fallon—they have great farms, and we need them. But I think Reno can take a big step toward feeding Reno. Beyond tropical things … there’s no reason we need to be importing from Mexico or California unless it’s something that just does not grow here, and there are definitely things that don’t.
How does your service help do this?
If you’re organic and you’re small, I can sell your produce to restaurants, wholesale. … I also have a flower side—which isn’t organic, just local. Produce needs to be organic, but the flowers can be organic or not.
Typically, to call yourself organic you have to be USDA certified organic. How do you deal with that?
The USDA certification program Nevada follows has a small farmer exemption, so anyone who sells less than $5,000 worth of produce, they can say—it’s really on the honor system—that they’re organic. It sounds like I’m trying to cheat the system, and I’m not. It’s a totally important exemption, and I need people to be organic, but it’s not tested unless someone is accused of not being organic.
Do you have growers right now?
I really only started the business officially in February—fantastic timing with winter going on. I don’t have any businesses lined up, unfortunately. I’ve made no money, but I’m trying really hard.
What kind of interest or feedback have you gotten?
It’s been positively received by different restaurants and people who grow, but I don’t have any commitments at all.
But you’ve talked with restaurants.
They’re all about it. Great Basin Brewery, as soon as I told them about it, were like, “What can we buy? What’s ready?” And I said, “Nothing.” But there’s definitely restaurant interest, I just have to get it together.
Are you a gardener?
I am a gardener and I wanted to start a farm officially, but I spoke with a business counselor from SCORE [Service Core of Retired Executives] with the Small Business Administration. He said, “I know a lot of farmers; what these people need is a marketer.” And that idea just totally got me going.
So how would the process work?
The grower would grow it, and we’d keep in communication about what they’re growing and when it will be ready. I would come and harvest it, package it, deliver it to the restaurant, invoice the restaurant and pay the grower. The grower really just grows it and keeps talking to me, and I do everything else.
Tell me about your background.
I’m originally from Texas. My husband and I are both from Texas. We moved here so we could attend graduate school at UNR. I’ve worked in all kinds of jobs in Reno, but I need to get out on my own. That’s the goal of this whole thing: self-employment.
Why is it so important that Reno feeds Reno?
I feel like it’s important in any city. I feel like there’s a lot of wasted produce going on, and I really hate waste.
This sounds like a way for people considering farming to get a taste of it.
There’s so many people already growing amazing produce, to those people I say, why not make some money?