By Mike Tanchevski
MADISON, Ohio – Larry, and Tina Klco turned an idea born in college into a thriving agricultural enterprise going strong after 40 years. Rainbow Farms, located in Madison, is a first-generation family-owned and operated farm purchased by the pair in 1983. Today they operate 80 acres, 30 acres of which they own, and 50 acres they lease.
Despite some skepticism toward their venture, the Klco’s were driven by their work ethic and perseverance. “We were both students at Ohio State studying agriculture, and we decided to start a farm,” Tina said. “We had a lot of people laugh and say you’ll never make it, but we knew how to work hard and stick it out in tough weeks and tough years. That was the beginning.”
When the farm started in 1983, Larry worked at a local factory along with the farm work to grow the business. All his family worked alongside him. Today, seasonal employees make up the farm’s workforce. Most are high school and college students who work through the summer. To get through the busy season, Rainbow Farms also relies on a foreign labor pool of temporary agricultural workers supported by the federal government.
“There are high school and college kids that work for us just in the summer and love having a summer job,” Tina said. “But they go back to school in mid-August, so there’s a government program that helps get our guys from Mexico because we have to have people to work until November.”
Strawberries were the first crop, and cantaloupes, watermelon, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash, broccoli, cauliflower, pumpkins and blackberries came soon after. Rainbow Farms now grows and sells over 40 different fruits and vegetables, made up of hundreds of varieties.
With an increased demand for fresh produce, Rainbow Farms offers products for sale at multiple farmers markets as well as at its own indoor market. The indoor market offers seasonal produce throughout the year. “In the late fall, winter we sell kinds of different greens like Swiss chard, lettuce, spinach, carrots, potatoes, beets – a lot of cool season crops,” Tina said.
According to their website, Rainbow Farms’ indoor farmers market opened in 2010, fulfilling a long-term goal to keep their produce fresher and preserve the high vitamin and mineral content of the fruits and vegetables, not to mention the great flavor. In 2013, they started selling year-round using a variety of season-extending processes such as heated greenhouse production, high-tunnel production, and field low-tunnel production.
The pick-your-own trade is a big part of Rainbow Farms. Pick-your-own crops include strawberries, raspberries, currants, tomatoes, peppers and thornless blackberries. People keep coming back year after year during the season.
“The first day of pick your and pepper is super busy,” Tina said. “It’s a big niche market because we serve a lot of the Croatians. There are about 30,000 Croatians that moved into the area and they have a specific pepper they like, and pick their own. I’s a fun time and very busy.”
In addition, Rainbow Farms markets directly to consumers through the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program and local restaurants.
The number of people who participate in the prepurchase program varies by season, peaking during the summer. “Summer by far is the busiest,” Tina said. “This week is our last week for the 16 weeks of the summer CSA but people like it, they try new things and it’s just a good experience for them.”
The same can be said for restaurant marketing, with more restaurants purchasing fresh produce directly form Rainbow Farms during the summer rather than the winter. The farm supplies local produce for 10-20 restaurants, including Case Western University. The quantity varies. “Sometimes it’ll be a couple of things, other times it’ll be a bigger order,” Tina said.
Rainbow Farms’ webpage affirms Larry and Tina’s commitment their customers and the health benefits of eating fresh. They believe in the motto “Farmers are instruments of good health.”