Ed. Note: President Obama continued his White House to Main Street Tour this week with a stop in Iowa where he visited a local business. The President kicked off the White House to Main Street Tour series in December of 2009 in an effort to get out of Washington to hear directly from and share ideas with Americans across the country. Morgan Hoenig, the founder of MogoOrganic in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, shared her story with us.
Before MogoOrganic, I was just working for my parents and selling a little garden produce at the Mt. Pleasant Farmers Market for extra cash. My parents ran a greenhouse and flower shop for 32 years in Mt. Pleasant, IA (the home town of Secretary Vilsack) and I learned a lot from them while growing up in the greenhouse. I didn’t just learn about plants and how to grow them, but I also learned a lot about running a small business in a small town.
The opportunity arose to take care of my grandparents’ old farm and it seemed like a perfect opportunity to expand the garden. The land had been used for nothing more than grazing pasture for 15 years, and the old barn on the farm had deteriorated quite a bit since my grandfather passed away 20 years ago. The local chamber office in Mt. Pleasant has a business plan competition every year for entrepreneurs or businesses that are wanting to expand. I decided to write up a business plan for a organic vegetable farm, using my nick-name Mogo... just because I liked the way it sounded. My business plan was selected for the prize in 2007, and I received $3500 to put up my first high-tunnel cold frame. MogoOrganic was just an idea, but the Chamber Office encouraged me to get started building right away and MogoOrganic was a reality by the spring of 2008.
My business took off quickly, and the old farm quickly came back to life. I had 20 CSA customers (farm share holders) the first year, and my farmers market stand doubled in size. I grow a lot of heirloom and interesting vegetables and encourage my customers to try new things. I try to promote eating local, seasonal produce and explain why it tastes better and why it is better for you. I’ve been helping the Mt. Pleasant Farmers Market to hold a tomato growing contest this summer, where market customers can taste, sample and judge a variety of tomatoes. I hope to educate people about the variety of produce that is out there, and how much better it tastes than the over-sprayed, un-ripe produce that is generally offered to us.
President Obama’s visit to my business today was incredible. He was a very approachable person, and I was happy to show him around my little farm. I was able to show the President and Secretary all that I have built on the farm using recycled materials and explain the different techniques that I use on my farm, including drip irrigation and some organic sprays that I mix myself. President Obama and Secretary Vilsack encouraged me to look into and take advantage of USDA grants that are available. We also discussed a number of other opportunities that there are out there for farmers like me, like the Farm to School Program, where local produce is brought into the schools. The whole experience was pretty overwhelming, but very, very encouraging.
Morgan Hoenig is the founder of MogoOrganic in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa and lead President Obama and Secretary Vilsack on a tour of MogoOrganic’s barn, hoop house, and organic garden.