We had the good fortune of connecting with Kiona & Chris Wagner and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Kiona & Chris, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
We were both employed at the same company for a number of years and enjoyed the work that we did, but unfortunately, job security became a concern and we wanted to be proactive instead of reactive. During that time, Chris decided to start a small garden in our backyard. Unbeknownst to us, we soon found ourselves waking up early to garden before work and rushing home to harvest before bed. Before we knew it, we were growing more food than our little family could consume, so we started bundling up carrots, celery and kale with nice notes and giving them away to neighbors and co-workers. The process of growing food from a tiny seed brought us so much enjoyment that we soon started thinking of ways to grow food on a larger scale. Our original plan was to stay in South Florida and simply find a nice couple of acres to start our vegetable farm while continuing to work full-time. Long story short, the price for a single acre was beyond our budget and after searching for two years for the right property without success, we decided to rethink the “look” of our ideal location. Chris and I knew that if we wanted to farm to make a livable profit, we’d need to relocate to an area where the land was affordable. We started to dream a little bit bigger and also include our skills in culinary arts and events. With the right search parameters, a lot of encouragement with close friends and a solid business plan, we officially took the leap to open Rocky Soil Family Farm in Monticello, Florida in June of 2019.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
Food is very special in our house. Every meal is somewhat plated because we truly enjoy the flavor and art of food. After growing our own vegetables and herbs in our backyard, it was really difficult to grocery shop at our local markets. We learned that most foods in grocery market chains could be anywhere from one week to a year old! That explained why so many flavors were lacking and simply bland and why most dishes had to be enhanced with seasonings instead of enjoying food natural flavor. Our farm is bountiful in color and organic flavor because we select every crop to pair with another. We pride ourselves on being a “market garden” meaning that we grow over 30 variety of crops to essentially be our own grocery market, whereas a lot of farms are only growing one or two crops. However, starting our farm wasn’t easy because it was raw land in every way. We had to get an official address, drill a 280ft deep well and install power to even begin working on the property. The soil was tested through our local extension office and tons of compost, minerals and nutrients had to be added, A high tunnel was installed to give us a secured structure to begin seeding the future of our farm in hundreds of trays. All of this was done with just the two of us while pregnant with our twin girls– talk about a challenge. We mention at least three times a week how bold it was to quit our jobs to venture onto a path of the unknown, but having faith that we’re walking in our purpose provides much needed peace. Though we haven’t been able to execute the events portion of our business plan due to Covid-19, we’ve been able to slowly construct our bakery/kitchen and finetune our farming practices so that we’ll be ready when it’s safe again to mingle without constraint. We may be working ten hour days or seven days a week without taking a break, but when you’re walking in your purpose, it doesn’t feel like work.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
We have not had much time to explore the greater Tallahassee area due to Covid-19 and a high risk pregnancy, but we have been able to explore local spots within a 30 mile radius which includes a fishing trip at the Econfina River State Park, lunch dates at St. Mark’s Lighthouse or bowling in Thomasville, GA near the quaint downtown shopping area. Our town of Monticello also offers a lot of family oriented activities such as the annual Watermelon festival and Christmas parade while experiencing really nice Victorian bed and breakfast houses.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
We had MANY conversations and pow-wows with our good friends, Dolly & Gershwin Narraidoo. We knew the importance of surrounding ourselves with good, like-minded people and the Narraidoo’s were not only our friends, but they were a pillar of confidence in our decision to quit our jobs, relocate our family and farm fulltime.
Kiona and Chris Wagner own the rights to all photos uploaded.