September 19, 2020
Down on the Farm
In perhaps the finest piece of cinematic Bildungsroman, an aimless recent college graduate Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate, is cornered poolside at a party by a well-meaning Mr. McGuire, sharing his business acumen: “I want to say one word of advice to you. Are you listening? Plastics.”
But imagine, in this scenario, the money ticket is pumpkins. And it’s your own idea.
While a freshman at Trinity College, Owen Jarmoc ’14, a fourth-generation farmer, contemplated how to thrive and stave off the fluctuations in the tobacco market, the primary crop on his family’s 1,500 acres of farmland in Enfield and other towns in north-central Connecticut. All the tobacco produced by Jarmoc Tobacco is used for the outer wrappers of premium hand-wrapped cigars; no tobacco is farmed for chew, snuff, or cigarettes. There are over 5,500 farming operations in Connecticut, according to the state’s Department of Agriculture, and tobacco farmers, in particular, face intense competition from Latin and South American countries. As an economics major, Jarmoc understood that diversification was key to maintaining the success and longevity of the farm.
“I thought, let’s plant some pumpkins and see what happens. I wish I could say that it’s hard to grow and it takes artistry like growing tobacco, but that’s not the case,” Jarmoc said.
The plan was a simple one that paid huge dividends. Initially, Jarmoc planted 10 acres to test the viability of the crop. Apparently, there is remarkably high demand for the burnished orbs on the East Coast. Five years later, Jarmoc now plants 300 acres of pumpkins and serves some of the biggest grocery retail chains in the country: Trader Joe’s, BJ’s, Aldi, Target, Market Basket, and Kroegers. The pumpkins the farm sells currently provide 25 percent of the volume that these stores move on the East Coast in a given season.
How did Jarmoc get such an impressive line-up of customers?
“I reached out to them,” Jarmoc said. “It makes for a good story. I am a 20-year-old, and I plant pumpkins so I can go to college, right? And then it was off to the races!”
You’d be some sort of monster to turn a resourceful kid like that away. How could you say no?
“Every year, we double or triple the size or volume of what we move,” he said. “Now we move hundreds of tractor trailers of pumpkins a week. We send them out as far as Wisconsin or Florida. It makes no sense why we would truck pumpkins down South since we see some pretty good farms on the way down there.”
Although the pumpkin business was thriving, logistics impeded the hauling of product. Arranging for transportation was a big struggle, so the farm purchased two tractor-trailer trucks a couple of years ago, which evolved into their nascent transportation business, Connecticut Valley Transportation. Currently, their transport business operates 15 tractor-trailer trucks and employs 25 full-time drivers. Servicing a BJ’s warehouse in Rocky Hill and a Trader Joe’s new facility in Bloomfield, Connecticut Valley Transport trailers burn rubber 24/7. Each day, CVT sends five trucks to the Lower East Side of Manhattan to the busiest Trader Joe’s in the country, one that turns over its inventory every 24 hours. In addition to major retailers, CVT counts Eversource as one of its top clients. Jarmoc’s trucks carry Eversource’s environmental timber masks, huge wooden planks that lie beneath high-tension lines.
Putting his entrepreneurial minor from college into overdrive, Jarmoc said, “You don’t know what will happen until it jumps in front of you. If you told me two years ago that we would have a trucking company with all these trucks, I would say that you’re crazy. Things evolve pretty quickly, and, if we see an opportunity we think we’re well positioned for, we jump on it. We’re always looking for new stuff to do. In a perfect world, you have a bunch of different businesses that all make a little bit of money – not one business that makes a lot of money. We’re always looking for fun and new exciting things to do.”
So when the 2018 Farm Bill passed, allowing farmers to grow hemp as long as they hold a grower’s license from the Department of Agriculture, the Jarmocs pivoted to their next bold move. A variety of cannabis, hemp is a plant that contains less than 0.3 percent THC and has no psychotropic effects. Cannabidiol (CBD) oil derived from hemp is not a controlled substance and thus may be manufactured and sold in the state. Considered to have therapeutic value, CBD oil is ingested by individuals to treat anxiety and depression and may provide a natural alternative to relieve pain and other symptoms suffered by cancer patients. Partnering with Edible Arrangements, which plans on infusing CBD oil into their fruits, Jarmoc shipped 100,000 of hemp biomass to be extracted for CBD oil. Running the numbers while working on his John Deere tractor, Jarmoc calculated that every 1,000 lbs. of hemp biomass material convert to approximately 40 kilos of crude CBD oil.
Although he is a self-described risk-taker, Jarmoc realizes that age is on his side. “I would say that I’m young enough now that I could take stronger positions that may be riskier,” he said. “I hopefully have a lot of time to make up for those mistakes, where maybe someone in their 50s in the same line of work would be more conservative.
“KO helped me greatly. The KO atmosphere teaches you to be a dynamic team player and adapt readily to change. That’s what being in business is. That’s the big takeaway. Well-rounded. Someone said you have to be a Swiss Army knife to do multiple different tasks. That’s what KO teaches you how to do. I played soccer, lacrosse, and basketball. I loved [KO teacher Tracy] Deeter’s AP Econ course, and I dove into math and science classes.”
With juggling this many plates in the air, you would think that Jarmoc would slow down. But that’s not how Jarmoc rolls. Next up is a venture with Nexera Energy which owns Florida Light and Power, an energy powerhouse with an $18 billion market cap. In partnership with Nexera, Jarmoc is building a 20-megawatt solar facility on 120 acres of his family’s farmland, an array that is expected to power approximately 5,000 homes. Nexera owns the lease on the land for the next 40 years.
“We approached them when solar was getting hot in Connecticut,” he said. “At this point, the solar programs have run out as of 2019, so actual solar generating clean power via sunlight in the field and then selling it doesn’t generate enough revenue for it to make sense. What makes it profitable is the different renewable energy tax credits. That’s what does the trick.”
Jarmoc has enjoyed a remarkable run of late and thrives in the uncertainty that each day brings. He credits his father for trusting him and allowing him significant autonomy. With all this success at a young age, Jarmoc would have good reason to be cocky, but he’s as down-to-earth as, well, a farmer. He good-naturedly admitted that not all is as rosy as it appears.
“I make little mistakes every day, but I’ve never made a big mistake that cost $100,000 or more,” he said. “I hit a car the other day with a tractor. She hit me, but that’s a different story.”
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