“Technically we’ve existed since 2019,” Spencer explains, “but we had microgreens even before that.” Both Spencer Riegler and Amanda Bankert, the husband and wife duo behind Bashobean Farm in Manton, Michigan; come from professional careers, but – like most CoolBot customers – craved something more fulfilling.
“Amanda was a counselor, and it was very draining,” says Spencer. “So she spent a couple of summers working on a local organic farm. It was a really fantastic learning experience for her, and she just fell in love with growing. Before that, she had only dabbled [in growing] a bit.”
Spencer had never grown anything in his entire life at that point, but Amanda “kinda got the bug,” and began growing more and more things. “We were living in a small place downtown and totally filled the backyard with what we could – which didn’t take long,” says Spencer. “Then we moved to a larger space and filled that up, too. Amanda got me interested in growing things, especially all of the scientific aspects, like soil health, etc.”
Spencer and Amanda ultimately decided to move someplace where they could really make something out of their farming project – whether a passion-fueled side hustle or (potentially!) an extremely rewarding career. They just knew they wanted to grow together. Enter: microgreens.
So Bashobean Farm was born. At the time, Spencer and Amanda were doing all of their microgreen growing indoors on such a small scale that there was no need for cold storage. Then Covid arrived. Just as their modest microgreen start up began to flourish, gaining more restaurant accounts and establishing connections through friends and family, their traction was stunted by the pandemic. Fortunately, they hadn’t invested too much so they weren’t thrown into financial hardship – but Covid did help Spencer and Amanda to reevaluate their situation and priorities.
“The timing of all that worked out okay for us,” Spencer tells us. “We had time to rethink things. We wanted to go bigger, do full farming of veggies. [The pandemic] brought us to a new property, and last year was our first year doing anything of scale. There were lots of trials and errors.”
The combination of maintaining their corporate jobs and just the general state of the world – with more people trying to transition into growing their own food because of the pandemic – put Spencer and Amanda in a good position to scale. But in order to scale, they had to first start from scratch.
Spencer and Amanda (and Amanda’s parents) all “converged on this property and live together in a large home,” where they’ve embraced their new homesteading lifestyle on the “family farm.” Lots of what they grow on the property is for themselves, but they’ve seen lots of demand from their local community to provide food for others, as well.
The new property had not been previously farmed, so they had to break ground, build raised beds and hoop houses, research regenerative soil techniques and run lots of trials in every aspect. Because of the extreme variety of work they had taken on, they didn’t even expect to sell much of anything their first year. “We were growing for ourselves, learning a lot of things – all the while, still working our full time jobs. The goal all along was to transition into full time farmers and have that be our new lifestyle.”
“We want this farm to eventually sustain a very modest lifestyle, where we have little overhead and no longer have the needs for corporate positions,” says Spencer. “Both of our employers have been extremely accommodating and supportive of this, and we wouldn’t be where we are today without their support. They both have a strong belief in a positive work life balance.”
“We put a lot of stuff in the ground, and a lot of it came up really nice. Our model, going into it, was to keep the meat and potatoes: carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, squash. We wanted to just stick to the big things. We had almost completely forgone doing any greens at all, but – for whatever reason – we did all the research and continued to talk about it. We knew we’d need the infrastructure to maintain greens (ahem, cold storage!) and finally said, you know what, let’s just do it.”
But greens were what everyone wanted! They thought greens would be so boring for people. Like, you can get lettuce anywhere. It turned out, Spencer and Amanda had to work a lot harder to sell all of those meat and potatoes.
“Had we not gotten that CoolBot last year, we would’ve had a much different first year experience, for sure,” says Spencer.
Initially, Spencer and Amanda had thought Bashobean would be utilizing a mobile cargo/conversion trailer outfitted with a CoolBot to drive their product to various pop ups and corporate events. They ended up veering down a different distribution course, but their plan for a mobile cooler stuck. They opted for keeping their options open as far as being able to travel and move their cooler to different properties or potentially even other states for longer future growing seasons.
They got pretty lucky, purchasing a brand new 6×10 foot cargo trailer that was custom built and still reasonably priced – just before Covid really hit the fan and materials became impossible to find (or impossibly expensive to afford!). The trailer was specifically designed to be CoolBot compatible with a flat front, no skylights, no side doors and barn doors in the rear. It’s built completely to code, just short of finishing the walls with optional FRP. “The greens were ready before we were,” Spencer laughs. They kept ironing out CoolBot trailer details, but eventually just had to flip the switch and load the product.
“We did everything pretty much to a T, using the CoolBot guide, video and materials list to build our trailer,” says Spencer. “We even used the calculator on the CoolBot website to put in our specs and get the recommended A/C unit.”
“It’s worked perfectly from Day 1. It cooled down to temp in about fifteen minutes from turning it on and worked flawlessly. It’s a total gamechanger. The amount we can harvest and store and the length of time in which we can store… the system is just unbelievable as far as preserving [the greens],” Spencer reports.
While they’ve got the CoolBot Pro with wifi monitoring capabilities, they haven’t set up the wifi yet due to the location the cooler is parked. They do plan on using that feature in the near future, however.
Spencer and Amanda “unintentionally discovered who [they] were last year,” and look forward to learning even more about themselves as farmers next year. Now that they’re greens aficionados, they’ve managed to perfect their harvesting model so that spring mix and head lettuce – their biggest sellers – are being picked one day and delivered to customers the following business day. The greens generally remain in the cooler for less than 24 hours. This process also allows them to shut off the CoolBot for 2-3 days each week when it’s empty to save on electricity. Because it only takes such a short period of time for the unit to cool back down, they’re able to effectively manage their electric bill, while maintaining high quality products.
And from harvest to CoolBot, it only takes them about one hour. Their system utilizes a triple rinse bin, drying rack and five-gallon spinners. All of their most delicate greens are in the CoolBot by the time the sun is up. “We harvest, rinse, spin, dry and cool [the greens] in that short period of time, so we’re selling fresh products,” explains Spencer.
“The feedback is like, the greens stay super fresh for longer. They’re high quality, good color and the flavor is amazing – but the shelf life is just incredible!”
Before their CoolBot, Spencer and Amanda were stuffing their fridge with greens and produce, trying to keep everything fresh and properly temped. This proved to be exhausting and inefficient… and definitely not ideal for their precious greens.
As of this interview, Spencer and Amanda have planted head lettuce, spring mix, arugula, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, spring onions, carrots and flowers. Many of these items are already in the works, either as transplants or direct seeding. There will be a lot of cold weather crops going in the ground over the next several weeks, much of which will be protected by frost cloth over floating low tunnels. Bashobean is currently home to about 45-50 beds ranging from 50-100 ft, two hoop houses and about one half acre of land.
In other news, the Bashobean property has also allowed Spencer and Amanda to fully embrace their own crazy cat tendencies. “[The property] has unintentionally turned into a little cat haven. And not one of them is useful as a farm animal,” Amanda deadpans.
From a business standpoint, Bashobean has been distributing crops through a direct sales program that essentially operates via word of mouth. Between their reliable network of friends, family and coworkers, Spencer and Amanda have established so many business channels that they’re having to turn people down because they don’t have enough food. They currently expect their Direct Sales program to be officially ramped up for the year in mid-May, weather and conditions permitting.
Furthermore, Amanda has been researching lots of local markets to find those most suitable to Bashobean Farm. “We wanted to be different, utilizing the direct sales program. But Amanda also wanted to try out the markets. It took us a couple weeks to get a foot hold, but we found out that our county had a huge need for the products we grew. So we gave it a shot,” tells Spencer.
“We’re in an area where there was a huge need for more fresh greens at the markets. There are several hard working farmers at our market using various methods of growing food. We found that our approach added something that was important to a lot of people,” explains Spencer. “But people want cleanly grown food with a different philosophy, so we became popular. And our fan base grew.”
As far as their farming methods, Bashobean Farm is technically not certified organic, but they conduct organic practices – such as not using pesticides, herbicides or insecticides. “We are trying to cohabitate the best we can, and sometimes that means frustration and crop loss – but we learn from it. We’re trying to really build the soil so that flora and fauna can coexist. We want to be a part of the ecosystem versus fighting nature. Lots of people come to us and ask about our signs that read “no synthetic fertilizers,” and that’s our current philosophy. People are very much drawn to that.”
Now Bashobean is vending at two markets each week, in addition to their direct sales program. They’ve also picked up a couple of wholesale accounts that “should be a good fit” and will allow them a third channel to help boost sales during their second year.
If you’re in the greater Manton, Michigan area and are interested in receiving produce from Bashobean Farm’s direct order program, you can contact Spencer and Amanda via Facebook messenger to inquire about a la cart weekly orders (no subscription required!). You can also find Bashobean Farm vending twice each week at the Cadillac Farmers Market. Their stand is open on Tuesdays and Fridays from 9am-3pm.