Local Producers Connect Community to Food: B&G Produce and the Capital City Farmers’ Market

Matt and Lindy Geraets standing in their greenhouse about 20 miles east of Pierre, South Dakota.

Matt and Lindy Geraets standing in their greenhouse about 20 miles east of Pierre, South Dakota.

Matt and Lindy Geraets never set out to be farmers.  

Standing in freshly fallen, early-November snow, the Geraets reflected on their missteps, triumphs and journey into farming.

Matt and Lindy grew up near Pierre, South Dakota. Lindy was raised in the country where her father farmed commodity crops like corn and sunflowers. Matt grew up in town.

“Matt’s mom would tell you he learned to cook out of necessity,” said Lindy, “His mom is upfront about not being a good cook. She often talks about feeding the kids plain noodles for dinner...no butter, no sauce, just noodles.”

Although they grew up in the same town and went to the same school since elementary, they had very different relationships to homegrown food. Lindy’s mom provided home-cooked foods for almost every meal, utilizing what she grew in her garden. Matt recalled eating a lot of frozen and canned foods.

Today, the Geraets are in their 11th season of running B & G Produce. B&G Produce stands for Bouchie & Geraets.

“We started B&G Produce with my parents and before Matt and I were married, so we wanted to incorporate both of our last names,” Lindy said.

They grow produce for 54 community supported agriculture (CSA) members.  They also sell produce every Saturday at the Capital City Farmers' Market, a farmers' market they single-handedly started with their friend Julie Bolding.  

Matt Geraets checks lettuce in the greenhouse.

Matt Geraets checks lettuce in the greenhouse.

After graduating high school, Matt moved to New Hampshire for culinary school and Lindy moved to San Diego to work in design.

In 2005, Matt and Lindy found themselves living back home in Pierre when they reconnected at a holiday party. Since that party, they have been inseparable.

The Geraets were happy to be back in their hometown, but Matt and Lindy missed certain aspects of life in a bigger city.

“I missed having a coffee shop that was open past four, and I missed farmers’ markets,” Lindy said.

One of the issues South Dakota, and many other rural communities face today, is retention. Young people are moving out of rural areas at staggering rates. A third of rural counties in the United States have experienced protracted and significant population loss over the last century, according to new research from the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire. The Geraets noticed that farmers' markets were a draw for young and old people alike and figured a farmers' market may entice people to stay in the area.

B&G Produce, 20 miles east of Pierre, South Dakota.

B&G Produce, 20 miles east of Pierre, South Dakota.

“We really thought about what would keep young people here,” Lindy said.

“A farmers' market may not seem like a huge deal, but if you’re young and you want that community feel and access to good food, a farmer’s market goes a long way,” Matt added.

In 2009, Matt and Lindy traveled to Brookings, South Dakota, for a conference on local food. There, they met Julie Bolding. Together, Matt, Lindy, and Julie discussed starting a farmer’s market in Pierre and the positive impact it could have on the community.

Julie was in charge of the paperwork and the Geraets were tasked with finding vendors.

“We just did not have luck with finding vendors,” Matt said.

The Geraets advertised for vendor spots, but heard nothing. After weeks of not finding vendors, Matt pitched the idea of trying to grow some food for the market themselves.

“Matt threw out the idea that we could try growing food in my mom’s tiny garden,” Lindy said, “so I guess this was all Matt’s idea,” Lindy said nudging him.

“Some would say idea, some would say fault,” Matt said jokingly.

Right before the market was supposed to open, the Geraets secured two other vendors, a local meat producer, and a homemade dog biscuit vendor.

It wasn’t much, but the market was a success. Community members came out and enjoyed the three vendors and the atmosphere of the farmers' market. Since then, the market has grown substantially. The Geraets helped build the farmers' market into a staple of the Pierre community.

“We have lines for the market now,” said Lindy, “People are excited to stand and wait for the market to open every Saturday.”

The crowd Lindy and Matt see each week for the market has grown exponentially.

“We are working non-stop bagging produce for customers that first hour,” said Matt.

The Capital City Farmers’ Market now has 12 vendors and long lines of customers every Saturday.

Lindy and Matt at their stand at the Capital City Farmers’ Market in Pierre, South Dakota.

Lindy and Matt at their stand at the Capital City Farmers’ Market in Pierre, South Dakota.

Although other producers now supply the farmers' market with produce, Lindy and Matt continue to farm. There is a huge learning curve when it comes to agriculture, but their love for growing food keeps the Geraets farming.

Matt Geraets and farm cat Gerald at B&G Produce, 20 miles east of Pierre, South Dakota.

Matt Geraets and farm cat Gerald at B&G Produce, 20 miles east of Pierre, South Dakota.

Matt and Lindy laugh at their first few years of trial-and-error farming.

They reminisce on their basil plants getting pelted with a May hail their first year,and laugh about forgetting to turn on the space heater in the greenhouse when an unexpected, late April frost killed 90 percent of their seedlings.

“We just decided to keep on going,” Lindy said.

“I guess we couldn’t take a hint,” Matt added.

In their trial-and-error method, Matt and Lindy learned a lot. They picked up on useful planning and planting skills. They now successfully grow salad greens, kohlrabi, peppers, radishes, carrots and more.

Lindy’s mom and Matt’s mom help out at the market, and both Matt’s dad and Lindy’s dad have expressed interest in planning seeds. It’s truly a family endeavor.

Matt and Lindy thank their family and social media for their business’ success. Lindy handles all of the marketing while Matt handles accounting and planning.

Lindy runs B & G Produce’s social media accounts. Facebook and Instagram have been a great tool for marketing. It’s easy for CSA members to connect to the Geraets through Facebook about their orders.  

“Pictures really do a lot more for us than writing when it comes to advertising,” said Lindy.

Like most farmers, Lindy and Matt’s biggest struggle is supporting themselves solely with on-farm employment. They have relied on on-farm employment for the past three years.

“Monetary-wise we’re still figuring out how to make it all work,” said Lindy. “We know how much the seeds cost, we know how much it’s going to cost to grow something, we know how much a set back costs, but it’s hard to figure out how much a person is willing to pay for homegrown, real food.”

“We try and keep our pricing in line with what produce is going for in the grocery stores around here,” said Matt.

Matt and Lindy said they have no plans to try and compete with the Walmart Supercenter in town, but aim to provide affordable food to the community.

Despite all they’ve learned as new farmers, their careful planning and preparation, the Geraets are returning to off-farm work for the first time in three years. Like most farmers, one of the greatest challenges Matt and Lindy face is making enough income solely with on-farm employment.

In 2017, the U.S. Department of Agriculture noted that the average American farm operated at a net loss — requiring off-farm income and health insurance just to break even.

This year, they are planning to work off-farm during the winter months.

“We are planning to work off-farm this winter and I’m really ticked off about it,” said Lindy half-joking.

The Geraets are planning to work at a restaurant in town this winter. They have nothing against the restaurant, they would just rather be planning for next season, starting seedlings and working outside.  

They’ll return to the farm full time sometime in Spring.

Lindy and Matt’s appreciation for working together and growing food for people helps keep them going.

“We like working with each other,” said Lindy.

“Most of the time,” Matt retorted.

“We really do love it,” he added. “We love growing food for people and sharing recipes and ideas with our community.

The Geraets also like introducing their community to produce they haven’t seen before.

“We started selling sunchokes, fava beans, fennel and a lot of our younger customers had never been exposed to those products before,” said Lindy.

“It’s always fun to expose new people to real food, and see how their experience with it changes. We have a lot of people come back to our stand and say they never knew celery and potatoes had so much flavor...they’re amazed.”

Greens at B&G Produce, 20 miles east of Pierre, South Dakota.

Greens at B&G Produce, 20 miles east of Pierre, South Dakota.

Lindy and Matt are touched by the positive feedback they receive from consumers.

“We got a couple of thank you notes from CSA members just thanking us for our work day in and day out because they love our food, and that’s really nice to hear,” said Lindy.  

At the end of the summer, the Geraets throw a big CSA party in a beautiful wooded area near the farm. Matt and Lindy cook some of their favorite recipes with their favorite homegrown ingredients, and they celebrate the CSA members. They never set out to be farmers, but surrounded by their friends and community, enjoying the food they have worked so hard to produce all season validates their decision to farm.

Matt Geraets and farm cat Gerald at B&G Produce, 20 miles east of Pierre, South Dakota.

Matt Geraets and farm cat Gerald at B&G Produce, 20 miles east of Pierre, South Dakota.

Pierre, South Dakota