Family business with closed production cycle – Rimkai Organic Farm

“Rimkai Organic Farm” is a 20-hectare multifunctional family farm where the main production branch is vegetables, but not the only one. The Rimkai family established their farm on their grandparent’s land, which they successfully regained from the government in 1994. The farm is based on a closed-loop production model. This model is based on the fact that unused vegetables are used to feed animals, while they produce necessary fertilizers for vegetables growing. All plants and animals, who live and are grown on the farm are interrelated. They are carefully selected for an optimal harvest. This farming model creates extra work, but it allows farmers to offer their customers everything they want to buy in one place.

The farm        

“Rimkai Organic Farm” is located outside Raudondvaris, near Kulautuva in the centre of Lithuania. The family has been farming in this area since 1994. They have started farming on 7.5 ha of land which belonged to their family for ages, but it was taken from them during the occupation. In 1994 the land was reclaimed from the government and the farm was established. Since then the area grew up to over 20 ha. Although chemical pesticides were never used to protect the harvest, the farm was not officially registered as organic until 2007. The owners of the farm do not have any education related to farming. They gained experience from watching their parents and grandparents farming without fertilizers and pesticides. Also, a lot of knowledge came from constant self-learning.

The farmer’s family has set itself the main goal of offering each customer everything he or she needs. This leads to the broad cultivation of vegetables, berries and fruits and the production of honey and eggs on the farm. It does not pay off to invest in expensive tractors or other machinery, because the production process requires a lot of manual work. There are many different tasks on the farm, so it is very important that the tasks are well distributed and that it is defined which tasks have priority. The farming family emphasizes that it is just as important to dedicate enough time to the organization and planning of tasks as to their actual implementation. This is something that comes with experience and practice. In order to organize work properly, farmers rely on their knowledge, which was gained by observing their parents. The previous owners of the farm (grandfather and grandmother) have never used fertilizers or growth stimulants to grow vegetables. They always respected nature and this value was passed on to their children and grandchildren who are working on the farm, now. The Rimkai family is looking ahead and is not only building on the experience gained previously, but is also continuing to build up new knowledge on innovation by attending seminars on all relevant topics and reading current articles on relevant topics. The farm is located near the forest, the place is slightly hilly, in some places the land is rough, but the landscape is very beautiful. This summer, land surveys on free calcium and phosphorus have shown that the soil is not below the average of Lithuania and that it is average or good in terms of humus content. The Rimkai family is very satisfied with the results, as it has proved that organic farming has helped them to maintain fertile land and their grandparents’ land has not been damaged.

Development paths               

There are a few milestones that were very important for the development of the Rimkai family farm:

  • 1994 – when the land was regained and
  • 2007 – when the farm was certified as organic.

The business started from savings, that allowed buying a new tractor, and later, after earning more money, it was invested in purchasing several used machinery. 13 or 14 years ago Rimkai family were involved in the “Support for semi-subsistence farms undergoing restructuring” project and received support from the EU. This allowed them to purchase necessary equipment, ecological harrow, and repair the roof of the pantry.

Now, on the farm, farmers are growing different vegetables: lettuce, pumpkins, cabbage and others in an area of 3-4 hectares. They have a greenhouse (1000m²) where they grow early and more heat-demanding vegetables. Since 2014 they have grown asparagus on an area of 2000 square meters. Additionally the orchard was significantly expanded – from 0.2 to 2 hectares in 2014 and they planted hazelnut trees. In addition, shrubs are also grown there: black currants, blueberries, which are already fully yielding. In the rest of the farm clover, other legumes and cereals are being rotated. There also may be found sheep and hens, which immediately process unsold vegetables and produce high-quality manure for the gardens. A few years ago farmers have purchased several bee colonies. Furthermore, they have a small processing facility where all vegetables that are not sold just after they are picked, are being processed by pressing fruits and vegetable juice, grating, fermenting or pickling them to be sold.

Business model                       

The revenue of the farm is made while declaring crops, receiving direct payments as well as compensatory payments for organic farming. Compared to conventional farming, organic farmers receive higher purchase prices to produce losses due to lower yields. The purchase prices of some organic products differ by two or more times from non-organic product prices in Lithuania. However, the main income comes from direct sales in the farmers market.

Two most important features of this farm are that it is a family farm and Rimkai family relies on their family members to do all the necessary works on the farm and to sell their products. Also, it is based on the closed production cycle. The indigenous plant and animal breeds are selected in order to apply a closed production cycle in the farm. Animals are mostly grown not for selling, but in order to consume unused vegetables, crops and produce necessary fertilizer for fields. Furthermore, on the farm there are few bee colonies that help to increase yield, they carry pollen better than the wind and also produce honey which is offered to “Rimkai Organic farm” customers. Farmers are trying their best to meet the needs of their customers, this is why they planted asparagus – vegetables that are not commonly grown in Lithuania. In this way, they are producing fewer vegetables that are not going to be bought and trying to minimize waste of production as much as possible. Processing facilities also help in this area, ensuring that vegetables that weren’t sold will be processed in another way and sold later. The closed production cycle is not only important as part of organic farming, but it also results in increased revenue by increasing the variety of offered products.

Innovative practices                                         

As the farmers themselves point out, there are really few competitors who can offer such a variety of different berries, fruits, vegetables and other products such as juices, fermented vegetables and honey. This is the exceptional nature of the “Rimkai Organic farm”. This could not be achieved without an optimistic approach, lots of work, and the family members who are very supportive and always willing to help.

Future                                        

The farmers plan to reduce the area of vegetable gardens and increase the area of orchards and berry cultivation. They are also thinking about building a new processing facility on the farm, which would require relatively large investments. But the farmers are optimistic because they are convinced that major projects can be implemented with great determination.

Tips for the learner                                           

  • Always look for opportunities to continue your education and improve yourself. A lot of useful information and tips can be found on the Internet and in publications.
  • Try to reach out to other organic farmers, join forums or associations where you will be able to learn from other farmers’ success and experience.
  • Be ready that this will require a lot of hard work and you will encounter failures or disappointments.
  • This business sector requires flexibility and the ability to retain an optimistic approach. Look forward to your goals and take the time to appreciate them.
  • Another important advice is: listen to your customers and create a connection with them. They will tell you what is missing in the market and what could be your farm uniqueness.

Authors: Danguolė Rutkauskienė, Vytautė Monastyreckienė