by Kristen M. Castrataro
When Betsy Molodich started “Betsy’s Stand” in 1998, she could hardly have imagined what the future would hold. Her brother-in-law had been selling apples and cider out of the stand for years, but when cider moved from fresh to pasteurized, the business model had to change. At her husband’s instigation, Betsy took over the stand, changed its name, and shifted towards vegetables. It was a good move.
Farming came naturally to Betsy. She grew up on a dairy farm and earned an Associate’s Degree in Plant Science from UCONN. She married a dairy farmer and worked part-time at Westview Orchards in Plainfield, CT before operating “Betsy’s Stand.”
As Betsy describes it, the business grew with her family. Her mother-in-law, Helen, would babysit in the stand while Betsy worked in the greenhouse, did fieldwork, or sold at the farmers market. The kids, Katie and Andrew, had a play area in the corner of the stand.
As the children grew, Katie worked alongside her mom, learning the business. Katie’s predilection for agribusiness matured as an FFA member at Killingly High School. She needed to choose a Supervised Agricultural Experience, so she decided to start a mum business. In order to buy pots, starts, and other materials, she saved birthday and Christmas money and invested it in 50 mums. Each successive year she increased by 25 mums. Now she and her mother grow 600.
She decided she enjoyed working with her mom and would like to pursue agriculture as her career. She earned her Associates Degree in Plant Science from Ratcliffe Hicks School of Agriculture at the University of Connecticut.
Katie was elected FFA State Vice-President her sophomore year at UCONN. The leadership skills Katie gained in FFA benefit her at Betsy’s Stand as well. It was she who started their CSA three years ago. With 17 members, it is growing by word-of-mouth, an approach that works for the Molodiches. Their current size is just about what they can handle without hiring more help. Betsy and Katie are the two primary employees, although Helen (at age 91) continues to tend the stand when they are at markets and Betsy’s mother, Verna, serves as the primary blueberry picker.
What the small staff handles is impressive. The two women grow “the best sweet corn around”. They grow blueberries, greenhouse tomatoes, peaches, squash, potatoes, garlic, and more on 17 acres and are considering adding an additional high tunnel. Their stand opens May 1 with bedding plants, starter vegetable packs, and hanging baskets, and runs through November. They regularly attend six markets in addition to the on-farm stand and the CSA.
The summers are so busy that Katie and Betsy take only one day off each summer for a fun day trip.
With so many different pieces to manage, effective communication is critical. The Molodiches’ system is unique. Each morning Betsy puts a list on the kitchen table of things that need to be accomplished that day. As she completes the tasks, Katie crosses them off.
One common pitfall in family businesses is that the constant togetherness of family and business can become grating. The Molodiches avoid this by consciously finding time apart. Katie notes: “We don’t do everything together. She does her thing; I do my thing.” Betsy adds, “We have to have our own space.”
For Katie, doing her own thing means keeping incredibly busy. As soon as Betsy’s Stand closes, Katie begins making wreathes and selling Christmas trees at Geer Tree Farm. In the spring, she and her boyfriend tap trees and make maple syrup on his family’s farm.
In the midst of all this activity, Betsy and Katie maintain a commitment to evaluating their business and making improvements. Each year they aim to do one thing that is different, easier, or new. One new thing they did this year was to host a farm walk for their CSA members to show them where their food comes from. On the production side, they purchased a plastic layer and a rototiller that will help reduce weeding time and labor. They are looking ahead to adding a larger wash station as well.
Whatever other changes they make, it is clear that Betsy and Katie have no intention of altering the values that have made their business so successful. They are committed to providing quality products to their customers and to cultivating the interests and strength of each person in their family. In the process, their customers end up feeling a bit like family as well.
Betsy’s Stand: Growing more for tomorrow
by Kristen M. Castrataro