Photo courtesy of the Everett Herald
Farmer Voices

Bob & Sarah Ricci on Farmer Voices

Farmers: Bob & Sarah Ricci
Bob’s Corn & Pumpkin Farm
Snohomish, Washington

Bob Ricci

I’m Bob Ricci, and this is my wife, Sarah, and we own Bob’s Corn and Pumpkin Farm here in Snohomish, Washington. I’m fourth generation, my great grandpa homesteaded just up the valley in 1888. So we’ve been here for quite a while.

We’ve got five beautiful daughters and they will be the fifth generation on this farm. And thanks to Washington Farmland Trust, it will continue — forever! — to be a farm.

Our main crop is agritourism, and that’s bringing city folks out to the farm to spend a day here in the country. It’s August through October, but there’s a lot of work to get ready for all those folks coming out to see us.

So right now, spring is really trying to come through. It’s a little chilly, but that’s okay. We actually will start Monday with our first field work, preparing seed beds to plant. We won’t plant corn for another month, but we’ll get some grass and hayfields planted here in the next couple of weeks.

 Besides the field work, we’re doing a lot of projects. That is building attractions, different things for people to come enjoy on the farm when they come out here in October during pumpkin patch time. Which entails a lot of cleaning, painting, staining, repairing, fixing benches, fixing tables….it’s a lot.

Sarah Ricci

It’s a lot on my team’s end too. We do a lot more of the administrative part of the farm, which a lot of people don’t think about. They don’t think about the ticketing platform and reservation platforms that you need. During the season we have a lot of fire pits — it’s our main unique thing we do because they’re in the corn, surrounded by the corn, and they’re very popular. Even just the employee handbooks and manuals and all that organization for hiring — all those documents have to be edited every year. So there’s a lot of little behind the scenes things that you think “oh, we’ll just assemble these real quick.” But it actually takes longer than you think, along with the marketing strategy and the newsletters and the social media. And this is also the time of year that our team designs new swag, new clothing, your hats, bags, stuff like that. All the unsexy parts of having a business, that is what the off season is for.

There’s more behind the scenes than one would think because farming is so unique, and I love it. And then it’s also a business, right? And that business side, it’s funny, we have two of our girls that are thinking they want to come back for sure. One of them is working for us right now, and she’s like, “I don’t want to do any of that farming stuff, mom. But this admin stuff is my deal.” And then our youngest is like, “I don’t ever want to sit in front of a computer. I only want to farm.”

Bob Ricci

I mean, I don’t think agriculture has done a great job of getting their messaging out. And the problem is, if you don’t do it, someone’s going to do it for you, and you may not like what they have to say.

I think people need to realize that farmers are environmentalists. We make our living off the land. So if we harm the land, we’re only harming ourselves. So we do everything we can to make sure it’s our number one resource. I mean, if we don’t have good soil, what’s the point?

Sarah Ricci

We actually take care of the land because if we don’t, it’s not going to produce for us. And farmers love to talk about farming, so ask! We have people that come to our farm stand and they’ll ask: Are you organic? Do you spray? Do you have GMOs? And those are actually my favorite people because they care enough to ask and get a real answer instead of just assuming or assigning intention to us. And, on the flip side of that, if your farmer won’t talk to you, then maybe that’s your sign to go somewhere else.

Bob Ricci

Exactly. Farming should be completely transparent. Your farmer should be transparent. If you ask a farmer a question and they’re trying to get around it or avoid the question, it’s time for a new farmer.

There’s a lot of different challenges out there. Obviously, we used to be dairy farmers and so our biggest challenge then was finances. You were, money-wise, you were a price taker. The government set the price of milk. And that was the whole reason when I started selling corn, I told my dad, “I don’t want to be a dairy farmer.” Not that I don’t love farming, it’s just, I don’t love the rules of your game. I want to be a price maker.

And a lot of farmers that are commodity farmers — they are price takers. And that’s a challenge. And for the people starting out, having access to capital, being able to get started, that is a huge challenge as well.

I mean, we are very fortunate that I’m fourth generation. I didn’t have to start from ground zero. We had a huge head start. We had so much structure in place. And someone whose starting out as a first generation farmer, access to capital is a massive challenge. I mean, everything is so expensive.

Sarah Ricci

And I would say too, more on the personal side of being a family farm. I think this kind of applies to anybody who owns their own business, but especially farming the way we do — our employees, they’re employees, but they’re our friends too.

And so the past couple of years, we’ve had quite a few health crises in our family, and so it affects you in a different way than if I worked for a corporation where I could take, you know, FMLA time.

But it’s a different dynamic when you’re the one that keeps the ship moving, which is kind of my job on this farm. That’s a unique challenge that if I worked for a company or even owned my own business that wasn’t a family farm would be, not as challenging.

Bob Ricci

I think my biggest challenge that I see are people who are not from farms that are making the decisions on how we run our farms and how we do things that have no concept of agriculture.

And the other thing is it seems like everything turns into a political decision. For me, farming and feeding people, this shouldn’t be political. It shouldn’t be divisive. I mean, everybody’s got to eat. It doesn’t matter what your political leanings are.

And so when we’re here, when people come on our farm, especially during pumpkin time, all the things that divide us in the world, those all melt away. When you’re here and you’re having fun and you’re spending time with your family and you’re getting a pumpkin, you’re on a hayride — none of that stuff matters.

Sarah Ricci

Yeah, we’ve tried to make our farm a place where everybody belongs. You don’t have to believe the same, you don’t have to think the same, you don’t have to look the same, have the same values or anything, but everybody is accepted and belongs here. And we’re all just here to have a good time and treat each other with respect.

Bob Ricci

My daughter, Abby and I, we just went down this week to an elementary school in Juanita, a pretty urban area. It was a career day and it was with elementary kids. And they had us there along with seven other professionals telling these kids they can be anything they want to be. And it’s funny how one of the myths of farming is, you know, all farmers are men. But then they see Abby there and they’re like, “she’s a farmer?”. She’s 22. And Abby’s like, “Yeah. And 36 percent of all farmers are women.”

And they’re like, “what?” And it’s just planting that seed with this new generation of kids. Just that they can be whatever they want to be, whether they want to raise vegetables, raise animals, whatever. And I’m excited anytime I talk to young kids like that.

It’s our job, especially in agritourism, because we are so many people’s farmer. We’re the farmer that they know. So it’s very important that we stay optimistic and we keep a really good attitude. Keeping that level of optimism is huge because people see that you don’t want to be the farmer that’s throwing their hat in the dirt and everything’s going wrong. No, no, no. Even on a bad day, it’s a good day. It’s always a good day.

Sarah Ricci

I agree. The next generation is what excites me. It’s so cool because they have so much creativity. I mean, not that our generation doesn’t, but their creativity is different. We love the generations working together. Like, especially the kids and the grandparents generation that have so much to learn from each other.

And if you don’t want to work and you just want to come play, then come have fun! There’s something magical about when you step on this ground out here. We’ve had dozens and dozens of people tell us there’s something different out here. I don’t know what it is, but it’s just easier to relax and unwind and just get away from the hustle and bustle and stresses of everyday life. And so if you don’t want to pay admission and do all the rides, but you just want to get a pumpkin and eat a doughnut, you can still come and do those things and just have a blast.