AmericanFarm.com

Wike Family Farms sustaining operation through children

By SEAN CLOUGHERTY
Managing Editor

HAMPSTEAD, Md. (July 5, 2016) — Each year, Andy and Jessica Wike hope for a successful year growing retail produce.
But success in their eyes isn’t just measured in dollars, they said. With a large family, having their children involved and enjoying the work is a priority.
Andy said he got bitten by the farming bug at an early age going with his father Wesley who did field work for farmers in the area.
“We were always tagging along with him,” Andy said of he and his siblings. “That’s how we got into vegetables. It get’s in your blood, I don’t know how to explain it.”
In 1992, Andy started on his own with a “potato patch” on land offered to him by dairy farmer Burnell Boerner.
“From there, each year he gave me a little more and a little bit more,” Andy said. In 1999, Andy, who works full time for Baltimore-based Electrico, bought an 80 acre farm in Hampstead to add to the acreage and a few years later he and Jessica began their family. Now, with Wike Family Farms at about 400 acres in vegetables, grain and hay crops and 11 children, there’s plenty of work to go around and plenty of Wikes to do it.
Andy and Jessica also get help from Andy’s sisters and brother and another full-time employee.
Along with a large covered wagon they keep stocked through the summer at Andy’s father’s house on a heavily traveled route in Carroll County, they sell at the Hampstead Farmers’ Market, a gym and a retirement community in the area and some local restaurants. They also market a lot of their 40-acre potato crop to food vendors at county fairs and supply all the potatoes used at the Maryland State Fair’s Food Pavilion.
The kids are involved every step of the way, Andy and Jessica said, from growing to harvesting to selling.
“They’re involved in everything we do,” Jessica said, adding there’s often a bottleneck in sorting who gets to ride the combine each day during grain harvest. “They want to be out there. They all want to go.”
With many small children chipping in, Andy said he makes it a point to spend time talking about the safest ways to work around equipment, even if it holds up the work itself.
“Safety is our biggest concern,” Andy said. “It make take twice as long but we take the time to explain to them if there’s a near miss or something what could have happened and how fortunate we were.”
In recent years, the older children have started their own small ventures along with working in the family operation. The oldest, Kaitlyn, 13, grows a patch of sunflowers with her grandfather, Wesley. Sam raised some pigs and has his own crop of blue potatoes and Hanna has a small flock of laying hens.
“The deal is they can grow something that I’m not growing,” Andy said. “That way we’re not competing and can keep track of it better. They do really good at it. They spend their own time and make their own money and somedays they do better than we do.”
Sam and younger brother Bryce have done well enough to find and buy - without their parent’s help - their own tractors to use on the farm.
Andy said though produce sales have been steady, the last three years have been some ofthe hardest for him financially, citing input costs remaining where they were during the boom in grain prices a few years ago.
“We don’t make a big profit but that’s not just what we’re doing this for. It’s great being able to see (the kids) go outside and work,” Andy said. “Really it’s been more of joy to do it with the kids than anything.”