The Growing Story of KMK Organic Farms
Mar 27, 2015 10:47AM, Published by Brandi Barnett, Categories: In Print
Certified OrganicApril 2015
By Jordan Venema
Photos: Christy Canafax
Michelle and Kyle Reynolds don’t exactly think of themselves as organic farmers, but when this community thinks organic, it definitely thinks of them. For 20 years, the Reynolds have farmed organically, long before it was cool. “We didn’t use the word,” says Michelle, the “M” in KMK Organic Farms. “That’s just how we farmed.” In fact, they keep it on the down low. “We didn’t advertise it at first,” she admits. “People who wanted organic would ask the right questions.”
Back then, “organic” was like a four-letter word, and farmers who didn’t farm conventionally weren’t taken as seriously. “Yeah, I heard remarks that organic is a gimmick to get more money for produce,” admits Michelle.
Let there be no doubt: the Reynolds are serious farmers, farming seriously good produce. Still, Kyle doesn’t dwell on it. “In my book, he’s a farmer,” laughs Michelle, “but he likes to call himself a glorified gardener.”
That was how KMK Organic Farm and Store began, in a small backyard garden. In 1995, Kyle’s employer, Del Monte, transferred him from Lodi. The Reynolds bought a 100-year-old farmhouse on a nearly two-acre plot just five minutes outside Kingsburg. The house came with 60 avocado trees.
“We love avocados but we couldn’t keep up, even by feeding family and friends,” Michelle says. So she and her daughter, Kristin (the other “K”), began selling avocados on the side of the road. They made $6 the first day, maybe $8 the next. Michelle remembers thinking, “Well, this isn’t going to work.”
Fortunately, avocados aren’t just a delicious fruit, they were also the Reynolds’ foot in the door at local farmers’ markets. “There aren’t a lot of avocado growers in the area,” explains Michelle.
So began the Reynolds’ foray into farming, “and as our customer base grew, our garden grew,” says Michelle. When customers expressed, “Oh, I wish you grew heirloom tomatoes,” Michelle could respond, thanks to Kyle’s garden, “But we already do!”
As a gardener, Michelle says with a laugh that Kyle has a habit of “sprawling into the neighbor’s vacant space.” And when customers asked for more produce, Kyle’s garden kept sprawling. Thankfully, the Reynolds’ neighbors let Kyle farm 10 acres, with a caveat. “They could feed their family and friends off of whatever we grew and we just paid the water bill,” Michelle says.
Soon, the Reynolds were outgrowing those 10 acres. “We went to farmers’ markets, heading out like – what was it, the Beverly Hillbillies? With the grandma on top? That’s what we looked like,” laughs Michelle. “But we’d come back with an empty truck and our neighbors would scratch their heads.”
After restaurants began contacting the Reynolds, they partnered with neighbors to plant another 40 acres. And just when Michelle though they might have planted too much, Vernon Peterson of Abundant Harvest CSA knocked on their door. “It was like someone was looking over us,” says Michelle. Peterson told the Reynolds that if they went certified organic, he’d buy it all.
What began with a garden and roadside stand is now the 80-acre KMK Organic Farms, certified. They still sell at farmers’ markets, to restaurants and Abundant Harvest, but they’ve opened their own store as well. KMK Organic Farm Store is a full-fledged grocery that sells its produce as well as other local goods, like honey and olive oil. Without transportation costs, their prices compare with conventionally farmed produce. Plus, they sell day-old or two-day-old produce at a bargain price.
For the Reynolds, farming is a labor of love. “We’re not in this to get rich. We just love what we do.” They would have to: Michelle and Kyle haven’t taken a full two-week vacation together since the farm began.
For those who don’t farm, it’s difficult to understand, though Michelle tries to explain. “I can’t put it into words how it makes me feel, to know that my husband and I have planted these trees, to see them when they bear fruit, to see the customers that appreciate it.” Michelle stops, tearing up. “There’s just no words.”
To see the farm is to understand. There’s something about the earth, the chirping birds, the peace and the quiet. And of course, there’s all the fresh, healthy organic food the Reynolds could ever eat. Because that’s ultimately what they’re about. “I mean, who wants to be spraying your food with chemicals that you’re going to be feeding your family, anyway?” asks Michelle.
KMK Organic Farm Store
12859 S. Mendocino Ave., Kingsburg
Open daily, 11 am – 5 pm • (559) 897-7264
Find them on Facebook