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Perseverance Through Produce

Located just 60 miles outside the bustling metropolis of Chicago, the landscape shifts dramatically from concrete and cars to expansive fields and fertile lands. There, you’ll find James Goebbert, the fifth-generation farmer behind Go-Ro-Fresh, a produce farm synonymous with quality and sustainability. The operation provides fresh produce to Chicago-area grocers and restaurants and direct to consumers. Since starting his farming journey as a teenager, Goebbert has not only cultivated the land, but he’s also cultivated his dreams for the land.

A Legacy of Farming 

The Goebbert family has deep roots in agritourism, and James grew up working for the family’s pumpkin business, Goebbert’s Pumpkin Farm. This cherished destination for families seeking pumpkins and a taste of rural life has been a community staple since the 1940s.

But James chose to forge his own farming legacy at the age of 16, working alongside his grandfather Jim. Recognizing his potential and dedication, Compeer Financial granted James his first loan, cosigned by Grandpa Jim, to kickstart his dill growing venture.

“I was close to my dad, and from a young age, my dad encouraged me to do my own thing,” recalled James. “It’s more rewarding to start from nothing and grow it into something.”

A Family Legacy 

James is no ordinary farmer. From a humble start growing a single herb variety, he’s become a visionary who’s transformed a 10-acre plot into a sprawling 1,350-acre operation. The diversity of his crops is remarkable — 210 acres of beets, 430 acres of grains and a staggering 390 acres of greens, including kale, collards, mustard greens and more. And, yes, they’re still growing pumpkins on 320 acres.

For James, farming isn’t just a profession, it’s a way of life. James’ wife Brittany and their two young children, Henry and George, are integral parts of the farm. Although Brittany didn’t grow up on a farm, she’s embraced the values of hard work and family that are central to farm life. Their children are already experiencing the joy of agriculture, running around the fields and soaking in everything farming has to offer.

“I’ve learned farming is synonymous family because farmers put their families first,” shared Brittany. “It’s also incredible to have healthy food grown right here on our land. Cooking that food for your family — and knowing it’ll nourish other families too — is something special.”

Challenges and Rewards

James readily admits farming comes with its fair share of challenges, from unpredictable weather to the grueling work. However, he says it’s precisely these trials that make farming all the more rewarding. He relishes the entire process — from planting seeds to delivering the final harvest — knowing the fruits of his labor nourish communities far and wide.

“Early on, there were a lot of challenges,” said James. “We’d put in the hard work all year and then look at our profit-and-loss statement, and it often seemed like we weren’t making much money. But we persevered, and it’s starting to pay off.”

James encourages young farmers to consider pursuing their own dreams and ventures, even if they come from established farming backgrounds. He emphasizes the importance of diversification and investing in the right equipment to tackle the work effectively and efficiently.

“The thrill of building something from the ground up, of having complete control over your destiny, is an experience like no other,” he explained.

Commitment to Community 

In an era when sustainability and environmental stewardship are paramount, James and Go-Ro Fresh are doing their part. They’ve embraced practices like cover cropping and are in the process of converting some of their farms to organic. The commitment to sustainable farming benefits the environment and aligns with their long-term vision.

Community support is vital for any local farm’s success, and James knows this well. He envisions a future for Go-Ro Fresh that mirrors the legacy of the pumpkin farm he grew up on. He’s hopeful that a new retail market emphasizing history and education will foster a deeper connection between the community and his farm.

“Buying local means you know exactly where your food comes from and helps keep the money in the local economy,” noted James. “It’s a way to support your neighbors and build a stronger, more resilient community.”

As James and Brittany look ahead, they see continued growth for Go-Ro Fresh while maintaining sustainability and profitability. They’re determined to pass the farming legacy on to their children and continue providing the local community with fresh, healthy produce.

This article was originally printed in the Winter 2023 edition of Compeer Financial's Cultivate magazine.  

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