Thursday, November 23, 2017
News Roundup

High costs wilt Magnolia Organics produce operation in Pasco

RECOMMENDED READING


WESLEY CHAPEL — Magnolia Organics launched in 2008 as a family-owned company raising organic produce for healthier diets and a healthier planet.

Magnolia owner Brightman Logan didn't expect to change lives in the process.

"We count among our customers lots of cancer patients who report feeling better, and better test results, after eating our organic vegetables," he said. "We also have lots of customers who feed their families on our food."

Since its inception, the business that proclaims itself "small in size (and) mighty in production" has built a network of about 200 regular members, with customers as far away as Brandon, South Tampa, Trinity and Davenport, and 10 host sites for produce pickup. It also supplies produce to Cheyenne's Country Thangs, Abbey's Rollin Oats and the Pearl in the Grove restaurant.

"Magnolia Organics is a feel-good business," said Nan Logan, Brightman's wife and a Magnolia administrator. "We have lots of happy customers."

But the farm at 33601 Kiefer Road has never turned a profit. Tuesday will mark its final day as an organic produce outfit.

"The bottom line is, we were losing money," said Brightman Logan. "People do not understand what it takes to run an agricultural business. You stay up at night worried about crops and paying bills."

"It's not about being greedy," he said. "It's about getting by."

After the company announced its closure, its offices were flooded by emails from customers who rely on organic produce.

"NO, tell me this is a mistake," wrote one customer. "We just found you — charge me more. I don't care. We need you."

"Getting these reactions from our customers is the hardest part of this," said Brightman Logan.

The Logans — including daughter M.J., who served as Magnolia's sales and marketing director — started Magnolia Organics with what seemed to be a winning business plan. Created as an off-shoot of All Native LLC, a wholesale native plant nursery in business since 1981, Magnolia quickly became USDA-certified to produce vegetables using fully organic processes, with no conventional pesticides, weed killers or artificial additives. Aside from their own agricultural experience, owners sought guidance through a long-standing partnership with Sweetwater Organic Community Farm.

Using an 8-acre field, Magnolia produced nearly 20 varieties of organic vegetables — everything from popular veggies such as lettuce, tomatoes and carrots to exotic items like fairy tale eggplant, Swiss chard and yellow bell pepper. They offered an assortment of freshly harvested food items (with all vegetables cut from their crops the day before delivery) in diversely assorted boxes that ranged from $16.50 to $27.50. They prided themselves on locally producing healthy, environmentally sound foods.

"Everything we sold, we grew," said Nan Logan.

"And with organic foods, the flavor and quality is way better," said Rodger Bilbrey, farm manager of Magnolia Organics.

It was the Logans' strong commitment to organic farming that first inspired the inception of Magnolia Organics.

"People need to pay more attention to their food, where it comes from, and what it could do to their health," said Brightman Logan. "Producing organic food was our passion."

Yet that passion came at a steep price. Bilbrey said organic pesticide costs $478 per gallon, as opposed to $132 per gallon for conventional pesticide.

Hundreds more were spent on insurance, supplies, the boxing and packaging of vegetables, marketing and advertising.

Many employees — including the Logans, who volunteered much of their time — devoted 12-hour days to intensive farming techniques, including manual crop harvesting and weed pulling.

And, like all Florida farmers, they had to deal with ever-changing climate conditions that ranged from droughts to torrential rainstorms to cold snaps.

Magnolia's financial losses have been mounting, particularly since the economy went sour. About three months ago, Brightman Logan realized they would have to close.

As a farewell gesture to Magnolia customers, the Logans will open their field to members only 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday and Tuesday to harvest all remaining vegetation free of charge. After the last crop has been picked, the Logans and other long-term employees will look for other ways to continue organic farming.

They hope to set up a seasonal "you pick" fruit and berry operation in their organic field. And they want to refocus their emphasis on the growth of Florida native plants. It remains their goal to grow organic crops for the people of this area.

"I believe in what we're doing," said Brightman Logan.

 
Comments
Nikita Kucherov really does admire Patrick Kane

Nikita Kucherov really does admire Patrick Kane

TAMPA — Lightning wing Nikita Kucherov has watched plenty of film on Blackhawks star Patrick Kane.Kucherov marveled how the 2015-16 league MVP uses deception to "hide" from defenders. He noticed how patient Kane was with the puck, how well he passed ...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Lightning beats Blackhawks in OT

Lightning beats Blackhawks in OT

TAMPA — The Lightning entered Wednesday’s game against the Blackhawks determined to avoid its first losing streak of the season. And it did in dramatic fashion, with Brayden Point’s power-play goal in overtime lifting it to a 3-2 victory. "A big boun...
Updated: 6 hours ago
SOCom asking rifle makers for single weapon to serve many sniper roles

SOCom asking rifle makers for single weapon to serve many sniper roles

When Ryan Cleckner was an Army Ranger sniper in Afghanistan, he had as many as nine rifles he would use in different situations. But whenever a mission would evolve quickly, he would have to choose which ones to lug onto a helicopter. Even narrowing ...
Updated: 6 hours ago
As rules change, many Florida immigrants face a choice: Do they stay or go?

As rules change, many Florida immigrants face a choice: Do they stay or go?

Lys Isma was born in Haiti, but she’s used to driving in Miami with a license, going to college and living without fear of being deported.The Florida International University biology student has lived in Florida since she was 9 months old. Undocument...
Updated: 6 hours ago

Basketball: USF Bulls bounce back with rout of Howard; FSU, Miami win

TAMPA — Three nights after running out of steam in a loss at Indiana, USF had enough to steamroll Howard of the MEAC.A 17-1 run late in the first half helped the Bulls to a 75-52 win Wednesday before an announced Sun Dome crowd of 2,080. USF (3-2) he...
Updated: 7 hours ago
From USF-UCF, to UF-FSU, to Alabama-Auburn, it’s a busy college football Thanksgiving weekend

From USF-UCF, to UF-FSU, to Alabama-Auburn, it’s a busy college football Thanksgiving weekend

 
Updated: 8 hours ago
Bucs journal: Gerald McCoy says team has not turned the corner yet

Bucs journal: Gerald McCoy says team has not turned the corner yet

TAMPA — The Bucs have some positive momentum with back-to-back wins, but DT Gerald McCoy said it’s too soon to say his 4-6 team has turned a corner."We haven’t turned a corner yet," McCoy said Wednesday, preparing for Sunday’s game at Atlanta. "It’s ...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Across country, small retailers aim for emotional ties big chains may lack

Across country, small retailers aim for emotional ties big chains may lack

Associated PressSome smaller retailers will tug at shoppers’ heartstrings during the holidays, trying to create an emotional experience or connection that a big national chain might not provide.Store owners are going well beyond the usual holiday dec...
Updated: 8 hours ago

Lottery resultsNumbers drawn after 9 p.m. are no longer available by our deadlines. For results, please go to tampabay.com/lottery.Pick 2, 3, 4, 5Wed., Nov. 22, midday:76 001 3688e_SRit36220Wed., Nov. 22, evening:18 535 9156e_SRit57364LottoWed., Nov....
Updated: 8 hours ago

Top Trump staffers failed to file financial reports on their way out the door

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s top aides — including chief of staff Reince Priebus and foreign policy adviser Sebastian Gorka — failed to file legally required financial reports after they were dismissed this summer, according to government re...
Updated: 9 hours ago