Alex Hohenthaner

With four successful years of college under his belt in exercise science, Alex Hohenthaner discovered after working a year in a hospital, it wasn’t what he wanted.

“I found I didn’t want to be inside and when summer came I wanted to be outside,” Hohenthaner said.

Raised as a city boy, Yankton native Hohenthaner came to find farm life appealing kind of sideways. Although his grandfather farms outside Yankton raising corn, soybeans and cattle, he never was very involved in the farm life. Occasionally he would help in the summertime with haying.

The summer before Hohenthaner’s last year of college, he traveled on the west coast, working on farms as extra help for 20 hours a week. The farm operators would give him a place to stay and meals and he stayed on a farm in Oregon a month and then in Washington did the same thing. He decided he really like it.

Still, Hohenthaner came home, finished his last year of college and graduated with a degree. He was hired to work in a hospital setting, trying to decide if he wanted to go on for a physical training degree but soon found out he didn’t like working inside. He applied for the first job on a farm he found, which was a small farm near Lennox where he works now.

“The first year was like an apprenticeship and I was kind of like a laborer but the owners showed me the ins and outs,” Hohenthaner said. The farm raised vegetables on about 30 acres and the owners offered a subscription service for fresh vegetables to customers during the summer season in the Sioux Falls area.

The following growing season Hohenthaner decided he wanted to try Colorado and found a job on a vegetable farm posted on a farm work site. The job was more in-depth with several added responsibilities.

Last November Hohenthaner, now 27-years-old, moved back to Yankton with the idea of trying to operate his own vegetable subscription service. He describes his business as Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA).

“I kind of had it in my mind, wanted to try to do a year on my own,” Hohenthaner said. “The farm I had worked on here before going to Colorado was downsizing and things just fell together.”


Hohenthaner said he had a good relationship with his former employers and they offered to help him get started. They had a good infrastructure and invited him to rent the land from them so he could try it for a year. It sounded like a good deal to him and he was excited to set up his business.

“So, the way my business model works I sell subscriptions,” Hohenthaner said. “At the beginning of the year I started asking people if they wanted to subscribe.”

Hohenthaner is not a huge marketing person so he is not the type to push his product.

“My service is a lot of money so I put my service out there, if you want it fine, if not, that’s fine, too,” Hohenthaner said. “It’s quality food and some people may not want it, don’t like vegetables.”

When Hohenthaner set up his model, he decided to keep this first year fairly modest. After working for other produce farmers, he had an idea of what he could and should accomplish. He proposed every day he worked on his acreage in a week’s time, he estimated he worked for 10 shares or subscribers. This year he worked two days on his acreage for 20 shares. This year, he limited his customer base to 20, knowing he needed to see how it would work. Then to supplement his income, he added other additional part-time jobs. He worked two days a week for the produce farmers who rented him the ground.

“My plan is pretty scalable; I didn’t want to get in over my head the first year and make promises I couldn’t keep,” Hohenthaner said. “Besides everything else, you never know what the weather will do.”

Hohenthaner’s customers paid up front, $30 for a week or $450 for the season and then for a 15-week delivery period he delivered a bushel-size box with a variety of five to seven fresh vegetables raised on his acreage, each week being different, finding that amount of food seemed to fit his customers’ needs. One week he did add an eighth vegetable but felt a larger quantity was harder to make use of. He tried not to overwhelm his customers with vegetables they aren’t familiar with or know what to do with.

“I’ve been eating vegetables for so long I think some items are no-brainers and I have to remember for some people they are not,” Hohenthaner said.

The first delivery was made on July 5 and continued to Oct. 9. His customers ranged from Vermillion, stops on Hwy 50 to Yankton, Mission Hill and several in Yankton. Then on his way home from work, he dropped off boxes in the Utica area.

“After I started, people got excited about it and I added a few more subscribers,” Hohenthaner said.

Al’s Local, as his business is called, started by word of mouth with family and friends, a couple ads in a newspaper and a little Facebook marketing.

“Many of my customers were super excited, but for some it was a challenge getting a bunch of vegetables they weren’t familiar with,” Hohenthaner said. “Some were not excited about getting kale and people eat differently.”

Early Tuesday mornings Hohenthaner made a delivery of whatever was ready on the farm. His deliveries started at 6 am so he could make it to one of his three side jobs, working at Steiner’s Market in Yankton.

The box was typically filled with a variety of seven different vegetables and throughout the season, the vegetables changed. He said he grew whatever he wanted but it included a good variety

of vegetables on the one acre of farm ground he rented. He raised tomatoes, peppers, squash, cabbage, radishes, carrots, kale, beets, green beans, sweet corn, cucumbers, pumpkins, potatoes, onions, watermelons, cantaloupes and more.

“After cultivation I probably had an acre to farm which is quite a bit for one person,” Hohenthaner said. “It was a really big garden and I was the only employee.”

Hohenthaner has learned to value his time off but soon realized it was easy for a job like farming to take over. There was always something to do so he set specific days and hours for work and guarded his time for relaxation.

Along with the daily chores in the garden like planting, weeding and eventually harvesting a crop, Hohenthaner completed all the work for the business side of his farm as well as delivery. He does have his own gardening equipment and the people he worked for also had a lot of equipment he was able to borrow.

“I could easily double or triple the garden size and be able to handle a bigger work load and more subscribers by dedicating more time to the project,” Hohenthaner said.

When Hohenthaner started his project, he decided to follow Organic Certification practices for his acre although becoming certified is not part of his plan. He didn’t use any chemicals this year and wanted to set a baseline for the type of vegetables he would possibly grow. He had some vegetables he tried which had insect issues but he didn’t spray them and the plants died.

Now, Hohenthaner know he needs to figure out some type of intervention for those issues. Although there are intervention practices out there like insect netting and organically certified chemicals and sprays, he stayed pretty much natural this year.

The crop plan for this past season started in a greenhouse onsite where Hohenthaner carefully grew his own seedlings for planting. Vegetables which are only planted once in a season like tomato and pepper seeds were planted in February indoors, eventually moved to the greenhouse and in early May the plants were placed in the field after the last frost. Vegetables like lettuce, carrots and beets were planted every other week throughout the season. His last planting of carrots and radishes was just a little under a month ago.

Hohenthaner said it is a succession throughout the season and at times difficult to decide what to plan for, so a grower plants a lot and waits to see what comes up. He also admits he was not super-efficient with his beds and could have gotten more out of his acreage. Now that he has been through the season, he has ideas for the future about planting using some space saving techniques.

A ton of compost was hauled to Hohenthaner’s site and he spread the rich fertilizer across the planting area. Another tool he made use of was fish emulsion fertilizer which is an organic by-product of the fish industry. It is very beneficial when sprayed on leafy vegetables, allowing the plants to be stronger and also be able to resist pests.

Along with the weekly garden box, Hohenthaner created a newsletter for his customers. He would talk about the vegetables in the box, offer recipes and ways to cook them or explain a strange vegetable and how to use it. His biggest challenge came when he added kale to the box of vegetables.

“People didn’t know how to use it and I can sit down and eat it in one serving,” Hohenthaner said.

Hohenthaner’s diet is vegetable-rich and that type of food is important to him. He has been a vegetarian in the past but obviously he’s not now as he works at a meat market.

The last delivery will have a questionnaire for customers so Hohenthaner can get feedback and see how the customers felt about the summer service. It will help him evaluate how successful Al’s Local was and what direction to go next year.

“I definitely want to expand next year and was very satisfied with how this year went,” Hohenthaner said. “I enjoyed the delivery area in Yankton and am considering moving closer to Yankton, trying to find land to rent or even, possibly purchase land.”

This year was a very smooth process and the crops he grew were plentiful but looking to the future, he realizes he could grow more. He did do some watering in his acreage the first couple months but otherwise it was an ideal growing year. He also liked being able to take a break from the garden and work at another job.

Over the winter months Hohenthaner will pick up more full-time work and mull over next year’s growing season. He has a lot of questions to think about and is looking for any new perspectives.

“The seasonality of growing vegetables makes it easier to travel and take time off,” Hohenthaner said. “In my ‘spare’ time I like to rock climb and run.”

Maybe Hohenthaner will get to do those things now.