Elderslie Farm: The Real Meaning of Farm to Table

Elderslie Farm is reinvigorating the term farm to table with a diverse and unique business model.


| March/April 2014



Elderslie Farm Sawmill

The Elderslie sawmill uses a Peterson Winch Production Frame to quickly and accurately produce lumber.

Photo by Sarah Sinning

Farm to Table

When George and Alexis Elder first completed their degrees from Clemson University — George in English and history, Alexis a few years later in English and horticulture — they found themselves at that familiar crossroads in life: Where do we go from here? For siblings George and Alexis, though, this was OK. They could always go home to find their way, so home they went — to the Valley Center, Kansas, farm that had been in their family for decades and to the family who welcomed their return.

It was about three years ago that Elderslie Farm, the business, began to take shape. George’s father had always kept horses, but the hobby had never progressed further than that. Then George decided to convert the old hay shed into a lumber mill, and the Elderslie Farm sawmill was born. Specializing in regionally significant species like black walnut, white oak, red cedar and Osage orange — the latter of which is particularly meaningful to folks who grew up in Kansas, its deep orange color requiring no stain to create a rich and inviting focal point for any room — the sawmill is an endeavor George is passionate about.

“I knew I had to do something with my hands,” he said during a tour of the property on a fall afternoon. With his family’s support, he was able to work part time as a teacher while he did his homework, interviewing other farmers in the region and figuring out what he needed to make his dream farm business a reality. Woodworking had always been a part of George’s life, his father having passed along this craft when he was just a young boy, so the mill and adjoining carpentry shop were natural extensions of a lifelong interest.

In order to make the business profitable, with a niche market of small, local contractors, furniture makers, and anyone else interested in the unique and handcrafted, George knew he had to think bigger — but not bigger in a way that compromised the quality of his work.

“I think of the mill and carpentry business as an opportunity to celebrate where we are and the things that are around us, and the craftsman, which is something I think is hard because it’s not cheap. But when you think about the places we love best, they’re where people sacrificed a great deal to create something beautiful. We try to offer that as a service.”

Diversity thus became the name of the game as the farm business expanded into the densely grown, high-value crops of blackberries, strawberries and raspberries, a market George’s early research suggested would do quite well given the farm’s close proximity to the Wichita metropolitan area. An acre or two of these crops direct marketed “are not going to sustain you,” George said, “but if you do it right, you’ll have three to four intense months, and then you’ll have something else to balance it.”





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