Locally Grown

Colorado family provides farm-to-fork goodness

Published online: Mar 29, 2017 Grower of the Month Tyrell Marchant, Editor
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This article appears in the April 2017 isue of Potato Grower.

Matt Seger is every inch a farmer, from his sandy hair to his dusty boots. His wife Wendi…well, she’s not. She is ambitious and entrepreneurial (she holds master’s and doctorate degrees), but she did not grow up in agriculture has no illusions about her affinity for farming.

“Other farm wives are better than I am,” says Wendi with a laugh. “They drive the trucks and machinery. But we learned pretty early on that it was probably best for our marriage for me not to force it.”

Their differences, however, have not stopped the Segers from forging a successful marriage and raising a happy family. They firmly believe that what they have in common is infinitely more important than any dissimilarities. And it’s not as if Wendi hates the farm life; she’s more than willing to help when and where she’s needed.   

Matt grew up on a farm in southern Colorado’s San Luis Valley, where his family grew alfalfa and small grains. But every fall when the neighbors dragged the massive potato harvesters out to their fields, Matt would gaze across the road in awe at the power and technology involved in growing potatoes. 

“I was always fascinated with potato harvest,” Matt says now. “I mean, that machinery! Even now, I’m probably more passionate about the equipment than the agronomy.”

Upon his graduation from Colorado State University in 1994, Matt returned to the San Luis Valley and worked for a local potato grower for several years. In 2002, in the early parts of what has stretched a more-than-decade-long drought in the region, Matt and Wendi started their own farming operation. It hasn’t been easy, but today Seger West Farm grows about 700 acres of malt barley, canola and low-generation seed potatoes each year.   

Only about 70 to 90 acres of the Segers’ farm is dedicated to potato production, along with a greenhouse for growing nuclear seed. But that doesn’t mean it’s not an integral part of the operation. Throughout the life of the farm, russet varieties have made up the bulk of production, but Matt says he has started to “dabble in specialty varieties,” most notably Purple Majesty. Seger seed stays close to home, finding its way to commercial farms in the San Luis Valley.

“Potatoes are a pretty small part of the operation, but they’re the most profitable by far,” says Matt.

Throughout their two decades of marriage, Matt and Wendi have always floated ideas to each other about starting a business in which both could feel comfortable being intimately involved. For years, that’s all it ever was: ideas, big plans that neither fully expected to carry out. But about a year ago, frustrated with the lack of good, healthy, affordable dining options in the San Luis Valley, the talks got serious. Could they start the kind of restaurant they longed for and make it work?

It’s a worn-out platitude in the business world that the restaurant business is a risky one, and that scares most would-be restaurateurs away. But Wendi Seger scoffs at that notion.

Farming is risky,” she says. “It always cracks me up when farmers say the restaurant business is risky.”

On Sept. 5, 2016, the Segers’ restaurant, Locavores, opened its doors to the public in downtown Alamosa, Colo., about 40 miles from their house. So far, it has been an unqualified success. It serves a diverse menu of fast-casual meals, with all its food sourced from farms in the region (save for things such as rice that are not grown locally). Just as important to the Segers as the restaurant’s critical and financial, success, though, is the message the establishment conveys to customers.

“One of my goals too is to portray farmers differently than they typically are,” says Wendi. “In the cities when they do farm-to-table food, the portrayal is just not very accurate. We know that farming is very high-tech. Matt is an accountant, he’s a scientist, he’s a mechanic. And that’s not unique. If farmers were a baseball team, everyone would play every position. Part of our mission is to show that farming is high-tech, contemporary, educated.”

“I’m just really proud of the people we have here,” says Matt.”There are some really good farmers here in this community who grow amazing crops. We thought it would be a good selling point to showcase what people do around here.”

On the walls of the restaurant, photos and stories of Locavores’ supplying farmers are displayed. A large map hangs on one wall, indicating where those farms are and giving diners more of a connection to their food. Countless market research projects have concluded that consumers want to be connected with their food, and Locavores tries to make that happen for its customers.

One day a grower who supplies the restaurant with fingerling potatoes walked in for some lunch, and the cashier told everyone in line, “Hey, this is the guy who grows our fingerlings!” The whole restaurant erupted in applause.

“Growers don’t usually get to see people enjoy their product,” says Matt. “It makes me happy to see people sitting there enjoying their meal. That’s all the thanks I need.”

It’s certainly thanks enough to keep the Segers doing what they’re doing, working both ends of the supply chain, literally from farm to fork, to make sure people are fed quality food.