They've grown over six generations from a row crop farm in far northeast Nebraska into a modern example of green, sustainable agriculture, tripling revenues since 2000 under the leadership of family patriarch Doug Garwood (pictured). And now, Cardinal Farms, a family-owned agricultural firm in Dakota City, has been named the Cornhusker State's Small Business of the Year for 2014 by the Small Business Administration. The company, run by Garwood, who serves as president and chief executive officer, and his son Scott, who serves as vice-president and chief operating officer, last May used an SBA loan to help finance a new $1 million fresh fish production facility.
Cardinal Farms was chosen as the state’s top small business based on its history as an established business, growth in number of employees, increase in sales and unit volume, response to adversity and innovation in products and services offered. They were nominated for the honor by Loren Kucera, Director, Nebraska Business Development Center, Wayne, and have been invited to attend the culmination of National Small Business Week in Washington, D.C., and will compete against candidates from all 50 states and territories for selection as the SBA’s National Small Business Person of the Year.
As part of National Small Business Week, the Small Business Administration will take the opportunity to highlight the impact of outstanding entrepreneurs and small business owners. More than half of Nebraskans either own or work for a small business, and these firms create about two out of every three new jobs in the state each year.
Cardinal Farms, which traces its family ownership back six generations to 1868, develops crops on 1,400 acres of northeast Nebraska farmland, and hauls manure through its trucking operation for global food conglomerate Tyson, Inc. With six full-time and six seasonal employees, they also offer pesticide-free, home-grown tasty tomatoes and cucumbers grown in its warm hydroponic greenhouse for sale in grocery stores throughout the Siouxland area.
The family business took a big step forming Cardinal Farms Aquaculture in South Sioux City, using an SBA 504 loan to purchase two enclosed systems of six 10,000-gallon fiberglass tanks each with a capacity to raise some 20,000 tasty Barramundi sea bass up to two pounds each to be sold to restaurants and grocery store in the area—and beyond. The goal is to expand to 24 fish tanks within a few years; the facility will add three additional full-time employees to the company workforce.
The 504 Loan Program provides approved small businesses with long-term, fixed-rate financing used to acquire fixed assets for expansion or modernization. These loans are made available through Certified Development Companies (CDC), SBA's community-based partners for providing 504 loans. This program calls for the participating lender to provide half the financing, with the SBA offering 40 percent of the costs financed through the CDC to help economic development, something Garwood strongly supports.
Garwood founded and presently serves on the board of directors of Siouxland Ethanol, where he developed an idea to help save the environment and provide fresh, Nebraska-grown fish. Two years ago, Garwood announced a partnership with a Maryland-based company to use cow manure and leftover grain sorghum from area ethanol plants to create algae. Using only sunlight as the energy source to create it, the algae would be used to make biofuel and feed the farm fresh fish.
“This unique enterprise will supplement the fresh fish market,” Garwood said, “which we believe is growing and underserved locally. There’s real potential here and a demand well outside the Midwest. Since our system is reliable and operates year-round, as opposed to an open-air pond, we can offer consistent taste and quality with our fish.”
“This is our home. This is where my children and grandchildren have been raised,” Garwood added. “This project is about investing in our community and will hopefully contribute to both our community’s, as well as my family’s economic well-being.”
The aquaculture facility also will use sustainable techniques, capturing the exhaust from the fish building to help heat the tomatoes in the hydroponic facility, saving heating costs and improving tomato production.
In addition to running Cardinal Farms, Garwood serves on several local community service and committees and boards to promote small business growth, and was crucial in contributing to the start of College Center, a joint venture between Wayne State College and Northeast Community College in South Sioux City. The center not only gives students an affordable value pursuing an education but provides area businesses and industry a well-educated potential workforce in return.