How one new student connected his community with local farmers

ojus garg sits on steps outside and smiles

First-year student Ojus Garg plans to double major in electrical engineering and computer sciences and in business. (UC Berkeley photo by Neil Freese)

“My parents are from India, and they love fresh and local produce. When they came to America, they noticed that a lot of the produce in supermarkets had GMOs, and they didn’t like how it tasted. Once we found that Fremont, California — where my parents live — had its own farmers market, we eventually started getting almost all our produce from there. Every weekend, I’d grab a quarter to buy flavored honey sticks from a vendor there. It became a big part of my childhood.

When COVID hit in March 2020, the farmers market closed down and we had to get produce from the supermarket. Our whole family was not thrilled about that. We use a lot of vegetables in our curries and in our food, in general. When the farmers market came back, we were probably one of maybe 15 people there, compared to 100 people who were there before.

Being from the generation that grew up on Shark Tank and the idea that anyone can start whatever they want, I was like, ‘You know what? I have to give it my best shot at keeping the farmers market going.’ So, I put a pitch together for the vendors: I would buy their produce, put it up for sale online, where people from the community could order it. Then, I would box it up and deliver it to their homes for a fee. It was kind of like a small-scale Good Eggs.

And, you know, my being 17, and I have a little bit of a babyface, it was hard for me to convince them that they could trust me. I went to one vendor, and I said, ‘OK, I’m going to buy $100 of produce from you this week and next week, I’ll make it $200.’ So, they started to have a little bit more faith that I could actually bring sales to the market.

It took a solid month or two to get the business — I called it The Rowdy Rancher — running, because I knew that for these vendors, this is their livelihood and I wanted to do it right. In California, the cost of labor, the cost of land, the cost of everything is more expensive than it is for international farms. These farmers rely on these small markets for a majority of their income. So, for me, I wanted them to know that I took it seriously. But, of course, I had fun, as well.

On a good week, I was probably making about $1,000 per month with about 12 customers. I would just put the money back into marketing to get more customers.

At UC Berkeley, I plan to double major in electrical engineering and computer sciences and in business. I hope to use my degree to create something that people need and that can improve their lives. Like, even the way that we’re talking right now — it’s Zoom, right? It’s something that connects people, even though at this time, we’re still wary of COVID, we can still meet, we can still talk. And I think the idea of being able to create something like that, which can genuinely impact someone and help their lives — that’s really where I want to take my life.

After people got vaccinated and places started opening up, the community in Fremont started to go back to the farmers market. But I was able to run the business for about four months — from September to January — before I stopped. I’m hoping to restart The Rowdy Rancher soon and maybe bring it to Berkeley, so I can give farmers another platform to sell local produce.”