Colgan Farms

A team of Wells College students and a pair of Auburn SCORE business advisers helped a King Ferry woman jump-start her organic garlic business. From left in this 2014 photo are SCORE mentor Nelsa Selover, Wells seniors Cassandra Smyth and Ryan Cook, business owner Dale Mangan, and SCORE mentor Gehan Shanmuganathan. Shanmuganathan was given an award from the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) for his work with Colgan Farms.

With her home on the line, Dale Mangan needed to figure out how to make more than ends meet.

The King Ferry woman was brainstorming ways to bolster her current income. At 63, living off Social Security and not much else, Mangan found that she needed some way to turn her life around without working the rest of it away.

"If I did not figure out a way to supplement my Social Security, I would have to sell my home," she said.

That's when an old friend told Mangan that she was sitting on her greatest asset.

Mangan lives on several acres of land that was once part of her family farm. The King Ferry woman was born and raised on the land by her parents, who purchased the farm in the 1940s.

Mangan is looking to develop part of the farm, once a dairy and cash crop operation, into an enterprise with a different flavor: organic garlic.

"I think the wave of the organic movement is reaching a crescendo," she said. "It's growing by leaps and bounds."

For Mangan, the goal is to have her business certified organic within three years. For now, the King Ferry woman is growing a quarter-acre of garlic with organically grown seed, which she hopes to double in size in the future if her business picks up.

"And that's my retirement. The end," she said. "That's what I'm looking to."

Getting this far not only took help from her own family, but from the nonprofit Service Corps of Retired Executives program in Auburn, an agency dedicated to helping budding entrepreneurs with their business plans.

In approaching SCORE, Mangan said she was looking for two services: A "cheerleader," to keep her going toward her goals, and a consultant to help with the operation's marketing side.

Her request eventually led her to SCORE representative Nelsa Selover, who referred her to another SCORE business mentor, Gehan Shanmuganathan, a business professor at Wells College.

Shanmuganathan, who started with Wells College in 2013, said he sees his time as a volunteer business adviser as an opportunity for business students to get real-life experience outside of a classroom.

In working with Mangan, Shanmuganathan connected her with two Wells College students: seniors Cassandra Smyth and Ryan Hood. Over several months, the student interns were responsible for learning about the local garlic industry in conducting a market study to decide whether or not Mangan's business is fit for the area.

The market analysis revealed positive results, and the two, Mangan said, also came up with a decidedly simple name: Colgan Farms. Colgan is the surname of Mangan's parents.

"The reality is that this farm came into being because of my parents," Mangan said.

This student support will continue into next year, when a new team will serve as Mangan's interns. Along with developing an online presence for Colgan Farms, Shanmuganathan, said the students will also help Mangan with sales management as her crop cultivates.

While Wells College does offer internships for students, Shamuganathan said this program offers students a much more hands-on opportunity to directly interact with a business' management strategy.

In the future, the business professor will look to extend this opportunity to other college students in the area.

"Looking at the hands-on experience that they're getting, which is a fresh experience for them and Wells College, they are doing wonderfully well," he said of the students.

Mangan was also pleased with the experience, saying the students were very enthusiastic and helpful.

"It was far and away from what I expected," she said.

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Staff writer Greg Mason can be reached at (315) 282-2239 or greg.mason@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @CitizenMason.