2015 was my second year on farm. After the successes and failures of 2014 I had a little bit of a better handle on things but it was still a big growth year for the farm. We were busy digging out of old farm “infrastructure” which means we were throwing out piles of junk, while trying to build too many farm operations at once.
Farm Operations in 2015:
- 1500 pastured broiler chickens
- 200 egg laying hens
- 12 pigs
- 1.4 acres of new apple orchard
- 1.4 acres of new hop yard
- ¼ acre of vegetables
- CSA for broilers
- Pork Shares for pigs
- 2 x Farmers’ Markets
- Few wholesale accounts
- Farm Store (built/renovated 2015)
- First renovation on farm store
- Starting to clear out old dairy barn
- Building signage leading to farm
- Clearing land
- Building garden beds
- Oh yeah, the brewery got started that summer, oh man
My head spins even now thinking about what goes into all of that. Each and every thing listed above had its’ own needs, set-up, management, expense, etc…
A Hard Lesson Learned
The list(s) above lead to my hard lesson learned for the year. My desire to say yes to everyone, to try and manage it all, to make things happen lead me to another year of “investment” in the farm that didn’t necessarily lead us that much closer toward a profitable farm.
Sure every lesson learned and every experience teaches you what to do and what not to do. There’s a lot of value in that. These past years have paid for a lot of my education as a farmer. At times that was an expensive education.
What we lacked as a farm and what I failed to instill as the farm’s manager is a coherent plan and a unified vision. People can accomplish amazing things if they know what they’re working towards. If you don’t have a goal and a plan that makes sense then you’re just making busy work for yourself and the people working with you.
If you’re lucky that busy work can yield good results. That year we produced a lot of chicken, we harvested some amazing vegetables, and our pork was top-tier. We also accomplished a lot in terms of digging the farm out from the somewhat haggard state that it was in.
As is always the case, we made the best decisions we could with the information we had at the time. I’m able to look back now and see what we did and what results came of it and I’m allowed to be critical. Reflection helps me grow.
What I Should Have Done
Looking back now, what I should have done is invest my time in fully digging out the farm from its’ mess, developed a farm plan over the year while I learned more about the land, and concentrated solely on the operations that tied the three businesses together (farm, brewery, distillery).
The financial expectations placed on my shoulders were that the farm would grow and produce things that would make money and support itself, while cleaning up and growing the other areas of the farm that needed work. Ha, that’s no good man, that’s just no good. You’ll notice when the next blog comes out that it took me another year and a half to make that realization.
The takeaway here for you is similar to last week. You cannot take on too much at one time, otherwise you’ll drown. Most agricultural operations happen slowly not only because plants and animals need time to grow, but farmers need time to grow too.
My situation gave me a lot of experience in managing farm employees and large groups of volunteers. I’m going to do more posts about employees over the winter but I’m not really going to talk about anything specific in these blog posts right now.
I do not want to tie any stories about staffing, volunteers, woofers, etc… to a specific timeline because I don’t want anyone to think I am pointing a finger. Some of the people in my horror stories were products of the time and we have since gone on to stay friends and remain in touch.
So when we cover management in more detail I’m going to make up imaginary people based on real life experience. And boy do I have some good stories.
The further I get into this exercise of thinking back on previous years the more informed it is making my 2018 planning. If I could stress one thing for you on your farming journey is it this:
Take notes, take pictures, and for the love of all that is holy write down all the financial information you can.
You’ll want those notes, photos, and spreadsheets in the future when you’re wondering what the he** happened. Nothing is as eye-opening as reflection on contemporaneous documentation.