March Farm Finance Challenge Reports

gfp-ffc-nest

This month brings a combo post like you've never seen before. The Farm Finance Challenge and the Growing Farms Podcast have landed on the same day. In honor of such an event one of the participating farmers in the FFC is the interview on the podcast this week.

Some of the farmers in the FFC are farming full time, others are homesteading or farming part time. Dan Berube of Berube Farm came on the show today to talk about the balance he has struck between farming vegetables part time and continuing a career off-farm.

 


 In this farm podcast you will learn:

  • That life is about balance...
  • How to find a balance that includes agriculture
  • How I am planning Camps Road Farm's vegetable production
  • Tips for keeping your work-flow efficient
  • Notes on feedback

Items mentioned in this farm podcast:

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Spring has Sprung

Amanda McKelvey Hall - Rockin' H Farm's March Report

RockinHFarmAnconaDucks&Eggs

Everywhere poultry are laying more eggs, grass is starting to grow, buds are emerging on trees, and the season is warming up heading into the summer months. Q1, the first quarter of the year can be hard on some farms, especially in the NorthEast.

It is a tough time of year where farms don't produce much and therefore do not profit that much. You have to plan ahead with your finances to cover the lean months before nature provides the warm summer bounty. The beautiful thing is that summer always comes.

It is also not an ideal time to start publicly sharing your financials. There's not too much to be proud of income-wise when it comes to the past three months. Regardless, the farms involved in the FFC too a leap, accepted the challenge, and have been transparent about their finances hopefully to the benefit of the community as well as themselves.

It is great to see the farm coming alive again hearalding the promises of a wonderful year.

Share the Knowledge

Spencer Curry - Fresh Farm Aquaponics March Report

IMG_1497

Whether you are farming conventional, organic, or aquapoinc, we need more farmers. That's a fact. Some people are called to teach as well as grow. Spencer over at Fresh Farm Aquapoincs helps non-profits and other farmers set up their aquaponics systems through consulting and workshops.

It doesn't matter as much how you are farming, just that you are farming. The rest of the details and motivations will fall into place. WhatSpencer is doing is getting a new(er) was of producing food into schools and other institutions.

The Farm Finance Challenge seeks to educate as well. We are publicly working on making our farms better so that our mistakes are not repeated. With aphids destroying crops, egg sales tanking, and hard-drives crashing this has certainly been a month of mistakes. We're not perfect and that is important to note. The beautiful thing is neither are you.

Learn Your Land When Starting a Farm

Scott Stegerwald - Bird Creek Farms March Report

Scott brought up a great point about the Spring thaw on his land. Observation. When you are starting a farm it takes time and observation to learn the land.

  • What is the path of the sun?
  • What are the water cycles like?
  • What areas are full of life on your farm?
  • What areas seem like they will never dry out?
  • What areas seem like they never get rain?

All of these things are super important to running your farm, and they're questions a real estate agent will not be able to answer for you. It takes time to learn a piece of land. You will grow with that land the way your farm business will, and the way your crops will.

Links to Farm Reports:

Berube Farm

Berube Farm

  • Vegetables including squash, tomatoes, and beans
  • Gross Income: $1,295.00
  • Expenses: $1,439.20
  • March Report
Bird Creek Farms

Bird Creek Farms

  • Organic vegetables, 200 chickens, and alfalfa
  • Gross Income: $0
  • Expenses: $2,175.11
  • March Report
Camps Road Farm

Camps Road Farm

  • Hops, apples, pasture-raised poultry, and events
  • Gross Income:$1,931.00
  • Expenses: $7,103.00
  • March Report
fresh_farm_aquaponics

Fresh Farm Aquaponics

  • Aquaponics and consulting
  • Gross Income: $2,498.12
  • Expenses: $545.00
  • March Report
Little River Eco Farm

Little River Eco Farm

  • Grass-fed beef, fowl, and free-range eggs
  • Gross Income: $3,605.00
  • Expenses: $3,929.00
  • March Report
Rockin' H Farm

Rockin' H Farm

  • Vegetables, fruit, livestock, eggs, and honey
  • Gross Income: $1804.50
  • Expenses: $1601.75
  • March Report
Sandia Pastured Meats

Sandia Pastured Meats

  • Dairy, eggs, and livestock
  • Gross Income: $1,438.84
  • Expenses: $2,794.30
  • March Report
Squash Hollow Farm

Squash Hollow Farm

  • Pastured pork and chicken
  • Gross Income: $1,272.00
  • Expenses: $581.00
  • March Report
Sugarwood Acres

SugarWood Acres

  • Maple syrup, wood, and hay
  • Gross Income: $1,884.00
  • Expenses: $4,032.59
  • March Report

Take Aways:

As you can see, this was a tough month for everyone. Hopefully April will be a little nicer.

How will you prepare for the lean months?

What are some creative ways to extend your season?

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Thanks for taking the time to listen in, and let me know what you think. You can leave a comment below, send me an e-mail, reach me on Facebook , or leave a 5 star rating in iTunes if you liked the show.

Honest and Open Marketing

honest farm marketing sheep It just so happens that I really love the marketing and business side of farming. Well, I love the marketing side at least. Some of the business stuff I struggle with (here's looking at you small town zoning regulations). Whether it is social media, traditional printed materials, attending events, updating my website and keeping a blog, or just randomly walking around town kissing babies, I've tried it all.

Through all of it, and in conversation with at least dozens of farms all over the country, I have found one thing that is by far the most successful strategy. It also happens to work on every single marketing platform that you might want to choose.

 

Honest, Open, and Transparent Farm Marketing

https://youtu.be/mEB7WbTTlu4

At Camps Road Farm we are "customer certified". Being the only show in town for pastured poultry and being one of the bigger pastured egg producers in the area we get a fair amount of attention and loads of questions. When a customer comes up and starts talking chicken we are very open about all of our management practices, as well as everything else, and it is working.

Our doors are open to the public all the time (though now establishing some more official "open hours" just because people keep interrupting my dinner with Kate and Mabel). At any given time I will get someone new on farm and I take the time to give them a tour and explain how it all happens. If they like it they usually make a purchase, at least to try it. If they don't like my practices then we have a chance for conversation as to why they don't like it.

This sort of open door policy establishes a relationship of trust between you and the customer that has a lot of value to the both of you. For you it creates a relationship where that person will most likely become a repeat customer because what you are doing is (hopefully) the best option in town. For the customer, they know you're not a slimy used-car salesman trying to pull one over on them.

 

Know the Facts

It is your job as a producer to know all the facts about your industry. That's a big undertaking, but it's important to be good at what you do. You may have read someone on a blog somewhere saying this or that about how food is grown, or you found someone else's marketing language that you liked and might work for you, but take the time to ask why that person is making that claim, and if indeed that claim is substantiated. Remember that anyone can say anything on the internet, and it's not always true. (Did I just invalidate myself with that last sentence? I don't think so.)

This example focuses on chickens because I love chickens, but having the facts applies to any operation.

 

Hormones in Chicken

Here's my semi-scientific take on hormones in chickens. Please do your own research.

Growth hormones are a protein. Your digestive enzymes break down proteins in your gut, just they way they do for other livestock. If you put growth hormones in feed then the animal will just digest it and poop it out.

To be effective you have to inject the hormones into the blood stream. Plausible if you are running a dairy and you handle each individual cow on a regular basis. Hormones are injected under the skin and are gradually absorbed in the blood stream.

Now say you have chicken house with 40,000 chickens in it. Who do you think is going out with a little syringe and injecting 40,000 chickens with hormones every day? I'm pretty sure no one. Growth hormones don't work in industrial chicken farming.

So advertising a small chicken farm model that "has no hormones" is kind of schenanigans. So don't do it. Instead focus on what you are doing that is benefitting the health and welfare of your birds.

When asked if my birds are given any hormones I typically respond with, "No, and no chicken is. But let me tell you about their life on pasture..." If the customer digs deeper then we have more conversation.

This comparative conversation brings up another good point.

 

Focus on Yourself

I initially started this post because of a new chicken-based product I found on the internet that is complete and utter bullsh**. I'm not going to directly reference it or link to it as I am not in the business of throwing anyone else under the bus and it would be hypocritical of me based on what I'm about to say.

Yes, there are some deplorable things that come out of our food system. Honestly, we all see it, and we hear about it a lot. If a customer has found you at a farmers' market or is coming to your farm it stands to reason that they have heard about it all already. Why bring it up?

I do not believe in building a business based on the perceived negatives of someone else's practices. Yes that can be a reason to do what you do, to provide an alternative, but there's no need to highlight what you believe to be a bad way to raise an animal or vegetable. Guess what, that person believes what they are doing it right, and who are you to judge? There's probably stuff you're doing that is pure schenanigans too.

Instead of your marketing saying "Buy our stuff because that guy is gross", focus instead on "Buy our stuff because we are awesome, and here's why..."

Right now there is a place in the market for eveyone. Organic and conventional, large and small. Who am I to say that someone else should or should not be in business? The market will decide that. Instead of focusing on the negative, focus on the positive and let your customers decide whether they want to buy from you or not.

GFP070: Multiple Income Streams From One Product

It is not the small farm's place to count on the grain elevator to set the prices. It is our job to go out, market out products in new and creative ways, and hustle in a way that sees out small businesses succeed (hopefully). This is a topic that I've covered in previous podcasts but since I am currently and constantly refining it, I feel it needs revisiting. I also have a guest on the show who is diversifying her farm not only in production but in marketing as a way to deal with the swings in the market.

Weather, global economies, local economies, food trends, etc... can effect how your farm products are selling. If you put all your eggs in one basket you will be in big trouble if that basket falls. If you build variety in to how your business is supported the likelihood that you will be able to weather a storm increases.

Right click here to download the MP3

In this farm podcast you will learn:

  • Tips for what to look for when finding land
  • One way to design and layout a farm
  • How to bring educational value to your apprentices and why.
  • The benefits of small farm diversity

Interview with Emily of Anderson Acres Farm

emily anderson acres

Anderson Acres is located just around "the block" from me here in Kent, CT. Along with us they are participating in the CRAFT program that we have here in Western CT.

CRAFT stands for Collaborative Regional Alliane for Farmer Training

The goal of CRAFT is to promote:

  • Training of farm workers and apprentices in the craft of small scale agriculture and horticulture with emphasis on food production.
  • Exchange of ideas among farm people.
  • Community of farmers, farm workers, and others who are interested in local agriculture.

Over 2015 I will be interviewing different CRAFT farmers from my area to support the CRAFT program.

Items mentioned in this farm podcast include:

Take aways:

Are you covered if one of your sales channels runs dry?

What creative ways can you grow your business?

Farm quote of the episode:

"A friend is one who knows you and loves you just the same." - Elbert Hubbard

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Thanks for taking the time to listen in, and let me know what you think. You can leave a comment below, send me an e-mail, reach me on Facebook , or leave a 5 star rating in iTunes if you liked the show.

GFP069: Farm Education Programs, What You Need To Know

Information, like matter, cannot be created or destroyed, just changed. Even the most creative works are just the imaginative reworkings of some artists mind. All of our thoughts are distillations of our life experiences. Knowing that, how would you feel if you knew you had the chance to influence the thought patterns of others with your work in sustainable agriculture. I know how I'd feel, pretty darn cool!

Today's podcast guest is a farm educator who has accomplished some pretty amazing things in his area of the world. In this podcast episode he and I talk about motivations for beinging kids on farm, opening your farm up to the public, and weaving an educational element into farm life. Farm life in and of itself is an education. I know that I learn somethign new every day.  I am now excited that I can share those experiences with others.

Right click here to download the MP3

In this farm podcast you will learn:

  • How an educational background and a love of farming can bloom into a successful farm education program
  • How bringing kids back for repeat visits keeps them engaged
  • What the most popular activities are on farm for kids
  • How you can work with schools to bring farming to the kids

Interview with John Belber of Holly Hill Farm

john-belber-smaller

It was great talking to John for the interview. He has done some amazing things as part of the crew over at Holly Hill Farm.

Holly Hill Farm is an organic farm located 25 miles southeast of Boston in the beautiful coastal town of Cohasset MA and has been in the White family for 5 generations. The Farm consists of 140 acres of land which includes 10 acres of open fields of which 3 acres are growing fields, historic buildings, greenhouses and diversified natural areas for educational purposes. We grow organic vegetables, herbs and flowers that are sold at our Farm Stand, at the Cohasset Farmers Market, and to select restaurants. Seedlings are sold at our annual plant sales.

Friends of Holly Hill Farm, is a non-profit educational organization that uses the Farm as its outdoor classroom. Hands-on education programs for children and adults teach the importance of food grown organically – to us and to the environment. We also design curriculum, partner with area schools, and conduct programs for local community organizations.

Items mentioned in this farm podcast include:

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Take aways:

When you think to how your actions today are going to effect the future, are you inspired to start educating others?

In what way would you farm benefit from trying out some sort of educational programs?

Farm quote of the episode:

"An investment in knowledge pays the best interest." - Benjamin Franklin

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Thanks for taking the time to listen in, and let me know what you think. You can leave a comment below, send me an e-mail, reach me on Facebook , or leave a 5 star rating in iTunes if you liked the show.

February Reports for the Farm Finance Challenge

https://youtu.be/ZOlBSzqKFwA Welcome to the second Farm Finance Challenge post of the year! This is a monumental post because it is proof we're here to stay and we're dedicated. Henry Ford said, "You can't build a reputation on what you are going to do." I believe in that whole-heartedly. This post is testament to the motivation of the participating farms to make a difference in small scale agriculture.

After the 3rd and 4th post well, then it will just be habit, and we'll really start to see the change we are seeking by doing this. Response to the first post has been overwhelmingly positive and we want to thank you, our community, for following along and supporting our efforts here.

 

Keep the Conversation Going

We will continue to invite you to comment, ask questions, and leave feedback. Each farm post has a comments section at the bottom for you to share your thoughts. You can also reach out to any of the Farm Marketing Solutions Social Media Channels which are primarily Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Pinterest.

Don't just feedback, but feed-forward (did I just coin a phrase?). If you like what we are doing please shareit forward through your various networks. This project is rooted in a desire to help other farmers and to support the community. We are doing this to raise awareness that your farm is a business and should be treated as such. It is a mindset shift and that shift is only going to happen if it is on people's minds.

 

Highlights

Every month we'll select three farms to highlight. We'll try to provide equal exposure for all the participating farms. The complete list of the farms and their respective pages can be found by scrolling to the bottom of the post.

 

A Sinking Feeling In Your Gut

Colby Layton - Sandia Pastured Meats February Report

My last scheduled market day at Badseed Farmers Market.

It is that time of year where the winter stores are running low and Spring hasn't quite shown it's beautiful green face yet. Farmers everywhere are preparing for the season, purchasing livestock, seeds, feed, and making final repairs on equipment before the extended sprint that is the growing season. As you'll see from everyone's numbers there are quite a bit of purchases and not a lot of money coming in. "Seeing these costs together, causes a sinking feeling in my gut."

When you're farming with the seasons this is a thing that comes with the territory. This is the point when you have been dealt your cards, you're sending one or two back to the dealer, and you're getting ready to play your first hand of the season. It is risky and a little unnerving. At some point you are going to have to play that hand because Mother Nature is not going to wait for you.

You will rack your brain and torture yourself with questions like, "Is this the right amount of chickens?" and "How am I going to sell more CSA shares this year?" The good thing is that as you crawl into your head and obsess about what's to come, the sun comes out and  brings a warmth that you almost forgot since the end of last season. The bight rays of sunlight pull your out of your own head, remind you why you are doing this, and give you the confidence that Summer will be here and that you can do this.

 

Creatively Diversifying Your Farm Income

Austin Martin - Squash Hollow Farm February Report

Squash Hollow FarmMore and more small farms are surviving and thriving through a diversification of not only production methods, but marketing as well. Jean-Martin Fortier and Eliot Coleman are published authors, I have Farm Marketing Solutions and my chicken tractor book, and Jack Spirko and Austin have podcasts. There are  benefits to this other than just the monetary value of what we are providing. Let me explain.

In conversation with older and more experienced farmers I noticed a common thread of concern. That they would hand the reigns of farming over to the next generation and there would be knowledge lost in their passing of the torch. Their tips, tricks, and techniques would go unshared, undiscovered, to be lost and found again through trial and error. No one of the people above completely invented the techniques they use on their farms, they're just the first to write or talk about it. Their stories are the distillation of their life experiences of talking to those more experienced farmers.

We are living in a time where information is almost too easy to share. Within the mindless chatter that is most of the internet are these individuals who are taking their knowledge and experience and sharing it in a meaningful way with those who care to listen. Now something like Jean-Martin's book The Market Gardener can get exposure like never before. JM told me that he discovered that his mission in this life is to "grow more farmers".  He put that sentiment into his book and I heard it in his workshops at PV2.

That is also the heart of the Farm Finance Challenge, to grow farmers in a smart and effective way. If we all want to see positive change in the world we have to do it in a way that provides an alternative to the industrial food system while working around the red tape and loop holes within that system. Change will not come quickly but it is happening and the free sharing of information is what is going to get us there.

 

Record Keeping Will Make Pricing Easier

Jonathan Woodford - Sugarwood Acres February Report

sap bucketPricing your farm products is always a tricky process. It is a balancing act on what you think your market will pay, wanting to cover all your costs, and staying competitive with other farmers and the supermarket. Unless you have all the information that goes into those various elements it can be a guessing game with potentially bad results.

Doing market research to see what other farmers are charging as well as what the prices are at the local supermarket is a great way to give you a ball-park for what you should be charging for your farm products. When I was pricing chickens originally I went to every store in a radius that I thought my typical customer would travel to buy food. I took my notebook and wrote down every price for chicken that I could find, from conventional to organic. Those numbers combined with my Cost Of Goods Sold analysis gave me the price I thought would be appropriate for selling chickens.

When you are starting a farm that's about as good as it can get. Once you have started your farm however it is good record keeping that is going to win out. If you keep good records you will then have an exact number on what you spent on feed, labor, and other expendables that you need to produce that product.

Jonathan acknowledges that in the end of his post saying, "I believe this challenge and record keeping, will make pricing my hay and syrup much easier to figure out."

 

Links to farm reports:

Berube Farm

Berube Farm

  • Vegetables including squash, tomatoes, and beans
  • Gross Income: $630.00
  • Expenses: $627.98
  • February Report
Bird Creek Farms

Bird Creek Farms

  • Organic vegetables, 200 chickens, and alfalfa
  • Gross Income: $11,700.00
  • Expenses: $3,471.28
  • February Report

 

Camps Road Farm

Camps Road Farm

  • Hops, apples, pasture-raised poultry, and events
  • Gross Income:$1,986.00
  • Expenses: $1,646.00
  • February Report

 

  FFC | Fresh Farm Aquaponics

Fresh Farm Aquaponics

  • Aquaponics and consulting
  • Gross Income: $792.64
  • Expenses: $183.31
  • February Report

 

 FFC January | Humble Hill Farm

Humble Hill Farm

 

 Little River Eco Farm

Little River Eco Farm

  • Grass-fed beef, fowl, and free-range eggs
  • Gross Income: $2,152.00
  • Expenses: $3,889.00
  • February Report

 

 Naked Ginger Farms

Naked Ginger Farms

  • Vegetables, fruit trees, eggs, and livestock
  • Gross Income: $120.00
  • Expenses: $5,422.00
  • February Report

 

 Rockin' H Farm

Rockin' H Farm

  • Vegetables, fruit, livestock, eggs, and honey
  • Gross Income: $443.00
  • Expenses: $4,402.77
  • February Report

 

 Sandia Pastured Meats

Sandia Pastured Meats

  • Dairy, eggs, and livestock
  • Gross Income: $1,845.24
  • Expenses: $6,217.59
  • February Report

 

 Squash Hollow Farm

Squash Hollow Farm

  • Pastured pork and chicken
  • Gross Income: $556.00
  • Expenses: $961.00
  • February Report

 

 Sugarwood Acres

SugarWood Acres

  • Maple syrup, wood, and hay
  • Gross Income: $1,531.77
  • Expenses: $2,176.13
  • February Report

 

GFP068: Farm Planning and Execution

 “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” Isn’t that the truth? 2015 has gotten off to a rocky start but things are really starting to look up. Even with three feet of snow outside I can already see signs of Spring. Birds are starting to sing in the morning, maple sap is slowly slowly starting to run, and my order for baby chickens just went out. It has really been a weird past couple of months. Through a strange turn of events I ended up being the only one running the farm this year in a place that need more than one person to run it. It was a good (albeit stupid) exercise on how far I can push myself in the winter.

That is all about to change. I have adjusted my farm business plan to reflect the changing of the guard and we are moving forward in a more positive direction. We’re going to farm smarter instead of harder. This is a change that would have/should have come anyways, but the situation I was in expedited the process.

On farm this year we are not going to grow any of our operations bigger in terms of production numbers, instead we are going to concentrate on making what we already have more profitable. How are we going to do that? Record keeping and analytics!!! Super fun!!!

Alright, as excited as I am for the Farm Finance Challenge, the reason that it is called a challenge is because it is not coming easy. There are many details to iron out and new habits to form. That being said, it is already working to our benefit.

I’ve gotten to the point where at any given time I can go into QuickBooks and run a report on the financial health of the farm. I can be as vague or as detailed as possible, and man do hard numbers really point out your mistakes!

It is the kind of clarity that any small business needs. It shows you the real financial impact of your actions and allows you to make educated decisions going forward. Money is not why I am doing this, BUT it is the most important tool on my farm if I am to keep farming.

Right click here to download the MP3

In this farm podcast you will learn:

  • How money is a tool to help your farm move forward
  • What to look for when hiring staff
  • Not trying to do it all, but finding people with skills that complement your own
  • Outsourcing major projects in ways that benefit your farm and the people who are helping you out
  • How to get people on your farm when you’re located “off the beaten path”
  • How I plan what is going to happen on Camps Road Farm
  • What my office looks like
  • What a TLA is…

Items mentioned in this farm podcast include:

farm planning office-0615
farm planning office-0614
farm planning office-0617

Take aways:

How are you setting up your farm this year? Are you getting bigger? Are you getting smaller? How and why are you making that decision?

What would you do with detailed knowledge about how profitable your farm is?

Farm Quote:

“Failed plans should not be interpreted as a failed vision. Visions don’t change, they are only refined. Plans rarely stay the same, and are only scrapped or adjusted as needed. Be stubborn about the vision, but flexible with your plan.” - John C Maxwell 

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Thanks for taking the time to listen in, and let me know what you think. You can leave a comment below, send me an e-mail, reach me on Facebook , or leave a 5 star rating in iTunes if you liked the show.

May the Force Multiplier Be With You

http://youtu.be/y9PVPRBga6U

What This Post is All About

I would like to introduce my friend and now business partner at Farm Marketing Solutions, Scott Messina. While this post is meant to be all about Scott, I also wanted to share the whole story to highlight how important is has been for me to have another person to work with on my business.

That is the takeaway from all of this, the right business partner can do wonders for your company.

Entrepreneur “Superman Syndrome”

Farm Marketing Solutions was founded in 2012. Kate and I were just finishing up our bike ride across the United States and we were looking more seriously at starting our life in agriculture. We had just spent the year working on different organic farms and were looking to head from San Diego (where we ended) back to Connecticut to work as apprentices.

While on the road I noticed one general theme: small farms could use marketing and business help. So naturally, without having any kind of business degree or background, I started Farm Marketing Solutions.

Fast forward to 2015 and I have started and/or run three businesses: Farm Marketing Solutions, FoodCyclist Farm (my original farm), and now I manage Camps Road Farm. By diving in head first I have certainly learned a lot, which means I made a lot of mistakes.

One of the biggest mistakes I made was trying to do all of this myself. I fell into the entrepreneurial trap of “I’m superman, I can do it all myself.” That’s wrong. So wrong. I came close to completely burning out many times in the last few years. I needed help.

scott messina

Balancing My Farm While Growing My Internet Business

My first love is my family. As long as Kate and Mabel are happy I will keep moving forward. My next love is my farm. Camps Road Farm is an amazing opportunity to live the life I’m passionate about, while giving me the platform to share that life with others in many different ways.

Two things are clear after spending a few years as a full-time farmer:

  1. It takes an immense amount of knowledge and skill to pull this off. That knowledge can be hard to come by even if you are looking in the right places.
  2. That demographic of farmers 55 years old+ is worried about their lifes’ work being lost and the knowledge they have retiring with them.

I was learning, usually the hard way, how to be a good farmer. Given my outspoken nature and “nothing to lose” attitude I have had countless conversations with other farmers who have shared their experiences with me. I was getting so much input that I even started a podcast to capture and share those conversations.

After three years of wanting to help other farmers with their marketing and business strategies I was “quickly” growing a community who wanted more. The only problem was that I am one person and I am dedicated to my farm. How do I effectively share more information with other farmers and not detract from Camps Road Farm? Enter my force multiplier!

A Partner with a Complementary Skill-set

In my experience, trying to do everything for your business is just pure shenanigans. With all the skills required to run any business it is good to have another person to share the workload who brings in a complementary skill-set in support of yours.

That and let me tell you, it’s great to have another person to bounce ideas off of. There exists a thing called “decision fatigue” where you have to make so many decisions that you end up just blanking after a while because you’re tired of calling all the shots. Having someone else to help make decisions, to be a gauge for how good your ideas area, and to help you keep focused on your strategy is so beneficial. I cannot recommend it enough.

Result: Growth, Prosperity, Organization, Better Sleep

If the right person joins your company it can work wonders. Scott came on just as the Farm Finance Challenge launched, and there couldn’t have been a better time. The FFC has been a decent amount of extra work on top of what I normally do on Farm Marketing Solutions and I have only been able to pull it off with Scott’s help.

Since the start of 2015 our website traffic numbers have increased by a power of 5, our social media engagement is through the roof, and most importantly we’re helping more people.

I now have someone to help me with the monotonous tasks, someone to help with overall strategy to know if we’re headed in the right direction, and to be another creative mind in the whole “internet business” world.

Scott’s Story

In addition to learning that I need another person to run my business, I have also learned that I shouldn’t try and speak for anyone else. Letting Scott speak in Scott’s words I would like to share a link to an article he wrote on what motivated him to come on as a partner in Farm Marketing Solutions.

Farming is Tough - An introduction to Scott Messina

scott messina

What the Future Holds

Right now we are working on making the Farm Finance Challenge to best that it can be. It’s a big project and we’re both doing this as our second job. Once we’ve worked out the kinks we will get into producing and organizing more content.

Expect to see Scott on some of my videos, posting business information on the blog, and even making appearances on the podcast. Whether he is actually in the content or not, he is taking a more active hand in organizing, creating, and distributing the information that we are sharing on FMS.

Also, Scott now runs our Twitter account. Pop on over to Twitter.com/marketingfarms and say hello!

I am happy/excited/relieved/inspired to have another person to work with. I have been quietly looking for someone for about a year and it is great to find the right fit.

If you don’t mind, please take a second and write a quick note in the comments section below to welcome Scott to the community.

Cheers!

What Sesame Street Taught Me About Farming

farm baby As quasi-hippy parents raising our daughter Mabel, Kate and I don't allow much TV in the house. Coming from a television production background myself, I don't think all TV is bad, just a lot of it. If we're going to let Mae watch TV it is going to be one of two shows, Sesame Street and Dinosaur Train.

I happen to love watching both of those shows now. Is it sad that Mabel will lose interest and I'll still be sitting there watching? I say no, haha. Having now watched my fair share of Sesame Street I have come to appreciate the knowledge that they share through the use of puppets. It's cute, it's colorful, and it often carries a great message.

The Right Words at the Right Time

The right advice at the right moment in your life can make all the difference. Sometimes when you need something the most it presents itself in a way you never imagined.

It has been a tough winter on the farm. Pipes bursting, 110 year record low temperatures, trained farm staff quitting, financial pressure and stress, and your typical Seasonal Affective Disorder. It can all lead to a pretty depressing state of mind. I'll be talking about it in the next farm podcast as well as touching on it in the next Farm Finance Challenge report.

I would say 6 our of every 7 days I have had to convince myself to not give it all up and leave. I have to remember that Spring will come, new staff will help relieve the pressure on me, and that I have a wonderful support system on farm. Even with all of that perspective some days all you want to do is throw your hands in the air, yell F*** IT, and get in the car and start driving in the opposite direction.

Enter Sesame Street

http://youtu.be/pWp6kkz-pnQ

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That Bruno Mars, what a guy!!! Mabel loves this song. She will run into my office when I'm working on something and pull on my desk chair saying "music... music..." Though coming from her 1-1/2 year old mouth it sounds like "mew-mick...mew-mick...".

Farming is tough. There's no way around it. But as the quote that I gave on the last podcast episode says, "A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person. You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well.” – Jeff Bezos

It is my passion and my job to make my farm work. Farming is my hard thing to do well. It is going to take time, it is going to take patience, and it going to take getting through the tough times and focusing instead on all the good that this life as to bring. After all, I am who I am.

--

http://youtu.be/cyVzjoj96vs

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What I am is a farmer, through and through.

I farm for my family, I farm for my community, and I farm for myself. It is important to always take stock of why you are doing something and to not lose that. No matter what your profession there will be challenges and you will want to quit at times. I may be one of the very few that is willing to openly talk about it though. I hope that my openness and candidness (is that a word? has to be a word) helps you in your journey and lends some perspective.

Farming is not all sunshine and roses. You'll deal with financial stress, death, disease, grumpy customers, the forces of nature, and so much more. At times it will feel like the world is out to get you. But it's not, tomorrow will come, and you will do what you have to do bring balance back into your life.

Take a lesson from Bruno and Will. You are who your are and DON'T GIVE UP!!!

Cheers!

GFP067: Farm Location and Branding Make All The Difference

Farm marketing is really funny in that is can be very easy, or it can take a significant amount of effort. Today's podcast showcases a good example of both. My guests today Patti & Rick from Breakwind Farm are a good example of choosing the right farm location as well as some really successful branding centered around humor. Camps Road Farm, my farm, is a good example of poor farm location and I'll be honest, some boring branding.

Good/Bad Farm Location

When you're starting your farm and you're looking for land, an important thing to consider is how many cars pass by that spot in a given day. If it is in your farm plan to have any people acutally come to your farm then natural road traffic or "good road frontage" is pretty critical to getting started. If all you have to do is make your farm look inviting and put up a farm sign with what you're offering you're in good shape.

When you're writing your farm business plan and figuring out how you are going to market your farm products, run some experiments. If you have the time and ability, set up some lawn chairs with a friend on the road in front of your farm and invest a day at different times of the year to count how many cars go by. I'm not kidding. I have been facing my own perceived reality vs. the actual numbers and sometimes it can shock you.

Once you have a number of cars at different some of the year you can calculate, "well, if 500 cars passed by, and I can get 10% of them to stop and spend $20 on average, then I can potentially gross $1000 on a Saturday (or whatever it is)." This can help you get an idea of how much to grow before you make the investment in the seeds and end up with a kitchen full of rotten tomatoes if you over produced.

That's just an idea, I literally just made that up as I'm writing this. Did I do that for my farm? No, because there's virtually no cars that drive by my farm. I've kept an eye on the road throughout the whole year, it never gets busy. Let's get into my situation.

If you live in a backwoods section of town like I do, getting people to actually come to your farm is a whole different story. It is nearly impossible for me to get people to come to the farm on a regular basis. Even though I don't feel the drive is that bad, it is just too far for some. What do I do about that? Enter my unfair advantage(s).

I have been doing a lot to encourage some more people coming to the farm. I've registered the farm location on Google Maps, I've hosted events here, I encourage sales here in the winter when farmers' markets are slow, and I am constantlyinviting people up to "see the chickens". In other words marketing marketing marketing.

I also have an on-farm brewery. We're not currently zoned for brewery tours and tastings, so there's only minor benefit of people randomly stopping in to try and snoop around (yes that happens, we lock our doors at night now). If there comes a day when the brewery is open to tours and tastings then the farm should see some increase of traffic as people are drawn to the brewery. I am working on my farm store and signage to best be able to cross-market to any increase of traffic that may come to the farm as a result of my marketing and the draw of the brewery.

What do do if you don't have a brewery starting on your farm? Events and more complete offerings. I am hosting several events and workshops this year as taking more volunteer groups and doing more farm tours. If I give people a specific reason to get to the farm besides just coming to pick up a dozen eggs then my hope is that they'll have a good time, realize the drive isn't as bad as they thought, and then they'll keep coming back. What I mean by "more complete offerings" is having more for sale than just eggs when they cometo farm. Even if I just grow enough vegetables (or whatever) to supply my farm store, having a more complete offering where people can come and get meat, eggs, veggies, and honey, then they have more of a reason to amke the trip. A "one stop shop" if you will.

Although Rick & Patti are known for their home-made baked beans, they have other seasonal products built into their farm to keep people coming back and spending time on their farm. They offer seasonal Christmas tress, pumpkins, mums, seed starting kits, hanging plants, and even gifts/activities for kids. They talk about all of that in the podcast episode.

It is in my farm plan, and I am starting it this year, to grow and offer more variety on farm. Not only do I want to feed my family with the variety of food I'll grow, but I want to be able to provide a more complete diet for the customers who make the effort to come to the farm. Will this all work? We'll find out in time. You can bet I'll be talking about it here.

Funny/Bland Branding

I mean come on, Breakwind Farm, how can you not at least give a little chuckle when you hear that? Rick & Patti have built a fair amount of humor and satire into their farms' branding. That humor has made them approachable, has made them a magnet for media, and has allowed them to sell baked beans with the name FARTOOTEMPTING. What do you get from the first four letters of that?

They are similar to Lucie of Locally Laid Egg Company. "Local chicks are better" and "Get locally laid" I mean, come on now. Their branding is good enough that they're in Minnesota and I've heard of them over here in Connecticut.

Now Camps Road Farm is not bad branding, just a little bland branding. I didn't choose it, and nothing against the guys who did, but it is a bit more work to get people to give a crap about Camps Road Farm. Camps Road Farm is located on Camps Rd. which is half a mile from the more locally famous Camps Flat Rd. I cannot tell you how many times I've had the conversation of, "no no, not Camps Flat Rd., Camps Rd. If you keep going on Camps Flat you'll reach Sawyer Hill and that leads to Camps Rd. a little further East."

Am I saying that I would prefer a funny name? Honestly no, Camps Road Farm (CRF) works really well for our goals, and a brand can be what you make of it. While we're not going to get the buzz of a name that has to do with farts or sex, we'll instead earn our reputation from what we produce and the stories we tell. It takes longer and is more work, but fits well with our holistic goals.

What's the take-away from all this? Pick a brand that you like and fits your personailty and the personality of your farm. A brand is only as good as the people behind it.

Right click here to download the MP3

In this farm podcast you will learn:

  • finding an idea and running with it
  • accepting a challenge
  • the role location and branding play in your farm business
  • how to get people on your farm and keep them coming back
  • the role humor can have with your farm business (hopefully a big role)

Interview with Rick & Patti of Breakwind Farm

Breakwind Farm is family run business. They started selling fresh vegetables, herbs, seasonal flowers and baskets, pumpkins and wreaths at a stand outside their house in 2009 and more recently at the Contoocook Farmers Market. They have enjoyed welcoming their new and returning customers each year. They concocted the idea of Breakwind Farm's four varieties of FARTOOTEMPTING Baked Beans in the spring of 2011 and started selling them at the Farmers Market where they quickly became a hit.

It wasn't long before their beans were being requested at local fairs, festivals and other venues. They added FARTOOTEMPTING Breakwind Bean t-shirts to their product line by the end of the summer and they too have become a hit. They have four mouth-watering flavors of baked beans, each offering a unique taste, all guaranteed vegan, gluten free, dairy free, and delicious!

Items mentioned in this farm podcast include:

Permaculture Voices Conference in San Diego March 4th - 8th

PV2 isn’t just another permaculture convergence that focuses on hyper-local DIY skill building and resiliency; we instead decided to look bigger.

We are blending the practical techniques and tactics found in workshops with the entrepreneurial spirit and opportunity of a business conference.

We have brought together a diverse group of creative and innovative doers in a variety of fields looking to share experiences, knowledge, connect, and create in ways that increase passion, purpose and profit. These doers come from a variety of fields both within and outside of permaculture. Each field has its own needs and yields. It is this edge that creates the opportunity for things to happen, and it is this opportunity that offers value to the attendees – how can you fill needs and utilize yields to create more value in your life.

Farm Finance Challenge

Click here for the HUB with all the farms

For the first posting we had some farms that chose to publish late due to whatever reason. Farm life, sick kids, etc... Nothing wrong with that. As we move forward we are all trying to publish as a group on the 15th of every month. So the middle of every month going forward we will have our reports up and to you guys so that we can all grow as a farming community.

Fresh Farm Aquaponics

  • Aquaponics and Consulting
  • Gross Income: $2210.31
  • Expenses: $262.27
  • January Report

Humble Hill Farm

  • Vegetables and Fruit
  • Gross Income: $1043.00
  • Expenses: $6365.23
  • January Report

Take aways:

Are you maximizing the potential of the traffic you get on your farm? Are you giving them a reason to come back?

What message are you sending with your brand?

Farm Quote of the Episode

"A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person. You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well." - Jeff Bezos

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Thanks for taking the time to listen in, and let me know what you think. You can leave a comment below, send me an e-mail, reach me on Facebook , or leave a 5 star rating in iTunes if you liked the show.

January Reports for the Farm Finance Challenge

http://youtu.be/UhpgBGMGh5E This is the first ever public Farm Finance Challenge report! We are breaking ground on a whole new level of transparency and we hope that it is as exciting for you as it is for us!

You may remember from our post yesterday that there are over a dozen farms involved in this Challenge. Each one of us comes to the table with different stories, diferent scales, and different ways to do things. However we are united under one ideal, to solve the problem of financial sustainability in small scale agriculture.

Each month we will be publishing our records on the Farm Marketing Solutions blog to collaborate on finding answers to the hard to ask questions like, "Can we make it? Can my farm succeed?" While this Challenge highlights a bakers' dozen of farms the over-arching principal stretches to small farms everywhere.

Give Us Feedback

We invite you to comment on the reports published. Find your favorite farms and follow them. Keep the conversation going and give us feedback. Farming is a struggle and we are going to make it work only by working together. We only ask that you keep it nice. If you post anything mean or inappropriate about the participating farms we will remove the comment and ban you from the website. This is not a critique on different farming practices but rather a place to go for mutual respect and support.

Highlights

Every month we will pull a few highlights from the various posts by farmers. We'll start the post with those highlights and then give you a chance to click on whatever farm you wish from there.

 

January Farming in New England

What January farming in New England looks like.

Dan Berube - Berube Farm's January Report

"For a New England vegetable farm, January is really a prep month. Berube Farm sells from July-October, and we don’t have any greenhouse space so as far as farming goes, we’re shut down. January is when I get organized, so that’s when things get busy outside, I have plans to refer back to. So for January I decided how many CSA customers I’ll be able to take for 2015, and put shares on sale to my returning customers. In February I’ll open sales up to new customers."

Dan doesa great job at sharing what he is doing on farm in the Winter. The FFC will create a cash flow statement throughout the year. Ifyou are beginning a farm it's good to really know that winter gets pretty thin as far as finances and work. There seems to be plenty to do with looking at seed catalogs, updating your record keeping systems for the year, creating budgets, editing your farm website, etc... But in most cases the income is just not there.

 

Record Keeping Is Easier Than We Thought

Amanda McKelvey Hall - Rockin' H Farm's January Report

Rockin' H Farm

Every month all the participants are sharing some thoughts on the month and maybe a hard lesson learned or two. This month Rockin' H Farm brought up a really good point. Early in their post when they thought to compare January's numbers to December's numbers they did not put anything down because "We did not keep a good record last year so we do not have this data for December."

Then at the end of their January report they comment on their recordkeeping and how it has changed,"Tracking all of our finances is a lot easier than we thought it would be when you set up a system and commit to updating daily or at least every-other day."

I have very much found the same thing. The real trick to this whole thing is discipline. No matter if you are doing it on a notebook, in Quickbooks, or on an excel spreadsheet, as long as you are actually taking the time to write things down you will have the information. If you cannot seem to put the time aside then you will be left in the dark.

The Farm Finance Challenge exists to encourage maintaining that discipline. The participating farmers are already feeling the positive effects of accountability and it shows in the fact that we have numbers to share.

 

Building Farm Infrastructure On The Cheap

John Suscovich - Camps Road Farm's January Report

messy farm storeHere on Camps Road Farm we have been doing a fair amount of "setting up for the year" like Dan Berube mentions up above. Reworking the business plan, upgrading things on the farm, and preparing for the year.

One of the projects we have in the works is setting up a farm store on the property. We have an old milking room as part of an old milking barn. It was full of ...stuff and was an absolute mess. However, it is structurally sound, really only needs a good cleaning and a coat of paint, and is in a great location on the farm.

We saw a need on farm to have a dedicated retail space, we took stock of what our assets and infrastructure were, even if they were looking pretty ugly, and we are taking action to ustilize our existing building to solve the problem of no on-farm retail space. In the end it will only cost some labor and some paint but will result in a cute little marketing avenuefor our farm products.

In addition to clearing it out we checking with the town zoning about putting it in and attracting customers. There is a permit process, public hearings, and a $210 fee just to just to use a room that already existed on our private property. Isn't that nice? When dealing with small town politics I find it's best to just jump through the hoops and get the job done. It may seem unfair to pay $210 for something that you already have considering the tight margins of a farm, but whatever. Grin and bear it and make the best effort to make your new farm store a success.

 

Links to farm reports:

Berube Farm

Berube Farm

  • Vegetables including squash, tomatoes, and beans
  • Gross Income: $730.00
  • Expenses: $1,909.60
  • January Report
Bird Creek Farms

Bird Creek Farms

  • Organic vegetables, 200 chickens, and alfalfa
  • Gross Income: $0.00
  • Expenses: $1,807.48
  • January Report

 

Camps Road Farm

Camps Road Farm

  • Hops, apples, pasture-raised poultry, and events
  • Gross Income:$2,528.00
  • Expenses: $1,501
  • January Report

 

  FFC | Fresh Farm Aquaponics

Fresh Farm Aquaponics

  • Aquaponics and Consulting
  • Gross Income: $2210.31
  • Expenses: $262.27
  • January Report

 

 FFC January | Humble Hill Farm

Humble Hill Farm

  • Vegetables and Fruit
  • Gross Income: $1043.00
  • Expenses: $6365.23
  • January Report

 

 Loony Acres

Loony Acres

  • Eggs, vegetables, and mixed livestock
  • Gross Income: $400.00
  • Expenses: $92.00
  • January Report

 

 Naked Ginger Farms

Naked Ginger Farms

  • Vegetables, fruit trees, eggs, and livestock
  • Gross Income: $0.00
  • Expenses: $278.74
  • January Report

 

 Rockin' H Farm

Rockin' H Farm

  • Vegetables, fruit, livestock, eggs, and honey
  • Gross Income: $1,404.00
  • Expenses: $1714.93
  • January Report

 

 Sandia Pastured Meats

Sandia Pastured Meats

  • Dairy, eggs, and livestock
  • Gross Income: $2,469.50
  • Expenses: $1,810.60
  • January Report

 

 Squash Hollow Farm

Squash Hollow Farm

  • Pastured pork and chicken
  • Gross Income: $231.99
  • Expenses: $540.00
  • January Report

 

 Sugarwood Acres

Sugarwood Acres

  • Maple syrup, wood, and hay
  • Gross Income: $114.00
  • Expenses: $3520.87
  • January Report

 

An Introduction to the Farm Finance Challenge

So what exactly is the Farm Finance Challenge? The FFC is a group of farms aiming to solve the problem of financial sustainability in small scale agriculture. While all the farms involved come from different backgrounds and have different business models, we found really quickly that we all aligned on a small set of very specific goals.

ffc starts tomorrow

Record Keeping

Record keeping can be dull, tedius, and at times just completely forgotten. This is a problem that spans most small businesses. Without accurate record keeping you do not know how to set prices, determine the viability of what you are doing, and can put you out of business without you having a clear idea of how you got there.

There are a lot of "solutions" out there that are both digital and analog. There are smartphone apps, software solutions, and businesses built on organizing your information. There is also the other end of the spectrum with notebooks, envelopes, and folders. The problem is that no one has really "nailed it" yet, or if they have they're not sharing their secrets.

The FFC aims to test these solutions and share what we find effective and ineffective so that we can provide the tools farmers need to succeed financially.

 

Acountability

The hardest part about record keeping is discipline. No matter how you do it, if you don't actually do it, then what good is it doing? None.

Think back to when you were in school, when you had a test coming up you crammed and studied and organized all your thoughts and information. Having a monthly deadline forces us to maintain the discipline of proper record keeping and keeps us accountable to our peers.

This has already proven effective as we move into the first post.

 

Case Study

With the growth in the small scale AG area of the world there is a lot of "this is how you farm"and "you should farm, it's great" information going around but no clear view of just how much money does a farm make. We will be building a case-study for young and beginning farmers to use to help support and grow the sustainable AG movement.

I know it would have changed my life to have clear numbers on the actual profitability of different farms when I was starting out. We are a community unlike any other with lofty goals of saving the planet. By letting budding agriculturalists peak under the hood we are providing the necessary tools of information to make educated decisions.

Remeber, G.I. Joe said, "Knowing is half the battle."

 

This is about US and YOU

While the FFC will highlight only a tiny percetage of farms in America the potential reach is global. This is about all of you as much as it is about the dozen or so of us.

I encourage you to follow and support your favorite farms in the challenge. Leave comments on their pages to give them advice, feedback, and positive reinforcement.

Use the FFC to your own benefit by learning from our numbers and our hard lessons learned. Follow along and use the accountability deadlines to keep your own farm on track.

 

Participating Farms

 

Berube Farm

Berube Farm

  • Dracut, MA
  • Vegetables including squash, tomatoes, and beans
  • 1/2 acre
  • Farm Finance hub
Bird Creek Farms

Bird Creek Farms

  • Port Austin, MI
  • Organic vegetables, 200 chickens, and alfalfa
  • 2 acres
  • Farm Finance hub

 

Camps Road Farm

Camps Road Farm

  • Kent, CT
  • Hops, apples, pasture-raised poultry, and events
  • 52 acres
  • Farm Finance hub

 

 Candy Girl Chicks

Candy Girl Chicks

 

 Fresh Farm Aquaponics

Fresh Farm Aquaponics

  • Glastonbury, CT
  • Greens, herbs, fish, and events
  • 1,000 square ft.
  • Farm Finance hub

 

 Humble Hill Farm

Humble Hill Farm

  • Spencer, NY
  • Mostly vegetables, some fruit
  • 170 acres, 4 tillable
  • Farm Finance hub

 

Little River Eco Farm

Little River Eco Farm

 

 Loony Acres

Loony Acres

 

Morganic Farm

Morganic Farm

  • Fife Lake, MI
  • Eggs, pastured pork, and English Shepherd puppies
  • 30 acres
  • Farm Finance hub

 

 Naked Ginger Farms

Naked Ginger Farms

  • Glen St Mary, FL
  • Vegetables, fruit trees, eggs, and livestock
  • 10 acres
  • Farm Finance hub

 

 Rockin' H Farm

Rockin' H Farm

  • Statham, GA
  • Vegetables, fruit, livestock, eggs, and honey
  • 20 acres
  • Farm Finance hub

 

 Sandia Pastured Meats

Sandia Pastured Meats

 

 Squash Hollow Farm

Squash Hollow Farm

 

 Sugarwood Acres

Sugarwood Acres

 

GFP066: Stockpile Grazing, Saving Money on Farm, and Sharing Information

What if you could save more money every year just by managing your farm a little better and taking care of your land? What if the strategy that made the most ecological sense made the most financial sense as well? Well, turns out people have been doing it for years! We're talking stockpile grazing. Where basically instead of cutting hay you are leaving the grass on pasture and letting the cows graze longer. Seems simple right? Well yes, the concept is simple, but the actual execution is a little tougher, that's maybe why not so many people do it. Also, there's a bottle neck of information into a few books and not a lot of up to date real time information.

Enter The Grass Whisperer.

Troy Bishopp "The Grass Whisperer" is an experienced farmer and great writer that is taking his skills and filling in that information gap. On today's podcast he talks about saving a whole bunch of money by keeping your cows on grass longer, he drops some words of wisdom about how to learn on farm, and the rest of the interview is jam-packed with helpful tidbits whether you raise animals on pasture or not.

Right click here to download the MP3

In this farm podcast you will learn:

  • What is stockpile grazing?
    • How do you do it?
    • How do you plan?
    • What effects does it have on your land?
    • Will is save you money?
    • How Troy grazed his cattle on pasture until January!
    • How being flexible will keep you sane
    • The benefits of letting your grass rest
    • What it means to keep your microbes well-fed

Interview with The Grass Whisperer

the grass whisperer-7746

Troy Bishopp, aka “The Grass Whisperer” is an accomplished professional grazier of 27 years, a grasslands advocate, and a voice for grassfed livestock producers to the media, restaurateurs and legislators.  In addition to working with the Madison County Soil and Water Conservation District and the Upper Susquehanna Coalition as their regional grazing specialist, Troy is a free-lance writer for a variety of publications, and a popular presenter for workshops and conferences.

Troy is a life-long learner, taking advantage of new knowledge and past experience to bring a holistic approach to grazing planning.  Instead of thinking in terms of grazing 8 inches down to 2 inch residuals, he helps farmers chart a course that pays attention to their personal goals as well as their profits.  Visit his Grazing Help and Speaking & Workshops pages to find out more about what Troy brings to the table (or the pasture).

Items mentioned in this farm podcast include:

Click the image to go to Troy's website.

Farm quote of the episode:

"I've often been asked what drives me, particularly through the last 50 years of abuse, and ridicule. What has kept me going is one word - care. I care enough about the land, the wildlife, people, the future of humanity. If you care enough, you will do whatever you have to do, no matter what the opposition." - Allan Savory

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Thanks for taking the time to listen in, and let me know what you think. You can leave a comment below, send me an e-mail, reach me on Facebook , or leave a 5 star rating in iTunes if you liked the show.

2015 Pasture Raised Pigs Budget

http://youtu.be/ftn4VSjF8sk Raising pigs on pasture is something that I am very excited about adding into the farm this year. I already have my 12 pigs reserved for the spring. I intend to raise feeder pigs rotating on pasture throughout the summer and sell them by the whole and half in the fall. The breed that I am getting are Yorkshire Landrace Crosses. I am definitely not the only one excited about bringing pigs on farm. I already have people reserving them and it looks to be a fairly successful addition.

To download this excel file:

Farm Marketing Solutions is founding on the idea of mutual support and transparency. If you would like to download the excel file that I am using in the video you can scroll to the bottom of the post and enteryour name and email address to subscribe to our email newsletter. The first email from us that you will receive will be a link to download the excel file as well as all the previous excel files from the other areas of the budget.

Once subscribed I will send you (kind of) weekly emails with the new areas of the budget as well as updates on what content I've posted on various places on the internet. I promise to keep it simple, useful, and to the point.

how to raise pigs

That's Kate bonding with some piglets that we met a few years back.

Adding a new operation to your farm:

One of the best pieces of advice I can give is to start slow when adding something on to your farm. Start with just a few (of whatever) and grow it as you feel comfortable. You will make a 1000 mistakes, there will be a steep learning curve, and you will appreciate not being overwhelmed by a large volume of product if the market doesn't respond the way you expect.

Now, I think I will have a great market for the pork. There are people already reserving pigs which is incredible. My hang up is that I have not raised pigs on pasture before and I have not raised them in this area where I'm not entirely sure where I'm going to take them when it's time for processing. So many things to figure out.

I am starting small for my scale at 12 pigs because that's where I feel comfortable but it's still a better scale for me than raising 3 pigs. I've done this with other areas of the farm in the past and it's how I started in with chickens a couple of years ago. Enough to make some money while not crushing myself.

Steps to adding a new operation on to your farm:

  1. Start slow at a small scale
  2. Figure out all the details (feed, processing, growing techniques, etc...)
  3. Keep diligent records
  4. Develop your market
  5. Keep diligent records
  6. Scaleup next year if you feel comfortable

You'll note what's in there twice. Keeping diligent records. This is a mistake I have made in the past and one that I hope to rectify with the Farm Finance Challenge. Diligent record keeping is something every business should have to assess profitability and over-all financial health of the business. Even if you are doing it on a homestead scale. A business is a business and bills have to paid.

You can bet that this year with a new operation I will be writing down everything so that when it comes time to budgeting next year I have accurate numbers to make an educated prediction of my year.

Numbers change:

Already since the publication of my video I have 9 comments about how other peoples' numbers are different than mine. Especially on processing. I have budgeted about $400 per pig for processing and there are other people who are paying $133 per pig. That's a $267 difference! Multiply that by 12 pigs and that's $3204. I mean, that's crazy! We'll see what happens with me this year.

I also already have a change to my own budget. I budgeted $150 per piglet and was even expecting to pay a little more. When I confirmed my pigs this winter I also confirmed the price. I'm paying $95 per pig and not the $150 that I thought. So I'm already doing better than I thought.

The lesson learned here is that a number is just a number until it's changed. You can make your budget look like whatever you want. I made mine pessamistic because I wanted to be prepared for the worst case scenario. If I wasn't able to handle the worst than I had no buffer and that's a stressful place to be for me.

As the budget sits right now I'm at a predicted loss for the whole year.  And that's fine. It is now my goal to change my plan around, adjust my growing techniques, and find where the holes in the boat are so that I end the year closer to break even. Remember, I'm in a brand new business and for all intents and purposes this is year two. Hard to be overly profitable on a farm in year two, but I'm working as hard as I can at it.

Raising pigs on pasture:

pastured pigs-0768

A slightly younger, much less stressed version of me gives a pig a belly-rub out on Tara Firma Farm in California.

Like I said in the beginning of the post I have never raised pigson my farm before. I have some experience but there will be a lot of learning going on. I am adding them in because they attract people, we're know for being a protein farm and this is a welcome addition to our products, we have good land for pigs, and they are good at processing brewers' grain (and we have an on farm brewery).

Because I'm learning I will be relying on the places I know where I can get some good information on pig raising.

  • Forrest Pritchard has a great article on raising pigs on pasture and the lessons he has learned. That puts be a couple years ahead of my initial mistakes already.
  • My friend Ethan Book over at The Beginning Farmer raises a lot of pigs on pasture and I have his phone number on speed dial.
  • I am part of an amazing Facebook group about pastured pigs.
  • My friend Austin at This is Homesteady raises pigs locally near me (I know, I have some in my freezer)
  • All that, and I'm not afraid to ask questions of anyone I think might have some pig experience.

Thanks for taking the time to read this far. As farmers we are a community and as a community we need to support each other. Publishing my content is my chance to give back and to ask for support. I get all sorts of comments on my content and they are all appreciated. If I am ever slow to get back to you it is not because I'm not thinking about you or because I'm too lazy, haha. It is often the opposite. Even though I love having running Farm Marketing Solutions, my farm always comes first. And you know that running a farm takes a lot of work. Thank you for your patience, understanding at my typos, and your support with what I am trying to do.

Cheers!

 

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Are online farmers markets the wave of the future?

As a farmer I am always looking for new ways to market my products. Getting farm products in the hands of willing and eager customers can present some serious challenges. For instance, right now my chickens are doing amazing and producing a lot of eggs considering it is the end of January. My problem is that local farmers' markets are scarce this time of year, I pretty much lose money wholesaling eggs, and it's currently nearly impossible to get people on farm. Actually, as I write this we're in the middle of a snow storm, no one is going anywhere. We are producing enough food to "feed the world" (I f***ing hate that phrase) but the problem is distribution. How do we get the food to the people now need/want it?

My farm is also at the disadvantage of being kind of remote. It can be tough to get my relatives to drive out here let alone someone who just wants a dozen eggs. So if I cannot get people to come to the farm how then am I going to move my products?

That is an answer tech moguls are trying to answer. But are the answers that they are coming up with the right ones?

tech-crunch-online-farmers-market

 

A friend of mine sent me this article from Tech Crunch about a new online farmers' market that connects willing customers with farmers in need of a new marketplace. Sounds great right? My opinion as a farmer is both yes and no.

Are online farmers' markets a good idea?

Yes:

I love that people besides farmers are concerned with helping farmers sell and distribute their products. The truth is we do need help with marketing and distribution. I know I do at least, and I'm the guy who started Farm Marketing Solutions. I'm looking for and experimenting with solutions to these problems every day.

As my/our customer base gets more and more online at home and on their phones, having a marketplace that connects with them where and when they want to buy is a beautiful thing. But let's get into some of the disadvantages.

No:

The hard truth about life is that no matter what you do, if you expect to pay your bills then something that you are doing has to make money. No big shocker there. The tricky question is, "where is that money going to come from?" For me as a farm producer my money comes from the eggs, chickens, hops, apples, and vegetables that I grow. For an online farmers' market, that money has to come either from the people buying the product or the people selling the product. They're a middle man, and every good middle man takes his cut.

I sell my chicken for $6 a pound retail. I have to sell it at that price or more (currently contemplating a price increase) in order to remotely come close to making a profit. Now imagine my position when someone is going to take a cut of that, or imagine being the consumer and having to pay $8 a pound for chicken when you can get it in a grocery store for $1.29 per pound. That's tough either way.

Now granted there is theoretically less time marketing my products and distributing them. That's what these services provide. However the price of that can be pretty steep. Here's a real life example:

For Camps Road Farm we used to use GoodEggs.com to market and distribute products in Brooklyn, NY. We would put up a list of things we had for sale, GoodEggs would take orders and let us know what customers wanted, and then we would harvest, process (clean and bag), and drive them into Brooklyn from the farm which is roughly 1.5-2 hours away. After the expense of growing the item, packing it, and driving it into the City, GoodEggs would take a 30% cut of of the sale price. That was more than our net profits in most cases than if we sold it locally ourselves. So we were operating at a loss selling through GoodEggs.

goodeggs

We started out at a 25% commission on GoodEggs and then it was up to 30% . On products where we make 10-30% net profit in the first place that was a steep loss and we couldn't handle it. Especially with the added expense of driving a lower volume of food into the City each week.

Now there's a solution to the driving and distributing problem presented by GoodEggs with GrubMarket. The customer orders it, the farmer harvests it, and GrubMarket comes and picks it up and delivers it to the customer. At least that's how I understand it.

grub market

 

 

While GrubMarket seems to solve several of the pain points that consumers and producers face with GoodEggs I still have trouble seeing it work long term. I have a hard enough time making money as a farm without having to pay someone to sell and distribute my products. Granted there are farms that function selling primarily wholesale and maybe the margins here will work for their business structure, I don't know. I can only speak to my situation specifically.

Farming is a business of extremely tight margins. Mr. Wonderful on Shark Tank would hate everything about it. Getting rich is not why we do it, but staying afloat is necessary in order to keep farming. So often is the case that the farm is subsidised in some way. Those subsidies can take the form of the Federal Government, a spouse who works in town, a team of investors, or a winning lottery ticket. Whatever the case may be, giving up any more money then we have to is a sure fire way to go backward quickly.

Is this a band-aid to a much larger problem?

I hesitated to even write this post as I try to keep it positive on Farm Marketing Solutions and I really hate to say anything remotely bad about anyone besides myself. My mother always used to say, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." On this topic I have to admit that I am a little negative.

Our food system is broken. That is the truth of it. It is wrtten about in countless articles, spoken about in videos and by speakers all over the world. Things are not really working out and we're heading toward some sort of global tragedy. The inevitaility of the eventuality of an international food crisis is written on grocery store shelves around the world.

What then is the solution? What can we do to help solve this problem?

The solution is happening, but it is happening on a relatively small scale. People are falling in love with food again. Everywhere new farmers' markets are popping up, people are traveling further and investing more in their food. But until our food policies better support small farms, until more people are willing to buy locally, and until food becomes more of a focus for people instead of an after-thought, we will have to struggle with finding a solution for how to get food to the people who actually want it.

I applaud GoodEggs and GrubMarket for their efforts and ingenuity. Thank you for what you are trying to do. Hopefully we can figure this out.

A Solution for Farmers:

There's something you can do to help further the slow food movement, get good food on people's tables, and grow your business. Tell your story. Transparency sells better than anything else and people are looking for it. Talk about your story, the products you produce and why you love them. The more open you are about your business, both the good and the bad, the more people are going to be drawn to what you are doing which leads to us having a bigger affect on how food policy is written.

If the creation of GoodEggs and GrubMarket is proof that more customers are online then you should be there to. Get to marketing online through: ( links below to free tutorials)

People vote with their dollars and politicians are greedy. Market your farm, tell your story, and buy change with every tomato sold.

2015 Young Orchard Yearly Budget

http://youtu.be/dZrQ_RGDNSs While the orcahrd is not a money maker on farm at the moment it is an important part of our narrative. As part of the farm we work very closely with a distillery who produces apple-based spirits like Apple Brandy, Hard Cider, and Bourbon. We invested in putting in an apple orchard for a number of reasons.

  • Our orchard will help provide rare apples that are good for distilling that the current growers are having trouble supplying because of the increased demand in the market.
  • It adds marketing juice to the distillery to esentially have their own orchard where they source locally from.
  • It further diversifies our farm so that down the road we have several operations to keep our income diverse.
  • The farm can use the apples for cider, you-pick, apple pies, etc... if we so choose to go down that road.

So while there is no return this year as far as apple yeild, that has been planned for in the budget. The distillery helps cover part of the cost, the other operations on farm help cover part of the cost. It's a tricky endevor, but also quite exciting. Personally I really enjoy watching the trees grow up.

To download the excel file:

If you would like the excel file shown in this video then you have the option of scrolling to the bottom of the page to sign up for the Farm Marketing Solutions Email List. When you enter in your information then I will send you a free copy of the excel sheet for you to do as you wish.

As part of the email list I will automatically send you the future budget sheets so you only have to sign up once. You will also receive exclusive content, news from FMS, and a little bit of hilarity in your day.

young apple orchard

Starting an Apple Orchard

Establishing an orchard of any kind is a process that takes years. The first year you plant trees which look like weak little sticks that you hope survive. Over time with love and attention you eventually get trees that bear beautiful fruit that you can eat raw or turn into delicious apple pies or distill into apple based spirits. Here's the timeline for our orchard as I see it:

  • Spring 2013: Apple whips were planted on a hillside with good drainage, plenty of sun, some nearby hedgerows to help buffer winds but plenty of air circulation still the same.
  • 2014: Trees were pruned in the winter after having a year to grow. We are pruning them to have a central leader and to take on the shape (kind of) like a Christmas Tree.
  • 2015: They will get another winter pruning as they will get each year further shaping the tree. Still no fruit because we pinch all the buds back to encourage tree growth and not fruiting.
  • 2016: Still no fruit as we are working on developing strong trees.
  • 2017: Hope to see our first harvest this year, but who knows? Maybe that's too soon. Maybe I waited too long. I hear both stories at this point. If you have advice please leave it in the comments below.

Now, I'm really new to starting and maintaining an orchard. I will tell you one thing, there are 100 conflicting ways to do it! We are attempting to do it organically which I am also told is impossible. More on that in just a second.

Wait, you keep talking about a Distillery

fresh apple

I took that picture of the apple. Fun product shot right? Anyways, yes, we have a distillery. Camps Road Farm, the farm that I manage is part of "The Food Cycle LLC". Under the umbrella of the LLC operates three separate but interlinked and interdependent businesses. There is the farm, a craft brewery, and a distillery. The Brewery iswhere the hops from the farm go and in turn we get their spent grains to do with as we please. The distillery is where our apples go and we get the spent apple mash.

The distillery is Neversink Spirits,and I'll let them tell you their version of the story:

Neversink Spirits was founded by two long-time friends with a passion for spirits, wine, food, and nature.  After years of tasting, tinkering, sipping and planning, Noah Braunstein and Yoni Rabino found a project in which their passions could be realized – and Neversink Spirits was born.  Making spirits is their calling, apples their muse, and they finally found the vehicle in which to share their vision with their fans.

A spirit’s quality can only be as high as the ingredients from which it’s made.  When they formed a team with Camps Road Farm and Kent Falls Brewery to form a local collective known as “The Food Cycle,” they knew they had found a way to make their spirits truly unique.

Working together, the partners carefully developed a growing plan for the farm, cultivating ingredients specifically designed to make exceptional spirits and beers.  Being able to verify the supply chain’s provenance allows Neversink Spirits to make spirits of the highest quality, while minimizing the footprint on our planet.  Waste from the brewing and distilling processes is recycled back on the farm as compost and animal feed, increasing the productivity of the farm and closing the sustainability loop.

Apples are the cornerstone of Neversink Spirits’ production.  In 2012, through a grassroots effort from volunteers and friends, we planted over 350 apple trees on Camps Road Farm.  Spirits produced from the over 15 varieties of apples, all difficult to obtain heritage varietals that produce excellent cider and brandies, will excite the palate with new ways to experience of America’s favorite fruit.  We are passionate about apples and want to share that passion with our fans.

Based in Port Chester, NY, Neversink Spirits is currently setting up its facility and refining recipes. The opening is being planned for the fall of 2014 and Neversink Spirits will start releasing its line of fine spirits.  Look out for an apple brandy, an apple and herb eau-de-vie, a whiskey made with sustainably produced New York grains, and a surprise collaboration with the brewery!

We love spirits.  We love apples.  We love our planet.  And, we love you.

How we grow our apples:

We are attempting to grow our trees organically. We are following the organic standards on farm with everything we do potentially working toward actual certification. At the moment it doesn't make sense for use to certify, I also think we're not yet eligible.

I have started a YouTube playlist with videos about what we have done so far in our orchard. Here's that playlist to show you more specifically how we have started our orchard.

http://youtu.be/soRIMMY4968?list=PL-O8flggtY_vpymji6Fgy5FI65MUCegaM

If you have any further questions please leave themin the comments section below and I will do my best to help you out.

camps road farm orchard

Other apple orchard information:

There have been three great places where I am getting a lot of my orcahrd information. The first is my neighbor Averill Orchards who has been in the apple business for I think a million years, or at least the family has. The youngest generation to pickof the pruning sheers is about my age and I have to admit, they're awesome. I constantly badger them with questions about how they start new trees and how they maintain a healthy orchard. They are low-spray, not organic, but that doesn't stop them from being a weatlth of information.

This is a good point to bring up that the best information that you will get is not going to come from a book, but from another local grower. They know your climate, they know the minutia, they have the examples on their farm to show you, and they probably have been doing it longer. Do not be afraid to reach out and ask questions. Just a word of advice, do more listening than talking, take notes, and bring them a gift for their time. They're as busy if not more busy than you.

The second place has been my local agricultural extension agents. Same thing as above, but they are designed to answer your questions. Make use of your extension agents, they're great, they're nice, and they know where to find the answers you are looking for.

The last place is indeed a book. "The Apple Grower" by Michael Pillips. I have learned a lot from this book. Not all of it I have taken action on and there's even things I do a little different. It's all about learning as much as you can and adapting it to your situation. Here's a link:

A favor to ask of you orchardists out there:

What is my budget missing? I don't pretend to have all the answers for everything farming. I am only a handfull of years in and I am learning as I go. If you have more knowledge or something to share I want to invite you to comment in the comments section below and I will add it into the blog post here and give you credit. I am constantly lookingto improve all areas of the farm and I know this is an area that I could stand to get some growth.

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GFP065: Is a homesteader considered a farmer?

When it comes to owning and operating a farm business there is a lot of talk about scale. Are you big enough? Are you too big? What is right, what is wrong? There is only one right answer, whatever works best for you is what works best for you. I operate at a large small scale. I mean that I only have 52 acres and at the same time I can't believe I have 52 acres, it's insane. It is not 10,000 acres or even 1,000 acres, but there is a lot that can go onwith even just one acre. On the show today is a guy with about 10 acres and he is striking a balance that works for him and his fmaily. He is also approaching farming or homesteading in a very smart way and has a lot of good information to share from doing so.

Is there a right or wrong scale, it depends. It all depends on what your holistic goal is. What are you looking to get out of your hard work on farm. And it will be hard work no matter what scale you operate at. For me personally I have been trying to balance the scale of the many different operations on farm to balance the fact that I am unable to do any one of them at a large enough scale to benefit from the economies of scale.

Not only have I been trying to balance how big or small things need to be to make money on farm, but taking into account that I miss my friends, I love spending time with my family, and I want to have a semblance of a life outside of farming. It all comes down to what your goals are and what life you want to live. Can farming provide that? We'll find out in this episode and throughout 2015.

So, can a homesteader be a farmer? Listen to the podcast episode and find out.

Right click here to download the MP3

In this farm podcast you will learn:

  • Whether you can consider a homesteader a farmer
  • How to start and grow your farm sustainably
  • How much time is spent marketing vs. "in the field"
  • Different business models for farming
  • A great resource for all things homesteading
  • A free cow is not free
  • Getting time off from farming

Interview with Austin Martin of This Is Homesteady

professional homesteader

In Austin's words from his website: "Imagine this scenario. Farm girl moves to city. Farm girl meets surfer boy. Farm girl shows surfer boy country, chickens, and how to shoot. They marry. Surfer boy becomes country boy.

Then came the babies.

After the birth of our son, we quickly realized our third floor apartment was not going to be right for the family we wanted to have. We wanted to find a place where we could put down roots. After a year-long search, we found Squash Hollow.

Surrounded by fields and woods, so began the idea of starting a small farm. With our farm we could provide our family with the freshest food available. Now we grow enough to share our harvest with your family as well!

Our Farms' Mission:

We believe the earth we live on and the animals around us are beautiful gifts to be taken care of!  We strive to give ouranimals the happiest life possible, and enrich the land around us."

Items mentioned in this farm podcast include:

Take aways:

What would be your first step on your farming journey? Or, what is your next step to improve upon your current farm?

What scale do you think you would be most happy operating at?

Answer in the comments section below.

Farm quote of the episode:

"The road is rocky, make Homesteady." - Austin Martin

--

Thanks for taking the time to listen in, and let me know what you think. You can leave a comment below, send me an e-mail, reach me on Facebook , or leave a 5 star rating in iTunes if you liked the show.

2015 Hop Yard Budget

http://youtu.be/lmYm2lG59aY At Camps Road Farm we grow our hops following organic standards but we are not yet organic certified. Growing hops this way adds a lot of obstacles that might be easier to face if we were growing them conventionally but we feel it is worth the extra effort. Nothing against growing them conventionally, just putting it out there so you have perspective on our numbers.

The hops are technically in their third year but there were a lot of mistakes made in teh first couple of years as the learning curve has been very steep. They should perform this year as second year hops. We have done a fair amount of propogating and replanting so there are bines at different stages of the process throughout our yard. The yard itself is 1.4 acres. There are 21 rows that are 250 feet long. I'll get into a little more detail about how we grow hops and what are some of the mistakes we made a little later in this post.

To download the excel file:

If you would like acopy of teh excel file used to create the video you can scroll to the bottom of the post and put in your name and email address to join the Farm Marketing Solutions email list. If you are already on it you will be receiving a copy of the file in your inbox after this post goes live.

how to grow hops

Wet Hops vs Dry Hops

To figure my production numbers for this years budget I have two numbers, wet hops and dry hops. When it comestime for harvest the hops cones (pictured above) will start to dry out in the field. They get to about 80% of their full moisture level and you want to get them off the bine and help them finish the drying process. Once harvested you dry the hops to roughly 8-8.5% moisture content.

What gives the hops their flavoring quality is the lupulin inside the cone between the leaves. You want to get rid of a lot of the moisture because it can casue off-flavors in your beer due to oxidation and decomosition. We use the UVM moisture calculator to calculate the moisture in our hops as we harvest and dry them.

Brewers can use wet hops to brew beer if they have it available. They have to use more because the flavors are not as concentrated and they have to make up for all the water weight. Dried hops are more valuable because (ideally) they have been preserved at their peak flavor and the variables that cause off-flavors have been mitigated or eliminated. There is definitely a lot of art and science to all this (like everything on farm) and it takes some skill to get it right. I am still learning for sure.

Peak production for out hop yard

The estimations for what you can produce from a hop yard per acre vary depending on who is giving you the number, where you are growing it, how you are growing it, etc... We estimate that when the hop yard is full of plants and all of them are fully grown we will yeild around 3000 pounds of wet hops. We have 1.4 acres and will have roughly 1400 plants.

hop yard from the air

For this years' budget however we are definitely not at peak production. I anticipate we will get about 1000 pounds of wet hops this year.

Labor on a hop farm:

labor on a hop farm

Whether you are starting or running a hop yard there is a lot of labor. Even just walking around to check for pests and problems takes a lot of time. It is just like any other plant that you might grow on farm. They require love, attention, and a heavy dose of understanding. There are pests, nutrient imbalances ordeficiencies, and of course the dreaded downy mildew.

With such a small yard we don't benefit from doing anything at a large scale. Most of the work we do in the hop yard right now is by hand or with simple tools. We train by hand, prune by hand, and trellis by hand. All the manure spreading, ammendment spraying, and over-all care is done in a simple and kind of inefficient manner.

As the yard develops we are going to better track the labor necessary so we canplan out our labor better in the future. A good thing about the hop yard is that even though it is 1.4 acres, all the plants are basically the same. That means it can be easy to train in a group to a task and set them loose.

Ammendments:

Even though we are managing the hop yard according to the organic standards there are still things we have to do to ammend the soil and assist the plants as they grow up to be the hearty beasts they become by harvest time. We ran soils tests earlier this year and we are are a little too acidic at 5.7 so we will be adding lime to get us up closer to 7 where hops are happier. We also usecertain foliar sprays like fish emulsion for a boost of nitrogen when the plants are younger, we use OMRI approved pesticides though we do use them sparingly. As in only if we really really need them.

I apologize that this is a very basic and very vague overview of how we are growing hops. This blogpost is about the budget for the year and not meant to go into real detail about our growing practices. I will be posting videos and other content as the year goes on about our hops operation and all the other things we do on farm. If there are any specific questions or if there is anything you would really like to see this year please leave a message in the comments section below.

Other products you can get from hops:

Besides the hops themselves there are other products you can get from humulus lupulus. We have made wreaths from the bines, propagated and sold hop plant starts, and even gone so far asto experiment making tinctures with the hop flowers as a medicinal herb. It can be used as a sleep aid, can be used in soaps and shampoos and in cooking as hop herb butter.

The possibilities are only limited byyour imagination. It is good practice on farm to get all that you can from the things that you grow. We will be testing our market with different products to see what is successful and year to year get better at making the most out of our hop harvest.

hop bine

Lessons learned from starting a hop farm:

There are a lot of mistakes you can make when starting a farm. It is part of the learning process. No one is going to do it perfectly and we can all learn and grow as farmers by sharing our hard lessons learned with each other so that we are not all making the same mistakes. In short order here are a few things we would do better when starting the hop farm.

  • soil tests, soil tests, soil tests
  • ammend soil before planting based on test results
  • till and mulch rows before planting
  • install irrigation earlier
  • make sure the area that the hops are planted is well drained year-round

There are some good stories with each of these examples and I will go into them as the year goes on. One of the best places to follow along with Farm Marketing Solutions and thus my farm is through the FMS YouTube Channel. Subscribe and get updates when I post new videos (if that's your thing).

What we hope to improve on in the future:

Hops need a lot of love and attention. Because we are a very diversified farm there can be things that get over-looked on farm. Livestock has always taken prescidence because we won't let the animals suffer at all because we're "too busy". As we move forward we are more actively planning out time to observe the farm and make sure we are doing all that is required for optimal health of the plants and animals.

In the coming years I plan on having the rest of the hop yard planted where we haveempty spots, we will increase plant health and yeilds, and we will build a community of people involved in the hop yard to help us keep labor costs down.

chicken tractors in hop yard

Farm Finance Challenge:

All of my record keeping this year will come into play as we launch the Farm Finance Challenge on Farm Marketing Solutions. I will be publicly publishing my production and financial records on the blog to share with other farmers so that we can all learn from each other and hopefully save a few people from making the same mistakes that I have.

There are a dozen other farms that are joining Camps Road Farm in the Challenge and that is quite amazing!!! Starting 2/9/2015 follow along each month as I publish my records and then the next day publish everyone else's numbers. I am really excited for the transparency and the community that I know will grow from the project. At the end of the day we're doing it to keep ourselves accountable and to support beginning farmers with the power of knowledge.

Subscribe to the FMS newsletter and receive your FREE copy of the 2015 Hop Yard Budget

GFP064: Successful online farm marketing in 2015

We live in an increasingly digital age and as farmers we have a lot of options for how to market our farm online. Where do we focus? Where do we spend our time? At the end of the day, where do we make the investment? Today's podcast is not about registering on places like LocalHarvest.org  or similar sites where we can get a posting that people can find. It is about actively engaging our customers so that once they find us they stay informed, engaged, and keep coming back. It takes a lot more effort to get a new customer than to keep a returning customer, but it still takes effort. I want to break it down into what I plan on doing this year. It is more simple than it may appear at first, and since it's my plan and I'm going to be (have been) acting on it, I am happy to share on FMS how it all works.

The way I see it your active online presence is separated into two groups, Primary and Secondary.

Primary:

  1. Farm Website
  2. Email List

Your Primary is your home base on the internet. "All roads lead to Rome." Every other presence, including your Local Harvest listing, should point back to your farm website. This is your opportunity to educate your customers on everything you are doing and to keep them coming back by continuing to add new content.

Your website should have details on what you grow, how your grow it, and where people can buy it. After that it is up to you as to how much detail you want to go into. The more the merrier as long as you keep it organized.

Your email list is your gateway into peoples homes and cell phones. An email can be a very private and important thing. People are always listening for that little bing that tells them they have a new message. If all the Social Networks in the world fail you will always be able to sell through your email list.

Secondary:

  1. Facebook
  2. YouTube
  3. Instagram

This is the second layer of what you are doing online. These three are great for a couple of reasons.

Facebook is very approachable and there are a lot of people using it. It is a great place to get started with all of your farms' basic info and story. Even though the updates that Facebook has been rolling out has made it a little harder to reach your audience these days you still can reach people AND it links to just about every other network so cross promoting outside of Facebook is easy. Here you can post photos, videos, stories, articles, whatever you want that is relevant to you and your brand. If nothing else it is a good gateway drug to the world of Social Media.

YouTube has been really good for me. While my farms' YouTube page doesn't have a ton of views, the customers that go there because I included a link to a video in an email have come up to me and said how much they loved the video. It is a way to give people a tour of the farm without actually having to host them on farm. From the comfort of their own home people can see what you are doing, how you are doing it, and you have control over the whole interaction. With the Smartphones getting better at not only taking video, but sharing it to the web, uploading videos to YouTube is getting easier and easier.

Instagram for me is one thing, a means to an end. I cannot attribute many sale directly to Instagram, but I can indirectly. Let me explain. I have an Instagram account @foodcyclist. I have friends and family that follow me there. I also have other people involved with the farm that have their own Instagram accounts. The beautiful thing is that we can use the APP to take a photo, edit it, add a fun filter, and all upload it to the farms' Facebook page. The pictures we post get more engagement than anything else. Because it is so easy from my phone I use it as much as I can.

farm marketing infographic x650

Farm Website Posts on FMS:

Farm Email List Posts:

Other useful links:

Take aways:

The world is getting increasingly digital. How are people going to find you online and what are they going to see?

If you had to start or focus on one thing this year online, what would it be? Let me know below!

Farm quote of the episode:

"That's my only goal. Surround myself with funny people, and make sure everyone has a good time and works hard." - Joe Rogan

--

Thanks for taking the time to listen in, and let me know what you think. You can leave a comment below, send me an e-mail, reach me on Facebook , or leave a 5 star rating in iTunes if you liked the show.

2015 Pastured Broiler Budget

Raising pastured broilers is one part of our very diverse farm. 2015 will be the third year in a row that we have done a combination Pastured Poultry CSA as well as selling pastured broilers retail at farmers markets and wholesale. It has been a great part of our operation as it take very little money to start up, it is great for reclaiming and conditioning pastures, and it fits in nicely with the other things we have going on at the farm. That and we're kind of the only show in town for pastured poultry at the moment, which doesn't hurt.

Every year my numbers get a little more refined. This year I have got even better than in the past at putting my yearly budget together. I know that with the efforts of the Farm Finance Challenge they will be a piece of cake to put together next year. The video above and this post are the numbers as best as I can put them together this year. If you scroll to the bottom of the post you have the option to enter your name and e-mail address to get the broiler section of the excel file that I am referencing.

Creating your broiler budget:

When I am sitting down to do any budget I treat the piece of notebook paper, the excel sheet, or whatever I am using as a blank canvas. It doesn't matter what I am putting where because I am creating it for myself. I can change it to suit my needs whenever I want. The trick is to get it started and to get some real work done each time you open it. Add a little, walk away, come back, add a little more. The point of the whole thing is to get usable numbers for yourself. After all, you are doing this for your farm not just for fun.

Start with just thinking about all the element that would go into creating your budget and keep adding them into your budget sheet. At some point you are going to run out of things to add and you will have you "final" numbers. It might take you some time, it might require a fair amount of research, but each year it will get better, I promise.

What things did I include in my budget?:

  • How many chickens I intend to raise

  • What breeds

  • Numbers of batches or rotations

  • How much feed

  • How much labor

  • How many processing dates

  • Quarterly breakdown for cash-flow

  • What I get price per pound retail

I basically went through everything I would need to know to raise broilers and pulled from my records or other people's information (current price of feed) to populate my budget sheet. From there it was just a matter of creating the necessary equations as I went to get the numbers that I needed to end up with. Those were Gross Profit and Net Profit. After all, this document was created to see if I was going to be able to keep the farm at the end of the year.

chicken tractors

chicken tractors

Labor costs:

This is going to certainly be an area of debate, and I mention it a little in the video. I figure for $12 an hour in my budgets for any operation. That doesn't mean I always pay $12 an hour or that I am actually getting paid $12 an hour. It has just worked out to a nice round number for labor for me. Throughout 2015 we will be more closely tracking how many man hours are spent on any given operation throughout the year to get a better sense of what is required.

There are things like volunteer days, mishaps and nature, apprentices, full time staff, and friends of the farm to consider. When you are figuring the numbers on any farm there are certainly areas where it can get murky and labor can be one of them on a small farm. The best I can figure out is that $12 number. If you have a better way please leave a comment in the comments section below and let me know what you do.

Chicken feed costs:

Because the price of feed fluctuates what you budget and what actually happens can differ. I currently get my feed from Morrison's Feeds in Vermont and I used the latest price of their feed off their website to do my budget. I do have another potential non-GMO feed supplier close by that may be able to get me feed a little cheaper because they are closer but that's not locked down yet. For now I want to figure on the higher price. Better to be prepared and do better than to count on a good price and have to pay more and not have the cash on hand.

Chicken processing:

I have gone seasons where I kill every bird on farm with the knife in my hand for each one. This past season I chose to get the birds processed off farm for a number of reasons. The main reason was that having a USDA approved stamp on my chickens opened up other markets for me. In Connecticut the State laws make it almost impossible to operate any small business successfully and poultry farming is no different. We have been making baby steps in recent years but we still haven't caught up to our neighbors to the West or the North.

The place I currently take them costs me $4.75-$5.25 per bird depending on how I have them packaged. That gives me the average of $5 per chicken. It also takes me 2.5 hours to drive there, woof. You may not need all that where you are.

Some of the other benefits of "out-sourcing" my processing is that my liability of someone getting hurt or sick is lower, I don't have to pay a crew, I don't have to take all the lives myself, and I get to spend a day in an internet cafe and get caught up on office work. Will this be my forever plan? Who knows? It's going to have to work for now until I can figure out something better.

How I raise my chickens:

For my cornish cross broilers I raise them in chicken tractors out on pasture. The chicken tractor is my own design created to suite my needs and very adaptable to wherever you may be farming.

I feed certified organic feed that is also non-GMO. The farm is not certified organic but it may be something that we will be working toward in the future. I buy in chicks as day-old from Meyer Hatchery, raise them in the brooder for 2-3 weeks and them move them out to pasture for the remainder of their lives. I often process at 8 weeks old and I get a finished weight of 4-5 pounds on average.

chicken tractors

chicken tractors

For more information about my chicken tractor plans and the farm that I started using them on click here or the banner below.

chicken tractor plans

chicken tractor plans

My current farm is Camps Road Farm. I was hired as the farm manager there (here?) and I could not be happier. Pastured broilers are part of a very diverse operation including hops, apples, layers, pigs, sheep, foraged foods, vegetables, and events. We are still raising broilers in the FoodCyclist style tractors that made the trip from my original farm.

What I hope to improve on in time:

No one will ever know everything there is to know about anything. I cam constantly learning and through that learning I am striving to make every operation on my farm better. As part of improving the farm we are taking part in the 2015 Farm Finance Challenge. We will be increasingly diligent about our record keeping both in the field and in the office. I am already looking forward to next year when the 2016 budget has already bee created by the 2015 numbers.

Record keeping is something all farmers struggle with and that was the reason the FFC was created. I am working on improving and so are the other farms that are taking the challenge with me. It's kind of exciting! This blog post comes out in the beginning of January 2015. Depending on when you are reading it we may already be underway. I invited you to check out the challenge, help to hold me accountable to my record keeping and reporting goals, and support the other farms that are taking the dive with me.

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