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March Farm Finance Challenge Reports

ffc and gfp

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:

 

Spring has Sprung

Amanda McKelvey Hall – Rockin’ H Farm’s March Report

rockin h farm

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

Aquaponic Lettuce in CT

Aquaponics Lettuce in a Deep Water Culture System

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

 

  FFC | 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?

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

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

growing farms podcastIt 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 of anderson acresAnderson 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

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

growing farms podcastInformation, 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 belberIt 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:

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

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

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.

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

growing farms podcast “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 office

This is where all the magic happens. I have my white-board on the wall, my laptop with extra monitor, and post-it notes galore. Pardon the mess…

farm planning

I have my yearly calendar, maps of the farm, and a couple extra white boards to hashing out idea. That one white board has my “farm at a glance” for production this year.

focus board

This is one of the most important things in my office. It is my “focus board”. Hanging on the wall right next to my computer desk it reminds me that the work I am doing in my office has a point and is taking me away from spending time with my family. If I am not concentrating and being productive I need to either focus, or just go spend time with Kate & Mabel.

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 

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

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

Our daughter Mabel. She’ll be 2 in July of this year. She loves to read, but Elmo is always welcome in the house!

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

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.

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

growing farms podcastFarm 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

 

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

permaculture voices conference

 

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.

  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

 

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

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

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.

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