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GFP065: Is a homesteader considered a farmer?

Growing_Farms_Podcast2 (300x300)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

austin from homesteadyIn 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

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

We run our chicken tractors through our hop yard to side-dress the plants with nitrogen and to help keep pests down.

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

2015 Pasture-Raised Eggs Budget

We raise our laying hens on a pasture based model. During the warmer months the birds are out on pasture and are moved every day to fresh grass. We love the quality of the eggs and the quality of life for the hens. My budget is just one way to create a budget and it will only get more accurate over time.

To download the excel file:

If you would like a copy of the Excel file that I used for my 2015 budget then you can put in your name and email on the form at the bottom of the post to subscribe to my newsletter and I will send it to you. If you are already on the newsletter then you will already be getting a copy sent to you in your inbox.

pastured poultry

Egg production efficiency:

It is no secret that chickens don’t lay eggs well all year long. Depending on a multiple of factors they either lay really well, or they don’t lay at all. Getting your chickens to lay at least semi-consistently all year is a riddle that every farmer attempts to solve. The truth of the matter is that it is not healthy for a hen to lay at 100% efficiency all year long. It takes a lot of effort to poop out those eggs all year. Some of those those factors that contribute to a different level of efficiency are:

  • The age of the bird (old hens don’t lay as well as young ones)
  • Hours of daylight
  • Temperature
  • Diet
  • Lifestyle
  • Stress
  • Water

My numbers are already proving to be better this year than the original budget I created. That is a good example of two things: plan for the worst and hope for the best, and keeping good records so that each year you can be more accurate with your budgeting because you will have more solid numbers to go from.

Actual egg production numbers:

To get the number of eggs produced during the year and from that the number of dozens produced I created the equation:

number of birds x days of the month x production efficiency percentage = eggs produced

This gave me a number, by month, of how many dozens of eggs I would have for sale. Knowing what I charge for a dozen eggs will give me my gross sales numbers by month. That’s as simple of the dozens produced x the price I charge = total gross sales. As time goes on and our record keeping gets more organized, more accurate, and based on actual numbers vs. my best guess based on past sloppy records we will have a better and better view of what this specific operation is going to look like on farm.

On farm we count eggs a few times to make sure we’re accurate. We start with counting them at the coops when we collect. Then we count the dozens for sale after they have been cleaned. Both in the nesting boxes and during cleaning there will be cracked and deformed eggs and we want to know where they are breaking so we can figure out what to do about it. Also a little redundancy never hurt anyone.

Chicken Feed Costs:

I feed certified organic, non-GMO feed to all my hens on farm. That’s super expensive. At any given time it costs between $0.45-$0.51 per pound of feed. I went on the higher end of the spectrum for calculating my costs. Again prepare for the worst. If I can get my feed costs down by finding a new supplier, finding a quality supplement, or whatever I’ll have saved myself some money that I will then have the option of reinvesting back in the farm.

I typically choose to go with pessimistic so that I don’t end up anticipating having more money than I am going to have, and then spend more money then I am able to, and then I end up in debt. That make sense? A for instance here. I would like to install more water hydrants around farm. That’s going to cost me money. I can feasibly live without it, but it would make a big difference for me. If I create my budget and see that I cannot afford it then I won’t spend the money right away and I’ll deal with the annoyance over the debt. If I end up with more money I’ll hang on to it knowing that I can re-invest it back into the farm because I had originally anticipated not having it, it’s like a bonus at the end of the year.

Cost Of Goods Sold (COGS):

Feed is the major expense when producing eggs, that and labor. There are creative ways to save in other areas like shavings, egg cartons, etc… But those two are always going to cost you. Raising chickens for eggs on a small scale is a tough row to hoe. It’s hard to make money as the margins just aren’t there. One wrong move and you lose the profit really quickly. I’m not saying that I condone it, but if you spend a few years raising chickens out on pasture you start to see why people started raising them in barns. It takes a lot of time, a lot of skill, and there are a lot of predators. Everything eats chicken.

Taking labor out of the equation:

Since the publication of my broiler budget I have taken labor out of the math of my COGS. Tracking the hours an operation takes is smart, but then putting a dollar amount to that on this document is not the way to go. Here at Camps Road Farm I am a hired Farm Manager. We have other employees on salary as well. That salary number has to be accounted for out of the gross profits and not necessarily the COGS. Every time you do work on your farm it won’t necessarily cost you the same amount of money. Labor calculations are such a tricky thing to try and share because everyone’s situation(s) are going to be different.

We now factor labor into a different part of the budget as an HR item. I had actually counted to twice by accident and having found that mistake my numbers are looking better this year than originally anticipated.

Cash flow statement for eggs:

Cash flow statements are good to have in general because it lets you know if you are going to be able to pay your bills at any given time. That and it lets you see when times are good and when times are tight at a glance. Winter is both a blessed and a rough time on farm. There’s more time to update paperwork, work on marketing, update your website, and most importantly spend some time with your family. It is a rough time because (as I’m writing this) it is 10 degrees outside and there’s limited sunlight. Nothing is growing and everything I do outside takes twice as long as in the summer.

Knowing when the bountiful times and when the lean times are on your farm will help you prepare for what’s to come. You will have a better idea of the numbers as you go through the years if you keep up with your record keeping. Eggs are no different than any other operation on our farm. We need to know when we’re really making money and when they are losing money so we can either prepare for it or adjust our practices.

Things I hope to improve this year:

There are so many things that I want to improve on the farm this year. If you are not constantly improving then you are just choosing to ignore something. For eggs I want to get our Cost Of Goods Sold down and get the whole process more efficient. Our care and management of the hens is pretty good though we know what we need to improve there, that was our focus in 2014. Now in 2015 we hope to make it a more profitable part of the farm. To do that we:

  • are adjusting the scale at which we operate
  • potentially have a less-expensive but still high-quality feed supplier lined up
  • making micro adjustments to our management methods

How I raise chickens for eggs on pasture:

Now, that is a big title. This is meant to be a brief over-view and not an in-depth “all questions answered” explanation. If you want more detail ask me in the comments section below or subscribe to our FMS YouTube Channel for more “how-to” information about our practices.

I will never say that what I am doing is the “be all end all” of methods. I am here to share what I am doing whether or not I find it successful. If you find something I’m doing wrong or have questions let me know because I am always looking to improve.

 In the summer:

chicken mobile and chickens

In the summer all of our birds are out on pasture. They live in mobile chicken coops that are on wheels and are moved on pasture every single day. We surround the coops with mobile electric poultry netting and move the coops around inside that netting until a new area is set up. In the summer our chickens are:

  • moved every day to fresh grass
  • kept in mobile coops
  • given certified organic non-GMO feed and scratch grains
  • given vegetable garden scraps

For the playlist of videos on how we raise chickens check this out:

In the winter:

raising chickens in the winter

winter chicken housing

In the winter our birds share space in one of our greenhouses. We are keeping them on a deep bedding system with wood chips and straw. The wall of the greenhouse rolls down which allows the birds outside. They are fed the same certified organic feed as in the summer but we stop feed restriction because of the added stress of it being cold out. We give them lights from 4-9pm and we never give them supplemental heat. For more on our winter chicken situation refer to the above YouTube playlist.

Farm Finance Challenge

At the publication of this blog post we are merely weeks away from launching the Farm Finance Challenge. My farm and 12 others from around the country are going to be publicly posting our production and financial numbers on Farm Marketing Solutions in order to keep ourselves accountable for our record keeping, share the information with other farmers, and support small scale agriculture.

I cannot begin to tell you just how excited I am going into 2015. This year brings a lot of promise for my farming and farming in general. If you are interested in hearing more about the FFC then click this link to visit our HUB page.






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GFP064: Successful online farm marketing in 2015

Growing_Farms_Podcast2 (300x300)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.

successful farm marketing

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

We raise our broilers out in chicken tractors on pasture. They are moved every day, fed certified organic feed, and are about as delicious as it gets.

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

Our chicken tractors out on pasture.

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

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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Supporting apple trees with steel posts

Tips from the Field: Apple Orchard

I am pruning my apple trees to a central leader style. With that style of pruning each tree should be supported, especially in the early years when the base of the tree is thin and fragile. The tree is especially susceptible to breakage at the graft union. That is where the grafted “scion” connects to the root stock.

Originally I had bamboo rods as the support for the trees. That worked only for about a year or so. After that the bamboo, even though it is initially a strong wood, began to rot, disintegrate, and  fall over. During some heavy wind and rain storms I lost a few trees that either fell over or snapped right off at the graft union.

It is really depressing to go into your orchard and see one or more of your trees lying on their sides. Taking active steps to ensure the long term health of the orchard we switched to metal stakes from Best Angle Tree Stakes.

What do the stakes come delivered as?

The stakes come in bundles of 100 or 255. The 100 piece bundle weighs nearly 864 lbs and the 255 bundle weighs about 2200 lbs. I bought one of each. The 2200 bundle almost flipped my tractor as I was dragging it off the delivery truck. After we got it off we broke open the bundle to transport the stakes across the farm to the orchard in smaller batches. I have about 355 apple trees so the order minimums worked.

Painted or Unpainted Tree Stakes?

I chose to go with unpainted stakes instead of painted for a few reasons. The first was money. With and additional $0.69 per stake that was an extra $244.95 for paint. With a tight budget I opted out. Also you can’t be 100% sure what’s in the paint. Call me crazy, but I’d rather have the metal rust than mess with possible contamination from paint. They’ll look a little funky with the rust but it really doesn’t bother me. I also think, and only time will tell, that they should hold up structurally just as well painted as not. That paint will break down over time and you’re going to end up with rusted stakes one way or another.

How do you put them in?

To put the stakes in we used a post-pounder. These things are useful all around farm. It’s taxing on the arms after a while, but if you have a big area just do it in sections and/or have more people there to trade off with.

Where do you put them in relation to the apple tree?

I put the stakes on the North side of the tree about 8 inches away from the base of the trunk. On the North side because I wanted to maximize the Southern exposure of the tree. Also on my property the prevailing winds come from the North  blowing South. I would rather the tree pull against the rubber tubing we used to tie it up vs rubbing against the steel angle iron and potentially damaging the bark.

Do you have anything to add? Please keep the conversation going in the comments below.

What’s coming on Farm Marketing Solutions in 2015

Growing_Farms_Podcast2 (300x300)2014 was a great year for Farm Marketing Solutions and for Camps Road Farm. On farm we expanded in a few areas, built a lot of infrastructure, and learned a lot about our land and what it is capable of. Online I made a lot of great progress as well. I am constantly listening to hear when farmers are struggling with something or if someone needs some advice or to hear a story about life on the farm. My whole goal with this website is to bring as much value as I can to the readers, listeners, and watchers.

I am also learning a lot as well. About farming, about marketing, and about my audience. I then share what I learn here and on my other “channels” so that others may learn with me. Well, 2015 is going to be no different. I have a lot to learn and I want to learn and grow as a group. That is why I have already launched my content plan for 2015. I have been very busy.

Right click here to download the MP3

Farm Finance Challenge:

I have to get better at record keeping and financial tracking. Last year was a growth year, and this year is still kind of a growth year but my budget is way tighter and I have to be really smart about what I do and how I do it. I also need to justify all my decisions to the boss and to myself. Keeping on point with my record keeping will make running the farm easier year to year, it will help me make decisions, and it will help other farmers with their businesses as well.

As part of the 12 Month FFC I will have:

  • Monthly Production & Income Reports
  • Participating farms reports
    • Story about each farm
    • Podcast episode with each farm

Growing Farms Podcast:

I will keep the podcast going as it is, same format, and same schedule. I have seen the podcast grow from the very beginning to over 100,000 downloads. Considering every episode is 30-60 minutes, that’s a lot of podcast time. During the year I will be interviewing more farms from all over the world, I will be interviewing the participants in the FFC (by the way, it turns out they’re really interesting people), and I will continue to openly share my story so that we can all grow our farms together.

  • Bi-weekly podcast just the way you like it

farm podcast

Videos on YouTube:

I found that when there was something I needed to learn on farm I turned to video. Now having learned a lot, I still turn to YouTube, haha! I am also creating a lot of videos from around the farm and in the farm office to share what I have learned. The videos are typically 1-3 minutes on a very specific topic. I really don’t sell anything on them. The videos are meant to be actionable pieces of advise that you can walk outside and use.

  • Lots of video on YouTube and reposting to the blog
    • Tips from the Field
    • Tips from the Farm Office

farm marketing youtube

Small Farm Business Mastermind:

Facebook is going through a lot of changes in the very near future. Depending on when you read this they might have already changed. Pretty soon you will not be able to reach that audience you worked so hard to grow without having to pay money to promote your content. As my Facebook page wasn’t really to sell anything but more to keep the conversation going about small farm business, I created a Facebook Group. Facebook Groups still will be able to reach the people who want to belong to them.

You can click on the link above or below to take you to the Facebook Group for the Small Farm Business Mastermind. I’ll be in there talking about my favorite subject, farm marketing. I want it to be a place where we can go to ask questions and give each other answers and support.

Updates to FMS:

Aside from all the fun content there is not quite as fun website maintenance, restructuring, reformatting, etc… There is a whole back-end side to running a website and building a community. At this time I do everything and I farm full time so you can guess that I cannot always get around to everything. I have a few more big ideas and projects in the works but my mission in 2015 is to stay focused, get my farm running smoothly, get Farm Marketing Solutions running more smoothly, and then we’ll think about these new big projects.

I will be and have been creating a lot more content and sharing what I have been doing. What works and what is not working. If one thing I post saves you some time and headache then it has been a good day for me.

  • Cleaning things up
    • Getting the website I want it (will it ever be done?)
    • Thinking about a site redesign (maybe next winter)
    • Getting book sales on the website
    • Publishing more content

Farm quote of the episode:

“Entrepreneurs may be brutally honest, but fostering relationships with partners and building enduring communities requires empathy, self-sacrifice and a willingness to help others without expecting anything in return.” – Ben Parr

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.

GFP062: 3 Things I will do differently in 2015 on farm

Growing_Farms_Podcast2 (300x300)Hindsight is always 20/20. Looking back on 2014 there are a number of things that I  would do or manage differently on the farm. There are little things, like how we raise our chickens, or bigger picture stuff like how we communicate as a team to work more efficiently. With the year coming to a close, it is about time I start thinking about the lessons that I learned this year, and how I am going to apply what I’ve learned in the coming months.

1. Spend more time with family

The first thing that I want to change about 2015 is that I want to spend more time with my family and friends. There is always something more to do on the farm. The laundry list of chores and projects just never seems to get shorter. With what it requires to run a farm, it can be easy to get caught up with what you have to do instead of who you should be spending time with. Setting aside time and making the effort to unplug from the grind of the farm allows your brain to reboot. In 2015 I want to make more of an effort to spend time with my family and friends and to maintain a good work/life balance.

2. Get on top of my record keeping

It kills me to think that my farm could have had a better year, or could have been a little easier if I had just been able to track my production and finances better. But it is true. While my records weren’t quite the mess I might make them out to be, they are still far from where I want them. I fully understand the importance of having detailed records for all areas of your farm. It would make the winter decision making easier if I had detailed records of what the year was like. So, going forward into 2015 I am swearing to hone my record keeping skills. I have a few things that I am trying out to keep organized and better collaborate and I get into that in the episode.

3. Get better at outsourcing and delegation

I have a fantastic and dedicated support network involved with the farm. I am humbled to be a part of such a lovely group of people. As part of my support network they are always willing to lend a hand when and if they can. What I need to do is detail out what my tasks are so that my support people can choose an area to help out that best suits their own motivations. I then need to make sure I have the processes figured out so I can effectively delegate that task to that person. This will help me with both #1 and #2. Click here to download the MP3

In this farm podcast you will learn:

  • My strategies to get more time with family and friends
  • The tools that I intend to use more of in my record keeping
  • A method for outsourcing at least some of your tasks

Items mentioned in this farm podcast include:

Take the 12 Month Farmer Finances Challenge With Me

uncle sam Starting in 2015 I will be publishing a monthly income report for my farm. To better keep on top of my cash flow I am going to make the commitment to publish it. January’s report will come out in February, February’s will come out in March, etc… Good or bad I will share it with the FMS community so that we can all learn and hopefully better the moment of sustianable farmers. If you would like to add your own story and transparency to the blog in an effort to improve your record keeping and to serve as a case study for other  farmers then contact me and let me know. I would publish your reports on the blog as well as have you on the podcast to introduce you to the audience. I believe in getting farmers on the land and keeping them there. If sharing my numbers and all of my “behind the scenes” info can help that then I am happy to share. If you feel the same way then I encourage you to make the 12 month commitment with me. It’s only 12 reports and it could end up being a really big help to a lot of people.

Take aways:

What are you planning on doing differently in 2015? If you could outsource one thing that you do on a regular basis what would it be? How can you manage to delegate that task in the coming weeks?

Farm quote of the episode:

“The five essential entrepreneurial skills for success: Concentration, Discrimination, Organization, Innovation and Communication.” – Harold S. Geneen

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.

GFP061: Bringing the farm all together

Growing_Farms_Podcast2 (300x300)There are SO many topics to cover when to comes to farming. Each topic reflects on something that the average farmer has to deal with as he or she runs their operation. Today’s podcast episode covers it all.

The mindset to focus on today is that of the big picture. It is very easy to get caught up in the minutia of each farming task. Exactly what tool to use, exactly how to grow something, or most often exactly how to fix something. As we work through all of the little details, which are super important, we must remember the big picture and our holistic goal.

I have been focusing a lot of my big picture lately. My 2015 budget projections are due. I need to have my plan for next year laid out and I need to have it fairly detailed. With that chore on my plate I have been focused on just how all the pieces are going to fit together and how I am going to properly use my resources to accomplish my goals. Let me tell you, it’s a little scary.

As 2014 winds down think of all the things you have done this year in relation to every other thing. What would you change? How could you improve? What are your pain points? What was successful? All of these questions, when thoroughly gone through will help you start the new year on a good foot.

Right click here to download the MP3

In this farm podcast you will learn:

  • How to work with brides to assemble organic flower bouquets
  • Collaborate with other farmers for flower bouquets
  • How to settle on crops that work for you instead of you for them
  • You can’t say yes to everything
  • Finding the time/income balance
  • How to track profitability of certain crops
  • How a computer can me instrumental to record keeping
  • Quickbooks as a tool for farm finance tracking

Interview with Robbie & Deena of Sweet Roots Farm

sweet roots farm farmersRobbie and Deena grow a variety of vegetables and flowers on roughly four acres in Grass Valley, CA.

They market through a CSA, a local coop, various wholesale accounts, and weddings.

Their mission statement as seen on their website:

We pride ourselves on growing great soil and the quality, flavorful produce that follows.  Through the use of integrated organic systems and the farm’s many microclimates, we produce food, flowers and nursery starts that are healthy and vibrant.  We have a diversity of crops and markets that will build a healthy farm and business.  Farming brings us close to the land, which we will preserve and improve for the future. Our business management and sustainable agricultural practices will eventually support our family while providing equal access for a diversity of community members.

Items mentioned in this farm podcast include:

farm website page

Take aways:

Are you actively keeping the big picture in your head?

How are you preparing for next year?

Farm quote of the episode:

“If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.” – Henry Ford

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.

GFP060: Finding a farming model that works

Growing_Farms_Podcast2 (300x300)

It takes a long time to figure out what your farm is and what it is going to be. Even if you think you have an idea of exactly what you want to do on your farm that vision is bound to change. Today’s podcast talks to this theme with Forrest Prit

Just like Forrest I am trying, experimenting, documenting, and learning different ways to enjoy my farm while making it profitable. With such an unconventional start-up story it’s a little hard to say when it actually started, but for me it really started just about a year ago. I took over management of Camps Road Farm and integrated my farm FoodCyclist Farm. With one business it was time to settle on one vision. But what exactly is that vision?chard, a guy who has tried just about everything to make his farm succeed and is still evolving his vision.

With the help of Alan Savory’s book Holistic Management I am making strides in finding out exactly what we’re doing here at Camps Road Farm. Sure I know what we’re doing now, and I have a good idea of where I want to be in 10 years, it is the getting there safely and securely that is the trick.

It is a weird position to be in to know where you want to future to go, but not really knowing where it is going to take you. There is a lot of excitement, even more anxiety, and a whole lot of wishing for a crystal ball. I take solace in knowing that I am not alone. The smartest farmers that I know never stop experimenting and trying new things. Not every experiment is a success as your goals in life are evolving with your business.

As you start your or continue you journey in agriculture always keep your eyes and ears open, never assume you know it all, and be modest.

Right click here to download the MP3

In this farm podcast you will learn:

  • How to better your customer retention
  • Ways to find what farming operation is right for you
  • The benefit of celebrating the little triumphs
  • Remain connected to your customers
  • Tell your story

Interview with Forrest Pritchard of Smith Meadows

forrest pritchard

Forrest Pritchard is a professional farmer and writer, holding degrees in English and Geology from the College of William and Mary. His farm Smith Meadows was one of the first “grass finished” farms in the country, and has sold at leading farmers’ markets in Washington DC for more than fifteen years. His book Gaining Ground, A Story of Farmers’ Markets, Local Food and Saving the Family Farm was named a Top Read by Publishers Weekly, The Washington Post and NPR’s The Splendid Table.

Forrest’s new book is slated for release Fall 2015, from the award-winning press The Experiment.

Items mentioned in this farm podcast include:

meat makers hobby farms

Take aways:

What will be your biggest influences when choosing your farm business?

5 years ago did you think you would be where you are today? (Listening to the Growing Farm Podcast, haha!)

Farm quote of the episode:

“Taking time to do nothing often brings everything into perspective.”

- Zoe Zantamata

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.