How To Setup Your Farm Business: FGF Style

March 22, 2009 at 3:21 am 5 comments

From Farmers Growing Farmers 2009 21/03/09 9:38 PM

Enter the Farm

Sunday Harrison and I were invited to the Farmers Growing Farmers business plan presentation today (of which we kindly thank FGF, David Wild and Rebekka Hutton for extending that invitation). Everyone got feedback from the panel of farm mentors and a reality check to keep us on the straight and true. It was a useful refresher on the importance of planning things in advance even if circumstances and situations change faster than you can say, “Shazam.”

Roughly 3 of the 10 farms involved in the course were actually “city farms” or farms right inside the city limits. One of those was FoodCycles. City farms are the ambassadors, the flags and the torch bearers for sustainable food, farming and environment within the concrete jungle. Their importance can’t be overlooked. After 1 hour and a half of driving was required to get to the Community Room of Everdale Environmental Learning Centre in Hillsburg, Ontario where the final course session and presentations would take place. (We thank David Wild for being our warmhearted chaperone and driver!)

The Good

Each of the farms involved were pretty new, all just starting out. What was good was that all of them were keen on getting help on planning their farm business regardless of where they came from or their unique situation. This course definitely helped to refine their focus and indicate what they had to think about to increase their chance of success.

A major benefit was having an experienced mentor look through your business plan, give you a different view point and hand you a useful dose of reality to keep you in line (in a good way).

The Not So Good

Even with the positive feedback, there were a few points and themes for thought in the farm mentor’s advice to many of us.

CSAs Are Not First Base, Get It?

A lot of the farmers proposed starting CSA models and that’s usually something that experienced farmers recommend only after your first year. Why? At that point you’ll actually know how much you can produce on your land, how much it costs to produce that food and how much time and labour you actually have. You’ll be able to better determine whether you can handle a CSA. In fact all of the farm mentors (and other resources we’ve come across) recommend starting with the tried and true methods of the farmers market first.

What they also said was that if your CSA members have to drive 20 minutes to get to your farm that’ll make things difficult. Why? You may be willing to drive 20 minutes to them to deliver a CSA box however they might not be willing to drive 20 minutes to you to do the field work with you as a CSA member.

Another statistic one of the farm mentors mentioned was that you need 160 shares of a CSA to really be sustainable or profitable. A lot of the farms involved were exceptionally small scale. You’ve got to start small, get good and expand fast. So you hope.

Commune with the Earth

In addition we also found in a handful of cases that not every farmer actually lived on site. The mentors said that there are things you notice and can only fix if you’re on site, ready for action (kind of like being “one with your surroundings”). If you live even 20 minutes away it can affect things.

Back to the Land

One of the mentors really emphasized that you need time to really develop the soil, to learn how fertile it is and what it can produce in terms of crops or livestock. A lot of the farmers in this course didn’t have enough information on the land yet or needed more time to learn about it.

Family Friendly Contracts

A few of the farmers taking the course were either receiving land, money or loans from farmer mentors, friends and family to help them start their own farm business. Getting money or significant support like land can have a risky side to it. Families and friends are less likely to ask you to justify your numbers and if you don’t have a contract in place (like providing land to you for at least $1) things could get risky. What if they pull out or change their minds?

What you need is a solid commitment. Just in case.

Last Words

After spending well over 100+ hours doing business planning, networking, sales forecasting, cash flow analysis and budgeting stuff you definitely feel like you have a better idea of how capable you are of succeeding or how much further you have to go. FoodCycles probably spent the most time figuring this all out – even our farm mentor thought our official draft plan tables were TOO detailed. (laughs) The reality check by the mentors was a thoughtful reminder of just how wacky the world really is (and how hard farming can be).

“Even the most well made plans evaporate upon contact with the enemy.” (a favourite quote of mine)

If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

(Sun Tzu’s the Art of War)

The business plan is the pathway to knowing both your enemy and yourself. (Which may be one and the same…)

Note: If you need any support or advice feel free to leave us a comment, contact us or check out the resources at the end of this post.

Farm Participants for the 2009 Farmers Growing Farmers Course

From Farmers Growing Farmers 2009 21/03/09 9:38 PM

Crystal Bank Farm: my kind hearted acquaintance Paul Slomp wanted to start a biodynamic dairy farm in Ottawa in the near future or part time within 2 years. Right now he’s taking on a position with the prestigious food organization in the region, Just Food. (Say hello to Moe Garahan for us!)

Willow Creek: the 2 farmer gals have their incubator training farm in southeastern Ontario near my old haunt, Kingston. They’ve spent some time with Plan B Organic Farm and are hoping to use their 3 years here as an experience in managing a farm for their next site elsewhere.

FoodCycles: You can check out our background right here.

Groundswell: Ryan Johnston is an urban eco-farm just like us. Ryan however is using an idea similar to SPIN Farming – farming on the sub-acre. Well he’s trying to link several pieces of city land, backyards and other areas to create 1 acre. Ryan has a lot o market garden experience and really wants to make this a community driven project.

Kitigan Organic CSA:A farm that’s out near Peterborough on 2 acres ofcertified organic land. The farmers are made up of 2 families and their kids. They’re planning to run a vegetable CSA, attend farmers’ markets and do some sales to restaurants. In the future, they hope to produce chickens, honey and perhaps fish, through an aquaponics
system.

Our Farm Organics: Leslie is a solo, part time farmer who has a lot of kids to raise while her husband works. She already has an established market and is looking to improve her sales. Leslie like animals and really wants to switch gears to raising livestock.

Black Sheep Farm: Brenda Hsueh is a veteran of the financial sector who wanted to switch to farming while combining it with her environmental interests. Lots of friends are helping her out and she’s setting up shop near Chelsea in the south Grey Bruce area.

Pasha: the owner is a biologist with the TRCA who is planning on being a part time farmer. Her proposed CSA is near York Region. Her biggest support comes from her family members.

Whole Village CSA: You can find more information about Whole Village CSA (based on the intentional community model) here.

Willow Wind: The married couple have been running their operation for a short time and have met with some success. They’ve had a lot of volunteer support from the local area and from WOOFers.

Resources

Farmers Growing Farmers at Everdale Environmental Learning Centre

Growing Farmers Small Farm Initiative | NCAT | The National Center …

New England Small Farm Institute

From Farmers Growing Farmers 2009 21/03/09 9:38 PM
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