Shape of my Business, 2010

I’ve been going back and forth for the last few weeks on what shape the farm business and assorted related commitments will take in 2010.  The process of turning over the Community Garden reins to other interested parties seems to be moving along, so that responsibility, at least, will be lifted.

Plans for legislation on local foods sales is in the works through the DRA Small Farms Committee–Happy New Year to those selling baked goods and jams and jellies–the Health Dept. appears willing to work with us on those “non-hazardous” foods.  We may even gain a little leeway on the egg carton issue as well.

I’m still looking at certified commerical kitchen possibilities, and am hoping to find enough time later this winter to work with the VAAC on possibilities for theirs, as well as other local churches and community centers if grant monies can be identified.

It’s looking like about time to schedule a farmers market board meeting to identify our goals and projects for the coming season.  I’m thinking of sending out a questionnaire-type e-mail to our Facebook fan members, so we can get some ideas about directions and possibilities.

As far as my own farm business–well, that’s where I’ve been struggling.  Last year, I pulled out of CSA shares entirely (except for one member who couldn’t make the farmers market due to mobility issues) and sold primarily at the farmers market.

The goal was to do more of a research and development year and not focus so much on all-out production and sales. That’s pretty much what it turned out to be–revenues were lower, as expected, but I was able to get at least a few more areas of the gardens under better control.

This year I want to focus on connecting more local restaurants and maybe grocery stores to area farmers who have abundance beyond what’s possible to unload at farmers markets.  I don’t want to see another year in which one of our vendors ends the season with over a thousand pounds of potatoes sitting in his garage.

Too, I know that many area restaurant owners have limited ability to get up to the market and negotiate deals–legwork is needed to make those connections and get produce where it’ll be savored and enjoyed by the public.

I’d also like to see a way to collect and share excess produce that won’t keep with the food pantry and Welcome Table–but again, we need a body to make those inquiries and gather and do the delivery.

And probably that body would also need to make sure the delivery isn’t just 300lbs. of zucchini!

It’d be cool if we could do another local food Welcome Table meal, this time sponsored and prepared by the farmers market.  Maybe they’d even let our vendors set up in the courtyard, and those interested could sample and sell the bounty involved with the creation of the meal.

I also really want to implement a once-a-month educational program for cooking with in-season produce from the market–I’m wondering if vendors would be interested in doing it (given a generous budget) or if that’s something the board would have to take on.

What’s coming to me is the realization that in order to create the possibility of full-time sustainable farm businesses (including my own) in the community, the groundwork–the legwork and gruntwork–needs to be done.

I’ve been doing this kind of thing on the side (and on the side of the side) for several years, but the kind of projects I’m looking at now will likely need more time and commitment that I would have going full-tilt on my own farm production.

While scaling back on my own business to do this kind of work also scales back my own bottom line, doing this kind of work while I’m gainfully employed elsewhere means that if and when I do transition to full-time farming, that transition will be much less painful.

All this may mean that I go in a different direction this year–back toward CSA shares as a way to keep the farm active and productive while scaling back on farmers market sales.  With the possibility that my son will be moving down here, CSA deliveries would also be easier to manage while he’s in school.

The overall plan as it’s shaping up is to do a limited number of CSA shares–maybe 5 or 6–and still pay my season vendor dues at the Vermillion market, but not necessarily commit to being there every week as a vendor.

Too, if I’m able to find an intern or helper this year, that might open up the possibility of marketing experience for them, as well as a share of the profits in cash and/or produce.

Another idea I’ve entertained (and Facebooked about) is to find a flower-farmer helper who could use the vast stores of annual flower seed I’ve been saving to grow a cash crop in areas of my gardens that would attract pollinators and beneficial insects as well.

The farm where I worked in Wisconsin actually had a flower share (which, along with its whimsical newsletter–all done by third-generation farmer Joe Schmitt–was completely AMAZING), and while I don’t think that’d fly here, there would be some buyers for bouquets at the farmers market and maybe through local restaurants and grocery stores.

I also just kind of like the idea of giving a “grant” to such a start-up in the form of seed and farm space.

While the last of my regular seed catalogs haven’t yet come in, I’m already in the process of deciding what to order and how much. I’ve got another blog post brewing on my farm goals for this season–which so far mostly involve simply getting the damn fall crops in on time this year, by Goddess.

But the growing season is still a fair distance off (Valentine’s Day is for seeding leeks!), and I’m still looking into a hoophouse and am way overdue in calling a friend with greenhouse space.

There are lots more decisions to be made–some of which are out of my immediate control and will affect still other decisions to be made down the line.  But it’s looking more and more like a CSA year all the time.


One response

  1. Thanks for sharing your struggles and goals for 2010. I am in the process of starting a farming business and all ideas are helpful.
    Best of luck with the growing season and connecting to your customers.

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