Sustainable Farmer

Courtesy of Roxanne C., Philadelphia PA

When a consumer demands, and a farmer claims, that a farm is sustainable, what do they mean? Lots of ink has been spilled, research funded, and advocacy groups formed over the last forty years to answer that question. Garth Youngberg and Richard Harwood wrote in 1989 in the American Journal of Alternative Agriculture: “We are yet a long way from knowing just what methods and systems in diverse locations will really lead to sustainability…In many regions of the country, however, and for many crops, the particular mix of methods that will allow curtailing use of harmful farm chemicals or building crop diversity, while also providing economic success, are not yet clear.
The stage is set for challenging not only farm practitioners, but also researchers, educators, and thefarm industry.”

Four decades on, the sustainable challenge is driving significant change in the farming industry. In our online member meetups, many use “sustainable” to describe their growing practices. Here’s how one of our members, John Greenwood who co-owns JNJ Farms with his wife Jan in Macomb, IL, first described sustainable in his farm’s marketing materials when he was just starting out.

“JNJ Farms takes great pride in producing locally grown safe and nutritious food for our customers. We use sustainable practices and don’t use pesticides on our produce. We grow our plants using non-GMO seeds. The production and management techniques we use help us avoid problems with insects before they cause damage to our crops. We can assure you that the produced raised at JNJ Farms is safe for your family. We eat what we grow. If we wouldn’t eat it, we wouldn’t sell it!!!”

John now points out, however, that it doesn’t capture the most important aspect of sustainability for a farmer – profitability. “To me sustainable is making a profit and being able to farm next season.”

While sustainable farming draws cheers from an increasing number of consumers demanding”fresh” and “local” and “nutritious” food, they have to realize it comes with a price, and they have to be willing to pay it.  You can’t have sustainable farming unless those doing it can afford to stay in business. .

Congrats to John for managing to figure out the right balance to sustain his farm business for 5 years. And congrats to his customers for making it worth his while. Here’s to the next 5…

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LEARN HOW TO START A FARM BUSINESS AND KEEP IT GOING FROM PRO’S LIKE JOHN GREENWOOD IN THE SPIN ONLINE SUPPORT GROUP. FREE TRIAL MEMBERSHIP WHEN YOU PURCHASE ANY SPIN GUIDE

Payoff from Consumer Conundrum

Courtesy of Roxanne C., Philadelphia PA 

Love it or hate it, the government is getting good at identifying food safety problems and
notifying the public when illnesses occur. Here is the latest. 

But it still lacks the ability to trace and identify the producers who caused the health threat.

At the same time, it’s also promoting more consumption of fresh foods, going so far as to identify PVF’s – powerhouse vegetables and fruits – based on a nutrient dense  measurement that not long ago was considered fringey.

The consumers who care about any of this now find themselves in the position of wanting to eat more healthy foods while being supplied continual reasons to mistrust the far-flung food supply chain that produces it. “Got romaine?” was the refrain at this month’s farmers markets, so more consumers are starting to connect the dots between local and safer. So we should thank the government for keeping everyone on
high alert, and if need be, use a food safety premium to justify our prices.

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Remember, even though you may be using municipal water and do all the harvest yourself, you need to keep Food Safety top of mind. Farms of all sizes benefit from abiding by GAP standards, and attending a GAP workshop is a worthwhile investment for any farmer who is serious about their business. Take it from Wally. 

FIND OUT HOW BACKYARD FARMERS ARE KEEPING GOVERNMENT ON THEIR SIDE IN THE SPIN ONLINE SUPPORT GROUP. FREE TRIAL MEMBERSHIP WHEN YOU PURCHASE ANY SPIN GUIDE

Farmers Markets Reality Check

Courtesy of Roxanne C, Philadelphia PA

One the most frequently debated topics in the SPIN online support group is our usually fraught relationships with our farmers markets. They’re the highlight of our weeks, and the most fulfilling part of what we do, where we feel the appreciation and trust of our customers, and get the satisfaction of knowing our products are helping them maintain their health and well-being.

What goes on behind the scenes is also our biggest source of frustration and disillusionment. As one farmer says, “Farmers’ markets are notoriously difficult to run. I’ve been in this business a while, at different farmers’ markets, and there’s been trouble at every single one.” Take your pick. Too few vendors. Not enough of the right ones. Too little traffic. Too much of the wrong kind. True farmers versus resellers. Board intimidation. Financial mismanagement. Too restrictive by-laws. Petty politics. Legal threats.

It’s a rude awakening for some, having to deal with all the things they thought they went into farming to avoid. But to generate income from farming, you need to realize that, being in business for yourself doesn’t mean you can be in business alone. It’s a collaborative endeavor, one that requires trade-offs and compromises.

As the local food movement gathered momentum over the last two decades, farming has attracted those seeking a deeper sense of community, and they’ll find it.But it’s not a refuge. They’ll also find conflict, too. It just comes with the territory.

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LEARN FROM BACKYARD FARMERS, WHO REALLY KNOW THE LAY OF THE LAND, IN THE SPIN ONLINE SUPPORT GROUP. FREE TRIAL MEMBERSHIP WHEN YOU PURCHASE ANY SPIN GUIDE

Beautifully Easy Economics

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Market Garden

There’s an easy way to get into the habit of tracking and covering your cost of doing business. Itemize your expenses, like gas, seed costs, farm stand fees, plot rental, sales bags, and then figure out how many units of a crop you need ot sell to cover it. Here’s an example.

What a SPIN farmer sees here are beautiful bouquets and gas money.

What a SPIN farmer sees here are beautiful bouquets and gas money.

These are my gas money crop. Flower can bouquets. Cost to produce them is minimal. Most of the flowers are perennial or gathered from the roadside. Cans are brought to me by customers and other vendors at market. Time to gather and arrange is about 2 hours for 10 cans. 10 stems per can. Price is $10/can. Two hour round trip gas expense is about $50.

The point is to produce just enough units of certain crops to cover your operating expenses. So you develop the mindset of tying together your business goals to your cropping strategies to be sure whatever you grow is earning its keep.

LEARN THE BUSINESS OF GROWING FOOD FROM THE BEST MINDS IN FARMING TODAY IN THE SPIN ONLINE SUPPORT GROUP. FREE TRIAL MEMBERSHIP WHEN YOU PURCHASE ANY SPIN GUIDE

 

# 1 Success Factor No One Talks About

Courtesy of Roxanne C., Philadelphia PA

Soil building. Sustainable growing practices. Eliminating waste. These are what new farmers obsess about. They’re overlooking something that has a far more important impact on their business. No matter how good a grower you are, your farm’s success is dictated by something you can’t always control, and don’t think too much about until your gas bills start coming in or you start nodding off at the wheel. It’s distance to market.

Even if your market commute isn’t taking a big toll on your expenses or health, it’s a key business factor that needs to be weighed when considering new or different markets, or figuring out how to reach your revenue goal. Here is your key decision:

Longer drives to bigger markets with greater revenue versus shorter drives with potentially less revenue

To help you decide you need to calculate gas expense, commute time, and hours spent at market for each type of commute. Here are some of the trade-offs:
  Longer drives require that you are able to reach your revenue benchmark and has to justify the gas expense

  Short distance drives means less gas expense, but also maybe less revenue

  You might have to go to several short distance markets to meet revenue, but that means more time at markets

There are no easy answers to this crucial question, but not addressing it means your farm business is less likely to go the distance.

 Don't assume a long commute isn't do-able or worth it. And yes, farmers are commuters too.

Don’t assume a long commute isn’t do-able or worth it. And yes, farmers are commuters too.

LEARN THE BUSINESS OF GROWING FOOD FROM FARMERS WHO KNOW HOW TO GO THE DISTANCE IN THE SPIN ONLINE SUPPORT GROUP. FREE TRIAL MEMBERSHIP WHEN YOU PURCHASE ANY SPIN GUIDE

Flexibility Is A Farmer’s Most Valuable Asset

Courtesy of Roxanne C., Philadelphia PA

Saskatoon is losing a farm many never knew was there, especially its neighbors. Wally Satzewich has sold the birthplace of SPIN-Farming, a suburban-style house that served as a backyard farm for over 25 years. Gone are the beds, the greenhouses and the basement grow room. The backyard farm that was built over a quarter of a century took just a few weekends to disassemble. That’s the beauty of SPIN-scale farms. When
life changes, they can too. Here today. Gone tomorrow.

Being rooted to the land is what has defined farming for generations. The practical reason is all the time and effort spent in soil building. But since SPIN farms are typically 40,000 sq. ft.(about an acre) or less, soil doesn’t represent a big investment. The plot in Saskatoon was only one of several Wally uses, and at only 1,000 sq. ft., it’s easily replaced.

Wally is still a full-time farmer. His home base now is Pleasantdale, and it meets two of his biggest farm requirements – municipal water service and a good Internet connection. His grow room is put back together, and the greenhouses may or may not be pressed back into service. He’s figuring out how to structure his new operation now that he has a 2 hour commute to market instead of a 5 minute one. His crop repertoire is getting a revamp.

But he’s got lots of options because he realized long ago that being tied to the land can mean having a noose around your neck. In a time when the ability to change quickly and continually is a competitive advantage, permanency isn’t at all useful. Flexibility, not land, is a small farmer’s most valuable asset.

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LEARN THE BUSINESS OF GROWING FOOD FROM THE MOST FORWARD-THINKING MINDS IN FARMING TODAY IN THE SPIN ONLINE SUPPORT GROUP. FREE TRIAL MEMBERSHIP WHEN YOU PURCHASE ANY SPIN GUIDE