Learning the Lesson of Sustainability

Courtesy of Roxanne C, Philadelphia PA

The biggest challenge to sustainability has been defining what it means and developing practices to achieve it. Big Food is starting to make big progress. Rather than just giving lip service to an abstract moral imperative, companies are starting to operate differently, by reducing water and energy consumption and cutting carbon emissions, and putting processes in place to measure and monitor these changes, and incorporating them into their marketing message. They are also starting to reduce waste by improving packaging and manufacturing processes, and blockchain is starting to be used to trace very player in the supply chain. The corporate food industry has learned that its economic sustainability depends on practicing social and environmental sustainability, so it’s motivated.

Since it’s launch in 2006 SPIN-Farming has been teaching this lesson in reverse to new farmers who have been inspired to enter the profession based on the mantras “Small is beautiful” and “The soil is sacred.” While they’ve been well-schooled in social and environmental sustainability, we’ve been showing them how to operate businesses. This really isn’t an option any more. Big Food has plentiful resources, and most importantly the will, to define and advance the cause of sustainability. Sustainability is no longer just a niche, it’s not a selling point that’s exclusive to SPIN farmers, and its meaning will become less useful as a differentiator and less valuable in the marketplace as it becomes the norm.

That means that while the corporate food industry is getting better at being socially and
environmentally responsible, SPIN farmers are having to get better at business. No matter which way you come at it, the lesson is the same: in the long term, the three pillars of sustainability – the economic, social and environmental – support each other and need to be addressed simultaneously. SPIN farmers need to become as obsessive about their bottom lines as their organic matter. Otherwise, the world will progress without us.

SF photo Sustainable LLC

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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.

SF photo Recall

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. 

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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.

SF photo blog farmers market blackboard a
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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

 

SPIN-Farming Member Meetup with Cathy LeValley

SF photo PPT Cathy LeValley mailchimp healthy snacks

WHEN: July 12, 2pm ET

WHERE: Online

REGISTER: Members can register here.

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# 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

In A Retail Frame Of Mind

Courtesy of Wally S., Saskatoon SK

Once farmers take on a year-round, permanent stand inside a Farmer’s Market building, they are in the retail business, whether they realize it or not. This presents some unique opportunities and challenges. On the plus side, you have less work because there is no setup and teardown on every market day. You can also invest in a more attractive design to give your stand huge curb appeal, which builds your brand and establishes you as a real pro.

And here’s what the pro’s know that beginners sometimes miss. Chances are your indoor market will be open multiple days per week, even in the winter. Some of these days the market can seem like a tomb. But to have a viable market means you have to maintain your presence, even during slow periods. This can be tough if you don’t have the right mindset. You need to think of your stand as a retail storefront. All retailers have slow periods, but they don’t turn out the lights and lock the door. They stay open even when the number of daily customers can be counted on one hand. The plus side at market is that, without the crowds, you can take time to forge deeper relationships with your regular customers.
SF photo blog empty market
The only way to sustain and grow a Farmer’s Market is to make it a place that customers want to come to, and can rely on, regularly. And that requires a critical mass of vendors being open. Beginning farmers, especially SPIN-scale ones, who don’t have a retail mindset, come and go at market, which is why I’m always glad to welcome and mentor new ones. Because the more of us who remain open, the stronger all our businesses will be.

LEARN HOW TO TOUGH IT OUT FROM THE BEST MINDS IN FARMING TODAY IN THE SPIN ONLINE SUPPORT GROUP. FREE TRIAL MEMBERSHIP WHEN YOU PURCHASE ANY SPIN GUIDE