Posts Tagged agriculture

Profits to be made, but how?

In one of the listservs I’m signed up for, someone recently posted a link to an Ohio State University research project that strives to prove you can make $90,000 per acre with polyculture (i.e. making neighbors of fruits and vegetables). People were quick to respond that the figures shouldn’t be misinterpreted–the $90k cited in the study doesn’t account for labor costs, among other things, such as time and money spent marketing and actually selling the stuff.

There are a lot of people I’ve met, or read, who hold onto the idea that a farm can become more profitable by intensifying production on a small plot. So far, though, my personal observations and research points to the opposite conclusion. It may not be as romantic as tending to a small plot with your own two hands, but romance can get pretty expensive. Here is what I posted on the listserv:

When I visited Eliot Coleman a few years ago, he was grossing $150k from 1.5 acres. He was also quick to note that after all the staff got paid and some of the costs were accounted for, all that was left over was $20k. Also keep in mind that there are some things he doesn’t have to pay for from the farm income that most of us would, such as his land, which was practically given to him by the Nearings, or his house, which is probably funded by income from other sources (e.g. royalties) and that of his wife, and all the associated utilities (probably part of the house bill). Likewise, equipment may have been purchased through other income sources, so it’s quite possible that if you looked at true costs, he might be operating at a loss.

When I look at the previously mentioned publication, Grower to Grower (big PDF link), or other case studies like Bear Creek Farms and Groundwork Organic Farm, the pattern for profit seems to be increasing scale and selling wholesale (i.e. selling in bulk to a middleman). A CSA can also be an income stabilizer, but only if it’s a large CSA (100 members) because otherwise, the income it generates doesn’t seem to cover the additional cost of management (organizing shares, marketing, sorting, sending staff to pick-up sites, etc.). Those are just my own observations after reading about and working on a variety of farms, with the question being how a farmer can earn a full-time income from a farm. It definitely seems do-able, if you play your cards right.

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Update: Moving to Oregon

I might not be posting as much over the next few weeks because I’m making a cross-country trek from New Mexico to Oregon. Here’s why:

  • I came to NM from NY just over a year ago because my boyfriend was going to grad school at New Mexico State Univ. He just finished, so we have the option of relocating.
  • While I love NM in more ways than one (the friendliness, the culture, the live-and-let-live attitude, the striking landscape, the low cost of living) I don’t want to spend the rest of my farming career squabbling over water rights so that more and more people can fill their swimming pools and water their lawns in the desert.
  • I miss trees. And the sound of a river running. And distinct seasons. Plus I have some cozy winter coats that are going to turn into moth food if I don’t use them.
  • Job prospects are not so great here for either of us. The Pacific Northwest has a lot more going on in terms of agriculture (more opportunities for me) and the three largest cities are quite close together (more opportunities for him), making it more likely that we can both pursue careers while still living together.
  • Cost of living in Oregon is reasonable. We found a two-bedroom apartment in a relatively new, well-kept complex in Salem for $550 per month. Private health insurance is affordable as well.
  • Returning to the East coast doesn’t attract either of us. After living out West, the “other side” seems too crowded, expensive, and rigid (versus dynamic, growing, taking shape). We feel we have a better chance of achieving our goals out here.

The runner up was Missouri. But Oregon won out, perhaps because of the diverse landscape (mountains, ocean, and desert) or Portland’s awesome food scene or the lure of the temperate rainforest up in Washington. Who knows? Oregon, here I come.

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Newsletter and Photo Album

I churned out another newsletter for my loyal subscribers (the coolest 73 people on Earth) and put together another goodie–a photo album of my farming adventures over the past year. The pictures are broken down by category. I must warn you, however, that these pictures are NOT representative of how smoothly things went this season. Since morale was a little low, we kind of neglected taking pictures of the weeds, the crop failures, and the exploded hoophouse–well actually, I think we do have some pictures of the wreck that was once a hoophouse. Those will be put up soon. Until then, just assume you’re only seeing the “bright side” of farming. It’s much more aggravating than it looks. But it’s still my favorite thing in the world (next to ice cream). Here are the highlights…

Prepping – Tilling, weeding, tomato cages, and the biggest tumbleweed you’ll ever see.

BIG tumbleweed

Planting – Seeds, transplants, tunnels, and me fiddling with an Earthway seeder: Read the rest of this entry »

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