Need encouragement

2ajsmamaMarch 27, 2012

I haven't done our taxes yet (a bit afraid of that Sched F, and I don't know *where* the receipt for the deer fencing is!). But went through receipts I had been saving, and my sales records, and it's depressing.

I know my market sales were barely enough to cover the market fee and insurance certificate, I almost covered the seed, but didn't cover the insurance premium, seed starting mix/potting soil/pots, rain barrels, drip hose, and gas (HOW did I spend nearly $400 on gas??). Forget about the taxes and registration on the pickup, or the (used) pickup itself (at least that gets amortized).

I wanted to buy 4 mil plastic this year to cover the beds, DH balked at $45/100ft roll, asked if I "was going to make any money this year." I know I can't make money without spending it, but he's tired of picking up the tab - last year was my 1st year in business and I only started b/c he "wanted to make the land pay for itself" since we pay about $8000/yr in property taxes, and that's *with* the farm/forest discount.

I've already bought (most of) my seed for the year (my dad made me some really long raised beds and now I don't know how I'm going to fill them - really don't want to do all veggies, want to plant raspberries, etc. but need ground cover on them!).

I've got 300 cells (with more than 1 seed in most) of tomatoes and peppers started, edamame from last year that needs to be planted ($10 from Fedco), only 1-4 packages of each snow peas, snap peas, squash, lettuce, radishes, cukes, etc. (still kind of "just enough for us" mentality I guess when buying seed, though I plan on planting *all* the seeds in a packet not just a few). Have expanded the home garden (app. 20x40 in 2010) to 20x80 plus 200 row-ft under trellis (tomatoes last year) plus 4 app. 3x100ft beds plus leveled an old blackberry hill.

I know last year was an awful year in New England (and other places) for growing - we had record rains, Irene, etc. that killed 85% of my tomatoes (all the heirlooms) before any harvest, and I lost a lot of the non-heirlooms (all of the peas and most of my lettuce, squash, even cukes) to fungal diseases and just plain rot. Didn't have anything to bring to market until August, didn't even go a couple of weeks due to rain (1 was canceled b/c of high winds and severe T-storm threat), and market ended at the end of Sept.

So, am I rationalizing here, should I plow ahead (no pun intended) and plant as much as I can to sell this year, go ahead with plans for planting berries (maybe more fruit trees too) even though harvest is 2 yrs or more away, or should I just give up now without going further into debt (to my DH)?

I'm about ready to just cry "uncle", file the personal income taxes (and return TurboTax to save the $60!), forget about the Sch F since it's such a big loss, declare the whole thing a failure (expensive hobby?)and pay back the state for the sales tax exemption this year instead of waiting another year to tell them that I didn't have $2500/yr average gross sales (heck, I didn't even have $500 in sales last year!)

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I am sorry. I hope whatever you do you get some peace.

I am sort of in the same boat still, having just recently thrown myself into this, but with less pressure and seeing light at the end of the tunnel. It's hard. I get a lot out of it. The family still gets a lot out of it. We eat well. My wife is very supportive 90 something percent of the time. I feel like I have earned the right to do what I want within reason. Everybody wastes money on something.

Try to keep cutting your losses and keep your chin up.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2012 at 2:30PM
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Maybe you can find someone with cuttings or suckers to start your berries? I dig up plants and give them away pretty often.
A month ago someone gave me some grape twigs and 100% of them are now putting out foliage.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2012 at 2:37PM
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First of all, you should be doing this realistically. Most market gardeners will tell you it takes 5 years before you begin to see a significant return on your investment. That is true for many businesses, not just farming. Gardening also has higher risk than many businesses because of the unpredictability of, and limited response one can make toward, natural events. Making a garden profitable requires a specific skill set that extends well beyond being able to grow plants, you and especially your husband need to understand this in order to create a viable business plan. And you do need a real, bank-worthy, business plan, even if you decide, as you should, to eschew banks at all costs. The only way to properly analyze the viability of your venture is to do it like a professional business, and the first step is a real business plan.

When you think of your garden that way, a first year loss can be an advantage if you write off your expenses to research and development costs that will be recouped in subsequent years. If you give up now, it's just loss, and this year is very unlikely to be anything like last year.

First of all, you should be planting, or have already planted, most of your early-season crops, (starting with indoor seedlings in February for much of the country) or once again you will be missing out on the early market season. Secondly, you may be designing your garden and business specifically to be financially sustainable to cover at least the property tax bill; but land doesn't "pay for itself," it has to be worked and improved and invested in for that to happen. You have to choose the proper crops to make that possible - radishes aren't it - and you have to make the long-term commitment to reach that goal. With just over 2000 square feet to grow in, you need to make $4/sq ft to do that, after expenses, which is quite a challenge without season extension, high-end markets, and a few thousand hours of experience behind you. If you are only trying to have the land pay for itself, that means that you disregard any accounting for all of the expenses you list, AND the value of your time. If that's the case, you would be better off finding a part-time job at minimum wage, and you would earn your tax bill in about 1500 hours. I doubt either you or your husband would prefer that.

Based on the information you gave above, it would be realistic to think that you could make between 1000 and 2000 dollars this year, and you should try to double that every year, without necessarily doubling the size of the garden, but at least doubling its financial productivity. In 5 years, you will have reached the $8000 mark (your taxes may well have increased, too) but following that trend line, the next year you will make $16000, and that becomes a respectable start to recouping the investments that the previous half decade required. The $32000 you earn in the 8th year will cover all of your previous expenses, and you can get serious about making major capital investments like automated irrigation, movable hoop houses, and direct shipping. A proper business plan will give you a good idea of how to grow realistically for the first five years, and longer if you choose to push that projection further, and you won't be stuck doing last minute taxes and getting unexpected surprises. If this is what you truly want to do, you have to persevere, to approach it with adequate capital for the long-term project that it is, and to build in resilience to all of the possible problems you might face, because eventually, you probably will.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2012 at 2:54PM
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Thanks guys. Just after I wrote this my dad called, he was out in the woods behind our house (he grew up here and he's always driving up past my cousin's house and barn and going out back). He did a little digging by a stone wall at the bottom of the hill and was all excited about how much beautiful top soil there was.

I know it's out there - the woods haven't been disturbed in 100 years except for some logging maybe 40-50 yrs ago, the best soil in the whole 100 acres is there, but how to get to it? Unless we want to start cutting a lot of trees and extending an old logging road or 2, I can't even get a pickup truck out there. Though it might be a little easier to run electricity there than the spot (near the property line) where I had the tomatoes last year and just put in the raised beds, irrigation is a problem. There are spots with a foot of top soil with great tilth, and spots where the ledge is sticking up, and it's all downhill from the house.

I did take a USDA-sponsored whole farm planning course last year, never really got how to write a business plan but I was taught decision-making - basically comes down to bottom line - don't spend money unless it will make you money. I should point out that DH bought the pickup (and I was grateful), but I made the decision to buy the fencing (low-cost netting and PVC conduit), rain barrels and drip hose (irrigation cost just over $200). Of course I only used the irrigation a few weeks last year, the year was so wet. But with no prospect of running electricity or water to the area we had cleared to plant in, it was the best I could do and at least they should last a few years. Not a long-term solution, though.

I did learn record-keeping (including how to analyze the most profitable crops) but that got thrown out the window as my plants started drowning. So really I'm starting from scratch this year, the only thing I could say from last year is that *everyone* wanted blackberries, had people asking for raspberries and blueberries too.

I'm just planting radishes, lettuce,peas tomatoes, etc. to have *something* this year since the bears demolished the berry patch at the end of the season last year, and I also wanted something I could bring to early June market (besides jam). I don't have a hoop house so can't plant tender "annuals" like tomatoes and peppers til Memorial Day.

In 5 years I will be 54 - maybe I should go get a job at McD's?(I have a Master's in Electrical Engineering, but left 7+ yrs ago so doubt I could get back into the field, in this economy and at my age). I don't know if DH is willing to make the capital investments required to meet his own goals. Our real estate taxes are going up 2% this year and our farm insurance (incl. homeowner's) went up over 10%. Scout and school acitivities are costing us a fortune (DS's class trip is over $800!, next year's Jamboree is about the same), and DS is going to college in 4 years.

I've been procrastinating on the taxes b/c 1) I've never done a sch F, though I've done a C before, and 2) I really didn't want to see how bad the numbers were.

Any suggestions for salvaging this season, considering I'm in zone 5b, have no way to extend the season, and just started tomatoes and peppers 2 weeks ago?

Time to have a long talk with DH about what he wants to do with the farm, what he expects out of it, and what he's willing to put into it. I feel like I'm married to a Push-Me Pull You, first he wants the land to pay its own way, then he doesn't want me to spend $200 on plastic b/c I spent too much last year, then he is interested in the neighbor's hoop house.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2012 at 3:46PM
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magz88(5a - Central Ontario)

You have already bought and planted some seeds so you should definitely try again this year. Even though you aren't 'young', you have the luxury of not having a primary off-site job so you should be able to make great inroads this year into profitability.

Last year was my first year as well. We spent about $2000 and made only $800.

There is no way that I am not doing it this year. I want to at least break even. I will have to take 6 weeks to who knows how many? off when I have my baby in August but I know that we can at least pay off last year's outlay.

Because I have an off-site job I have decided not to claim taxes until I make over $5000 per year since I am contributing to society via my work taxes and because I am not spending so much on the garden yet that I feel I need to claim expenses.

I wish you luck.

Can you rent/borrow an ATV to get at the good topsoil?

    Bookmark   March 27, 2012 at 4:46PM
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I have harvested timber twice from my property in the 3 decades I've owned it, using very selective harvests, and will do it again in about 4 years. This has reaped a substantial influx of cash when I needed it, and is well worth looking into if you have timber rights. Careful selective logging will provide an increasing income stream if you manage it properly, and should be a part of any farm plan if you have wooded acreage.

You should by all means proceed with your plans, but do it with a spirit of long-term expectations and optimism. Include your son in the picture, with the understanding that his participation now will be a contributing factor in his lifestyle at college - a good lesson in delayed gratification.

reconsider berries if bears are an issue, I have a sister who lives near you with similar problems, and it will take a serious investment in fencing to stop a determined bear from eating what ever it wants to eat.

Also reconsider how the garden affects your expenses, not just your income. It should be reducing your food bill substantially, and that must be included in the equation of how you calculate its value. A summer and fall of fresh healthy vegetables will never be equaled by a job at McD's, no matter how many Big Macs you get for free.

A hoop house is a worth while investment in your zone. It should produce over $4/sq ft if you have the right market and make it work at least 10 months a year - not too hard to do. If you can get it for a good price, you'll get a better return than on plastic mulch, and it sounds like an easier argument to make with the DH.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2012 at 4:56PM
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magz88(5a - Central Ontario)

p.s. What do you mean by salvage the season? It has barely even started.

What we sold last year went in the end of May all the way up to the start of September. This time last year we had about 600 sq ft of garden. We planted as beds were dug.

Keep your eye on the prize. :)

    Bookmark   March 27, 2012 at 4:57PM
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Ajsmama, bi11 is almost right. As far as IRS is concerned, you can have a 'loss' for 3 out of 5 years, before it becomes a hobby. Once you have a loss for more than 3 out 5 years, you CANNOT declare a loss, just a break-even.

Everytime you do your taxes, it WILL be depressing. It is amazing how much money goes out that you aren't even aware of.

Think of it this way, do you enjoy it??? That is the BIGGEST question that you need to ask yourself. This is not a business to make LOTS of money easily. If that's what you're looking for (I don't believe YOU are), then this is not a business for you.

I always use the mileage deduction, instead of itemizing all of the gas and vehicle deductions. I usually come out better, and much easier.

You have started this year, so you might as well finish this year. Then, instead of waiting til March/April to do your taxes, start working on them in Nov/Dec. You may not have all of your expenses in, but most likely you will have what income that you have made by then. I usually start in late October.

Yes, last year was a bust for most of the country, but remember you're not alone.

If you are like me, even if you didn't sell everything, I'll bet you put up some of your own food. Figure the price of those items as part of your income, you'll see that you really 'made' more than you thought you did.

This time of year can be depressing, especially if you're doing taxes. It won't be long before we are all busy making those sales. Cheer up!


    Bookmark   March 27, 2012 at 5:22PM
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Easy Q 1st - magz, I meant "salvage" b/c apparently I have started my seeds too late this year, and haven't gotten anything in the ground for cool-weather crops. I was wondering if bi11me had any suggestions for something to bring to early (June) market since I won't have tomatoes til July. May have blueberries in June (had some in late June last year, the ones that got pollinated).

So, Marla, magz said something interesting - do I *have* to fill out a Sch F for 2011? I think I might just for the state, since I registered the truck with farm plates and got the tax exemption so we didn't have to pay sales tax when we registered it (plus I've used the exemption for other things here and there, not on everything, depending on how $$ it was and how much of a hassle it was with the store).

There is the Sch J for income averaging so if I make anything in 2013, I can go back and average even if I already filed for 2011 and 2012? Not sure how that works.

Oh, and IRS already told me I'd have to do actual expenses (I have all the pump receipts we were sticking in the glove box, plus 1 oil change DH did right after he bought it) if we were amortizing the truck. I *could* go and try to figure out how many miles I put on the car going to those USDA classes, but probably not worth it since I didn't keep records - I'd have to GoogleMap the location(s) and figure it using the class schedule.

Thanks bi11me - not sure if we have timber rights, we do have a "farm and forest" tax exemption. But access is the problem, you can't really get to our back acreage (unless they put in a new road right past my house), except for using the old road that goes behind the barn. My cousin lets us use it occasionally but I'm sure they don't want log trucks going down their driveway (and the road behind the barn is kind of steep and washes out, was OK for a small dump truck when my other cousin brought me some topsoil I got off Freecycle last year, but log truck might be difficult).

Pretty much anything we cut here would have to be sawn here with a portable sawmill and taken out on smaller (I hope) trucks through the woods up the access road (old logging trail) DH cleared for me to get the pickup through.

Yeah, I don't know what it will take to keep bears out of the berries - another neighbor has bees, electric fence, but something happened to it one night (or bear got brave/hungry) and the whole hive was knocked over.

Next door neighbor putting up hoop house (been working on it since Friday, still no plastic up), not for sale (yet). But they did offer us some space. I think it would be a good investment to get one, put it near the house. I don't know if I'd use it if it were 1000ft away and we had 3-4ft of snow. Might not even survive - I know a lot collapsed last winter (2010-2011).

Oh, and yes, I did manage to put up some food, but not much - not as much as 2010 when we had a much smaller garden! It was just a horrible year last year. But we did enjoy the raspberries (too fragile for market), some cukes and lots of peppers. DH does like to point out to the kids whenever something came from our garden - keeps saying that if we had chickens we could even have the meat homegrown!

(Of course he hasn't built the coop, I picked up 4 pallets for him and was going back for more when he said he didn't have time. I'm not keen on plucking chickens, and we've got plenty of relatives who give us eggs - from what I hear, it's hard to do better than break even on eggs.)

Gotta go watch our "chick flick" with DD while guys are at Scouts - I'll be back later with questions about markets.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2012 at 7:05PM
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Ajsmama, yes you need to file a schedule F, it's really not too hard, email me and I'll walk you thru it. Since you will have a loss, you might actually come out ahead by having a lower income overall. Yes, if you are amortizing the truck, then you will need to use actual expenses. I don't depreciate my vehicles, only by the mileage rate.

Just email me and I'll help you thru it.


    Bookmark   March 27, 2012 at 8:16PM
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Fast cash for June? You have a 60 day window.

Salad mix - any delicate greens you can start now, and every week after now, with edible flowers (Johnny Jump-Ups and pansies can be ready then, with flowers from bolted arugula and radishes, and baby root vegetables - Bolero carrots at 40 days, Hakuri turnips at 30 days old, and Sparkler radishes at 18 to 22 days old. The carrots should have their leaves trimmed about 1" above the root, the turnips and radishes should have all but the 4 smallest leaves trimmed off. Sell as a package that brings you $3 per serving - a generous handful of greens with the flowers to top it off and 1 of each root. Plan on 100 servings, and two very long days of harvesting and cleaning greens before market day.

Seedlings - start plants for people to put in their own gardens. Don't do difficult plants to transplant, and don't compete with yourself. If you grow tomatoes, grow heirlooms, which will bring in more money, and sell common hybrids that people will recognize as seedlings. Don't worry about making a lot of money, just try to build up some working capital for this season. Seeds are cheap, you need to cover the production and marketing costs of the seedlings plus the labor that it took to produce them AND the other seedlings that you started for your own garden at the same time - you want incremental, but repeated profits. To do this, you need an efficient production method, but practice alone will make you much more efficient. You can sell lettuce starts all summer long.

Strawberries - there's the bear issue, and you would have to buy plants, but you could conceivably have an early harvest from plants put in SOON.

By mid-June you could have full-sized root crops, but I get more yield and more money from the baby sized ones, so if your market will support it, why not sell what no-one else is?

Caterers - June is wedding season, and caterers are looking for ornamental produce - they don't really care as much about flavor as restaurant chefs do, because the market is more focused on appearance - happy brides are the goal, and they don't eat at the wedding, they drink champagne and visit from table to table. It's cynical, but caterers know what the priorities are, and being able to offer beautiful salad greens, baby vegetables, and edible flowers will sell their service as well as the sample meal they prepare for the bride and groom. A "sales" dinner for two is always a bit different than the "chicken, salmon, or vegetarian?" extravaganza that is the reality of the actual dinner. One good caterer, who does weddings, funerals, graduation parties and the like can keep a pretty big garden busy from early spring till New Years Eve.

Regarding your woods, I had mine done with draft horses, and the wood was milled on-site by the same guy with a portable band saw. From a 12 acre selective cut of mixed hard- and softwoods, with minimal disturbance to the ecosystem, I got $30 K (which became a new roof for my house and barn), a big pile of sawdust for the compost pile, fire wood for more than a year, and some building material for my garden shed. If you own the land, there should be a way to make it possible to make it worthwhile for you, the logger, and any one who might have a right of way. You will need an honest evaluation of the standing timber, and a focus on cutting with the goal of improving the stand, not just mining all of the best trees, because then subsequent cuttings will be more valuable.

Your biggest obstacle is the cost of land in Connecticut. It is very hard to justify that expense doing small-scale agriculture without growing high-value crops. Property taxes in CT are on the high end nation wide as well, so you have a double hurdle to get over, and that is why it is crucial to maximize your profitability by marketing to the most affluent customer base, which is more likely in Simsbury, or Essex, than Hartford. For that reason, you want heirloom tomatoes instead of Big Boys and radicchio and endive instead of Buttercrunch lettuce, and French and Italian pumpkins instead of Connecticut Field. With a small area in production, you have to squeeze out every penny from your crops, and you have to target the market that has the pennies to spare. Don't waste time and space on crops that can easily be found at the supermarket until you have the space and reputation to sell at the retail prices of Wholefoods, not the commodity prices of Stop & Shop. Don't grow the same things everyone else has at the market, as a new grower, you will have a hard time competing with more experienced growers with established customers. That is true with any market, but especially difficult when you are face to face with your competitors.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2012 at 8:22PM
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Thanks Marla - I'll email you tomorrow. Looks like we have to do 2 F's (1 for me 1 for DH) but I was wondering if you need to do separate ones for Fruits and Vegetables (since I sold berries and "salad veggies" though they're really fruits like tomatoes, cukes and peppers)?

bi11me - thank you so much, I'm going to have to study your email, was planning on cut and come again lettuces and baby greens (mesclun, Black Seeded Simpson, rocket argula, Savoy spinach). Have seeds for French Dressing and White Beauty radishes (never came up last year), a couple different snow and sugar snap peas, and the edamame though I understand that's a longer DTM. Never thought of edible flowers. I've got a mix of heirloom and non-heirloom tomatoes (Pink BW, Bloody Butcher, Black Krim and I hope to get some more German Johnson and CP starts from cousin), couple kinds of cherry toms (Gardener's Delight and Supersweet 100's), generic Burpee peppers (serrano and jalapeno) and some more exotic (Aji Limon, Alma Paprika, Bih Jolokia, Douglah 7-pot, etc.) as well as bell peppers. Bush Champion cukes did well last year so I bought more seed but I also have De Bourbonne and Little Leaf. Strawberries were transplanted last year (near the house) so I'm hoping for fruit this year.

I can start some more seeds for Celebrity, Straight 8, etc. to sell the plants. Thought about starting some bulbs and hanging baskets but market isn't open til after Mother's Day so didn't think it was worth it.

Wow, draft horses? I've gotta find someone who has them. If we can get the trees out to a cleared area, the cousin who has the small dump truck has a portable sawmill but I don't know if we'll make any money off the lumber if he does it, might only be able to use it ourselves. I definitely don't want people coming in and clear-cutting.

Simsbury isn't far away but they're not taking new vendors unless you have something no one else has AND last year their fees were $250. East Granby started a market last year (I was already committed to New Hartford and spread too thin), fee was $150 but they're up to $200 this year. Haven't heard what New Hartford's fee is this year, last year was $125. But that's the market where customers were comparing my "naturally grown" fresh-picked produce with Stop and Shop's, so maybe I shouldn't go back?

Granby YMCA (just up the road from Simsbury) wants to start a market on Tuesday night, East Granby's is Wed and Simsbury is Thursday, I told them they should try Friday or Sat/Sun, spread it out a little for people to shop each one each week, since E. Granby started last year and has the customer base (and the hi-viz location) and Simsbury is huge, people might just wait til Wed/Thurs to shop. But they're apparently sticking with their plan. Sounds nice - the nutritionist wants to bring the kids from day camp out to talk to farmers about how food is grown, have cooking demos later when parents come to pick them up, keep it to about 10 farmers with a variety of goods (from meat and eggs, goat cheese to berries, veggies and greens). So not much competition right there, and only a "donation", no set fee. My insurance charges $50 for a certificate for each "named insured" market so I have to consider that along with fees.

WWYD? I agree caterers/restaurants are the way to go, but I'm not there yet.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2012 at 9:03PM
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Ajsmama, you will only need 1 schedule F per farm, no matter how many products you produce. As far as Hubby and you, if you divide it equally, then there is a way to do just 1 also. Like I said, they're not that hard to do, once you've done a few.

ANY market or marketer will have a rough time their first year. The 2nd year at the same location will be easier and more profitable, even doing the same things. ANYTHING you do, you should give it time enough to build excitement. I also had problems with people comparing my produce with the local grocery store. I had to down-grade the grocery produce (I try not to down-grade anyone's stuff), by stating the length of time from harvest to selling table, and showing people what ripe produce is supposed to look, taste and smell like.

We, as marketers, have a duty to TEACH people about produce. This is something that I feel strongly about.


    Bookmark   March 28, 2012 at 9:01AM
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Yes, Marla, I did say something to that lady about MY peppers having only been picked 5 hrs before, and no pesticides, chemicals of any kind, or wax. She still didn't buy - wish I could give samples but don't have food service permit.

I emailed you.

bi11me - I looked on Fedco site, they have an Oasis turnip that is a "Hakurei" type I assume is the same as you were talking about. But no Sparkler radishes (are my White Beauty and French Dressing OK substitutes?) or Bolero carrots. Nantes type OK? Or Short and Sweet? Any suggestions? I prefer to order from Fedco, or just pick up some Burpee seeds locally. What do you think about my greens varieties? Thanks

    Bookmark   March 28, 2012 at 3:21PM
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When I design a salad mix for a client, I try to match the style of the cuisine of the restaurant. With a farmers market, you can do your own thing, but obviously you need to appeal to individual ( an sometimes conventional) tastes. I always try to have a wide selection of greens, and in that diversity include color, leaf shape, flavor, and something unexpected. I use things like pea tendrils, brassica flowers, blanched greens, flat parsley, cutting celery, carrot leaves, and sprouts to add unique flavors, textures, and colors to a mix. Almost any greens can be part of the blend, but they should be 1) bite sized, 2) unblemished, and 3) balanced in volume with other shapes and flavors. You want arugula to be an accent, not a dominant flavor, and to act as a counterpoint to the mildness of the lettuce.

As far as root crops go, the varieties that I listed are what I use for my baby root vegetables, but there are many options. What you want are varieties that have good flavor even at an immature stage - a part of that is determined by type, but also by growing conditions. I like Sparkler radishes because they have a rich red color and a white tip on a nicely round radish, and I pick them at about the size of a hazelnut. Other varieties will be fine, including the longer French Breakfast style, but the goal is to present a product that is unlike what is being offered at every other stall in the market. Given that you are all working with the same climate, it depends on your growing technique to stand out form the rest. The French Dressing radish has a short DTM of 21 days, so I would plant with the intention of harvesting as early as 16 days, but with built in leeway by succession planting every 4 days, and harvesting based on size. For the White Beauty, with a 30 day DTM, I'd plan to start harvesting at 20 days or so. For carrots, I have found that the Nantes and Chantenay varieties are best for harvesting young and having well-developed flavor, but carrots are tricky, and doing further tricks with them by playing around with maturity dates is a test of your skill. Given your narrow DTM window to meet the June market, choose short DTM varieties and work from there.

I strongly agree with Marla that we benefit ourselves by being teachers to our customers. I don't choose to jump through the hoops required to call my produce "Organic" even though it would meet or exceed the national requirements, so I call it environmentally responsibly grown, and spend a little time explaining what that means, and why the "organic" label has been somewhat watered down by the influence of big ag and big $. Connecticut is a very wealthy state, few of your customers need concern themselves with finding adequate nutrition, so you have a market that can indulge itself in flavor, presentation, and fashion. If you can appeal to that market, whose resources are a little more stable than others, you will develop a reliable customer base.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2012 at 5:06PM
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Thanks bi11 - the New Hartford market perhaps was not the target consumer I wanted - my dad thought there were plenty of affluent people based on the size of some of the newer houses up Rte 202 heading into Litchfield, but I did have some people ask if I took SNAP (food stamps).

I will look for Nantes type seeds (lots around), play with maturities. I've actually never had luck with radishes (last year was the 1st year I tried them since I don't like them), and a few years ago when we tried carrots all we got were tops but I'll try again. Saw baby carrots (peeled about the size of my pinkie with short stub of stem) selling for $3/lb at BJ's today! No one else at market last year was selling baby veggies (at least not by the time I was there in August, though on the 1 scouting trip I took in June there weren't any either - just 1 organic farm selling *all* of her greens before they rotted, instead of cut and come again, I don't know if she replanted b/c I never saw her again in Aug and Sep).

I hear you on the education. Since I technically could call myself "organic" with my low sales, maybe I should, but I felt it was better not to start. I opted for "naturally grown" and explain my methods and the USDA requirements for "organic" label to people. Some people did ask if I was organic, but most didn't seem to care, just wanted a good deal. Maybe in Granby they'll be fussier (and have more disposable income).

I also spend a lot of time talking to people about my jams and jellies, explaining about sugar and pectin and HFCS and artificial sweeteners. I only use pectin when making a pepper jelly, all other fruits I make in the traditional way, long-cooking and/or mixing with high-pectin fruits to achieve a set. Most of my jams and jellies are a softer set than what you'd get from Smucker's, esp. if it has only been a couple of days since I made them, but they do set up in storage, or in the fridge. I've got LOTS of grape jelly I made in Sept ready to sell now, it was still a little runny by the end of market.

So would you recommend spending the $200 to get into the East Granby market on Rte 20 (main road from Hartford) that started last year, or going the "donation" route with the Y and letting the Y and their nutritionist do a lot of the "marketing" for local, "naturally grown" produce? I think that if people are coming to the Y to pick up their kids from day camp, or to work out, that they might be the affluent, health-concious consumers I'm looking for? Just don't know if location and time (day before East Granby market, 2 days before Simsbury) are going to work against them/us.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2012 at 6:55PM
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Can you produce enough for both markets? The Ys market might be a better market, because you'll be getting the Y members. I like to have at least 2 days between markets, preferably 3 days. I have markets on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday and several times the Friday market has bought everything and I have nothing for Saturday.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2012 at 8:41PM
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Can't do East Granby and Y since they are back-to-back nights, I can't produce that much (and I'd hate to pick stuff Tuesday for the Y and then bring leftovers to E.G., which is the one I'm paying $200 for!). New Hartford has the benefit of having Wed nights in July plus Fri nights June - Sept, but last year I didn't have anything in July, and that's the market with people asking about food stamps (market master told me I didn't have to take them last year, I don't know about this year, but it would require a bank account in this state to take all those $3 checks, and we currently do all our banking online with no fees).

Here's what the nutritionist had to say "Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to me today. Many times my job is very difficult trying to educate people on eating properly and convincing them that it is worth the extra money to buy real, wholesome foods. Not only is money a factor, but also the lack of knowledge in how to prepare the food. It is my objective to tackle this problem in as many ways as I can. One piece of this idea is to bring a farmers market to our property during a time of high traffic. We have chosen Tuesdays from 3-6pm. This is a time that will benefit our campers on site. We plan to educate the children on where their food comes from and bring them out to the market each week to purchase fresh produce and show them different ways they can prepare it for themselves. We also hope to do cooking demos in the later afternoon using produce being sold at the market to teach parents how they can easily prepare a nutritious dinner which will encourage them to purchase the ingredients at the market. I would really like to see not only our community become healthier, but also our local farmers be supported to continue the work they do. "

E.G. says of the $200, 10% goes towards marketing and the rest benefits the library. I don't know what they are planning for marketing, but I think a 33% increase ($150 to $200) is a bit much in the 2nd year for what is supposed to be a fundraiser, not a for-profit business. Guess they're pushing to see how much they can get, since Simsbury market fees are so high.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2012 at 9:01PM
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One of the best pieces of advice I ever took, and it may have come from this forum, was to take some time and plan out your growing year on a spreadsheet, day by day, and almost hour to hour. The first year I did this, my profit showed a significant improvement.

For instance, I know the day in February that I need to seed onions, how many to seed, the day I will transplant them, and where I will transplant them. I also know when I expect to harvest them. I do this for each crop, and from this plan, I know what and how much I will have to sell at each week's market. And since I have a pretty good idea of how much I am going to ask for each crop, I have a pretty good idea of what my projected revenues will be, if sales are good. Also I keep a spreadsheet for each market day, what and how much of each crop I brought, how much sold, and what I priced it at. This is invaluable when it comes to doing the next year's planning.

It drives me crazy to actually plan this all out, all the details, flipping the calendar back and forth, etc, but it is so worth it!

Two years ago, I got the Quickbooks computer program. I wish I had done this years before. Once you get the hang of it, it is easy to keep up with the data imput, and at a click I can see what our expenses for the year are running, what our sales are, and what our profit and loss statement looks like.

Are you doing this mostly by yourself? And are you also responsible for child care and meals, and laundry etc? Put that stuff into your planning because it will tell you what is doable and what is not.For instance, I have Monday mornings blocked out for errands- the shopping, banking, etc. And my day ends at 5 because I am the cook in the family.

Over time we have come to know what grows well for us, and where on the property it does the best. Don't rule out flowers as a money maker. We have planted peonies (they don't need rabbit or deer fencing) and I sell them to florists as well to our usual customers. I sold daffodil straight bunches this week, and I hope to do well on them next week as they look so nice on Easter tables.

Think about perennial crops that can do well. As we have aged, we have decreased the amount of annual cropping that we do as many of them require weekly seeding, transplanting, and harvesting. We have expanded rhubarb, and blueberries. I would do asparagus if our soil wasn't so rocky. We also do hardneck garlic (once you pay for the first seed garlic, your own garlic can be self-perpetuating), and onions (plant once and don't need rabbit and deer fencing.)

Read all you can. I got so much out of Eliot Coleman's The New Organic Grower, and we have had a subscription to Growing for Market since day one.

We never did well with raspberries as we only had a once a week market, and they just spoiled. Same situation with strawberries. I think that organic fruit trees in the Northeast is very tough. We have never gone there.

Good luck with whatever you decide. Market gardening is a tough way to make money, so only do it if you love it. But it has its advantages. You can be home, you are your own boss, you can involve your kids if they are at all so inclined, and, as several previous posters have noted, you can eat like royalty. We could never afford to eat like we do if we didn't grow it ourselves. Last year I grew melons.....oh my!

    Bookmark   March 29, 2012 at 2:31PM
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Yep, barb, it's just me - DH does the heavy lifting, but I've got the day-to-day operations. Plus child care, housework (including finishing building the house!), taxes, insurance, dr's appts/bills, etc. He has a a fulltime job and I'm a SAHM :-)

Started a spreadsheet last year to track all that stuff but gave up as my lettuce rotted and my tomatoes started dying. hope to do better record-keeping (Tracking!) this year though I haven';t started it yet.

I never took the raspberreies to market - too fragile. But boy did we enjoy them! Blackberries did well when I finally went to market, though untilo I had a lot of tomatoes I didn't even go, so missed the beginning of the berries. Not as many last year as the year before anyway. Don't know if it wa the 2-yr cycle, or rain caused problems with pollination (like it did blueberries). All I can hope is that berries have better year this year.

I've got some bunching onion seed, some chives, I'll plant those, I've got to call Agway tomorrow to see if I can buy smaller than 50-lb bag of oats b/c I just want to seed those new beds in oats and peas, maybe I can plant something else there later in the season. I hadn't planned on that space this year, and haven't tested the soil but I can tell it needs to have OM added, and *everywhere* up here needs lime, even though my dad says he took topsoil from the same spot for his garden and it's done fine.

I have a couple of Coleman's books on hold at the library, should get them early next week.

Marla has been helping me so much with taxes - with her and the CPA from TurboTax I hope to be done with those tomorrow. Once the Sch F is done, the 1040 is easy - I've been doing those for decades!

    Bookmark   March 29, 2012 at 4:05PM
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Wow. Great advice here. I just started last year myself, and quickly discovered that every dollar is hard won. I have one additional comment and a suggestion.

I attended a Women In Agriculture webinar locally (it was a nationwide program) and one of the statistics I learned was that 92% of farms have some form of off farm income. 92%! In other words, its very hard for your farm to actually totally support your family, no matter how large it might be. Somehow, that helped me feel less pressure.

And second, check into the concept of Holistic Management (for farms). This was introduced to me in a class I am taking on Small Ag Production. Holistic Management is based on a triple bottom line of economic, ecological and social benefit. Part of what appealed to me was that it takes into consideration how farming adds to your lifestyle - your happiness factor - if you will. In other words, a lot of what a person gets out of farming isn't about the $, it's about being close to nature, and having your hands in the dirt, and having a customer say to you 'I can't wait to get home and eat this' after buying your carrots, of having a healthy wholesome place to raise your kids, or a way to keep your body and mind healthy and active while benefiting your community. All this factors into why we choose to farm. If it makes you happy, keep doing it if you can afford it, even if it is at a loss!

Here is a link that might be useful: MilesAwayFarmBlog

    Bookmark   March 30, 2012 at 1:26PM
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Miles Away - that's the course I took, USDA contracted with HMI to run it. I try to keep the holistic goal in mind, but DH is all about the bottom line when it comes to making any $$ investment in the farm. Of course he loves the fresh produce, but we had that before I started it as a business (and had more OF it, too! Though in part that was due to the lousy weather last year). Though I don't think HMI ever said to take a loss (or at least not continue to take a loss - but if you can't run it as a profitable business then you have to re-evaluate your holistic goal).

BTW, I'd still love a copy of your spreadsheets - I emailed you but didn't get a reply.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2012 at 2:02PM
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great info in this thread guys...

    Bookmark   April 6, 2012 at 11:42AM
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