2 acre farm: Cash For Crops

2 acre farm

The experiences, trials, and lives on a small farm in rural Illinois.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Cash For Crops

I could sit and pretend that I am doing all this for the love of gardening but then that wouldn't be entirely true and I’m not that romantic. Farmer's have bills too you know. I have been rereading Ron Macher's book Making Your Small Farm Profitable and have decided to write a bit about marketing and making money which is something that stills frightens me to the core but I am working out a plan. When trying to make a profit from farming it can become incredibly confusing and complicated but one main point from Ron's book stands out to me, diversification.
I am sure plenty of people know about diversification in crops and livestock but something that often gets overlooked is marketing diversification. While farmer’s markets are a convenient solution to selling produce to a ready supply of buyers it can’t be the only solution. One stormy nasty market day can take away a whole week of pay and leave you standing with hundreds of pounds of produce that has been going bad since the moment you picked it. So here is a list of the direct marketing options mentioned in Ron’s book (italicized is exactly what it is listed as in the book everything else is my thoughts on it):

1. Selling to Friends and Neighbors – This seems easier said than done. It also seems like depending on the relationship this could be awkward and hard to approach but would be a good source for word of mouth advertising.

2. Farmer’s Markets –I believe this is a must at least for the beginning but not the end all. I also think that booth fees, distance to market, and frequency of the market are all things to be seriously considered before plunging into a farmer’s market.

3. Roadside Stands – I think this could be good if you have a location or can find one to rent or barter for. Unlike the farmer’s market you have no competition here but again a bad weather day could wipe this option out. Again things like rent and distance must be considered unless there is a high traffic acceptable location on farm.

4. Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) – In case you haven’t heard of this a CSA is where people buy a subscription to your farm and get weekly, monthly, bi-weekly, or however you organize it shares of the produce you grow. The shares are usually a set amount like 10-15 lbs a week and are either delivered or picked up on a regular day. I believe this is an awesome option that could be wonderfully coupled with a farmer’s market; CSA shares go out on Friday and sell excess Saturday at the market for example. I do not believe this is attainable until a person can confidently grow a certain amount of produce year after year.

5. Catalog Sales – I suppose this would be good if you were doing added value products like jam. I don’t see this in my future though. I have little desire to process anything I grow.

6. Shows and Fairs – I can see this for a marketing strategy but I don’t see annual fairs as a good way to sell produce. I think this is another good suggestion for added value products.

7. U-Pick Farms – Obviously this can be very successful. Everyone has seen how people love to flock to these but this isn’t in my future because of location. I do think anyone near or on a busy enough road should consider this.

8. Food Circles – This idea was new to me until reading it in the book. The idea is that you combine the ideas of a CSA and a cooperative. A small limited group of farmer’s all pitch into a CSA like situation and then get paid based off the share they contributed. I think with enough networking this could be a good option but it leaves you relying on the ability of other farmer’s to farm. It also causes problems with whether you are alright with the way the other farmer’s farm; organic versus conventional for example.

After that the book goes into wholesale options which I don’t consider an option but instead a last resort. I simply can’t grow enough of anything to make a living off of two acres. Has anyone used the methods or others not listed?

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Blogger NoviceLife said...

Good Post! I am going to have to check this book out!

February 15, 2010 at 7:40 AM  
Blogger The Garden of James said...

You wrote: 'I do not believe this is attainable until a person can confidently grow a certain amount of produce year after year.'

I worked on a farm that operates a CSA. They did awful this year and really made people mad because of the lack of produce.

That being said, I don't think you have to be confident that you can produce 'year after year' as people re-up every year. If they did not like your services/produce, they won't give you money next year. I'm sure you can find a few people who would enjoy your produce on a weekly basis. Of course, pick up is easier for you but you may be able to entice a few more customers if you offer delivery.

What about canning your produce?
Renting out a row or two like a community garden program?
Do you sell any seeds?
Build raised beds or mini greenhouses and sell them. The cold frame you have is pretty sweet.
Start gardens for people in their own yards using leftover material and seeds.

February 17, 2010 at 12:15 PM  
Blogger Nathan (2af) said...

NoviceLife - It is a great book and this subject is just a drop in the bucket of information that it contains.

James- A lack of produce is exactly what scares me about CSA's. I think though it is something I am going to have to explore. I am even considering trying to get as little as five subscriptions to work the kinks out and get a feel for it. Delivery would definately be an enticer but I guess you'd have to figure out if there is still profit in it with delivery.

We can a lot of produce for home use. Canning for sale would require building or renting a USDA inspected kitchen but I think this is definately an option.

I have never considered renting garden space, selling seeds, building gardening supplies, or starting gardens for people. These are all great ideas I am actually going to write these down. I especially like the idea of starting gardens for people. Having a tiller and know how puts me in a great position for something like this.

I am not sure I would be comfortable renting space since my little 2 acre farm is my backyard. I also imagine I would need some sort of liability insurance.

Selling seeds could be an interesting endeavor seeing as how I have saved seeds in the past. It would take some educating to be able to confidently deliver a consistent quality product but I really find this idea appealing.

Building for people may be viable but despite knowing how to do it, I am not overly fond of carpentry. This could be a great solution to keep cash flowing during the winter lull though.

Thanks for the feedback and ideas!

February 17, 2010 at 5:29 PM  
Anonymous MrBrownThumb said...

How about growing specialty herbs or veggies that are a little rarer but popular with ethnic minorities? In Chicago I sometimes don't make it to the grocery store because small farmers line up along the road selling produce near my house.

February 22, 2010 at 7:22 PM  
Blogger Nathan (2af) said...

I'll be selling in Springfield , IL. Not sure how thriving the ethnic communities are there. With a population just over 100,000 I imagine not so much but I have thought that this would be an area to explore. I have even thought about ethnic foods marketed towards the general public since there is a growing interest there especially for Asian and Mexican foods. Selling roadside is something I definatly want to investigate even if it means renting space in someone's parking lot on a well traveled road.

February 22, 2010 at 8:27 PM  
Anonymous Herbs in the Garden said...

Hi Nathan-

We did the huge garden shows for a long time, selling specialty herbs and herbal products. It's hard work, sometimes in miserable weather conditions. I always had fun, even when tired and fussy. I closed the retail herb nursery and just grow plenty for friends,family and neighbors now.
In Springfield, besides the Home and Garden centers, even Walmart (acck!) has lots of herbs available these days. It just does not pay to grow specialty stuff and then toss it on the compost pile.
There are a few organic produce growers close to Rochester that supply a local health food store, and do lots of business at the local farmers market.

Good luck!

February 24, 2010 at 6:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I still believe in the CSA. I live in NYC and having certified organically grown food come directly to the Union Square is a great luxury that I wouldnt pass up on. I paid my dues weekly when I went to pick up produce and fruit and have no qualms about paying a lil more for pesticide free food. I come from a family of farmers, so fresh healthy organic food is very important to me. I'll skip on the lattes, new clothes, tech, etc., but I will not skimp on good quality food. To me, that's just sacrilegious, buying the trendiest most fashionable whatever but not feeding yourself the best food you can afford. My body is my temple and I guuard it fiercely. :)

December 7, 2011 at 1:03 AM  

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