Monday, June 30, 2008

Making the Farm Pay

With the rising costs of just about everything farm related (land, fuel, feed, fencing, etc.) I think it is important to look for more ways for the farm to make money than just the livestock or produce. This is something that I have written about before on the Beginning Farmer Blog and it is also something that I have read as much about as possible. The latest little article comes from the June issue of the Stockman Grassfarmer. The main article is from the "Women's Work" column and deals with samples, but there is a small article on the same page titled, "Charge For Experiences, Give Away Your Products".

Of course they aren't talking about charging for a hay ride and then giving away a half of a pig. But, there may be an opportunity to charge for a fall festival and then serve up plenty of burgers, dogs, produce, and whatever else you have ... free of course. The idea is that you get people to come out to the farm for something else and then you expose them to the great food that you produce. I like the theory!

One thing that I have learned from my time writing for the Epi-Log is that there is a huge gap between the farmers and many consumers. As many statistics point out most people are quite a few generations removed from the farm and they don't have much understanding of farm life or farming in general. But, what I have also learned is that there is a desire by many people to get to know the farm better and the farmers also. Maybe this is an opportunity to charge for the experience and give away some product.

An idea that we have kicked around from time to time is Christmas trees. We love the experience of going and cutting down our own tree and have always thought it would be enjoyable to have a tree farm, but with only 40 acres I don't think we want to use much land for Christmas trees. So, my wife had the idea that we could have a small Christmas tree grove for ourselves and our customers/friends of customers. This way we could have one or two days during the holiday season where we invite the customers and their friends out for a winter day on the farm full of food, fun, and of course Christmas trees. We could charge for the trees, give away some food, and gain some new customers.

Diversifying your farm these days means more than just have a 7-year crop rotation or pigs, sheep, and cattle. Today I think it means you need to come up with more ways to make the farm pay.


Steven said...

I know I have mentioned it before but one of the welders here at work has a tree farm at his parents place. They're open 2 or 3 weekends a year and that is their only time that the public is invited onto the farm. The big draw with them is that you take a ride on a big wagon being pulled by one of 2 teams of Belgian draft horses out to the trees. You pick one out and a guy cuts it for you and loads it on the back of the wagon. Back at the store a couple of guys clean up the bottom limbs and wrap it in a plastic netting while you shop in their tiny little Christmas shop. They have built their own outhouse for the public and have a cute little barn that they put sheep and other animals in temporarily for a petting zoo.

They also raise a small flock of sheep for meat and some rabbits but both parents have off farm jobs.

Ethan Book said...

Steven ... I do like the idea of Christmas trees, mostly because it is such a great memory for me now and I vividly remember all of our tree hunts as a kid. Adding in a store or something else is always a good idea.

Chad Lott said...


I just started reading your blog the other day. I dig it.

The farm visit thing is a great idea. My introduction to neo-agrarianism and sustainable farming came about two years ago when I went to the Full Belly Farm Hoe's Down festival.

I was (and still am, but hope not to be soon) a bartender and went to help my friends at Prather Ranch Meat Company run their grill. It was basically a life changing event for me.

Although I don't know if I'll ever have a farm, I am going to go to law school to practice Environmental/Agrarian style law. And I'm now committed to pouring my city earned dollars into the local farming community

Mellifera said...

How's this idea (I came up with this one after looking at various CSA come-work-for-us-for-reduced-prices arrangements and hearing about the occasional you-pick nightmare- people picking the wrong things, wrecking your trees, etc...)

When the occasional giant chore day comes up, send an email out to regular customers to see if they'd like to come help out for a day. Dig holes for trees, thin beets, shear sheep, whatever. You can consider these guys "trained": they've been to the farm, have an idea of how things work there, you've give them safety training on chore day, they have some sense of personal investment in your setup, and most importantly, you know them and whether they let their kids run wild over your crops or not. : )

So your favor to these "super" customers is... You-Pick privileges! It's good for customers because clearly they're already into having a more personal relationship with the farm, and are the kind of folks who'd be more likely to come pick their own anyway. (Especially if the other people coming to pick are ones they've already met on chore days, instead of your farm just being a fruit tree theme park.) You get all the good parts of a you-pick harvesting strategy without having to worry as much about people wrecking the place.

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