Monday, November 16, 2009

The Farm is a Business

Yesterday while I was watching a trailer for Fresh (the movie) I saw this clip from Joel Salatin in the related video sections of YouTube. This is the first time that I have come across this particular interview and I found it quite fascinating. Really, it gave me a lot to think about as I think about ways to ramp up the farm as a business and increase our sales and the number of livestock we raise.

One of the phrases Mr. Salatin used that I really appreciated was, "credible local food system". "Credible" is a word that I find myself thinking about a lot lately when it comes to the ministry of the church, and on the farm. One of the ways that something can be deemed credible by the surrounding world is if it is done with purpose and with excellence. I think it would be easy for our farm to be quaint ... selling some pork to our friends, neighbors, and a few other customers. But, to be credible it needs to be about more than some cute pigs running around and a few cows relaxing on the pasture. It needs to be a solid business that is intelligently run and serves up a great product.

Obviously Polyface Farm (and Mr. Salatin) is light-years ahead of us when he is talking about the importance of hiring and bringing in business minded people. And, he is more than light-years ahead of us when he mentions having successful million dollar farms. But, I think there are some great nuggets of wisdom there when it comes to the way you look at your farm. There are things that I need to think about at least ... Is the farm a retreat for the evenings and weekends (it's a lot of work for a retreat)? Or, is the farm a business that needs a business plan (I should really be working on that) and a model that promotes well thought out and planned growth?

If you have a chance, I encourage you to check out this clip and share your thoughts!


Rich said...

I don't really agree with his statement that (paraphrasing) 'farmers don't want to form personal relationships with people, they just want to go out by themselves on a tractor, and not deal with other people.'

But, one thing that jumped out at me from the video was the statement that Chipolte had to have a minimum of about 10 pigs per week to meet their needs. Along with that statement, was a mention of a need to create some sort of farmer's coop to help smaller farmers sell their pigs (or beef, etc.).

Creating or finding some sort of farmer's food coop might be a viable way to grow a small farm into a 'million dollar' farm.

Jerry said...

I actually think there is a lot of truth in what he says about farmers preferring to avoid "outside" involvement (my quote). I know it is not always the case, myself for example, but it is often the case, my father's family for example. I love and respect my dad but this area might be the biggest obstacle to my starting to move the farm in new directions.

But having grown up on a subsistence farm, I have intimate experience with the necessity to operate at a minimum scale in order to scrape out a living. Thank goodness the public is waking up, somewhat at least, to the importance of a strong local food system that balances scale and healthy practices.

At least it is a productive struggle that is good for the soul. It saddens me that there are those like my father who strove under those proper practices, while the masses grew less and less aware, leading to some real and deep cynicism about the feasibility of the kind of balanced agrarianism that we are talking about. I know that is at least a small part of why I feel this work is so honor those who sacrificed so some of us could remember how things are supposed to be done.

Having said all this, I really believe that we will see a re-emergence of the small, diversely skilled village type of agrarianism again. I think it will, and must, start with intentional groupings and cooperatives. Its also the best chance of minimizing violence during the descent, I believe.

Anyway, these are typical thoughts of mine, but this video definitely brings them back to the forefront of my mind.

Apple Jack Creek said...

We have a very small 'sideline' farm, but it's still important to realize what the bottom line is.
As I work in computers as my day job, a spreadsheet is the natural strategy for tracking.
We save our receipts, and track our expenses. We track our sales, and we accoutn for the portion of the product that we eat ourselves (by valuing it at what we'd pay at the store if we bought there).

It's a bit of work figuring all the numbers, but it helps us see if we are charging enough for our meat and eggs, and to see which of our 'ventures' are profitable. If we paid more for chicken feed than we made in egg sales, we'd know to focus more on the sheep or cattle.

The book "Small Scale Livestock farming" by Carol Ekarius was helpful in getting us thinking of things this way. In most farms, the idea is to 'bring in more money'. For a small farm, often the key is to *spend* less money. Knowning where the money's going is of course the key.

Excel to the rescue! :)

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