Farm School Weeks Four and Five: The Best Fertilizer Is a Strong Marketing Plan

| 4/22/2010 4:40:51 PM

A photo of Alison Spaude-FilipczakWhat did I expect when I set off to farm for eight months in Washington’s Puget Sound? Let me paint you a picture. I imagined walking through the dewy fields at sunrise admiring the rapid growth of plants in their infancy. I imagined spending afternoons between rows of garlic and onions, hoe in my hand and straw hat on my head. I imagined loosening the ground with a garden fork and excitedly pulling carrots from the rich earth. What I didn’t imagine was this: long mornings spent sitting in a stuffy classroom crunching numbers, editing newsletters, and designing a marketing plan.

Taryn works diligently on marketing strategies in the office.

This is what the reality has been for the past two weeks. I had romanticized all of the wonders of working the land and growing food for a community of people, yet I hadn’t spent one moment daydreaming about all of the hours I would spend making sure that there was a way get that food to the people. Staring at a computer screen and doing office work was one of the last things I had imagined doing, but here I am: face to the screen with my fingers tapping on the keypad when they yearn to be digging in the dirt.

The reality is that farmers need to make money. Farming is a business, and even though there is not one drop of creativity or nurturing energy in an Excel spreadsheet, if you want to be successful farmer, it might be a good idea to learn how to use one. (Or hire someone to who knows how to use one; however, that in not in our budget.)

We are farming five acres at the Greenbank Farm. Three of those acres have been planted with a variety of cover crops, including red clover, vetch, oats, and rye grass. The other two acres are being planted with vegetables, mostly annuals. We are growing squash, tomatoes, broccoli, carrots, beets, potatoes, and about twenty other tasty vegetables, along with some herbs and cut flowers, so we sure as heck better find someone to buy and eat them.

Basically, it comes down to the fact that we need a way to move our veggies. Our strategy is to sell our produce in a variety of ways. We have a 50 member CSA. However, I should clarify that we hope to have a 50 member CSA. When we started our program in March, we only had two members. As of now, we have a few more, but we are still several dozen members away from meeting our 50-member goal. We have also set up several wholesale accounts. The Goose and the Star Store, two grocery stores on Whidbey Island, have committed to buying head lettuce, along with a few other crops, from us to sell in their produce aisles. Whidbey General Hospital has committed to buy radishes and lettuce from us. (Isn’t is refreshing to think that a hospital is going to serve healthy, organically grown salad in its cafeteria – a revolution is beginning; down with the pudding cups!) And, of course, we always have the farmers' market. We will be selling our produce at the Greenbank Farmers' Market on Sundays from May through October. (As a side note: I love farmers' markets. Not only are they an excellent way to interact with your community, but they also offer a wide array of choices for some of the freshest produce around.)

Paul Gardener
4/27/2010 1:18:28 PM

Great information Alison. As one who would love to "someday" turn my passion for organic growing into a viable income producer, I appreciate your input. I always try to look at my backyard garden as my little nano-farm where I work every year to get better and better at the basics of growing food and raising livestock. Each year brings better results and each year brings some heartbreaks. The marketing and selling of the products is a new area that I need to gain experience in as well. Thanks for the reminder! I look forward to watching the progress this season as your farm moves towards its goal. Best of luck! Paul~

Nebraska Dave
4/23/2010 2:16:06 PM

Alison, I always inform folks that are starting a new business that only about 25% of the business will be the fun stuff that you like to do. The other 75% will be keeping records, building a customer base, and dread of all dreads satisfying the IRS. They love to make a business owner keep track of inventory, produce quarterly reports, and heaven help you if you have to hire help. I admire those that have the desire to start a business but it takes long hours of work outside of the fun stuff to make it a successful business. It takes about two years to acquire a sustainable profit to live on. I not trying to convince you not to pursue the path you are on, but to inform you that the first couple years can be a little rough. After things are established, the rewards will be unbelievably wonderful. I wish you all the success that this still free enterprise country allows you to have. You have already traveled a road that’s been trying your abilities, but don’t give up. Keep believing that it can happen and it will. Best wishes toward your enterprise. Thanks for sharing your experiences along the road to success. It’s time for me to go dig in the dirt.

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