Approaching the Break Even Point

Reader Contribution by Jennifer Quinn
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Since before my move to Panther’s Hollow I’ve been weighing and pricing my produce — though it’s only for my own use — with a view to how the economics of it are working out. I’ve invested a lot in equipment, especially since expanding my operations here, and I don’t know when that will begin to pay off. However, I charge off my expenses, such as fertilizer, feed — even smaller equipment purchases like the heat mat I finally got for starting my seeds — against my produce revenue, and I think this year my operations may break even.

Last year was disappointing, since I fell short of the $165 (I know — it’s a very small number) in gross revenue of the previous year. This was largely due to crop failures, most notably zucchini — yes, zucchini! — Brussels sprouts, green beans and spinach, owing partly to poor advice and poor planning. I did, however, have my biggest-ever harvest of potatoes and butternut squash, with stored potatoes lasting me into March, and cooked squash still in the freezer. And I had eggs from the Guineas for a while, plus the cockerel that I harvested for Thanksgiving.

Total revenue for 2015 came to roughly $143.75, with potatoes and squash as the highest-value producers, followed by beets, onions and eggs. My method of pricing is based on what I would pay for the same items (not necessarily same quality) at the supermarket. Thus potatoes and squash are valued at $1 a pound. And I don’t count anything I give away, though sometimes it’s almost like barter since I get other things in return.

Of course I could assign higher values if I went by organic prices, but I don’t for several reasons: First, though I don’t use any chemicals, my gardening and poultry-raising wouldn’t meet strict organic standards at this time. Second, the quality is often not what you would expect in commercial organic produce, since I’m only a novice at this and need to improve my techniques and soil nutrient levels. Third: I track my revenue mainly as a way to determine how much I’m contributing to my own budget. In time, as the quality improves I may implement a dual accounting system — recording both personal prices and market prices.

As for profitability, well — for 2015 I spent $992 over what I took in. However, this year I expect to spend a fraction of that, since I will spend nothing on fertilizer, and little or nothing on pest control. On the income side, I’ll have considerable revenue from the eggs, as well as some from chickens (and guineas?) culled from my flock. I’ve also expanded the garden, learned from last year’s mistakes, and expect to have a much bigger harvest this year.

I’ll keep you posted!

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