You may have been as surprised as us at the headline and tone of the article about us in the Chesterfield Observer last week. We hope it’s obvious that we did not know in advance what the article was going to focus on, nor what it would be titled. For those of you that are familiar with us, we hope you could tell that the article was written in a voice other than ours and misrepresented our attitude about finances.
(Photo above courtesy of the Farmers Market at St. Stephen’s, 2015-12-05)
Presented out of context and with a few factual errors, some of our quotes conveyed a message different than our intent. The article is about 75% positive, whereas we feel 99% positive. 🙂 Fortunately, we have this wonderful weekly newsletter in which we can provide the context and clarification! Read on.
The article does a nice job of sharing our passion for this work from environmental and nutritional perspectives. Thank you, CO!
The short version of what the article misrepresented:
We have led a very frugal life during the start up years of this farm business on purpose and are on the cusp of being where we want the business to be financially. We expect to be at a financially sustainable level in 2016, and continue that way until we are ready to retire. (We define this as paying ourselves a living wage, allowing us to save money for retirement, and contributing money to our children’s college funds.) To do this, we want to expand a very small amount (not “substantial”), which will be contained on our one 5-acre parcel. To accomplish all of this, we are looking for about 30 more households to purchase CSA shares and more community members to shop from us at the local farmers’ market. We are vocal about this because of how many people approach us stating they want a farm like ours and because farm businesses are generally not forthcoming about money.
We have grown this farm business at deliberate and measured increments over the past five years and we are incredibly optimistic about what the next year holds. We have met our production and sales goals each year so far and believe this will continue.
The full missing context for the mention of us “barely” making it is this:
One – In the Summer of 2014 the CO published an article stating that Chesterfield needs more farmers’ markets and more small farmers. We wrote a response sharing our direct experience that makes us disagree strongly with the notion that there is a current need for more farmers’ markets (there are not yet enough shoppers at existing markets) and noting that before more small farms are needed, more shoppers of these products are needed. Then, in the winter and spring of 2015, we had three nice pieces of media attention and at the same time completed construction of our new, beautiful, large barn. The combination of these four news stories led people to start saying to us “Wow – This farm business must be really lucrative.” and “You all are clearly doing well.” At the same time, we continued to field many inquiries from people who want to start farms like ours.
Two – Farmers tend to not talk about finances. (Imagine this! An industry that we need in order to eat avoids the discussion of money!) Especially for small farms, business models are nearly non-existent and farm business owners rarely share financial information. These pages from recent editions of the leading periodical for farms like ours point out how much learning our industry has to do.
It is no surprise, then, to learn that most small farms these days go out of business, and most of those that are in business don’t provide a living wage to the farmer.
From our very first days dreaming of this farm business, we have known that we have to pay ourselves a living wage. We have no source of passive income. This is a business growing amazing food to nourish our community, and it must do so while paying us a decent salary. It’s possible but difficult and immediately puts us in a category with the minority of farms. Knowing this from beginning, we have intentionally lived a very frugal life during these first start up years. This is common for small businesses in general, though certainly farming has unique and (dare we say) extra-challenging variables.
We think it is important for farms (especially small organic farms) to be financially sustainable in addition to biologically sustainable. (Most are not.) We want to help the larger movement by voicing information about financial sustainability, and as we are nearing our 5th anniversary, we are having more and more people turn to us for information.
So – to all of the wonderful people that wish to have a farm like ours, we want to make sure we communicate that to make a business like this you need either a large load of capital to start (we did not) or be willing to live very frugally for a number of years while farm profits are being invested in infrastructure. Here in our 5th season, we are still heavily investing in the business, and therefore not supporting our family the way that we will in the future. Additionally, finding community members to purchase the vegetables grown by a commercial-sized business (as opposed to a hobby-sized business) is no small feat. Chesterfield residents, as a whole, are very new to purchasing food directly from the grower.
To our amazing CSA members, customers, and observing community members, we want to communicate that we are looking for additional households to purchase and benefit from what we grow. Our food is simply better than more convenient alternatives. It tastes better, it is more fresh, it is grown without any chemical inputs, and we hear that people eating the food we grow feel better. We feel better since inundating our diets with these vegetables for the past few years.
We are already rich… and we are almost financially sustainable.
However, to sell the approximately 20,000 pounds of vegetables that we have grown and picked this year, we have attended five different farmers’ markets and set up five different CSA pick up locations. That is enough vegetables for approximately 130 households, and almost enough to support our business comfortably, yet spread across ten different outlets is spread too thin. This is akin to a asking a small restaurant to serve just a few meals in many different locations instead of all meals in just one facility. We think we should be able to meet our members and customers at just half that number of pick up/market locations.
Thus – we would love your help in connecting with more people to enjoy the vegetables that we grow and in bringing those people in to a handful of pick up locations. A number of our wonderful members and customers have reached out to us after reading the article asking what they can do to help. This is it! Help spread the word about how wonderful our vegetables are and help mobilize more of our community to get this food. The Brandermill Green Market is a gem of an open-air, Saturday market and could serve many, many more county residents. Shop there! We will be growing a bit more vegetables next year than this year, and we look forward to staffing a realistic (fewer) number of pick up locations. We are an amazing community resource, here to grow the most nutritious delicious vegetables for our community. Thanks for making it possible to get this far with our farm business, and thanks for helping to make it even better in the years ahead!
Our Farm Stand is stocked, online ordering for our Market Share is stocked, and we will have a table at St. Stephen’s Farmers’ Market this Saturday. Please visit us and scoop up some of the last of this year’s goods!
Looking ahead: Dec 19th will be the last day of sales for us in 2015. The farmers’ market is closed Dec 26th, and we will therefore close up for Dec 20-31 and enjoy some family time.
This week’s harvest includes:
Arugula, Carrots, Collards, Hearty Greens Mix, Kale, Lettuce, Microgreens, Parsley, Radish, Salad Mix, Turnips….and our Organic Naturally Leavened Bread.
Vegetables not ordered by our Market Share CSA members will join us this Saturday at the St. Stephen’s Farmers’ Market and will be made available for anyone to order through Fall Line Farms and Local Roots Food Co-op, Richmond’s online farmers’ markets. Please use discount code “broadfork” to waive the subscription fee.