Well, besides spending all my waking time trying to get our garage and loft built, I have been trying to get planning done for the upcoming year. I like to plan things out a lot. I think a lot about how to optimize the variables that go into the farm venture. There is a lot of uncertainty, particularly at this early stage for us but this is part of the venture I find very exciting.
So planning… I have spreadsheets: spreadsheets that tell me how much to plant to get how much out of a certain area and how long it takes for each crop to be ready. I started in 2007 with a table from Vesey’s website and have been adding and changing it since then. Then I have a sheet where I’ve detailed how much I plan (or hope) to provide CSA shares each week for each vegetable as well as a rough idea of how much I’d like to be able to bring to market each week.
From this I am able to make a seed order (quantities to buy of each crop) as well as a map of the market garden with enough space for each crop. I’ve settled on a basic unit of 5′ wide bed by 100′ long. I will group these into larger blocks. Roughly right now I seem to be needing about 1.25 acre or about 112 of my standard “beds”. I will likely use more than that as I won’t be cramming everything tightly together but have larger spaces and gaps here and there.
The other major spreadsheet I’ve been working on in the past 2-3 years has been the farm business plan. This I have done mainly to prove to myself (and my wife!) that I have a trajectory where this business could make money and sustain us. It is a 5 year plan and the goal is to make a “family sustaining wage” from farming by the end of 5 years. As with any business plan, the predictions for more than 2 years out can be quite a lot of guess-work, but despite that, it is still a very important excercise. Without it, it would be easy to take on more than I could handle or go down paths that have little chance of being financially successful.
Already the process of getting the plan down on paper has helped me to focus what it is I’m trying to do. Here are some things I have learned:
- I should really focus on Market Farming (CSA, farmers market, other things that compliment these primary ventures)
- Maple Syrup, on the scale that I am doing it will always be only a very small (less than 10%) component of the farm
- Animals each add significant capital expense each time they are added and will have a big effect on cash flow. Again they will be a smaller part of the farm for the first 5 years and will be added slowly
The planning has also helped me a lot to shape what I am trying to do this year (40 member CSA, hiring interns, what capital expenses to focus on) and will hopefully have saved me some time in getting to profitability. We’ll see!