Looking back at our whirlwind first season

Caitlin Discing February_cropped

By Caitlin Arnold, Furrow Horse Farm 

As we head into our second year as a farm, I am amazed at what we accomplished in just one short year. I remember back to our first few weeks on the farm, when our main field was just a cow pasture; we had yet to put up a deer fence, hoophouse, or wash station; and were thick in the process of starting up a business.

When we got started in January 2015, I was often overwhelmed by the amount of work we needed to put in to turn our leased property into a production farm. The list of tasks seemed endless, and I was dubious of our ability to get it all done, especially on top of working our off-farm jobs. But with the help of our friends and family, we created a productive 1.5-acre plot that successfully provided for a 15-member CSA, two farmers’ markets, and multiple wholesale accounts.

Looking forward through 2016, I am thrilled to not be putting up a deer fence and buying all of our tools— instead I can put more energy toward planning, advertising, and fostering business relationships and new possibilities. We can also focus on our relationship with our team of horses; our goal is to not have to rent our landlord’s tractor for any field work this year. (more…)

Funding our farm: loans, grants, and a gamble

Hoophouse_construction_crop

By Caitlin Arnold, Furrow Horse Farm 

When Brandon and I decided to start Furrow Horse Farm last January, we knew we were about to spend a lot of money. We were moving onto leased land that had no infrastructure, and we needed to build hoop houses and put up a deer fence.

Since we had both been working for other farmers in the years after graduating from college, we didn’t have very much money saved, nor did we have inheritances or farmland in our families. We didn’t have so much as a wheelbarrow or a hoe. So how could we raise the roughly $10,000 we knew we needed to successfully start our farm?

We began by asking our family members for small loans. Most turned us down, as they did not view farming as a real business venture and did not think we could actually make any money growing vegetables. My parents, however, believed in us and have supported us all along, and they were willing to loan us money for tools and equipment.

Next, we applied for a Kiva Zip loan through the Greenhorns, and were approved. Kiva Zip Loans are crowd-funded, but the lenders are paid back every cent. And as borrowers we are charged 0% interest. Within 24 hours of posting our Kiva Zip Loan ask on social media, we were fully funded. We began making our repayments in August, and will be totally paid off within two years. At that point we will be eligible for a larger Kiva Loan if we choose to do another.

Finally, at the last minute, I applied for a grant through a private philanthropic organization based in Seattle that is dedicated to helping sustainable farmers in Washington, especially those with financial need. In my grant application, I wrote about our dream of farming with draft horses and reducing our use of fossil fuels on the farm. One month later, we heard back—we had been chosen for the grant! It was a total game-changer, and the only reason we were able to purchase draft equipment and our team of draft horses this year. Even better, we don’t have to pay the money back! (more…)

So You Want to Be a Farmer? First, know this….

CaitlinandBrandon_working_collageBy Caitlin Arnold, Furrow Horse Farm 

You want to be a farmer? That’s great news because we need a lot more farmers! But there are some things you should know before diving in:

1) Farming is really, really hard. (Let me stress that one more time….)
Seriously. The hardest work I’ve ever done. You will work longer days then you ever have and take less time off then ever before. You will be perennially sore and exhausted. You will have less money than most (if not all) of your friends. There is no paid vacation, no health insurance, no company-sponsored retirement plan.

2) Farmers are not just farmers.
There is a lot more to farming than just raising your crop and bringing it to market. Farmers are bookkeepers, marketing geniuses, writers, advertisers, organizers, social networkers, managers, and office workers. Not only do you need to be good at growing what you grow, you need to know how to start and run a successful business. (more…)

Planning for the short-term– BOOTSTRAP AT FURROW HORSE FARM

Horses Lady and Abby_cropBy Caitlin Arnold, Furrow Horse Farm 

Before I dive into this post, the farm has a big announcement:

We now have our first team of draft horses! Lady and Abby, two Belgian mares from Sandpoint, Idaho, were delivered to us a few weeks ago. So far they are doing great, and we have already used them in the garden to harrow in our cover crop. We are so excited to finally have them here and realize our dream of owning our own team. Now we can truly start making our way to becoming draft horse-powered. I can’t fully describe just how good it feels!

As for our next big plans, we have a lot in the works for the 2016 season. In September, Brandon spent a week helping our landlords take out an old, unproductive orchard at the lower end of the property. This month we will be tilling up an additional acre where the orchard was, then planting a cover crop so it will be ready to put into production next season. We hope to use it as our potato and winter squash field, to free up space in our main garden for more labor-intensive crops.

By adding the additional acre, we will have about 2.5 acres in production next year. Our hope is to double the size of our CSA to 24 members and begin selling at the Olympia Farmers Market, which is much bigger than the Saturday market we were at this year. We also want to expand our restaurant sales. Between these three areas, our goal is to double our gross income next year. (more…)

The Best and The Worst: Bootstrap at Furrow Horse Farm

Furrow Horse veggie rows_cropped

By Caitlin Arnold, Furrow Horse Farm 

Being a farmer comes with ups and downs to the extreme. Every day we simply hope to wake up prepared for any and all situations and well rested enough to deal with what comes.

Sometimes, what comes is disaster. The story of one of the worst days on the farm this season comes from Brandon:

A few weeks ago we had an epic windstorm. Caitlin was away for the weekend, and I was all set for our Saturday market. I woke to an email on Saturday morning from our market manager: the market is rain or shine, but we will not set up if wind exceeds 40 mph. The weather report was looking iffy: 25-30 mph and steady rain throughout the day. Do I stay or do I go? Because we had harvested all of our vegetables the day before, completely unaware of the extreme weather forecast, I couldn’t just let our produce go to waste.

With an extra rain jacket in tow, I set out for the market. The weather seemed agreeable, so far. By the time I arrived, the rain had turned from a light drizzle to a consistent downpour. Just moments after our market tent was set up, the wind started to pick up. We had 25 lbs. of weight on each leg and a heavy-duty aluminum market canopy, so I wasn’t overly concerned.

Just as the next vendor arrived and began unfolding his canopy, a strong gust blew through the market, picked his canopy up, folded it in half, and blew it over the top of his truck, rendering it useless and destroyed. The next two vendors would not take the chance: they eschewed the use of their canopies, and sold produce directly out of their trucks. They kindly offered us all of their market weights, meaning I had 75 lbs. of weight on each canopy leg.

By noon, the weather was even worse. One other tent had blown in half, and multiple vendors had packed up and left. Completely soaked through to the bone and worried about the stability of the remaining market canopies, the last three vendors and I decided to call it quits. That was shortly after noon. (more…)

The numbers game – Bootstrap at Furrow Horse Farm

caitlin and brandon_croppedBy Caitlin Arnold, Furrow Horse Farm 

Brandon and I started Furrow Horse Farm this year not entirely sure where it would take us, or where we would take it. We are farming on leased land, and signed a one-year lease to start out with. It is difficult to plan long-term for the farm and business when we don’t know how long we will be on this land or even how long we want to be on this land. We also both have off-farm jobs to help pay the bills, so not all of our time is dedicated to growing our farm business.

Given all of that, our business plan for this first season was fairly simple. We knew we wanted to start a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and our goal was 10 members at $500 per share ($5,000 total CSA income). I am happy to say we have exceeded our goal and are now at 14 members. However, over half of them started at some point once the season was underway, and we had to pro-rate the weeks they had missed. So, even though we surpassed our goal, we did not make the $500-per-person amount we were hoping for.

Our next piece of income was farmers’ markets. We knew we needed to do two markets a week and began applying for different markets around our area, up to an hour’s drive away. I kept my expectations pretty low for market income, and set our goal at $200 per market, per week. That works out to $1,600 per month during the market season, June-October ($8,000 total market income). We ended up in a busy Tuesday market, and a slow Saturday market. (more…)

My Grandpa and the New Family Farm – BOOTSTRAP AT FURROW HORSE FARM

Grandpa_and_Caitlin-1988

By Caitlin Arnold, Furrow Horse Farm 

On February 13th of this year, I came home from work and played the new messages on our answering machine. My mom’s voice came across the line crying and hysterical, informing me that my grandpa had died that afternoon.

My grandpa, Richard Norton, grew up farming cherries and apples in the Yakima Valley of eastern Washington State. He witnessed the transition from draft horses to tractors and the arrival of DDT as the “farmers miracle.” After leaving the farm at 18 to serve in the army, he returned, not to the farm, but instead to college to become a music teacher.

Supporting himself by playing in jazz and big bands, he received his degree, married my grandma, and began his thirty-year teaching career.

(more…)

Bootstrap at Furrow Horse Farm – Meet Caitlin

 Caitlin_Cultimulching_crop

Welcome to our 2015 Bootstrap Blog series! We’ve been introducing you to our four Bootstrap Bloggers, who are all in their first or second year of running a farm. Throughout the season, each Bootstrap Blogger will write about the highs and lows, glory moments and curveballs that come with farming.

 

My name is Caitlin Arnold, and I am a young farmer in Washington State. This year I’m celebrating my tenth year of farming and my first year of running my own farm business! I have been working on small, organic vegetable farms in Washington, Oregon, and California since 2005, and this season my partner, Brandon Wickes, and I are launching Furrow Horse Farm, our draft-horse powered, organic vegetable and cut-flower operation.

My Grandpa grew cherries and apples in eastern Washington, and as a kid I spent many weekends with him at the farm, riding the tractor around the orchard as he did chores and making mud pies in the irrigation ditches. But I grew up in Seattle and was a total city kid, aside from my obsession with horses (as most young girls experience at one point or another).

Caitlin_market_cropI began riding on the weekends for a few years, and then resumed riding as an adult once I started farming and living in rural areas. I never considered farming with draft horses, as it seemed to add another layer of complication to an already difficult job. However once Brandon and I met and started farming together, his interest in farming with horses began to rub off on me. I agreed to apprentice for a season on a draft-horse powered farm before making the decision to farm with horses on our own.

Just a few weeks into the apprenticeship, I was hooked. Working in the field with the horses is such a unique experience, unlike any other, and now I can’t imagine farming without them. They become friends, co-workers, and partners. (more…)