Bootstrap @ Hartwood – Finding Time to Make Changes

Hartwood - tractor engineThe crops are mostly out of the ground, the fields and yard are picked up for winter, and our off-season project list has grown to seemingly impossible lengths.  We don’t want to praise anything too much though—last month’s blog where we celebrated our equipment making it through the season may have jinxed us.  Two days after writing that, our tractor engine blew, requiring complete rebuilding, including machining.  It was a tortuous end of season decision–do we spend $5000 we don’t have on a crappy old tractor that we hoped was only temporary, or do we go buy a “new” old tractor for $5000, which could have a whole host of problems of its own?

Hindsight is 20/20, so boy do we wish we had taken all the money we will end up spending on this tractor and just buy a $12,000 machine up front!  [We did decide to repair the old machine; under the idea that it’s better to have a tractor that we know all the issues it has, than to introduce another unknown element into the farm equipment roster.] 

We could say all sorts of seemingly positive things here, like “At least it happened at the end of the season, rather than in the spring,” and they would be true, but it doesn’t change a lousy situation.  That $5000–which equals our entire 2013 seed and potting soil budget, or two hoop houses for next spring, or two acres of hop rhizomes–is the hardest, most discouraging money we’ve had to spend yet.  It also means that we both need to work full time during this off season in order to make those payments and be in good shape financially for next season.

Hartwood - carrot harvestMost of our thinking and assessment over the past few months has been on the economics of this past season, since (if we give some leeway due to the drought) we were satisfied for the most part with where the produce was going.  

The two areas that kept coming up as weak spots for our production were marketing/finance, and systems design.  We realized we weren’t doing great on the marketing front back in June, and on the systems front in July, but despite knowing we needed to make changes in these areas, we were so busy during the season just staying caught up, that we couldn’t find time to change things!  This was incredibly frustrating, knowing that we needed to change, but not being able to enact it.

On the marketing front, we need to recruit more members.  We played things super safe for our first year, especially after the drought started to impact things, and we ended up postponing fall and winter shares until next year because of this.  However, we had counted on that longer season to help us get through the winter financially, and we regretted being so conservative when we ended up having more produce than we could sell.  While this was frustrating, we are much happier to have played it safe and sold too few shares rather than commit to more shares than we could ultimately produce for.  We need to amp things up next year, but will still maintain a solid production buffer to guarantee nice CSA shares.

Hartwood - drying winter squashOn the systems front, it was frustrating to be in an operation without good systems.  We had NO infrastructure.  In particular, we didn’t have the initial funds to build a real wash line before the season began, and during the season we didn’t have the labor hours to adapt what we had to make it work better.  Without good infrastructure (or at least “good” in terms of efficiency), harvesting and washing took a lot longer every week.  In retrospect, it would have been a better investment to give up a day up front (and maybe even skip a market) and get our setup together better.  We didn’t do this, and we paid for it twice a week at harvest—which started earlier and ended later due to our inefficiencies in the system.

Also on a systems front, it was frustrating how you can make a decision to save money up front, but then end up having so much more hassle as a result of that decision.  For example, we decided to go with bags for our CSA.  They were nice bags, but they were still soft and floppy.  They were torture to pack, stacked terribly, and were just a couple inches too wide to fit in our coolers.  They made loading the car a complete pain.  Starting in week two, we moaned about those darn bags.  At the end, we estimated that having bags rather than boxes doubled our packing time, cost us a whole WEEK’s extra labor, and exponentially increased CSA stress.  [Moral of the story:  NEVER use bags for your CSA share if you are pre-packing and then transporting them in your vehicle!]

Hopefully by next month, we will be on our way with a plan for retooling (and have a few of the biggest off-season projects under our belt)!

Bootstrap @ Hartwood Farm – the New, the Old, and the Ugly (Equipment)

Equipment at Hartwood Farm: The New, the Old, and the Ugly

With enough rain falling that the fields are too wet to work for the first time all year, we found ourselves in a reflective season’s ending sort of mood after Matt drove our tractor down to the shop for hydraulics repair. While we are waiting for the (hopefully not too) bad news, we’ve (read: Matt has) been struck by a strong case of equipment envy watching all the sweet combines hauling by to chop corn, while we chug out to the field in our 1970 International Cub Cadet hydro lawn tractor. This glorified lawn mower is the clear winner of our 2012 equipment MVP award (since the big tractor fizzled out in the post-season). Thinking about this rough season, we realized that our ancient, decrepit fleet of equipment might be our biggest success—it tilled and cultivated 5 acres, brought produce to market each week, used under $500 in fuel, cost under $10,000 total, and (mostly) made it through the season.

Tractor Pic 1All of our equipment purchases centered around our lack of money, and the lawn mower pretty much epitomizes our equipment styles—Matt has actual skills to fix old things, and Maryellen is good at solutions (that seem really stupid at first) to keep from spending money. Hence the ancient Cub Cadet (it was $400, and came with a snow blower and chains to keep the greenhouses and hockey rink plowed in winter) and it’s faithful partner, the $400 Tractor Supply 4×6 mesh bottomed trailer (which was Maryellen’s solution to us not being able to buy a truck—we tow it as our truck bed with our Subaru and it holds about 1300 lbs). We use these every day for everything. Incidental parts sometimes fall off (wheels, taillights, etc), but they are easy to get replacements for.

Tractor Pic 2The big tractor is a 55hp 1970 Massey Ferguson 175, and this gets runner up MVP—we couldn’t farm without this. Matt spent a couple months looking at tractors online across the region, and drove around the state to see a number of them in person. We wanted something nicer, with a bucket loader, and a roll bar… but realized that options like safety are apparently out of our budget. Tractor shopping was the point in this whole farm-starting process where the reality of making tradeoffs sunk in. On the plus side, it’s been reliable for a 42 year old machine (and it still works fine if you never want to lift up your implement), it’s relatively fuel efficient, it has decent tires (did you know that tractor tires cost $800 each to replace!), and it’s very nice to use. This tractor (along with the MF 135 and 165) was designed for field work and tight turns, and this one is amazing—you can see the crops really well and turn around in a 2 bed radius. We are saving up for a bucket loader, but in the meantime, we did another cheapie modification by buying $120 TSC 3ph platform and building a box off it. You can’t scoop stuff with it, but it does a good job of hauling rocks.

The only piece of equipment we had but didn’t use this year much was our 1950 Farmall Cub (which we actually bought two years ago). Since it never rained, weed pressure was so low that we never needed it. The last old implement we bought was a 6’ (very dilapidated) Woods brush hog. This is a piece of crap, and is the one piece we had buyer’s remorse over, but it gets the job done. (We transported it home on the 4×6 trailer, which made for an interesting and questionably legal road situation.)

Tractor Pic 3While most of our big equipment was very old, we did buy a few new things—a 6’ Taylor Way roto-tiller and one of Nolt’s Equipment’s black plastic mulch layers. We looked for a long time for a 5 or 6 foot used tiller by a better manufacturer, but couldn’t find anything. The Taylor Way seemed to be one of the better cheapie tillers (it was $2200 new), and it was carried by our local shop, so parts are easy to get. Our tractor is too powerful for this tiller, so it voided the warranty, but we’ve just been as gentle as possible with it. It’s not heavy duty, but considering how rocky our fields are, it’s been doing fine, and we hope to get at least 2 seasons from it (we have yet to lose a tine even!).

Our one implement splurge was the mulch layer, and we agonized over this (it was $1700, and meant buying into the whole black plastic scene), but this paid for itself by saving our two acres of summer crops during the drought. We decided to buy this because we felt like this was the one piece that no nearby farms would have (so there would be no way to rent or borrow it).

We are trying to regroup on equipment now, since it is better to buy things we need next year now rather than in spring. This year, the entire field was in corn stubble, so no heavier tillage equipment was needed. Next year, we will have some heavy cover crops to deal with, so we are debating the best equipment option—disk harrow or 2 bottom plow. This year we did hire out one job—drilling the pasture seed, and it worked out well (our neighbor has a 15’ seeder, so 30 acres took 2.5 hours). As the 12 bottom plows drive by on the road, we think we may not get any new equipment and just hire out spring tillage instead.

Bootstrap @ Hartwood – Reflecting on the Drought

Since last writing, we’ve had two of four weeks with “normal” rainfall—a .75” week and a 1.5” week!  What this means is that our plants are still alive and our pond, while continuing its steady decline, does still have water enough in it for irrigation.  These two rainfalls saved our pasture, which is a huge mental and financial relief.  With less than two months of markets and CSA distributions left in this season, we can finally breathe a little easier that at least some crops will hold out.

Hartwood - setting up fencingWe had hoped by this time to have come to some conclusions on what our new land is like, but it has been hard this year to get a clear sense because of the drought.  Areas that we suspect of being too wet are bone dry, and areas we suspect might be excessively drained are like deserts.  Driving around the Adirondack foothills last week, we saw one enterprising gardener who moved their entire garden into the swamp by their house (which apparently hasn’t had water for more than three months, judging by their 8 foot tall tomatoes)!  As we edge our beds into the flat land that we vaguely think is marshy, we hope we aren’t overcommitting to an excessively wet spot.  

We did come to some conclusions about ourselves, though, namely that we were simultaneously over-optimistic and over-pessimistic, over-committed, and possibly crazy.  We definitely took on too much in terms of acreage for two people on a new operation (we had four acres going).  In an ideal world, we could have done this, but not in a drought.  The added labor of irrigation took up 25% of every day, while the added costs of the drought meant one of us had to start working off farm midway through the season, which left us with closer to 1.2 people full time in the field working on non-irrigation projects.

Hartwood - tomatoesWhen you spend all day, every day, with your partner on the farm, there’s this rut that forms that leads to a lack of perspective.  For us as pessimists, it led us to just see the rocks and the weeds and the broken equipment and the wilted plants and all that gloomy stuff, which was making us go into a bit of a funk.  Fortunately, we had farmer friends show up, and they determined that we were just crazy for doing so much.  Our loss of perspective meant we weren’t seeing the big picture well enough to enjoy our successes—namely that as 1.2 people, we had planted and weeded (and are still harvesting) four acres of intensive vegetables, which actually look and taste really good.  We have crops like melons thriving in a climate that is marginal for them, and until the last month didn’t even have many weeds (confession:  drought is bad for the crops, but it’s really, really hard on weeds!).

We can draw at least a few field and plant conclusions so far this year.  First, our soil is pretty decent.  Neither of us grew in a limestone-based soil before, and this one was used pretty hard before our arrival, but overall crop quality is high, despite the drought.  As the largest fruit crops start straining the soil, we can see slight signs of phosphorus deficiency in purpling on the outer leaves, but overall, the phosphorus fertilizer we side-dressed with seems to have provided adequate nutrients for the growing season.  We had hoped to get a good round of cover crops in this summer to prep the fields better for next year, but weren’t able to get germination.  We are seeding winter cover crops over the next few weeks, and hope they will help at least a little to reduce next year’s fertilizer needs.

Hartwood - Winter SquashDisease pressure was low for the most part this year, but we aren’t sure if that’s a factor of the super dry weather, or that our site is high and well ventilated.  Powdery mildew arrived on time, but took a few weeks to move into the winter squash crops (thanks to prophylactic spraying), so we are hoping that an earlier planting next year will address that.  We had a late blight scare last week in the tomatoes, with several plants showing blight damage.  However, after pulling and bagging the infected plant parts, it seems that the copper/regalia (both organic) rotation is working so far, and no more blight was sighted (yet).

Pests, on the other hand, have been a challenge, with flea beetles destroying (or trying to destroy) everything.  Apparently corn flea beetles, when not provided with corn, also eat brassicas, onions, chard, purslane, basil, and nasturtiums.  Since this was a corn field, they were conveniently located everywhere, so even the row covers did not exclude them.  The cucumber and squash bugs are starting to establish, which will definitely be something we need to address in upcoming years, and cutworms are potentially a problem, especially in our greenhouse.  We did have a still unidentified pest that looks like a flea beetle on steroids (and jumps like one) that also seems to eat everything, but we can’t figure out how to control it yet, since we don’t know what it is!

So far, we think that our new site has a lot of potential over the long run.  There are definitely field challenges that we need to address that drought kept us from taking on this season.  We also need to regroup on what scale we can realistically take on, especially if we start incorporating animals into our operations next year.

Bootstrap @ Hartwood – The Best Laid Plans…

Well, many areas of New York received some good drenching over the last few weeks.  Unfortunately, we were not among them.  We did get about ¾” between 3 rainfalls, and that helped us have a few days off irrigating and kept our pasture and cover crops alive longer, but it didn’t touch the pond level (that’s now down a few feet), didn’t restore soil moisture, and isn’t nearly enough.  The tally now for our site is just over two inches of rain falling over the last ten weeks.

Hartwood Farm - flowersWe wanted to blog about something other than the lack of rain, but it’s pretty much become the dominating situation in our farm lives.  On one hand, we are happy for everyone around us who got rain.  On the other hand, especially on the two days where we could actually SEE rain falling from our farm but didn’t receive anything ourselves, we are pretty darn jealous.  We also are done with looking at the forecast, since we’ve had several days with 90% chance of rain, but received nothing.  However, it does seem like we are over some sort of mental hump at least… we have completely abandoned any hope of receiving rain the rest of this season, and are focusing on where to go in that (increasingly likely) situation.  

So we moved on to what seems like Plan Z (we’ve already exhausted plans A through Y):  cut back fall production.  It’s difficult because we didn’t move here until February, so we started slow in terms of recruiting shares and marketing.  Our hope was to grow the CSA with extra fall shares after we got to know the land and markets a bit better.  We also planned to add a second market and attempt some wholesale sales in the fall.  With the dropping water levels, we know that we won’t be able to grow for anything but our CSA members and one market from this point on.

This is a big hit for us financially, since we committed everything we had to starting the operation, and those fall sales were really important to our farm’s viability.  It’s also frustrating because while we do have crops in the ground, we don’t feel confident committing them to sell wholesale in a week or two, because we just don’t know what the water situation will be.  This week we have a full crop mix, but who knows how that will stand after ten more days of drought.

Right now we are reworking everything around water.  We tilled in the more stressed crops in our north field, which is higher and more drained than the other fields.  In an attempt to stretch the pond out a week or so longer, we bought another drip irrigation zone for the south field.  We are also holding off on any additional share or market recruiting, and beginning to look for additional off-farm work.

On the plus side (which we are trying to think of at least a bit), we now have a lot of irrigation infrastructure (so those are some expenses we won’t be tallying in future seasons).  Also, lower pond levels will reduce the snail and aquatic weed population (which needed to be brought down anyway).  It also gives us the chance to examine the bottom and decide if excavation is an option for future years.  

Hartwood Farm - pondWe bought this farm because it had a spring fed pond that never dried up in the past.  We didn’t calculate into that equation that following a winter without a snow pack, a dry summer would impact that spring as well.  It is clear that longer term (when our finances aren’t stretched so tight between start-up and drought), we need to consider supplemental water supply infrastructure options, like drilling a well for irrigation or excavating this or new ponds.  We learned that we are unlikely to have the kind of flow rate on our site that irrigation needs, so the current best solution would involve drilling a low gpm well towards the back of the property (so that it pulls from a different vein of water) and piping the water up front into the pond, where it will be stored.  This would likely take off some of the water pressure, but is an expensive set of operations.

We are still looking forward to keeping our CSA happy and going to market through the fall… trying to eke something out of this season.  It’s just getting harder as the drought continues.  We have grown some nice produce despite the challenges, while gaining a lot of experience this season about water stress and how it impacts crops, pests, soil, and weeds at our site.  But so far, 2012 is edging into the lead over tomato-blight-year and fall-hurricane-year as our hardest growing season yet.

Bootstrap @ Hartwood – Dealing with Drought

Hartwood sprinklerWe planned to write more about farm finances, but were sidetracked by a lack of rain so bad that the corn fields around us are curling up to look more like grass than corn. The weird thing is in our area, if you weren’t trying to grow anything, you probably didn’t notice the dryness.  There were days where it almost rained (and seemed like it rained just one town over), days where it threatened rain, and days where it pretended to rain (with just a mist that got the surface of everything wet).

But for the month of June, we recorded under ¾ of an inch at the farm… total.  In general, we want our crops to receive more like an inch a week.  Thanks to our irrigation system and soils that hold at least a bit of water, things were okay until the last few days, but with still no rain in the forecast, we are starting to think about hard choices.  Our 1.3 acre pond ranges from 1 to 7 feet deep and relies on a spring and wetland recharge, but both of those sources are drying up.  It’s dropped about 3” and we are comfortable with dropping it about 2 feet.  (We are doing some research to figure out if we can go lower than that without damaging the nice ecosystem around it.)  Until now, we provided enough water to keep everything alive and growing okay (but not great).  Over the last few days, however, some things are starting to show a bit more water stress than we like.  

Lack of rain also cuts severely into our working efficiency.  We spend about ¼ of our daily time on watering, with much of it early in the morning or later in the evening.

The only good thing about the dryness is that it makes us feel justified in prioritizing the purchase of a rudimentary irrigation system and a plastic mulch layer–the two infrastructure investments we came closest to cutting out because of cost, and the two things that have kept us in business this last month!

Hartwood irrigation pumpOur pump is a 2” Honda trash pump and we get the water to the fields through 2” blue layflat hoses.  We have 2 acres on 2 zones of drip (with a filter and pressure reducer before these sections to protect the emitters from clogging as much), and the remaining 2 acres under 1 moveable sprinkler (the “moveable” part of this is what eats up all our time… it’s a pain).  The sprinkler is a Komet #163 (we got this after hearing good reviews about it from fellow farmers) that covers 100 to 150 ft diameter circles at a time, depending on the wind conditions.  We run it for an hour to 1.5 hours per move, and then add or subtract 60’ sections of layflat to move it further down the beds.

So what are we doing to cope?

Over the long term, we want to build up our soils, starting by boosting organic matter, to make them more drought resistant.  Unfortunately, that is a multi-year process that this initial year of dryness (which is hampering cover crop growth) is not helping along.  Over the short term, we had some basic preparations by having some infrastructure, which allows us to get at least some water to the crops and helps hold it close to them.  Some other steps we are taking include:
Using 30% shade covers over our starts to trap in moisture… this bumped up the germination and survival rate a lot in our flats.
Using the little bit of row cover we have over direct seeded crops in the fields, which also boosted field germination.
Watering overhead only at the most optimal times (sorry neighbors for the 10pm pump noises!) so that we don’t waste as much to evaporation.
Rearranging our fall plantings by water needs instead of our typical planting by family groups, so that we can get more things under drip.  The crops under drip are definitely happier.
Obsessively checking multiple weather forecasts in the hopes that rain will show up (not as productive as the rest of the steps).

At some point if we hit worst case scenario (like no rain in July), we are thinking of dropping down to water just half of each section (so we will have half of each crop getting water).  Beyond that, who knows… but hopefully we won’t find out!

Bootstrap @ Hartwood Farm: How We Bought the Farm

Watering in pepper transplantsNot owning farmland should not keep anyone from farming.  There are amazing land matching opportunities that make farmland accessible to potential new operators, and we have been lucky enough to participate in some of them.  As long as we’ve been working on other farm operations or leasing land, we’ve had an urge for permanence that we couldn’t shake.  We wanted to own the land we farmed.  And we don’t think it’s that crazy to try to buy land as a farmer in most of the country, though housing prices did lock us out of our home region.

Midway through this first season we realized two things.  First, the economic costs of owning a farm are less than anticipated.  Our rural mortgage is half our semi-suburban rent.  A small house entails minimal future maintenance costs.  In the worst case scenario and the farm fails, we can afford to live here working off-farm jobs.  Second, the economic costs of operating a start-up farm are more expensive than even two experienced farming pessimists could have anticipated!  We will blog this month on how we made it through the ownership costs and next month on the challenging operating costs and their various dilemmas.

Between us, we worked eleven seasons on various farms, learning a lot while receiving reliable paychecks.  We also leased land for six years.  Leasing land was also a great learning experience with the additional advantage of forcing us to accrue infrastructure like greenhouses.  However, leasing lacked financial stability.

All those years, we worked second jobs off-farm (typically carpentry or service work), socking away anything we could, and semi-looking at farms for sale across the northeast.  We are not quick decision makers, started off broke, and are extremely risk averse, so it took a long time to work through the spectrum of trying to buy a farm, including five years of focused saving, research on land, business planning, and a fair amount of rejection.

The main economic rationale for us to buy was the cost of rent versus cost of a mortgage.  As interest rates dropped, mortgage payments compared favorably to rents.  We also discovered that the longer you live without financial distress, things like age, work history, and credit scores keep accruing until lenders actually want to loan to you!

In retrospect, it would be most logical to decide where you want to farm and then go rent land there for a few years building markets and getting financially established.  We didn’t do this because after a decade of thinking about where to go and saving up, we were in a rush to get established.  We chose a region based on how we liked it, good soils, cost of housing, and the availability of local (or at least regional) markets.

Rocks going down to the roadSite specific financial considerations included maximizing our limited purchasing power.  Our research showed a tight market on land leases, so the small dairies (under fifteen tillable acres) we could afford likely lacked the land base for financial viability.  We started looking for fewer barns and more land so we wouldn’t have to lease extra land.  We also needed a house that wouldn’t be a money pit since the point was to avoid rent and high housing costs.

We learned a LOT about the finance process, starting with one key point:  don’t quit your day job before applying for a loan!  Banks want you to have a job in the region you move to.  Banks also do not like properties over five acres, so you need to find a rural bank used to dealing with farmland purchases.  Lacking local jobs, we got rejected.  A lot.  However, several banks said we would be good loan candidates if we leased a property in the area for three years and built a successful operation (this was our plan B and what we would recommend to others).  

After the first round of rejection, we turned to the FSA… but then we learned something key.  We never registered as a farm operation when we started in 2002.  Thus to the FSA, we had no experience as farmers and were not eligible for a loan.  Moral of the story… the second you start farming, however small-scale, go register your operation!

The FSA pointed us toward Farm Credit East’s Country Living rural home loans, aimed at customers buying five plus acre properties.  You don’t have to be farming to get one of these loans, but you do need a job, so… another rejection.  However, the folks at Farm Credit were nice enough to boot us over to their farm lending branch.

At this point we were about to give up.  Lenders wanted to give us money, we had good credit, and were looking for a monthly mortgage half of our current rent.  BUT, there was Catch-22:  since we didn’t have a job locally, we could only be considered for farm loans, and since we didn’t have a farm, we could only be considered for traditional loans.  What we did have, thanks to years of managing and leasing operations, was a down payment (this impressed rural lenders), good credit, tons of experience, and (pivotal in the end) a workable business plan.  Based on these factors, Farm Credit East decided to give us a chance after helping tighten our financial plan.  Have we mentioned that we LOVE Farm Credit East?

In summary, we recommend a few steps to help buy a farm before you are old and grey:
1)  Register as a farmer with the FSA as soon as you start operations.
2)  Do everything possible to establish and maintain a good credit rating and build savings.
3)  Decide where exactly you want to farm first, and start off working and leasing land there.
4)  Don’t buy more than you can afford.
5)  Don’t give up, even when for years all you hear is rejection and discouragement!  You can buy land as a farmer!

Next time:  the finances of running the farm after you buy it!

Bootstrap @ Hartwood Farm – Introduction

Hi all! We are Matt Robinson and Maryellen Sheehan of Hartwood Farm, in Fenner, NY. We are thrilled to be part of this season’s National Young Farmers Coalition Bootstraps Blog!

 This is our first year farming out on our own land. Between us, we worked on farms for a number of years, had a CSA on fields we rented in NH for six seasons, and done a couple of apprenticeships. We decided to take the plunge to buy farmland after realizing a mortgage would not be much more than our rent payments!

 Hartwood 1We looked at a number of places before choosing to move to 70 acres at 1500 feet in Fenner, NY. The land includes 20 acres of rich woods, logged a couple decades ago and coming back in a pretty nice stand of sugar maples, 45 acres of rolling fields, and 5 acres in a yard/pond/wetland area. The soil ranges from semi-thin to deep, with much of the component base rock being limestone (so it is less acidic and higher in calcium than what we are used to!).

 For 2012, we are starting small. This gives us a season to figure things out, including what our site’s micro-climate is, how crops grow on our land, and where our markets should be. Long term, we want to grow a mix of vegetables, livestock, and hops. Short term, we are focusing on the vegetables, since they are the cheapest crop to get in to (especially since we already had gathered some of the infrastructure) and where we have the bulk of our experience.

 For this season, we are putting the tillable acreage we aren’t using into cover and pasture crops, and starting a nursery bed for our first round of hops while we build the soil for our 2013 hop yard installation.

 We fenced five acres for vegetable cultivation. We grow a range of vegetable crops—pretty much everything but sweet corn and potatoes, using organic methods (though we are not certified), with a mix of heirloom and hybrid varieties. Since we don’t know the land and region yet, we wanted to grow cultivars that are pretty reliable along with the more interesting and tasty things. We are setting up our growing systems for an eventual larger scale, so we are spacing out beds and fields for more tractor-scale cultivation than hand-scale, and we are interested in seeing how this works for a start-up with a lot of hand-scale work in the forecast.

 Since we feel pretty solid on the growing end, our main challenges are in marketing the crops and figuring out where to sell our produce. We are shooting for 50 to 75 CSA members (some full season and some monthly shareholders), one farmers’ market, and a couple restaurant accounts. If things go well, we hope to add to those markets over the course of the season.

 We are planning to do the bulk of our added production on the fall end of the season where there is less local produce at the market and when we’ve had a few months of growing and selling on our site! For labor, Matt is full time on the farm, and Maryellen is almost full time (she works a side job to pay for those “extras” like health insurance).

 Some of our big questions we hope to find answers for during this season include: How much does it really cost to start a small to mid-scale produce operation? Can you pay the bills for a new farm from the profits of farming in a rural area? How does it work out farming full time with your spouse? Can we really market everything we grow?

 We look forward to participating with the National Young Farmers’ Coalition Bootstraps Blog, and we hope that all the bloggers and readers have productive, profitable, and educational years. If you want to keep up with more frequent Hartwood Farm news, you can find us and our farm blog at or on Facebook as “Hartwood Farm.” Thanks, and we hope you have a great season!