Death happens (and other facts about being a farmer) – BOOTSTRAP AT EMADI ACRES

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By Derek Emadi, Emadi Acres

We asked each of our Bootstrap Bloggers to tell us the top five things people should know about farming. This is Derek’s list:

1) Love thy organic matter
Simply put, always accumulate organic matter. If you farm, whether it’s mulch, hay, manure, leaves, topsoil, cardboard, etc, take what’s free. People are always getting rid of wonderful organic matter. It’s a great resource that is often overlooked or disposed of. Organic matter is helpful in improving your soil, making compost, managing erosion, and much more.The possibilities are endless. Even if you don’t have an immediate use for it, your farm will be rewarded in the future. Remember that the microbes in the soil are hungry, so feed them food they love!

2) “Organic” ain’t easy
Everyday, through tremendous effort, my farm moves closer to organic status. One of my end goals is to be a diversified organic farmer who only uses rainwater to irrigate. Sounds like a crazy dream, but I’ve seen it in action at a farm down the road. The farm’s owner has never pumped any water from our aquifers in 26 years. He intensively manages the organic matter and soil on his 5-acre farm and uses moisture retaining techniques like heavy mulching. It’s really impressive and something I believe we should all strive for in the agricultural community. His farm is the best example of true sustainable, organic farming I’ve seen. At an “organic” farm I worked at previously, I was taken aback by how much water the farm was constantly running on. Even during the brutally hot summer, they ran water all day. This gave me the desire to be a water conserving farmer, even in our drought stricken area.

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The Best and The Worst: Bootstrap at Furrow Horse Farm

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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…)

Weddings and chickens: A farm business plan – Bootstrap at Emadi Acres Farm

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By Derek Emadi, Emadi Acres

The beauty of farming is that there are many avenues to make money, though you have to work extremely hard to get it. I have a silly dream of having all of my business commerce happen here on the farm. Not that I am necessarily a hermit, I just never like leaving my property because it’s where I always want to be. That dream is many years off, so for now I go where the money is.

In my first year of farming, I tested the waters with a small community supported agriculture (CSA), began going to the farmers’ market in our small town, dabbled in “on-farm” sales of poultry and produce, and held a successful wedding on our property. 

CSAs are consistent moneymakers. Most folks love having things delivered to them—just look at Amazon’s success. My CSA is like a farm-fresh Christmas every week, and I’m the tan, sun-kissed Santa who delivers the presents. My small CSA fluctuates between five and 10 people. Really it shouldn’t fluctuate, but I’m still working out the kinks. The demand is there, and at times I wish I could fulfill everyone’s orders, but I only have what natures gives me. I have come to the realization that I have to expand my garden plot to well over an acre of production. The half-acre I have now is capable of producing hundreds of pounds of fruits and vegetables throughout the year, but it just isn’t enough. And the prospect of using my tractor to get new areas prepped is exciting, especially for someone who has done everything by hand until now. (more…)

Top 5 Things You Should Know About Farming

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By Hannah Becker, Willow Springs Farm

There are pros and cons to every endeavor, and farming is no exception. As a first-generation farmer, I did not have ancestral insight into the world of agriculture; the majority of my education came via trial and error. Looking back on my experiences thus far, here are the top five things I think new farmers should know:

Farming is expensive
I’d always heard, “it takes money to make money”—well this entrepreneur’s adage is certainly relevant to farming! The cost of land required to make a living is often seven figures. Property improvements can cost thousands more. And those costs will only get you a place to farm—what about seeds and/or livestock? Equipment alone can cost more than the average American’s mortgage (and they give you 30 years to pay that off!).
Farming is expensive, especially for us first-generation folks. It took me several years to accept the endless stream of zeros behind the initial investment for farming—more money than I thought I’d even make in a lifetime! Don’t be daunted; we’re all in the same boat. First generation farmers have a unique set of challenges, and startup capital tops the list.

Farming is dangerous
Noted as one of the most dangerous professions, farming is no joke. Growing up a tomboy, I’ve always considered myself pretty invincible. Sprains, cuts, and broken bones accompanied my years of playing sports; however, the risks that often accompany farming pose unique dangers. Much of my farm work involves beings miles away from civilization with no cell service. Just me, my equipment, and my animals. I can attribute a broken leg, muscle tears, and a back injury to my agricultural efforts. Thankfully I’ve never suffered a more serious injury, but I’m always seeking to minimize risk. (more…)

The bittersweet end of tomatoes: BOOTSTRAP AT OLD HOMEPLACE FARM

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By Maggie Bowling, Old Homeplace Farm

This September I’m feeling the anguish that comes with the end of tomato season. Tomatoes are synonymous with summer for so many people, and they seem to be a crop that draws customers to my buying club and to my market stand, where they will then buy other items as well. This September I mourn the end of the crop that has helped fuel my sales since Memorial Day, but that isn’t the only reason I’m upset this year.

maggie and cosmos_cropFor the first time in my life, I know the joy that eating a fresh, homegrown tomato brings! Those who know me well knew my secret: despite growing up in a family that grew around 1,500 tomato plants each year, I never liked tomatoes. I’ve actively been working to overcome my dislike for years, finding ways that I liked eating them (dehydrated and roasted primarily). This summer, however, I turned a corner and fell in love with tomatoes. I found myself wishing that I had to eat more meals every day for the express purpose of making more recipes that used tomatoes. I even found myself picking and eating tomatoes in the field. While slicing our last tomatoes of the season, I lifted the cut tomatoes to my face and breathed in the sweet, sweet smell of summer one last time.

Bittersweet this fall season is. Autumn brings cooler days, less humidity, and the knowledge that some rest is ahead this winter. Autumn also brings the realization that the main portion of my growing season is ending, and it is time to take stock of what happened this year. A week in my life on the farm is full of emotional highs and lows.

There are so many small (and large) moments of joy and wonder. There are beautiful flowers to be picked and arranged, and the first harvest of any crop brings a surge of happiness through my chest. Working outside during foggy mountain mornings is a treat; I’m pretty happy with my summer arm muscles; I always have my choice of homegrown vegetables, eggs, and meat to eat; and I’m my own boss. On the days that I can see a concrete task accomplished—a fence finished or a new section of field planted, I’m having a good day. Having wonderful conversations with satisfied customers gives me the best feeling. Recently, one of the local restaurants we provide food for hosted a special supper club meal featuring our veggies and meat. It was lovely to see our food prepared for a fancy dinner, and to enjoy it with community members we had just met. I love being paid for something I produced, while working with Will and building our farm for the future. (more…)

New capital for new farmers : BOOTSTRAP AT OLD HOMEPLACE FARM

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By Maggie Bowling, Old Homeplace Farm

The winter before we started the buying club, we counted twenty-two deer in my future vegetable field over the course of one night. I’m sure you can imagine what we chose as our very first farm investment. Will has an off-farm job as an elk biologist (yes, there are elk in Kentucky), so luckily he already had experience building deer and elk barrier fences. One-and-a-half years later, and we still haven’t experienced any deer damage!

I should back up to the previous summer. The day we decided to purchase land felt much more like a proposal than the day that we decided to get married a few months later. Our very first investment was a piece of land a few miles from Will’s parents. While we began farming with our own land, we don’t think that it’s necessary to own land in order to begin farming. This property ended up being right for our lifestyle and farming goals, and we were able to afford it without going into too much debt. (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…)

Getting by with a little help from your friends … Plus savings and grants

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By Derek Emadi, Emadi Acres
So many stories about farming in the media feature people who left their well-paying jobs in corporate America to start a farm business. The stories always include the folks admitting how difficult their type of farming is, but conclude with how prosperous they have become in their venture. If you to want to be a farmer and are fortunate enough to have a large bank account, I can imagine things being a lot easier. The articles portray picturesque images of rolling pastures with big red barns and sparkling green John Deere tractors with equipment in tow. As great as some of these stories are and as inspiring as they can be, I’m always left asking myself the same question that never seems to be answered: How much money did they start out with to begin their farm business? This is important because, to get the tires rolling, money is the start key.

Now, I speak as someone who is still considered a young farmer with only a few years under my belt. I work by myself all day, pinch many pennies, and save when I can, just to be a farmer. If I could do what I do every day and never worry about money, I would literally have no stress, except of course for the occasional sick hen with a pasty butt. But I have to pay for the mortgage, water, electric, feed, etc. Money needs to be made. Where you start will be dictated by how much debt you have and how much money you have saved. (more…)

I wanted to be a cowgirl – Bootstrap at Willow Springs Farm

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By Hannah Becker, Willow Springs Farm

One of my earliest memories is sitting on an old Paint gelding outside of Memphis, Tennessee. I couldn’t have been more than three or four, but from that moment on I was obsessed with becoming a “cowgirl”. Despite growing up on quarter-acre lots in suburbia, where the only cows I saw were on old Bonanza reruns, my passion to own my own cattle operation never wavered. Completely ignorant of all things agriculture, I knew educating myself would be the first step towards owning my own cattle farm.

At 19, I enthusiastically enrolled as an animal and dairy science student at Mississippi State University. Week one, I was informed by a seasoned Delta farmer and distinguished alum that “people don’t ‘become’ farmers—you have to be born into it.” Discouraged (I was one of the only students not hailing from a multi-generational farm), I was determined to pursue my education and find a way to make my farming dream come true.

master_cattle_Hannah__cropAs an undergraduate student I began to recognize the immense market potential many “traditional” farmers were overlooking. The agriculture industry seemed oblivious to the inevitable evolution of consumer demands, driven largely by millennials and their purchasing power. Organic and natural products, community supported agriculture (CSA) and reformed animal husbandry techniques, etc. weren’t even on “those old Delta farmers’” radars until the GMO debate began making headlines. The industry was teaming with opportunity. (more…)

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

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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.

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