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.

Between the two, we have averaged anywhere from $400-$800 per week, so it is pretty inconsistent and unpredictable. However, we are on track to reach the $8,000 total market income goal for the season, and most likely will exceed it.

Furrow Horse Brandon market_cropped

Our third piece is restaurant accounts. The restaurant piece is tricky, as we live in a very rural area with a low-income population and nothing close to a booming economy; it isn’t a place where farm-to-table restaurants exist. There just isn’t the customer base to support it. That meant searching elsewhere, up to an hour away from the farm. Our first restaurant account was a country inn in Ashford, Washington, near the entrance to Mt. Rainier, about 45 minutes from the farm. Next we approached a Meditation Center about 25 minutes from the farm that we knew hosted retreats for 100+ people every two weeks. They were interested in cases of kale, which is a crop we continually have excess of and are happy to sell at wholesale prices. Finally, we drew the attention of an artist-in-residency program about 30 minutes from the farm, and they have been doing a sizable order about once a month. All together we make about $200 per week from restaurant sales ($2,400 total restaurant income for the year).

Our final income generator this season was plant start sales. This happened pretty much by accident, as I was not planning on selling starts this year (although I planned to make it a part of the business the following season). However, I over-seeded a third of each tray in case we had any germination issues, and started potting up all of the extra plants. We both had winter jobs at an edible plant nursery down the road, and they agreed to let me sell vegetable plant starts through their garden center. One day while answering phones at the nursery, Brandon got a call from a local hardware store looking for a plant start source, as theirs had dropped out at the last minute. I jumped on the chance and began taking a weekly order to them, which provided the farm with substantial spring income when we weren’t expecting any (about $1,000 total spread over April-June).

Furrow Horse veggie rows_cropped

All combined, our projected farm income for this season was between $14,000 and $17,000. Not bad for our first year on new ground, growing on one-and-a-half acres. But our expenses this year were HUGE. When we moved to the farm we didn’t own a shovel, let alone a wheelbarrow, let alone a rototiller, etc. We knew we were in for a lot of start-up costs. Our end-of-season goal is to have $6,000 in our farm savings account to start the next season with. At this point we are planning on signing a second-year lease and tilling up another acre this fall. We’d like to double our CSA membership, up to 25 members, as well as apply for a busier Saturday market.

I’m planning on expanding the plant starts sales, as well as the cut flowers portion of the farm. I have not calculated our income projections for next year, but I hope we can double our expected income to $30,000. Our costs should be much lower next season as well. Having friends and family who were willing to come out to the farm and help out with projects and harvest has also been essential to our success this year. Once we till up another acre, we know we will need to hire an intern for next summer, which will be an added cost. However I hope it will pay off in increased market sales. One other goal we have for next year is for one of us to be able to work full-time on the farm over the summer. Our off-farm jobs this year have allowed us to be here and pay rent, but have seriously impeded our ability to get everything done on the farm and harvest the full amount of food we are growing.

Running your own farm business is a constant numbers game: a budgeting, goal setting, and calculating affair! Our business plan will keep evolving as the farm does, and we’ll learn what works and what doesn’t.

Comments
6 Responses to “The numbers game – Bootstrap at Furrow Horse Farm”
  1. Great post, it’s so important that we talk numbers, sharpen our pencils, and get real. Thanks for the reminder and the inspiration… Keep up the great work!
    Bennett

  2. Krati says:

    Hey Caitlin,
    Like you, I am also looking forward to start my own farm on a leased land. However, I will start in 2016. I will be leasing around 1 acre or so plot of land and would start out small with 4-5 different varieties of organic vegetables initially.
    I would like to see your business plan, if you dont mind sharing. I could share mine’s as well.
    I am located in New Jersey.
    Many congratulations on starting your new farm. Hope to meet you sometime.

  3. Dory says:

    Great info for start up farmers but what was your out of pocket expenses for the first year! Curious minds want to know.

  4. Tabetha says:

    Hey There!

    My husband wants to know how you got your soil looking like that??? We’re starting our own small farm that we own and my husband is working full time on it (he has no other job). I keep trying to convince him to develop a business plan that includes a plan for the farm as a whole, but he doesn’t seem to work that way. Anyway, we have been able to make necessary purchases for seed, etc. and even the big one for a tractor and implements, but we didn’t have much success. We are planting in heavy clay soil, though. What would you say is the key to your success with the actual garden portion?? Is it having rich, fertile soil? Is it planting at the right time? Selecting the right variety of crops and seeds? Is it using a certain method that is ideal for first time farmers?? Did you already have a green thumb before you began?

    Also, how did you get CSA members BEFORE you started your farm? I just assume that most people willing to commit $500 to a CSA membership want to know that the farm is tried and true. Did having CSA members make you take your commitment to farming that much more seriously?

    Thanks,

    Tabetha

  5. Melissa says:

    How do you stay ahead of the weeds and keep your garden looking so nice? I had five aces this year and was drowning in weeds. I just can seem to keep ahead… I do have another full time job until this becomes more self-sustaining, but the weeds are really holding me back. I can’t keep up with the plantings because I’ve got to weed every week.

    Thanks! And would love any tips you have to offer!

  6. Jeannie says:

    Congratulations! I love stories like this. 8 years ago my husband an I started a farm very much like yours. (except for the horse drawn plow) It has grown and I farm full time now, but my husband still has an off farm job. I love growing crops and feeding people. I wouldn’t trade this life style for anything.

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