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Bootstrap @ Salad Garden: Great Expectations

Salad Garden hoop houseFor many new farmers, the first season can be the most challenging, what with the business start-up, the financial drain, and the uncertainty that comes with beginning any new venture. Now that we are in the midst of our second spring, I am confident in saying that this season is much more difficult.

Let me explain.

 Our first year operating The Salad Garden was a roller coaster experience. We had to learn the fields, get acquainted with our soils, come up with coherent field and planting schedules, purchase seeds, and build up a reputation, and we had to do it very fast. We moved to Ashland in December of 2010, giving us just enough time to throw together plans and scrounge around for seed catalogs. We didn’t know what to expect; we were confident in our growing abilities, sure, but could we grow produce on a piece of land we knew nothing about to an as-yet-to-be-determined customer base?

 I don’t think either ourselves nor or families had high expectations for our success that first year. Not that they didn’t think we were capable—more like they didn’t want us to get our hopes up. We didn’t either. We told ourselves we would be happy with earning a modest profit, something we were sure we could do since we hadn’t needed to take out any loans or incur any significant expenses due to the special nature of our partnership.

 So there we were: a new partnership contract in hand, a bank account, and totefuls of seeds we wanted to plant somewhere. So many things went wrong that first year, some of which we could control, some we couldn’t. We planted things in the wrong places, our rototiller broke early in the spring, we fell drastically behind on weeding, diseases and pests hit our plants like the plague, and that summer, mid-Missouri went through six weeks of drought and registered the third hottest summer on record. Despite the challenges, we somehow managed to meet and exceed our goals, both personally and financially. We declared the season of 2011 to be an astonishing success.

 Fast forward to the present. As the spring transitions into our second summer at The Salad Garden, things are progressing nicely. Still, after every field walk, every harvest day, and every market we find ourselves instinctively comparing notes from last year, disgruntled by any indication that this season may not be as successful. Logically, we should be growing more, selling more, and making fewer mistakes the second time around. Of course, farming does not lie within the realm of logic; there are too many incontinent variables to accurately predict the success of any one season. It is quickly becoming apparent, however, that we are no longer free from the burden of expectation. We’ve proven that we are capable farmers. Now the question is, can we keep it up?

 We fully intend to make many more mistakes as we continue to learn about our land, our crops and our markets. Mistakes are inevitable and informative. The real challenge will be meeting the bar that we set for ourselves in 2011. Hopefully, we can manage to leap over it without sending it crashing to the ground. The pressure is on.
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