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.

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.

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