By Maggie Bowling, Old Homeplace Farm
Will and I often throw out ideas for our farm while working; things that we can do right then, things that we can do next year, and big ideas for future years. In these beginning years of farming it seems that every year brings a few really big things to fruition. As the days grow darker and our weekly farm deliveries slow to twice a month for the winter, we work through our list of ideas and decide what will be the next big things, and we re-adjust our long-term vision. Our next big things are:
Farmer partnerships and heirloom cornmeal
We believe that farmers, even with different practices and farm types, can work together to increase financial sustainability and strengthen our farm communities. One of Will’s friends, Spencer, raises row crops about an hour and a half away. He expressed interest in diversifying his operation, and that conversation has given rise to a partnership. With his farm equipment and corn growing experience, Spencer has grown a field of heirloom flour corn. Will and I will take the corn, grind it, and sell the cornmeal. It is a profit-sharing model that we are interested to see develop. We also grew a little bit of our own flour corn in a different variety that we plan to experiment with.
Kentucky Agricultural Leadership Program (KALP)
I’m honored to be participating in this prestigious two year program. Will participated in the previous KALP class and says that he learned more during the program than during his four years of undergraduate education. I know this program will help me understand aspects of agriculture and rural communities better and will push me to be a better leader and better farmer.
We will be planting a small orchard and an asparagus patch. We’ve found that the wide range of products we offer (veggies, meat, eggs, and flowers) really play off one another and encourage customers to treat our farm as a grocery stop. We hope that providing even more variety in the future will increase this behavior among customers.
We finally finished our fencing! Next March we will be bringing some of the cows up to our farm to graze in order to stockpile more forage on Will’s parents’ farm. As soon as we begin living on our property, we plan to include smaller livestock in the rotation, but in the meantime we are wary of leaving small animals at the farm without our watchful eyes.
Beginning to build a house on our farm
We are so thankful to have a place to live right now, but we can’t wait to live on our farm. We hope to be living there a year from now!
Over the next couple of years our big plans are:
We currently purchase feeder pigs and raise them to processing size on Will’s parents’ farm. We’d like to have our own breeding stock in the future and raise pastured pork on our property.
We currently raise pastured broilers for ourselves that we process on farm. I grew up raising these birds and practicing on farm processing for re-sale in Ohio. In Kentucky, however, you cannot sell farm-processed chicken. We are currently trying to figure out how raising and processing chicken can be profitable for our business.
Everything on our farm comes down to labor time. It is our largest barrier to growth. Our trouble is not debt, and it is not access to capital; it is access to labor. We don’t make any expensive farm investments all at once, so we are able to pay for investments as we go with savings, small loans, and small grants.
We are caught in the middle; can we afford to pay someone to work on our farm? Will another person make us so efficient that we’ll have enough extra money for a paycheck? I attended a farm financial conference where the presenter (a successful farmer) told the audience that a farm cannot make any real money without farm staff. I am coming to believe that, but I am having a hard time trusting that employees will pay for themselves. To hire farm help or not is a question we will have to answer as we finalize 2016 plans.
This labor question is the issue that keeps me from seeing a clear path to what our farm will look like long-term. I see farm help in that photo, but I’m not sure at what point they appear on the scene. As we look ahead we wonder how farmers have the time to bring children into the world. How do people balance being farmers and parents? I know we’ll work through this in time, but right now we are struggling with the answers.