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Planning for Profit

Since we started farming we have tried different enterprises (types of crops to grow and value-added farm products) and made decisions on which ones produced and sold well, but also which ones we enjoyed doing.  We started to farm as a way to put into practice our environmental values, spend time outside, be independent by creating our own jobs, and produce food for our community and ourselves. We quickly realized that if small-scale local agriculture is to compete with large production farms, we needed to also spend time analyzing numbers.  Paying the bills with a job in agriculture proved to be tighter than any other job Marci or myself had ever had, and this forced us to take a broad approach to viewing the profitability of the farm and delving into record keeping and accurate crop analysis.  

We started looking at the standard equation of gross revenue - expenses = profit, and turning it around by starting with the question of how much do we need to make in order to live the way we desired?  Through this we trimmed down our personal living expenses to the minimum in order to fulfill our dream.  Then the equation looked like 'desired profit = gross revenue - expenses.  This means that we set a realistic goal of how much income we need and then figure out what we need to grow and produce to fulfill that need. Asking ourselves, do we need to grow more of certain crops? Do we need to cut out certain, unprofitable crops? Do we need to change where we sell our stuff? Can we become more efficient in our production methods?  As we finalize our growing and production plans for 2014, all of these questions are asked and help determine what our plans look like and where we spend our time. 


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Planning: Spreadsheets

It is supposed to be the dead of winter right now. But it feels more like spring some days, with sunshine and a lack of frosty mornings. We haven't had noticeable precipitation in weeks and we're getting a little worried. But we're right where we're supposed to be... We're planning.

As part of our farming seasonal schedule, January is the month that we pour over records of last season, make lists of what we want to grow, what we grow because of different markets and our CSA, and drool over seed catalog pictures, knowing that some of those beautiful tomatoes won't taste the way they look in a picture. It's a fun process, reflecting together over what we enjoyed last season and what gave us the headaches. What can we change? What can we do better? What can we do better without? 

Greg has created a most beautiful masterpiece of a spreadsheet that keeps track of everything. Its so important for market farmers to have a working knowledge of what has been done and what we have to do in our future. Its a living document that is constantly tweaked and referred to throughout our busiest greenhouse seeding months of March and April. Every plant is accounted for, nothing is done in haste. We try to have a game plan. That game plan, when printed out for our trusty field notebook is about thirty pages. While we don't refer to all 30 pages, its all important information that we use in different ways throughout the year. In January, when that spreadsheet is reborn for the new season, we laugh at how this spreadsheet is truly an extension of these farmer brains. You can see a snipit below of our beloved production schedule and how we've tracked it for the last 3 seasons going on 4th.

Its jam packed, we know. It tells us how much of what we need to grow to meet the demands of our CSA, two farmers markets, online market, restaurant sales and more. While we know farmers who fly by the seat of their pants, or who know their routine by heart, this is an example of how each farm does things a little differently. We feel having this sort of detailed plan makes ordering seeds easier, determining how much we need to grow to meet our projected income for the year, and in general is makes day to day operations a little more smooth. If you ask a farmer right now what they are doing this time of year, some form of this is likely. So, even if we're not out working in the soil, it doesn't mean we're not busy.




Getting Ready for Goats

Deirdre, Registered Grade Nigerian Dwarf Doe

Deirdre, Registered Grade Nigerian Dwarf Doe

before barn looking south west.jpg

We are getting ready and counting the days for the goats to arrive. Today we had the hay delivered and are so thankful to have found a no-spray hay with delivery! And we had the chance to meet another local, like-minded beginning farmer who grows a very nice looking native grass hay just 40 miles away in Kendrick, ID. 

This is Deirdre (Delilah on her paperwork, but comes from her current owner as Deirdre) and she is a Registered Grade Nigerian Dwarf. She has just returned from her physical exam before she comes to our farm with a clean bill of health. She's about 90 pounds right now and her current owner thinks she's looking like she might be pregnant with triplets. She has had triplets before, delivered and nursed all of them with no help. 

I anticipate that since this will be my first season kidding goats that I will be quite watchful and spending lots of time in the barn. I think we'll invest in a baby monitor so I can listen for labor sounds without having to get dressed and tromp over to the barn in the middle of the night. 

This is a view of the barn we are leasing from our neighbor. He built this barn for draft horses and so some modification is needed for livestock on the other end of the size spectrum. We will be adding stall doors, new hay feeders and moving the milking stanchion in there as well. It has good lighting and even a radio. We are fortunate to live where we do and have access to this kind of infrastructure. 




As we settle into the holiday season, gathering with family and friends, we are so grateful for the community that supports us. We couldn't do any of this without you, so Thank You. 

As we continue to plan for the 2014 season, we anticipate much of our vegetable farming to stay largely the same. The joy of this is that we get to become even better at what we do, continue to build our soil vitality, increase our beneficial insect populations, continue to learn how to grow our crops even better, and bring good food to tables on the Palouse. We are adding one aspect to our farm that will come with a huge learning curve... dairy goats.

Fergus, Registered Purebred Nigerian Dwarf Buck

Meet Fergus, our registered purebred Nigerian Dwarf Buck. His Dam (mother) came from Pholia Farm in Rouge River, OR. If you've heard of the books 'American Farmstead Cheese' or 'Farmstead Creamery Advisor' you know this well regarded ND (Nigerian Dwarf) dairy. They produce some of the finest goat cheese on a small scale.

Fergus comes with a working harness, so we anticipate he will help haul straw & hay, compost and feed in a garden cart with some modifications for his size and harness. We are also planning to have some custom field implements made so he can help harrow soil, turn in cover crop seed and replace the rototiller in some light duty applications. You must earn your keep on this farm!

Our plan is to apply to the Idaho State Dept. of Ag for a small herd exemption to produce raw milk and cheeses from our farm. This first year we plan to offer milk and cheese as a CSA share or add-on for our veg shares. We will not be bringing milk or cheese to the farmers market. Our reason for this is scale. While only milking two does, bottle feeding their kids and providing enough milk for us, there simply won't be enough milk to sell or make cheese on a scale that makes sense to haul to market, bring coolers, and receive permits for.

Like I said, there's a huge learning curve and we need a year to figure it out with our first love and income generating vegetable production. Our goal is to increase our dairy herd over the next few years and begin producing milk & cheese on a manageable scale for market sales. So if you are interested in buying raw milk or cheese, please contact us for availability. I will be writing more posts in the coming weeks and introducing you to the rest of our herd.













Winter Weather

We are at the tail end of some extreme temperature lows for the northern intermountain west where we live. Five days of below freezing high temps, and single digit low temps at night are both a blessing and a curse on our farm. The rabbit waters freeze within minutes of putting out, the chickens molt, and the row cover freezes to the ground which means no more greens for us until it thaws.

On the bright side, we anticipate these low, low temps to kill off some of the pests we have and in the last few years have had larger and larger populations of. Specifically the Green Soldier Bug or green stink bug (Chinavia hilare) which is a sucking insect that has some pretty detrimental effects on the cosmetic value of tomatoes, peas, beans and other more succulent crops. If populations are high, a significant portion of the crop can be affected. We estimate that nearly 30% of our tomato crop was damaged enough that we wouldn't sell the tomatoes. So as with lemons and lemonade, we made tomatoes into salsa. 

Hannah is helping too.

This winter weather is giving us a chance to sit down and start planning for 2014. The seeds catalogs begin to roll in this time of year, so its easy to start dreaming. One of the important things that we do is to replay the year in our heads and talk about what felt good or what needs changing. We do this causally over coffee or while driving to/from family visits. Its easy to sit down with a notebook of details from the season, look at harvest records, seeding charts and organize thoughts based on that. But its also good to pick out what our feeling were over the season and make changes based on fact and feeling.