This Saturday, September 6, from 10:00 am until 2:00 pm I will be teaching a class for those that want to farm and want to make money at it. This class will address the planning of a farm business, including setting your goals, writing a business plan, pricing, bookkeeping, merchandising, promotion, funding sources, and resources available from government and private organizations.
Farmers plan to fight the weather and the insects, but it is usually the business side of the operation that causes the most problems. Many do not really know if they are making progress because they have not set solid goals or have not kept competent records. With realistic planning, good records, niche marketing and special products it is possible to make a living farming. Whether you grow an unusual product or a better product, opportunities in the food production business exist. The key is understanding the three legged stool of business– production, marketing and finance. It will always be hard work, but with planning, it can be financially rewarding. Class is from 10:00 am until 2:00 pm and costs $45.00. You can register by email and pay at the event. The class will be repeated on Sunday, Sept. 28.
Class size is limited to five people or farms so we have time to work on individual business plans.
Fall is coming soon. We will begin the fall series of farm related classes in September. We plan to partner with Prairie View A&M this year and offer some classes on mushroom propagation, small ruminates and possibly other subjects, but we have not solidified the dates for these classes. However, here are the dates and subjects of the classes that are on our calendar. Check the website for more to come. All classes are $45.00 and you can sign up for them by emailing me and pay at the door. Check the events page for more information about individual classes.
September 6, Saturday – 10:00 am til 2:00 pm – The Business of Farming for Profit. Basics of business planning, merchandising, selling, bookkeeping, etc.
September 14, Sunday – 2:00 pm til 4:00 PM – Backyard Aquaponics – Simple, inexpensive systems for small farms and backyards
September 28, Sunday – 1:00 pm til 4:00 PM – The Business of Farming for profit
October 4, Saturday – 2:00 pm til 4:00 PM – Grafting and Other Propagation Methods for Fruits
Date TBA – Small Ruminants -
Date TBA – Mushroom Propagation -
October 26, Sunday – 2:00 pm til 4:00 PM -Grafting and Other Propagation Methods for Fruits
November 15, Saturday – 2:00 pm til 4:00 PM – Fruit Tree Management and Care – Organic fruit tree care in Texas
December 14, Sunday – 2:00 pm til 4:00 PM – Fruit Tree Management and Care
Check the events page for more information
We recently rescued a Karakul ram lamb whose mother died. We named him Ali Baba. We have bottle fed him and raised him with the dogs, which the lamb seemed to think was just fine. The dogs never were too excited about having a ram as their colleague. This week we decided to integrate the little ram into the flock of sheep. We figured that he would have a rough time and monitored the situation carefully. He was sad and lonely but the reaction of the other sheep was the surprise. They were fearful. They escaped their electric fences to get away from this little ram. This ram was 30 pounds and the other sheep averaged about 100 pounds. One of the things I like about sheep is that they are creatures of instinct. If you can interpret their instinctual response you will know what they are doing. I never suspected that they would react the same to a little ram lamb as they react to a dog. Sit! Stay! Baa! He is back with the dogs.
One of the most difficult hurdles in farming is access to land. If you live in a rural area, a spread-out city like Houston, or a blighted city with many vacant lots it is apparent that there is no lack of land. The problem is that the land belongs to someone else. It is possible that the new program for farming does not include owning the land.
Governments, corporations, and wealthy land owners sit on land that is unused, save the occasional criss-cross of a lawnmower, costing the owner money and increasing greenhouse gasses. A much better use of that land would be to give some of the many people who would like to farm the opportunity to use it. The government, corporation or land owner would benefit from the bragging rights of presenting an organic garden and the farmer would make some money with the produce. The problem arrises when we bring up the word profit. Governments and large corporations, in particular, do not like for-profit entities on their property unless they are getting a cut. And we all know that the profit in farming does not leave a lot to share.
A solution to this would be to form a non profit organization that helps promote organic food, gardens, children in gardening, etc. This organization could pay the workers in the garden a modest wage, pay themselves a modest salary, and donate the rest to gardening education which they would do on a Saturday or a field trip, etc. Of course, like most business owners, they are taking on the risk, not knowing if they can make enough to make it worth their while. All proceeds would end up in the hands of the people who did the work, and that would not be a lot. Being a non profit, if you got to the point that you were making too much money, that would be used to expand–work more land and hire more people.
The land owner could be assured that the sign at the garden, introducing a nonprofit organization, would reflect an atmosphere of altruism. People farming would make money, unused land would be made productive and the people/governments/companies would feel pride in their reallocation of resources. The land owners would be responsible for paying water and taxes, but they were already doing that.
If one company turned a small lot into a beautiful garden the competing and neighboring companies would follow. Of course the farmers would have to keep their gardens looking better than my gardens in order to please the owner who is used to an accepted view of landscaping. This might require fund raisers to make beautiful fencing and mulched paths.
A model of land leasing is already in use with livestock that graze power company easements and farms. These typically lease for $1.00 per year and give a land owner the opportunity to apply for agricultural valuation on their real estate taxes after five years. Maybe the tax authority in counties and cities could work on such an incentive for urban land. Multi-year leases would be necessary because of the work involved in improving the soil.
Such an enterprise would require a business plan and all the bookkeeping forms that go along with getting a non-profit off the ground and approved by the IRS, but it could be a game changer. Just look at what Growing Power has done in Milwaukee. It has companies asking them to take unused land. They do a fundraiser to provide a greenhouse (it is cold in Milwaukee unlike Texas) and use paid untrained labor under the direction of knowledgeable employees to build and maintain the facilities. They get lower unemployment, better land use, and provide farmers markets in underserved areas.
These land owners have spent a lot of money on landscaping that is not providing food for people, chickens or sheep. Turning these into farms could help the land owner, increase local employment, improve the environment, and give opportunities to farmers. It would also help the dietary health of a community at little to no cost.
We need new solutions when land ownership is beyond the financial reach of farming. If your business plan does not allow for enough profit to buy property you should not be excluded from farming. We need more farmers, particularly younger enthusiastic ones. And it does not take a lot to be younger than the average farmer in the United States. I have heard figures ranging from 55 to 65, and rest assured I am one and I welcome the company of younger colleagues.
Wednesday was shearing day at the farm. Fifteen ladies, and one ram were not so happy about it, but they will be much cooler this summer without that 10 pounds of wool. I suppose they will thank me then. We finished the working pens about 2:00, Danny, the shearer, arrived about 3:00 and was gone by 4:30. For our first time it went well, but I did have to carry one 120 pound ewe to the chute. I know I was more tired than Danny, just because I did not know what I was doing. Next year it will go more smoothly. Now we have to think about weaning.
Farming for profit
Farm businesses seldom fail because farmers don’t know how to raise their product. They most often fail due to poor planning and a lack of information. On Sunday, May 18 I will be teaching a class that will explore ways to define your goals, write a business plan, find a way to market your product, talk about harvesting and storage, introduce you to organizations that provide outside guidance and present information on government funding. This class is only 2 and one half hours long, but it could send your business in the right direction. Unlike most of my classes, I do not promise you will have a good time. This class is about the business side of farming. Record keeping, planning, cost analysis, and government agencies are not terms that get us farmers excited–at least not in a positive way– but they are the tools we need to make the right decisions. The class is offered through Urban Harvest and must be signed up through their website. Feel free to contact me if you have questions.