[permaculture] [might be spam] Re: NYT morons at work: Don't Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Farmers - NYTimes.com

farmer1 at gasperfarm.com farmer1 at gasperfarm.com
Thu Aug 14 12:32:37 EDT 2014

Thank you SO much for that. I can tell that is the result of a lot of
experience and thinking about the problem and I concur with everything
you're saying. Those ideas don't solve all the problems but if followed
would keep a lot of new farmers off the rocks.

"My observation is that raising and selling meat is important for
beginning/small farmers, especially pastured animals, which cost less to

You mentioned SPIN farming as a way to get access to land and get started.
I've read the economic study on their model project and it was pretty
dicey. Though I know folks who've pulled it off.

However that model doesn't allow you to do livestock as you suggest. Maybe
eggs or chickens, but not at scale. To produce something like beef or
dairy requires a lot of land and eggs/chicken/pork takes a lot of land if
the grower produces his own feed as you suggest.

A lot of farmers get started with 1 or 5 acres and then get their
operation half built and realize they don't have enough land to be
sustainable. Then they stay a hobby farm or die. Not everyone can be a
vegetable grower.

I find access to land to be the biggest/hardest challenge. Do you have any
ideas on accessing land beyond the micro enterprise?

What is your opinion on price vs. scale? For example (numbers made up) an
egg producer may be at $8 with 50 hens but if they could scale it to 250
could pull the price down to $6 through savings in labor, overheads and
bulk buying. Should they price at $8 to cover actual costs or loose money
at $6 in hopes of bringing in buyers and growing the market fast enough
and before costs rise even more?


> At the Oklahoma Food Cooperative, the farmer gets 77.5 cents out of
> every grocery dollar, not including the sales tax.  That's not as good
> as a farmers market, but when a farmers sells through the Oklahoma Food
> Coop, they effectively sell at 52 farmers markets, because we deliver
> customer orders to 52 pickup sites around the state (all except for a
> couple are within 160 miles of Oklahoma City.
> The cost of entry into the Oklahoma Food coop is very low.  $51.75 for a
> membership share, $100 producer application fee, $50 of that is refunded
> if you are approved as a producer as credit towards purchase of items
> through the Coop, mileage for the Coop visitor to come and check out
> your operation.
> Here's what I tell people that show up at the Oklahoma Food coop.
> First, farm and sell in accordance with a permaculture design that you
> have made for your farm and marketing operation.  And I think it is best
> if you do that design because you are the one who knows the most about
> your land and your life and what your assets and liabilities are.  If
> you go through the whole planning process, and do a good job of figuring
> out inputs and yields and all of that kind of permie stuff, you will
> have a better chance of making a sustainable living because first and
> foremost, you will have a good handle on your costs because of course
> one of the seeds of success is  not letting the costs run away with
> you.  And that is easy to do on the farm, especially if you are always
> going to town to buy stuff.  Stack functions, meet essential needs in
> multiple ways, etc. etc.
> None of the producers at the Oklahoma Food Coop quite get this point so
> nobody is doing it although there is some growing interest in Mark
> Shepherd and his Restoration Agriculture.  He has been to eastern
> Oklahoma a couple of times and quite a few of our producers in that area
> have gone to his weekend workshops and they are sending in pictures of
> swales and berms and fun stuff like that which is quite an improvement I
> must say.   If you farm for direct sale to the public in accordance with
> an actual permaculture design, then you are ahead of your competition.
> In no particular order. . .
> (1) Eat your own food.  Quality is the name of the game when it comes to
> direct sales.  I got some carrots last month that were so sweet it was
> like they were rolled in sugar.  But last year a different producer sent
> me the most awful looking excuse for a collard green that I have ever
> seen.  I didn't order from them again. They didn't come back for this
> year.  I was sorry about that, but I had heard a lot of complaints about
> them and if they weren't going to go all the way to quality, I didn't
> want the Coop to lose customers because people were paying high prices
> for low quality food.  Another producer sent me a pork roast, that was
> about 70% bone and fat.  I emailed her about it, and she sent me a nice
> apology but she didn't say anything about making it good. "We'll do
> better next time."  So I ordered another pork roast from her the next
> month, and got something very similar.  So I haven't ordered from her
> again.
> With the way we do business -- online ordering, in person delivery --
> the customer can't pick what they want from a table of produce. They get
> what the producer sends.  Our customers do have the right to refuse to
> accept delivery, but most people go ahead and accept the delivery, and
> then send me a note afterwards if things weren't quite what they should
> have been.  Most of these get worked out but some of our producers are
> not good at this kind of customer service.  Those folks tend to not stay
> around long.
> So you have to know what you are doing so you can produce a quality
> product that will bear a quality price. If you're going to be proud of
> your prices, you have to be equally proud of your food.
> (2) You're not just selling food.  If people want cheap food, they will
> go to the supermarkets.  People who come here, and jump through all the
> hoops necessary to buy from us, are picky about their food and they want
> a relationship with whoever it is that is producing their food.  So we
> are selling food (and non-food items) with a STORY.  And your first job
> is to sell your story to your potential customers.  Younger people get
> that, older people often don't, so we tell them to get their kids
> involved.  One guy told me, "I don't have much of a story." But when I
> asked him a few details, i found out that he was a Mennonite who lived
> on a farm that his great grandfather had homesteaded during one of our
> Land Runs, riding a mule, he had two 20 something year old sons who were
> beginning farming with him, and he was able to offer certified organic
> eggs and chickens at a good price because he grew all of his own feed.
> So he had a big story and with his Mennonite humility he didn't realize
> it.
> (3) To tell the story, we recommend that people do newsletters, that
> they put notes in with customer orders on occasion, that they have
> Facebook pages, and they should take lots of pictures.  We want pictures
> for all the products sold through our Coop, but we aren't there yet (we
> have over 5,000 items every month).  Some of them do this very well.
> One producer has a chicken she calls Dorthy. Dorthy is always doing this
> or that and she lays a light green egg. So her customers look forward to
> getting a light green egg and she says people sometimes complain because
> they didn't get one of Dorthy's eggs.   She was one of our early
> producers so I suspect we're working on about the 3rd generation of
> Dorthy.  The point is to do things that develop a relationship with your
> customers.  If you can get their birthdays, send them birthday cards.
> (4) We suggest that they make sustainability part of their story. e.g.
> talk about their land and water management practices, pest control,
> fertilization, cover crops, whatever it is they are doing. Because
> that's the kind of people who join the Oklahoma Food Coop.
> (5) Minimize purchased inputs.  We have quite a few producers who are
> buying feed, especially for egg production.  On one hand, I am glad to
> get the eggs, because eggs are in great demand, even at $4.50 to
> $5/dozen which is the prevailing price. But on the other hand, I don't
> think any of them that are buying feed are making much money on their
> eggs, especially when their time is factored in.  And non-GMO feed is
> out of site on the price over the last year or so. No one is growing
> non-GMO feed in Oklahoma for sale.  Some of our producers are growing
> their own non-GMO feed but they aren't growing enough to sell to
> others.  So when it comes to something like eggs, if you can't grow your
> own feed or provide forage, I think you have to be very strict with your
> accounting to make sure that producing and selling eggs is really
> something you can do and make a profit. Add a cost line for your labor
> at say $15/hour and see what that does to the profitability.  Even if
> you aren't writing yourself a check for that amount, if that puts you in
> the red, then you have to figure something out so that you can afford to
> actually pay yourself at least $15 an hour.  Twenty or thirty would be
> better.
> (6) Diversification helps, especially if you can get to the place where
> you have something to sell 12 months out of the year.  My observation is
> that raising and selling meat is important for beginning/small farmers,
> especially pastured animals, which cost less to raise.  And those with
> meat animals should sell every part of the animal that they can possibly
> sell. Sell the bones, sell the hides, sell the feet, sell the organ
> meats (tongue, heart, kidneys) I cooked a beef tongue tonight.  Before
> this food coop, I never would have thought it possible, but beef tongue
> and heart are delicious, every bit as delicious as any roast I've ever
> cooked. Farmers traditionally made crafts in the winter to sell.  One of
> our producers sons made GORGEOUS brooms from broom corn and straw they
> grew on their farm and sticks from their wood lot. he had about six
> different designs.  He grew up and went off to college and now we have a
> hole in our product line which i am hoping someone else will fill.
> But labor is a limit on diversification, as there are only so many hours
> available for the "job".  One of our producers was producing a lot of
> different prepared food products, so many different products that that
> was becoming an issue.  They went through their list and pared it down
> to the products that sold well and had decent markups so they could make
> some money.
> Diversification is also a hedge against catastrophe.
> (7) Don't compete on price.  In our first year, we had the one chicken
> guy I've already talked about. A new producer came along and he charged
> 25 cent/lb more for his chickens than the first guy.  The first guy
> raised his price, so the new guy raised his price again, each time they
> were going up in 25/cent/lb increments.  So I finally called the new guy
> and said, "Most people would say if you have competition you should cut
> your price." He replied, "My chickens are the best, so they will always
> be priced at the highest price. Sure, some people buy based on the
> lowest price, but some people buy based on the highest price. I charge
> more and work less."  I don't think it was actually true that he worked
> less, lol, but it was I suppose something to aspire too.  Anyway, you
> have to charge enough so that you can cover your expenses and make a
> living.  Sweat equity is fine and off farm jobs that subsidize the farm
> is fine but you have to have a good handle on your costs, your units
> that you have to sell, and how much the markup needs to be so you can be
> sustainable over the long term.  Nobody should try to compete with Wal
> Mart.  Whole Foods is sure not shy about its markups.
> Compete on everything else, especially STORY and RELATIONSHIPS. People
> who become your friends are more likely to stick with you over the long
> term.
> If you just can't make a profit over a particular item, then find
> something else to grow and sell or make and sell.   Remember what I said
> about penciling in your own wages, even if you aren't paying yourself,
> and see what that does to the accounts.  If what you're doing isn't
> working, then try something else.
> (8) Keep as much of the grocery dollar as you can.  I am not so sure
> about this sudden flowering of propaganda in favor of food aggregators.
> My research suggests that a lot of this is being driven by Wal Mart
> money.  They want to cash in on local foods, but they don't want 200
> farmers showing up at their stores.  So their answer is some kind of an
> aggregation system.  I understand the attraction.  I went to the SARE
> conference in Mobile last January and one of the projects talked about
> was setting up a series of small collard green processing facilities,
> that would produce bags of frozen collard greens in two sizes -- a one
> pound size for retail, and a larger 10 pound package for the restaurant
> and commercial food trade.  They were targeting small impoverished
> African American farmers, and it is hard to disagree with that.
> But it is also a step back towards the conventional way of doing food in
> the US.  My father sold everything he raised to aggregators, grain
> elevators either privately owned or the Coop, steers went to feed lots,
> cotton to the gin and then to a compress.  We raised hay and a mixture
> of maize, milo, sudan for feed, mostly for our own use, but some we sold
> directly to our neighbors.  We were always at the mercy of the world
> market. The local food movement should be about empowering producers to
> have a more equal and just relationship with the customers.
> (9) Think coops.  One strategy I've advocated from day one, but has yet
> to be adopted by anyone, is an urban vegetable growing and marketing
> cooperative with maybe 6 to a dozen members, who would establish
> vegetable patches in back yards and use the Small Plot Intensive (SPIN)
> method whose originators are grossing $50K Canadian from a half acre (2
> full time workers), and the half acres isn't contiguous, it's in 20
> backyards around their town.  The idea is to start small, as a part-time
> micro-enterprise, without a huge up front cash investment, and then grow
> their business as their skills and customer contacts grow.
> (10) Get out of the fossil fuel business as much as possible. None of
> our producers have followed through on this suggestion  but I think that
> they are all underestimating the market attractiveness of bringing food
> to the market produced with as little fossil fuel as possible.  I know
> that large scale biodiesel and ethanol have problems, but I think that
> farm scale biodiesel and ethanol make a lot of economic and energy
> sense.  Fuel is typically a very big cost to producers, and it makes
> them dependent upon a very long supply chain.  If people are growing and
> making their own fuels, they need to earn less money because their costs
> are lower.  You may not have control over whether someone buys enough of
> your product to pay your diesel bill, but you have total control over
> your time and land and you can use that to make you own fuel.  Neighbors
> could do small scale energy coops.  People shouldn't be deceived about
> the long-term issue of petroleum and natural gas supplies.  Despite
> claims of its demise by the cornucopians, peak oil remains alive and
> this will become increasingly apparent as we go forward.  A "No Fossil
> Fuels" sign on your market stall will get you a lot of attention.
> (11)  Sell big and small.  If you have beef, offer halves, wholes,
> quarters, and eighths -- but also sell somebody one pound if that's all
> they want, need, or can afford.   If you are packaging, keep that in
> mind.  For example, if you sell pork, you'll want some nice thick half
> inch maybe even a full inch thick pork chops.  But have the processor do
> some "breakfast cuts", which are 1/4 inch thick for those who either
> aren't as hungry or don't have as much money to spend and package those
> 2 to a package so they weigh less than a pound.
> (12) Teach your customers what to do with your food.  If you are selling
> a whole grain, give them recipes and explanations as to what they can do
> with it (make bulgur, sprout it, grind it for bread, sprout it and THEN
> grind it) and every month give them recipes. Recipes that were handed
> down from your grandmother.  If your grandmother didn't bequeath you any
> recipes, then find a grandmother and get some recipes, lol.
> (13) Give refunds cheerfully and without hassle to the customer.  If
> someone repeatedly asks for a refund, which suggests you are being
> cheated, stop selling to them.
> Well, it's 1135 PM and this is all for now.  This is what I've learned
> about this through my ten years of involvement with the Oklahoma Food
> Cooperative and the 240 or so producers who have come through our
> system.  Not all have stayed, we have about 100 active producers these
> days.
> Bob Waldrop, OKC
> http://www.oklahomafood.coop
> On 8/13/2014 10:25 PM, farmer1 at gasperfarm.com wrote:
>> Ah, that makes sense.
>> So what you have here is a large scale commodity farmer that is already
>> established and profitable. An operation like that can then divert some
>> of
>> the product into the direct market stream and employ the children or
>> bring
>> the wife home from the town job to market it.
>> That extra job scales well because the marketing labor goes up
>> proportionally with income.
>> Since they're at scale on the production side their costs are very low
>> and
>> they're supported by the farm so they're not in a farming after work
>> situation. Land and equipment was paid for generations ago. And anything
>> over commodity price is profit; so they just have to make enough to
>> cover
>> marketing labor.
>> There is no stress about the slow ramp up time in growing a direct
>> market
>> cause it can just go to the commodity channel. Eventually they grow the
>> direct market enough to dump the commodity channel.
>> Its a lot harder to loose money in a situation like that.
>> But none of that helps a beginning farmer. Typically they don't have the
>> large scale land and the equipment. They cannot get big enough to sell
>> commodity so start small and grow with the market but that means they
>> don't produce enough to keep costs low. They're doing marketing and
>> farming: two jobs. And due to the way farming scales they often have a
>> full time farming job with a part time farming income. And so they
>> depend
>> on off farm income while they work themselves to death trying to grow
>> the
>> farm.
>> That model isn't working well. But the previous model isn't an option
>> for
>> beginning farmers.
>> So what do we as beginning farmers do?
>> One solution being increasingly proffered is to eliminate the marketing;
>> build food hubs and other agrigators to market the food. But these are
>> just middlemen who in the long term will push down farm gate prices and
>> keep all the profits. This is nothing less than the recommodification of
>> the local food movement.
>> At first that might sound like an opportunity for a beginning farmer to
>> do
>> like the first model: sell at scale while building a direct market. But
>> it
>> doesn't deal with the trouble of getting to scale and it adds a new
>> problem:  agrigators become least cost suppliers of local food and
>> eliminate the market opportunity for direct marketers.
>> So what do we as beginning farmers do?
>> Pete
> --
> http://www.ipermie.net How to permaculture your urban lifestyle and adapt
> to the realities of peak oil, economic irrationality, political
> criminality, and peak oil.
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