Tag Archives: farming

Ultimate Test of Sustainability?

Will Your Operation Succeed to the Next Generation?

It’s been said that a farm or ranch is not truly sustainable unless it employs at least two generations. I believe it’s imperative that as producers we recognize that even if we become both ecologically and economically sustainable, but fail to pass our mission and work on to the next generation then we’ve failed the ultimate test of sustainability.

According to the most recent census of agriculture: from 2007 to 2012 there was a decline of over 95,000 farms in America. A quick look at the current trends tell us that most of today’s family farms and ranches will not succeed to the next generation.

I believe there is hope for a bright future.

This hope is not based on wishful thinking but rather a ground swelling of innovative farmers that are indeed beating the odds and are building thriving operations. A few names you may recognize are operations like Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farms in Virginia, Gabe & Paul Brown of Nourished By Nature in North Dakota, as well as Will Harris’s White Oak Pastures in Southern Georgia. These are just a few of the many operations that are shining a bright beacon of hope to the greater agricultural community.

If you visit any of these operations there is a very obvious, but all too often overlooked, common thread of success. Each of these operations spring forth with a multigenerational team of people that bring intellectual diversity to each acre of their land.

Most of us in agriculture are at a road block because we’re too narrowly focused on a production mindset and we’ve lost sight of people and relationships. We must make the critical distinction that people create profits – profits don’t create people.

Those of us pursuing regenerative agriculture understand the value that biological diversity brings to our land, but we often forget about the value that human creativity and diverse intellectual capital can bring to our land.

At Seven Sons Farms we’ve stacked multiple enterprises on only 550 acres. By creating synergistic relations between our land, livestock and people, we are able to employee over 10 full time people as well as several part-time positions. We refer to our team as our intellectual human polyculture:

Human Pollyculture

Any successful leader knows that their organization’s most valuable asset is having the right people in the right place.

Zig Ziglar offered this belief: “You don’t build a business – you build people – and then people build your business.”

If the above statement is true then it begs the question – how is agriculture as a whole doing at building people? The graph below shows a plummeting decline in the number of human minds in agriculture.

The erosion of human capital:

1482013689_5855bbf99fc0d.jpg

SOURCES: Agriculture in the Classroom, 2014; BLS, 2014; NASS, 2014a,b; U.S. Census Bureau, 2014a,b; USDA, 2012

Over the course of time we have eroded much of our land’s precious resources in the form of minerals and soil organic matter. But no greater erosion has taken place than the depletion of human minds from each acre of our land. In the early 1970s we reached a critical point – for the first time in the history of American agriculture the number of human minds per acre involved in agriculture fell to a negative ratio.

Interestingly, it was around this same time period that the farmer’s share of the food dollar began to plummet as well.

The erosion of the food dollar:

There are many factors at play but it only stands to reason that if we want to capture a wider diversity of the food dollar, it requires wider diversity of intellectual talents. This is exactly why at Seven Sons Farms we have sought to foster synergistic relationships with people that enable us to capture a greater diversity of the food dollar.

To sum up the past half century of agriculture, one could say that in pursuit of production, we’ve attempted to trade people for profit. In the end we’ve yielded neither profit nor people.

At Seven Sons we believe that the people connected to the land represent the most valuable asset a farm could ever possess. To illustrate this point, imagine for just a moment if you were to remove Joel Salatin, Gabe Brown, or Will Harris from their respective farms. These farms would look nothing like what they do today without the creativity and vision that each of these leaders bring to the land that they are called to steward. The same holds true for your farm as well. The beliefs you operate from, the vision you put forth and the people you inspire to join you – these are the game changers that will empower your operation to beat the odds and succeed to the next generation.

There are unprecedented opportunities ahead of us…

I believe we have unprecedented opportunities ahead of us when you consider many of the recent breakthroughs in regenerative agriculture as well as the rapid shifts we’re seeing in our food culture.

So if you’re looking to exchange new ideas and be challenged to think outside old paradigms then I encourage you to join myself and hundreds of likeminded people at this year’s Grassfed Exchange in Albany New York.

The very mission of the Grassfed Exchange is to catalyze the exchange of practical knowledge, ideas, and strategies that you can take home and begin applying on your operation. Bring a family member, friend or budding young agripreneur who is looking for their way forward in agriculture.

What The Grassfed Exchange Is About:
Click here to register for the 2017 Grassfed Exchange

Reprinted from Grassfed Exchange

FSA Microloans

This might be a good place to look if you need to borrow funds for a small farming or marketing operation startup.

Contact your local FSA (Farm Service Agency) office if interested in a USDA microloan that can help new farmers own land. http://www.fsa.usda.gov/…/farm-loan-progra…/microloans/index

Program Description:

The focus of Microloans is on the financing needs of small, beginning farmer, niche and non-traditional farm operations, such as truck farms, farms participating in direct marketing and sales such as farmers’ markets, CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture), restaurants and grocery stores, or those using hydroponic, aquaponic, organic and vertical growing methods. 

Cheers!

tauna

 

 

So You Want To Farm….

There are certainly obstacles  – huge obstacles- in place to keep a person from farming, but if you don’t even have a garden and feeding your family from it – i will suggest you take a really hard look at the reasons keeping you from farming.

Do you lack motivation?  knowledge? funding? land?  Of those four, lack of motivation is the most deadly to keeping you off the land (or whatever your dream).  The others are easily overcome.

The only way to get started is to do it!  In four square feet you can grow 15-20 lbs of pole beans! That is 60 servings of fresh green beans at a start up cost of seed (4 seeds at $0.08 each for $0.32) and a tiny spot of earth.  Plan ahead and start putting all your kitchen scraps into  your planting area all winter long.  Use the lasagne method of building compost in your garden (aka sheet composting).  Retail Value of your crop – $34.35!  On four square feet!  Now, that is not counting your labor or water.  But i can tell you that with green beans, the most labor is in harvesting!

What if you scale that up to 1/4 of an acre?  Don’t forget that gardening doesn’t scale without an increase in labor on every single plant or vegetable that you harvest.  And you can’t go on holiday during the growing season.  Oh, right, the RETAIL value of crop on 1/4 of an acre = $49876!

Before getting too excited about long pole beans, bear in mind, that even though the seeds cost 8 cents a piece and retail value of your production could approach $210,680 per acre,  (difference in math is number of plants on a larger property) it’s a LONG way between purchasing an acre, equipment costs, preparing the soil, purchasing and building trellises, watering when necessary during the next 5-6 months, and, without fail, hand harvesting every 2-3 days after the plants begin producing in about 80 days, finding a market for those fresh beans immediately, or be prepared with refrigeration and storage AND putting money in the bank.  Add in crop failures every once in a while and that seemingly massive income per acre whittles away very quickly.  BUT, with careful management, use of cover crops, crop rotations, offering a variety of staple produce, and developing an excellent market, a good living could be gleaned from a small property – even in town!

Additionally, i can tell you right now, that even if i was so motivated to produce this many best-tasting-beans in the world, there is no way i could find buyers for 92,000 lbs of long pole beans.   We simply have too much food produced in this country (not in Linn, CO) for people to buy that many.  That would be 19 lbs per household in Linn County, MO and $2.29/lb far too expensive.  Cheaper products are available at big box stores.

Just my opinion, but the easiest crops to grow and sell (available market) are tomatoes, bell peppers, green beans, snow peas, garlic, onions, potatoes, cucumbers, squashes (squash bugs are challenging though).  Now, put a sharp pencil to inputs, especially labor and marketability.  Only plant what you want to eat in case you can’t sell it all!  Too much diversity just increases stress!  But some variety all season can bring in more customers.

However, Missouri is considered a minor state in vegetable production, due to inappropriate soils and wide swings in weather variation.  Heavy soils in our north central part are particularly challenging and other than small gardens, vegetable growing is not part of the agricultural base found in this part of Missouri.

 

Ready to explore alternative profitable plants?  Read about these.  But you must do your homework!  Can you even find a market for ginseng or bamboo?

There is a movement across the country to embrace homesteading as a way of life.  Remember, though, farming is hard work with little financial reward, but it can be profitable with careful management, hard work, and no debt.  Keep your day job until the farm is paying.

What are your success stories of living on the land?!

Cheers

tauna

photos 007
Last fall, i put together a very short raised bed.  Only using a raised bed to make it easier to mow around.  This 2 ft x 16 ft spot will be all the gardening i plan this year.  
garden 001
Adding ALL of our kitchen food refuse to the buckets of dried cattle manure that had been placed in the 2 ft by 16 ft box.  My Asian long pole green beans will grow up the wire cattle panel along the back.

 

 

Tokaji Aszu

Daughter, Jessica, thoughtfully left me a New Year’s Eve gift since she wasn’t going to be home for it.  However, I have a cold and will wait until i feel better and so it can be shared with my dearest friend, Ivis.

Jessica packed this bottle all the way from her short visit to Budapest in early December to home in north Missouri!  This is a bottle of Sweet Quality Dessert Wine made from grapes infected with a fungus!  Weird.  Tokaji Aszú

Farming in the northeast area of Hungary near the Slovakia border.

Cheers!

tauna