- Author: Julia Boorinakis Harper
“But my customers already know me”, you say! “My farmer's market stand is head turningly gorgeous, and I'm on first-name basis with the people who buy what I produce. Why do I need a Web presence?”
The short answer: it's your business card, and it's your story. A website gives you credibility, visibility, a way for people to find you — and a way for you to share who you are and what you do with your customers, and with the world.
First of all: what is a “Web presence,” anyway?
It can (and should) include both a website and social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.). Your website gives you credibility, visibility, and search engine rankings — think of it as your storefront. Social media adds interaction, personality, and fun.
Wait, I have a Facebook page — isn't that enough?
Facebook is great for connecting with your customers, but it isn't a replacement for a website! It may be tempting to use “free,” quick-and-easy social media sites instead of investing time (and possibly money) in building a custom website, but as we all know, you do get what you pay for. Social sites are generally template-based, generic, and limited in flexibility; they give users very little control or ownership of their content. And — though it may be hard to believe — not everyone is on Facebook! Limiting your Web presence to social-media sources can actually limit your reach to potential customers.
However, social media does have its advantages. Customers have to make the effort to go find and visit your website, whereas Facebook, Twitter, and the like are more integrated into the daily “stream of consciousness” — your followers will see your updates without actually having to go out of their way to look, and in “real time,” as you post them. This is especially great for announcing market days, specials, and things happening right now. Just picked the first peaches of the season? Make sure your customers are the first to know, and include your favorite peach ice cream recipe! Got a truckload of kale you've just harvested? Post a photo announcing your two-for-one deal at the farmer's market today!
By contrast, a personal website gives you a “permanent” home on the Web. You own it, it will act as a hub for all the aspects of your Web presence (blog, social sites, etc.), and you have full control over the content and design. Next week, we'll talk about how to tell your story with great content, beautiful photos, and engaging social media. Stay tuned!
- Author: Deena Miller
I like to be organized, so when we started our small farm in 2010 it didn't feel quite right not to have a checklist of requirements to become a legitimate operation. Did we need a business license, our scale certified, or a food safety inspection? Often, we found we needed a piece of paperwork by chance while looking for outlets for our produce, flowers, or nursery starts. You need a Producer's Certificate to sell at the farmers market we wanted to attend, you now need to follow the “California Small Farm Food Safety Guidelines” to get a Producer's Certificate (as of January 1, 2015 you check a box on the form saying you do), and you must have liability insurance. That adds up to three checks off the list from following through with selling at a Certified Farmers' Market. Two more checks for our farm since we choose to be organic: register organic with the state, and certify organic with a third party agency.
Many farmers have followed the path to paperwork like we have; necessary leads, asking mentors, and researching the vast sea of information on-line. We also follow relevant social media and attend UC Extension events and hear about issues to be aware of. Currently we are waiting to see how the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) will impact our small farm.
In the past five years, there are more rules, and more licenses to acquire, so hopefully this checklist will boost your confidence that you are up to date. Please keep in mind that by the time I finish this blog posting there could be another one to add, so always check for the most current information.
- Author: Andrew Meyers
In my last post, I wrote about building an excel-based tool that helps farmers assess costs of production, taking into account direct and overhead costs. I initially took on this project because, up until November, I had not come across any tool that effectively helped a farmer to assess costs of production for a particular crop. In the past month, I have come across two resources that aim to do just this: the Veggie Compass, and Richard Wiswall’s enterprise analysis spreadsheets. I think both of these resources are great, but not without some challenges. I highly encourage any farmer to spend some time with these resources, particularly Richard Wiswall’s spreadsheets. Very soon, my own crop-planning, and crop-assessment tools will be available. I believe they are effective, farmer friendly, and comprehensive, such that a farmer may obtain accurate costs of production metrics.
I was happy to find that other Ag Extensions and farmers had spent some time on this subject. Too often, I have heard that, since small-scale diversified farming is so complex, it was of little use to try to analyze individual crops, because it would be too hard to parse out the necessary information for each one. I understand that line of thought, but I believe the answer involves more detailed record-keeping. Instead of just claiming it is too hard to keep these records, I challenge farmers to try to do so. A farmer, growing 30 crops, will invariably have crops that are not profitable, and those crops challenge the economic viability of the farm. The farmer can keep his or her head in the sand, and continue to repeat standard refrains such as, “it’s so hard to compete with the big guys”, “my employees quit just when I really needed them”, or “next year will be better”; I propose something different: the farmer can analyze her enterprises, figure out what makes money, and either figure out how to make all crops profitable (not as likely), or focus on those that are profitable.
I spent some time as a farmer and farm owner, and I know how hard it can be to analyze what you are doing. It can be scary or difficult to imagine changing your marketing scheme, and financing plan. I understand all of that. I also understand that it is even harder to farm when you don’t achieve your salary goals. I think a lot of farmers can identify with that sentiment. So, what happens when you don’t achieve your goals for several years in a row, or even decades? I suppose that’s when a farmer becomes a bit jaded; “this system is rigged!”; “we need to eliminate crop subsidies – that will even out the playing field!” In my experience, there’s always something to blame for the paltry tide of money flowing into a farmer’s bank account. Invariably though, the answer is the same – analyze your enterprises, focus on those that make you money, eliminate the rest. I see a lot of smart farmers doing just this, and becoming more and more successful in the process. That is very exciting for me to see.
A farmer friend of mine recently told me something to the effect of “we will start trimming our crop load down soon – we just need to work up to it. I know we’re not reaching our salary goals right now, but it’s so hard to change our sales model. Plus, we know we have crops that lose money, but we feel that we have to grow them.” I would never advocate that a farmer change the operation drastically in one fell swoop – that could bring about a host of unintended consequences that could spell the demise of the farm. Yet, if the farm is not making money, perhaps a large change is in order – and it is easiest to change when you are not making money. One more thought about all of this – there is no crop that a farmer “has to grow”. If a crop doesn’t make you money, figure out how it can, or throw it out of your scheme.
So, where do we start? Some farmers never plan. The process looks like this: “I have 10 acres, I like growing these crops, I will plant what I can and sell it to whomever.” This, of course, is not an effective course of action. Here’s something better:
- Step one – figure out what you will grow, and what the potential sales are for these crops at your markets.
- Step two – figure out how this fits into your farm’s parameters. How many beds/acres will you need to plant to fulfill your markets? Remember to be conservative on your yield estimates per bed when looking into this step.
- Steps three and four – figure out the labor requirements and material requirements for this crop. Many crops are very different in this respect. For instance, carrots need far more weeding time than do tomatoes, but tomatoes need to be trellised for optimal yields. Or, sweet corn has much higher nitrogen requirements than do tomatoes. Not only do these costs need to be taken into account, but so do the time requirements – ie, will you have enough labor to accomplish all of your goals at any given time? Will you have too much labor? These are very important questions to answer.
- Steps five and six – incorporate your overheads into the crop analysis. How much do overheads account for the overall cost of production? It is helpful to scrutinize both your annual overheads and capital investments to make sure that you aren’t spending too much.
- Step seven – make your assessments. Is this crop worth your time and money?
This is, essentially, the process involved in the crop-planning tool that I have created. It is an easy, seven-step program for farmers struggling with addiction to growing too many unprofitable crops. If that sounds like you, take solace, friend, for you are not alone.
Does this process make sense to you? Or, does it feel quite foreign? Do you have records to support this type of planning? If you don’t, are you willing to try? When you embark on the crop-planning voyage, you need records. The more detailed they are, the more accurate your assessment will be. If you don’t know where to start, ask some farmer friends what systems they use for record-keeping. You could ask: “How the heck do you keep track of how long it takes to harvest 100 bunches of kale?” Or even: “How do I know what my yields are per bed or per acre?” Don’t be afraid to reach out to people for help. Knowledge-sharing is a tremendous asset to small-scale farmers, and most farmers are willing to help out when they can. Plus, there are Ag extensions all over the country, and so many online resources to help you with this step.
The bottom line is, it all comes down to record-keeping. Here in Northern California, it’s getting dry and warm enough to think about planting. Plan for record-keeping now, and it will pay dividends in the future.
- Posted By: Foothill Farming
- Written by: Allen Edwards
The radical fluctuations in the timber market, along with increasingly expensive logging permits have refocused attention on other crops. Some of these, such as firewood, Christmas trees, and tree fruit, have a long history. Others such as berries, and cool-season vegetables are new, but are well suited to soil and climate conditions.
There is also a renewed interest in livestock -- particularly high-end, locally produced meat. This includes grass-fed beef, sheep, and increasingly poultry raised on irrigated pasture. It also includes browsing meat goats and sheep on brushland – both as a way to produce salable meat, and as a means of controlling brush and reducing the risk of wildfires.
Within the traditional lumber crops there is increased interest in producing lumber and other tree products on-the farm for local sales, rather than selling raw logs to the large regional sawmills.
Everything considered, there are many opportunities for viable farm businesses in Sierra forestland.
Posted by Allen Edwards, Edwards Family Farm, Colfax, CA
- Posted By: Foothill Farming
- Written by: Allen Edwards
You've chosen to be a farmer. You want to be outside, the sun on your back and the breeze in your face, working with your crops or your livestock. But your farm is a business, and to succeed, you need to keep and know your numbers. You need a farm record system that is more than just a shoe-box for receipts. There are computerized bookkeeping systems, or you could hire a bookkeeper, but both can be expensive. You need something that is cheap, reliable, easy to use, and fills your needs.
Step back for a second and think about what a farm records system should do. Certainly tax records, but also timely financial records for making business decisions. Good records will help you know your farm is making a profit, or what to change if it isn't. Work-time records will tell you which crops suck up time and return little profit. Are you keeping track of your cash, the check book, and the credit card charges? A good record system will do this as well.
I want to introduce the system I use on my farm. I have come to this system after trying computerized systems (both commercial programs and spreadsheets I built myself), as well as a full double-entry hand system. For the past several years I have used a simplified handwritten system. I keep all my financial and time records in a single 3 ring binder. I write everything down on columnar paper using 27 columns for accounting records and 14 columns for time records.
My sheets are simple: in the financial sheet, starting from the left of the sheet, there is a column for date, and a wide column for written notes. The next 4 columns are for expenditures, broken down by method of payment -- farm checking account, credit card, cash, and the rare occasions I use the family checking account. I write down every time I use any of these payment methods to pay for farm expenses. The next 18 columns are for my expense accounts (“accounts” are simply categories of expenses). These include vehicle expenses, equipment, chainsaws, feed, etc. The last 3 columns are for categories of income (firewood, livestock, etc). In this way I have been able to consolidate all my expenses and income in a single-spreadsheet. I have a similar sheet for time records, with columns for date and comments, and then several for categories of work.
This system can be put together for less than $10. My hand system works for me because I am more likely to write stuff down if I can just pick up my binder and do it – something I try to do daily. But whatever records system you choose, make sure it is comfortable for you – that way you will be much more likely to actually use it!
Allen Edwards, Edwards Family Farm, Colfax, California
For more details on this system use the link at the bottom of the page.