Farming is all about observation. And trial and error. We learn by doing, and then by doing again. And again. And again. We also learn by talking to and working alongside other farmers. How do they walk their fields and bunch their greens? What records do they keep? Are they making money? How did they adapt their business to fit their market? And what does work-life balance look like for them?
Most of us don’t have formal training– in farming or in business. But we want to make it work. And we can learn from each other.
2019 was a year of financial analysis and reflection for us. After calculating our expenses and adding up all of the hours worked, we each earned about $4 an hour. That is typical for many farmworkers, small farms, and even many large-scale commodity farmers. Industrial agriculture– and therefore our food– has been made cheap by the externalized costs to workers, health, and the environment. We think we can do better. Especially by growing together. We love the work that we do and we believe that small diversified organic farms can and should provide a living for the workers, healthy food for the community, and fertile soils for generations to come.
A blog from Taylor Mendell of Footprint Farm in Starksboro, VT. Inspiration for looking at the real numbers and making a plan.
Grower to Grower: Creating a living on a fresh market vegetable farm
A case-study of 19 small mixed vegetable farms in Wisconsin. Explores the financial sustainability of various scale operations, net & gross sales per acre, labor costs, and quality of life. From John Hendrickson of the Center of Integrated Agriculture Systems at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Mr. Money Mustache
We learned about this blog from Broadfork Farm. And we talk about it a lot. It’s about saving money, working less, and living a healthy, low-cost life. We recommend starting with the April 2011 posts, as they set you up to understand of the goals of Mr. Mustache (his voice at the start is a little condescending, but we promise it gets better).
Elizabeth Henderson’s keynote address at the 2019 OEFFA conference got us started on a long conversation about farm transparency. Not about seed varieties or “special techniques”, but about some of the harder realities of farming, like finances. How to earn a living and save for retirement on a small farm? We don’t have the answers, but in the spirit of open source farming, here are some of the spreadsheets we use.
Our farm crop planning database
Among Kate’s many super powers is the ability to design bomb-ass databases and spreadsheets. And lucky for us she designed one for crop planning! We enter all of the details about our crop varieties on the first sheet. From there we can use to subsequent sheets to calculate how long a crop will be in the field, how many trays we need to start, projected revenue per bed, and quantity of seeds to order. You can calculate if you need landscape fabric or row cover too. There’s even an instruction sheet to guide you through the process.
Our farm budget & cashflow spreadsheet
This is just one way of keeping records that we found works for us. Neither of us are Excel experts, accountants, or tax attorneys. We just wanted a way to understand some of our expenses while having a realistic budget to keep us on track. The sheets and categories are built around the expense categories of the Schedule F, mostly to make filing our taxes easier each spring. We try to enter our receipts weekly (more frequently during the spring when we make lots of purchases) and our income after every market. Our budget is very specific to the items that we know we will be purchasing and the spreadsheet formulas are built around these specific budget items. So, if you use this spreadsheet it is almost guaranteed to break. But you can fix it! Just change the word or symbol referenced in the formula to match your own needs (i.e., replace “hitch” in the Car and Truck sheet to “jumper cables”. Then enter “jumper cables” in the formula in the YTD farm cost column).
Fearless Farm Finances
Craig Chase & Paul Dietman
The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook
Market Farming Success
Whole Farm Planning
We support the Open Source Seed Initiative— a commitment to decentralized seed saving and sharing. We believe that seeds can and should be used, adapted, and saved for future generations.
These are some of our favorite sources for new, interesting, & organically-grown seeds: