Sunday, February 27, 2011

It begins again.

Yes it's that time of the year round here, where it all begins again. This week flats will be filled with our soil mix so the planting in the greenhouse can begin. After years of experience I do not rush planting around here. The Tomatoes will be planted late this week, then come Peppers, and Eggplant. All this is timed so the plants will be just the right size to transplant in the field in early April. Then the cold watch really starts.

Last night it hit 25F here. That's not good for all the Almond blossoms in the county. Sure does make me glad that I'm not a tree farmer, with my whole season hinging on one bad night or day. Last year the cold was brutal. Covering up crops with Agribon, uncovering, covering again. In all there were at least three nights of frost alarms going off and Lisa and I jumping out of bed in the middle of the night to cover plants up. Maybe this year will be different, maybe the same. Life of a Farmer, you just never know what might happen with the weather. My crop insurance is diversification, I have many different crops and if I lose one it's not the end of the year, just a bump in the road. With all my experience I know there will be bumps but I also know that I and the Farm will be just fine.

I wonder what this years bumps will be? Weather? Fuel prices? Marketplace? Economy? It's just to much to ponder so I go about my days, do my best, and practice Gratitude for it all. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

I'm excited about the coming year. I have a few new crop niche's I'm going to fill and they really should add to the crop mix, and bottom line round here. I just can't help myself, I can't just rest on my laurels and not tweek anything. I'm encouraged with still building momentum in the Local Food Movement, and with fuel prices going up that only grows. Farm to School food is growing also, making room in the Marketplace for Farms to expand or new Farms to start up. The last few years I have seen quite a few new Farms pop up. It can be really tough the first few years, then of course comes the danger of burnout. Usually 4-6 years in is the time where a Farm/ Farmer really figures it out they will be faced with the fact of working their ass off for a really small income but a rich way of life. It's not easy to reach this point, but it usually happens. Some Farmers give it up and others keep going. It's my hope that consumers keep learning the real cost of their food, and Farmers can keep Farming and actually make a decent living. It's that or one day all our food will be imported, processed,and virtually lifeless.

So here's to good food, all those that eat it, and grow it, be it vegetable or animal.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Again it's been quite some time since my last post. 2010 has been quite a year. Year end numbers are promising but matching last years numbers will still take a small miracle, which most than likely will not happen. As a businessman every years goal is to increase sales over the year before. As a Farmer every years goal is to increase the heath of the soil, hence health of the plant, and in turn the bounty they yield.

As it so happens there were a few "victories" in the living work of the Farm here also a few challenges, some of those new, some of those recurring. I'll start with one of the "victories"

Our first Cherry Tomato planting was in the end successful . Somehow I managed to avoid the die off which can turn a beautiful healthy planting, to a dieing, frustrating, "I'm not growing these again" planting. I do have present in the soil fusarium wilt in a few isolated spots. This disease when the heat really gets going can ravage the rows. I do inoculate the transplants with a bacteria that serves to protect the root systems from fusarium, and I don't plant cherry tomatoes in areas known to have fusarium present. And this year I religiously made sure gopher damage to the irrigation lines never went unchecked. The result was a planting that gave and gave, copious amounts of sweet delicious little candy treats. Cherry Tomatoes are not only labor intensive in harvest but in maintenance, so break even is high, and to make a decent profit is really hard. At the beginning of the year I swore if I didn't reach certain profit levels I would reduce the amount I grow greatly. Well this year they did well, I did well, our help did well. Cherry Tomatoes are a bit of job security for our help here as they keep them busy.This of course makes a dilemma for me. Should I have the gall to assume next year the viability will repeat itself? Hah!!! I always have to take in account all the variables, for instance we were spared the normal intense heat, our workforce is not always so efficient in the picking speed, and I'm not always so religious in my duties. Oh the choices I'm faced with.

Now on to one of the which due to time constraints I'll be brief, very brief.
I'm not alone in the marketplace. Competition grows and lately it been intense on a few fronts.
I'm making adjustments, building new niches, and fighting like hell for my position in marketplaces. The last few years have brought into existence quite a few new Farms, and also the home gardening explosion has siphoned off more of my traditional customer base.
So what is good for the "Food Revolution" as a whole, and good for our local environment, has increased pressure of competition in the marketplace.

More on this later as it's a quite important subject with many levels of effects.

Quite Simply
Pyramid Farms

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Abducted by Aliens

No I haven't been abducted by aliens. Just been very busy running the Farm in one of the most challenging years I've had. Been challenged by this years cold spring, been challenged by the economy, been challenged by increasing competition of other Farmers.

All these factors have had me thinkin' about the business side of the Farm.

How do I work with all these factors to insure my continued success?

Well the weather issue I can work with a bit. I'm going to use my extensive knowledge of season extending practices to work on making sure I get good strong first runs of my Cucumbers, Watermelons and other Melons. This will hopefully eliminate plantings that "just don't pay".

What do I mean by just don't pay? Sometimes I will have a planting that due to weather dosn't germinate at the levels I plan for, which generally are levels that it takes for those crops to actually "pencil in" which means when I do the math I actually make money on those crops, not just cover my costs, and by making money I mean I have goals of what $$$'s it really takes to justify the labor, cost, and space to generate those sales. I am continually trying to refine the Farm here to not only grow more healthy, vigorous plants, bearing fruit of better flavor, but do so without ending up slaving away, providing good food for what can be ridiculous rewards.
I've been working full time as a Farmer for 12 years now, and I can certainly tell you I won't "get rich" Farming. But I do have principles and beliefs that all people should be justly compensated for their labor. Many new Small Farmers struggle immensely with actually being able to make a living. I myself have gone through this struggle and did so in times that weren't so favorable for Small Farmers. Food was way cheaper then, the cost of production was still high, the market was smaller, and even plain simple appreciation of good food was relatively lacking.
Our present "Food Revolution" is still in it's infancy, for all the movement the last few years it has a far way to go. I have quite a few "Young Farmer Friends" and the struggle that they are going though is comparable to the one I went through years ago. They continually wonder " can I actually make a living farming?" I wondered the same thing. And I set out on the path I'm on today and yes I do make a living. Why? for a few reasons.
I was blessed to be able to purchase the Land my Farm is on for, in comparison to today's prices more than 2/3rds less than what it would be valued today. I bought my land with NO MORTGAGE free and clear, I live in a cheap double wide mobile home, I'm frugal and a "saver", and I have a smart business sense, plus I downright work my ass off.
Where am I going with all this? Well if I was starting out in the last few years, was going to buy land, start a Farm and make a go of it I would have the world against me. For one land is extremely expensive, even in these days of declining values, the cost of land and mortgage is prohibitive.
Prohibitive in the sense that after all the capital costs of starting a Farm, the income you can actually bring home, even in a good year for all those hours of labor could easily be made workin for the man in some 9 to 5 without the stress, the risk, the servitude and more.

Why Prohibitive? Cause Food is Cheap. Still to cheap in my opinion. And Small Farms selling to Local customers still can produce more than they can sell.

This is only a small part of the story, If your Farming for a living, raise your prices, if your a hobby Farmer selling your produce raise your prices, if your a consumer Thank your Farmer, give'm a Hug, and tell'em their food is too cheap, and buy lot's more.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Who has time to blog?

Not me. At least the time that I have I haven't taken time to blog. I do write two newsletters each week. One for the CSA and one for my market customers. And then there has been other forms of digital communication that have taken up my time. Then there is the "running the Farm". I also serve on a Farmers Market board of directors and that takes time.

Time it's something that I have lot's of but can struggle with not enough of it either. Lot's of time to run the Farm but not enough time to sleep, eat,goof off,etc. Sometimes I have too much time to run the Farm, seems like in the middle of Winter I have to much time on my hands, but now in the Summer, I don't have enough.

I'm seeking more balance now or at least that was one of my larger goals for this year. Balance a little more fun time with less work time. Then I went out and started a CSA, the weather for the year has been totally hinky, and of course all the other ups, downs, ins, outs, of running this Small Farm. It would help of course if the days didn't vary in length so much, or running a Small Farm was more financially viable and I could afford more help.

What you say? yes the truth of the matter is my Small Farm is rare in that it covers the cost of my living, others too, yet there is a bit of imbalance in the spread sheet. The imbalance for my Farm is not so much in dollar terms, but in Social Justice terms. I work very long days, and without so would not be financially viable. Yet I am rare and blessed to not have a mortgage, which has given me the ability to have saved for every bit of development of the Farm beyond the initall purchase of the Farm and some equipment and our humble rundown double wide. Yet if I was starting out now, with the cost of starting a Farm and maintaining it, and growing it, it would not be possible. Currently this is what our "local food movement" is not acknowledging, everyone wants more small farms and to conserve farmland yet the underlying support as in food pricing and demand is still lacking in providing true sustainability. Right now this has been a topic of conversation amongst those on this Farm, and we are wondering what the next step will be? How will this "food revolution" reach the next level needed? Or will it?

I know for sure, next level or not I will continue to do what I've been doing for the last 13 years. Run my Farm to the best of my ability, pay my bills, save a bit of money, work to balance work and play, teach others these skills, grow the best vegetables I can, eat as many as I can, and know that over the years since I have started farming things have gotten dramatically better as in "food system wise" and hopefully will continue to do so. I will go for the ride, do my best to enjoy it, and help others enjoy it also.

Monday, May 17, 2010

A day off!

Yesterday, Sunday, which is usually my only day of rest,relaxation, and re-creation I found myself to actually be free to sleep in, enjoy my day, and goof off. Yes!!! after at least a solid month of working on Sunday, I had one free! No tilling, no mowing, no nothing. It was a bit strange, a bit foreign, and a bit unnerving. After working the last month of Sunday's I had somewhat become conditioned to "having to work". I was a little suprised to find myself with the ability to goof off without suffering through self punishing guilt that I should or could be working.

What did I do with my day? Well I slept in a bit ( if you call pretending/wishing to be asleep sleeping in) then my usual Farm blog surfing, also a bit of Scuba diving research, ( it's like a virtual vacation), a bit of leftover pizza for brunch, then a bit of dozing of in front of the tube. Then a bit more napping. Some more internet surfing, a bit more dozing, then time for dinner. I was so out of the loop I almost forgot to water some plants outside of the greenhouse, and I completely forgot that we clean the house at 5:00pm. Lisa even let us slide on that one.

So I must have needed it. My brain had come to a point of almost overload, my responsibilities, we're wearing on me, and I really just wanted and needed to do nothing.

So Joy, Joy I had a day off!

Sunday, May 09, 2010

I must have been busy

Yes I have, I have not had a Sunday off in a month and I'm preparing to go work right now. Yes it's Sunday again and I am not out in the field yet it is 12:30, but I am dreading getting out there yet, if I don't I will lament not working. Oh to be aware that I am my own worst enemy. But I'm going to have some breakfast then another cup of go juice and then I'll drag my dragging butt out to run some tractor.

Yes it's been quite a rainy spring and today it threatens again. So far we've managed to dodge all the bullets thrown our way, and have maintained all the planting schedules. Thsi last week the cover came off the Squash to reveal 95% of the spaces in the green zuchinni are being inhabited by squash plants. The yellow squash is a complete bust. And the yellow I planted in the greenhouse are doing quite poorly. So I have decided to put th kibosh on growing yellow squash. See how easy that was. Oh then to make for a fun night this last week two days after uncovering the squash, the frost alarm goes off at 4am so out Lisa and I go to cover it up again. And this is May I tell you and we are supposed to be out of frost season but here in the hollow--Hahh! How Fun!!

Well I think I've done all the goofin off I can do so I'm going to eat something then go out and work on my Sunday off. Whaaahh!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

away with you Rain!

Yes the Rain has gotten to me. I really wanted to be outside today transplanting Peppers. Why? I'm so bad at staying in the office all day working on projects I'd really like to procrastinate on. So right 'bout now I'm a bit on the grump/crabby side of emotions. On top of the rain, I did have to work on Sunday, because of the impending rain. See how rain kind of rules my life 'bout now?

Instead of resting and relaxing and goofing off on Sunday like a good Farmer should , I was out on the Tractor prepping beds for the peppers to go into. glad I did cause on Monday they had to get covered before the impeding possible rain. Most did and they will soon see nice healthy vibrant Peppers plants transplanted into them. A few didn't get covered so now after the rain they are a bit on the wet side, way to wet to cover, and way to wet to plant into, so now Eggplant gets pushed back a bit waiting for the soil to dry a bit. See why I might be a bit grumpy?

I'll try and see the bright side, which is over the next few weeks I can probably get all the ground worked up at least once helping along field preparation, of course first it has to dry out, and before this last rain it was at the perfect moisture levels to work, and this rain will make all the grass that's hand mowed grow faster so now the bright sides gone and lasted only a few fleeting moments.

Oh the life of a Farmer, some days rejoicing that the rain has come, other days having your whole day/week challenged by some little falling drops of water.