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advanced organic produce growing

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3 hour workshop with Ellen Polishuk, designed for folks who have already been in a farming business for a while!

3 hour workshop with Ellen Polishuk, designed for folks who have already been in a farming business for a while!


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  • 1. Potomac Vegetable Farms
  • 2. Basic Facts Northern Virginia (DC area) 2 Farms 3 owners: Ellen, Hana, Hiu via S-Corp structure  4 FT permanent Managers Ecoganic Methods $900,000 gross sales
  • 3. Crops/AcreagesVegetables of all types (except sweet corn!) (15 acres total)Culinary Herbs (one half acre)Cut Flowers (one half acre)Seedlings (24x96 greenhouse)
  • 4. What we don’t grow No Sweet Corn No Tree fruit or berries No Fancy pants flowers
  • 5. Diversified Marketing Income 1% 20% 47% CSA Farmers Market 32% Stands Wholesale
  • 6. Where we don’t market PVF has gone from 100% wholesale to 1% in 45 years Few Restaurants No Wholesale (other stands, stores) No PYO No Agritainment (beyond simple tours)
  • 7. Major Decisions: Longstanding  Becoming an S-Corporation  Organic Certification or Not  Marketing Mix – begin and grow CSA  Major Equipment upgrade (spader, compost turner)  Use black plastic  I want to make MONEY
  • 8. Why become a Corporation? To ensure continuity into the future To reward longevity of service
  • 9. Certification, or not?
  • 10. Begin and then Grow CSA Now our most profitable channel Innovations  Split season  Other products – some grown by us, some by others  Market Style pick up
  • 11. Major Equipment Upgrade
  • 12. Use Black Plastic
  • 13. I Want to Make Money $$$
  • 14. Major Decisions - Newer  Adopt Nordell style rotation  Hire Managers  Test and Balance Soils  Play with microbials
  • 15. Nordell Style rotation
  • 16. Test and Balance SoilTest and Balance Soils Pictures of MBA, rock phos, lime
  • 17. Play with Microbials Special Sauce: Fish Seacrop (sea weed/water) Mycotonic (mycorrhyzal fungi) Pepzyme (enzymes) Spectrum (bacterial inoculant)
  • 18. Avenues to Improve Profits 1. Reduce Overhead – not so easy… 2. Reduce Operating Costs – labor is our biggest cost 3. Increase revenue –  Increase production  Increase yield/efficiency  Increase price
  • 19. Cost of Production (variable only) Marketing w/out labor 9% Misc 9% Machinery 8% Labor Seed, fert, plant 62% s 12% Jim Munsch, 2011
  • 20. Labor Improvements Incentivize good pace/attitude through profit sharing, bonuses etc
  • 21. Become a better manager – stop pretending this is less important than tillage or fertility Individual Talk TherapySeminars,ContinuingEducation,Management Training
  • 22. Pay better to hire betterpeople, and to keep the good ones
  • 23. Provide housing to widenthe pool of applicants
  • 24. Do Fun Things TogetherTeam PVF at local July 4th Parade
  • 25. institutionalize FUN thingsthat show your people howmuch you value them, andbuild team spirit. BeerO’clock and potluck
  • 26. Labor Distribution on Successful Farms fromMarket Midwest 10% Grow 30% Pick and Pack PVF Labor Distribution 60% Market 25% Pick and Grow Pack 25% 50%
  • 27. Knowing that pick, pack and wash is where you arespending big labor dollars … How to make picking, packing and washing more efficient?  Streamline the harvest by being super organized and delegating the right person for the right task
  • 28. Create and Maintain Systems:Little Things Add Up
  • 29. Harvest Aides
  • 30. Pick sheet helpsyour team stayorganized, andcan then be usedas data collectionfor later analysis
  • 31. Organize, Organize, Organize
  • 32. Don’t waste time looking for things
  • 33. Make it easy to keep veg from wilting
  • 34. In-Field Wash/Pack
  • 35. Any improvement in Wash/Packgets you closer to food safety regs
  • 36.  How to use less labor in marketing? And is it a good trade off?  Market style CSA?  Special market staff?  Stop trying to have a roadside stand?
  • 37. 1. Fun (high quality of life is a Must)2. Make a Living3. No or Low Debt4. We like people5. Keep investing in capital assets (the future!)6. Machines are cool7. Organic Practices – The Soil Comes First
  • 38. Value #1 High Quality of Life 9 month farm season no Sunday market (once did 2!) 8 ish hour work days Long lunch experiment Hire plenty of people and use experts Ecoganic/organic Machines help my back Very few animals make me happy Avoiding debt = stress avoidance
  • 39. Value #2 Make a Living Good wages to owners: $42,000/year Good wages to workers: $7-10/hour Health Insurance for permanent employees 401-K for permanent employees
  • 40. Value #3 Avoiding Debt Pay as you go – cash for capital improvements Work with what we have Blessed by previous generation
  • 41. What are new economic goals? More pay for everyone Higher quality employee housing = more permanent employees Enough money to make major capital investment in additional housing and/or new washing station
  • 42. Value #4 We Like People Team Management of tri-woman owned farm Hire lots of help All retail sales On-farm tours, limited PYO Hire experts to do some of our work for us:  Mechanic, tax prep, waste management, fences  Lani grows eggs  Zach and Heinz grow early and late veggie
  • 43. Ways we hide from peoplePrivate homes for ownersFarm is generally not open to the publicChefs are too ego-centricDownside to Lots of PeopleInterpersonal stressesInefficiency – Management IntensiveWages and benefits
  • 44. Value #5 Continue to Invest Building worker housing Deer Fence Tractor modernization Roadside stand improvement
  • 45. Value #6 Machines are Cool I like having and using equipment, it allows me to be bigger and better Save some back breaking labor (quality of life) Ecoganic principles achieved more easily  Spader and harrow  Flail  Compost turner and spreader
  • 46. Drawbacks to Equipment Danger/Liability Noise, smell of fumes Isolation/Boredom of Operator Petroleum Dependence Expense
  • 47. Value #7 Organic Practices Safe and Beautiful Work Environment Market Advantage Tasty nutritious food for all of us Long term land improvement to make life easier over time THERE ARE NO DRAWBACKS!!
  • 48. Who Helps us Decide? Mostly other growers  Neighbors  Far flung farmer buds friends and family Experts (becoming an S-corp) Conference mania for inspiration and networking
  • 49. CSA pro and cons Good early money  Stress of the Promise Weatherproof income  Pushes you to increase Builds customer loyalty variety even if it’s not Builds connections your “best” crop w/other farms  Administration Spreads economic headaches impact of any one crop  Recipe handholding
  • 50. Farmers Market Pros and Cons Fun to set up (for me!)  Bad weather = bad $ Great customer rapport  Gone from farm No promise, no  Serious competition disappointment
  • 51. Roadside Stand Pros and Cons You are HOME!  Relentless hours Sell other farmers  Infrastructure cost product  Zoning issues Total control
  • 52. ClosingThoughts  Community