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!

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advanced organic produce growing

  1. 1. Potomac Vegetable Farms
  2. 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. 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. 4. What we don’t grow No Sweet Corn No Tree fruit or berries No Fancy pants flowers
  5. 5. Diversified Marketing Income 1% 20% 47% CSA Farmers Market 32% Stands Wholesale
  6. 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. 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. 8. Why become a Corporation? To ensure continuity into the future To reward longevity of service
  9. 9. Certification, or not?
  10. 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. 11. Major Equipment Upgrade
  12. 12. Use Black Plastic
  13. 13. I Want to Make Money $$$
  14. 14. Major Decisions - Newer  Adopt Nordell style rotation  Hire Managers  Test and Balance Soils  Play with microbials
  15. 15. Nordell Style rotation
  16. 16. Test and Balance SoilTest and Balance Soils Pictures of MBA, rock phos, lime
  17. 17. Play with Microbials Special Sauce: Fish Seacrop (sea weed/water) Mycotonic (mycorrhyzal fungi) Pepzyme (enzymes) Spectrum (bacterial inoculant)
  18. 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. 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. 20. Labor Improvements Incentivize good pace/attitude through profit sharing, bonuses etc
  21. 21. Become a better manager – stop pretending this is less important than tillage or fertility Individual Talk TherapySeminars,ContinuingEducation,Management Training
  22. 22. Pay better to hire betterpeople, and to keep the good ones
  23. 23. Provide housing to widenthe pool of applicants
  24. 24. Do Fun Things TogetherTeam PVF at local July 4th Parade
  25. 25. institutionalize FUN thingsthat show your people howmuch you value them, andbuild team spirit. BeerO’clock and potluck
  26. 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. 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. 28. Create and Maintain Systems:Little Things Add Up
  29. 29. Harvest Aides
  30. 30. Pick sheet helpsyour team stayorganized, andcan then be usedas data collectionfor later analysis
  31. 31. Organize, Organize, Organize
  32. 32. Don’t waste time looking for things
  33. 33. Make it easy to keep veg from wilting
  34. 34. In-Field Wash/Pack
  35. 35. Any improvement in Wash/Packgets you closer to food safety regs
  36. 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. 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. 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. 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. 40. Value #3 Avoiding Debt Pay as you go – cash for capital improvements Work with what we have Blessed by previous generation
  41. 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. 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. 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. 44. Value #5 Continue to Invest Building worker housing Deer Fence Tractor modernization Roadside stand improvement
  45. 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. 46. Drawbacks to Equipment Danger/Liability Noise, smell of fumes Isolation/Boredom of Operator Petroleum Dependence Expense
  47. 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. 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. 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. 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. 51. Roadside Stand Pros and Cons You are HOME!  Relentless hours Sell other farmers  Infrastructure cost product  Zoning issues Total control
  52. 52. ClosingThoughts  Community