Final Project – Green Pea Farm

Final assignment of the UBC Farm Practicum program – create a farm plan! The following is the assignment I put together, a visualizing and planning of a farm that I hope will one day be in my future. Although not a completely exhaustive project, it was as detailed as I was able to make it. pic

This is an excessively long blog post – but I want to have this project documented here as a conclusion to my Farm School.

Long Term Vision

In the long term vision for my farm, I envision that it will be:
  • 2-5 acres under cultivation, growing mixed organic vegetable crops.
  • Incorporation of goats and chickens in a rotation to clear land and for fertilizer, also harvesting milk and eggs, and bees for pollination and honey production.
  • Perennial crops including blueberries, hazelnuts, tree fruit, other berries, asparagus.
  • A closed loop system requiring minimal off-farm inputs, potentially growing grain to feed chickens.

Valuesenvironment_eng

Environment. The farm will be environmentally sustainable, contributing positively to wildlife diversity, soil and water health, topsoil regeneration, carbon sequestration, and have a minimal carbon footprint.
Community. The farm will contribute to the health and well-being of the wider community by working in collaboration with other farmers, community members, schools, and other organizations. The farm should have a positive overall contribution to the community and be fully integrated.
Healthy, sustainable food. The farm will provide local, organic and environmentally sustainable food to individuals and families.
Integrated farming system. Off-farm inputs of fertilizers, soil amendments and pest-controls will be kept to a minimum by incorporating various aspects of organic, biodynamic and permaculture techniques.
Self-sustaining. The farm will be financially viable and not require off-farm income in order to function.

From Education to Implementation –

the 5 Year Plan

Five Year Goals

  • To effectively use production, marketing and distribution techniques to become financially self-sustaining and profitable for the farmers involved.
  • To gradually integrate animals, including chickens, bees and goats, into the farming rotation system.
  • To start off cultivating a high diversity of crops, and eventually focus on key crops that grow well and are profitable.

The first 2 years of the 5 year plan are education – the 2013 practicum program, and the 2014 season spent as an apprentice on a farm.

Farm Production

This chart represents the best estimates I can make at present about what the first 3 years on my own farm might look like. The premise of this farm is a CSA-based model, which would take advantage of a customer based of friends, family and acquaintances at first, then grow from there, and would allow for a certain amount of cash flow necessary to get a new farm up and running.

Year 1permaculture-image
  • Lease – year by year
  • 1-1.5 acres cultivated
  • 25 share CSA
  • 15 week CSA
  • $500/share
  • 20 laying hens from pullets
  • Establishing soil fertility, experimenting with crops, learning about what works well on farm
Year 2
  • Lease – year by year
  • 1.5-2 acres cultivated
  • 40 share CSA
  • 15 week CSA
  • $500/share
  • 50 laying hens from pullets
  • Introduce 2 milking goats
  • Expanding on 1st year knowledge to focus on crops that work well, improve on crops that have not worked as well, use marketing experience
Year 3
  • Lease – year by yeargreen earth
  • 2 acres cultivated
  • 60 share CSA
  • 15 week CSA
  • $500/share
  • 90 laying hens from pullets or chicks, potentially hatching chicks
  • Improving animal care and integration, establishing closed-loop system

Production Plan

Although my project went into more detail, annual crops that I plan to include at my farm include beans, broccolini, beets, carrots, cucumbers, garlic, kale, lettuce, onions, peas, radishes, cauliflower, salad mix, tomatoes, and turnips.

Crop Rotation Plan

Crop Rotation Plan

Marketing, Finances and Human Resources Plan2013-09-28 11.28.29

Green Pea Farm would be based on a Community Supported Agriculture model, planning for 1-2 deliveries per week (each to half the customers), with centralized pick-up locations. In order to get an idea of what my CSA should look like, I surveyed family and friends for their opinions, and received a variety of helpful responses.

Based on feedback from the survey participants – who had varying degrees of familiarity with farming and CSA style marketing – I learned that it would be best if the farm was able to offer different share sizes, including ones that would cater to 1 or 2 member households, for whom a usual full CSA share would be too much. I also learned that people want staples (carrots, onions, potatoes), but they also want things that are hard to grow in their own gardens, such as eggplants, cauliflower, broccoli, and cabbage. And an important aspect is to find ways to encourage CSA members to visit the farm, whether it is to pick up their produce, or help out, or just visit.

In terms of human resources, my plan is to keep the farm at a scale that I could run on my own with a farm partner. It would also include labour from volunteers, community members, and friends who stop by!

For the sake of brevity, I will not put the numbers that I worked out (also because I’m not confident in their accuracy), but the financial breakdown would be structured in a way that the farm would make minimal income by the 2nd year, and a higher net profit by third year. The first year’s expenses would be funded through private loans from my own savings, and cash flow would depend on CSA share sales.

SWOT Analysis

No plan would be complete without the beloved SWOT Analysis!

Strengths2013-05-03 10.51.56

  • Farming education
  • Background in planning, coordination
  • Network development
  • Skills and knowledge areas
  • CSA model capitalizes on current network, increases cash flow, good for start up farm
  • Area has number of organic farming mentors
  • Model can be very environmentally sustainable, financially stable

Weaknesses

  • No family in farming (minimal support)
  • Expensive to access land long-term (own)
  • Limited growth in CSA-only model
  • CSA means must maintain high diversity
  • Model relies on frequent trips to Vancouver, high labour inputs
  • Lacking key skills in building, machinery
  • Single market outlet risky in long term
  • No current credit rating; high start up costs

Opportunities2013-07-20 09.31.23

  • Take advantage of current network of friends, family
  • Demand exists for CSA shares, in particular one targeted to 1 or 2 people
  • Growing trend of organic food, farmers markets, local food movement
  • Climate change/peak oil causing increase in attention to food security

Threats

  • Potentially limited opportunities in area
  • Want to avoid directly competing with other organic farms in area
  • Loss of stable income/benefits, health risks
  • Changes in precipitation, water levels, weather due to climate change
  • Outside threats to economic viability (i.e. prices, cost of living, input costs)
  • Changing tastes and trends

Skills

Strengths and Skills Gained

  • Willingness to work hard
  • Education background
  • Basic knowledge of plant biology, soil science, harvesting techniques, marketing, organic standards
  • Hands-on growing and land-care experience
  • Overview of many types of farms, to narrow down what I want my farm to be

To Work On

  • Soil science & composting
  • Better understanding of organic certification standards
  • Always in need of more hands-on growing
  • Animal raising experience
  • Working with less mechanization
  • Construction & vehicle maintenance

Reflections

Why Farming?2013-06-29 11.02.59

I have been looking for a long time to find a way to act on my personal values and interest in environment, sustainability, food security and conservation. Small-scale, mixed organic farming, incorporating animals, pollinators, composting and perennials into a closed-loop farm system, is a great way to put these interests to use.

On What I’ve Learned in the Practicum

This practicum was completely invaluable for me. When I started, I knew that I had a passion for growing food to be more sustainable, and that I enjoyed working outdoors with my hands. Throughout the practicum, I’ve been able to test my abilities, see how I felt after physical work, and explore the many interpretations of organic farming to determine what would work best for me. I have learned a lot about myself, what I want for the future, and what I have to offer. I have also gained an appreciation for the fact that farming is a decades-long learning process, and that every year I can only learn more and gain more skills, and that the key is to always be reading, and to find mentors in the farming community to learn from.

2013-11-01 01

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Case Study – Three Sisters Farm

As one of my UBC Farm Practicum assignments, I took a look at the Three Sisters Farm, in Gibsons, BC, on the Sunshine Coast, which I had the opportunity to visit in April of 2013. I chose this farm because of the scale, the mixed animals and vegetables, and the different marketing methods. For another overview of the farm, see the great blog post from the Compost Diaries. All pictures are credited to Jenn Upham.

Farm Basicspic ppt

Three Sisters Farm is a 3 acre farm, cared for by UBC Practicum alumni Katy, her partner David, and her mother, Joan. Approximately half an acre is under mixed vegetable cultivation, and they had 3 goats and 70 laying hens when I visited in April, one of the goats being a week-old adorable kid named Clarence.

At Three Sisters, they focus on what they love, and clearing the land is powered by humans, goats and chickens. Due to the remote nature of the Sunshine Coast, they are able to have an on-farm slaughtering license, which reduces costs, and they never have enough eggs to meet the local demand.

Marketing and Sales

Three Sisters Farm has 3 main outlets for their products – a farm stand, farmers’ markets, and the Gibsons Farm Collective. Of these three, the collective interested me the most, as this is not one of the more common ways that small scale farmers are marketing their products, and it works very well for them. The collective is made up of three farms in Gibsons, and they sell through an online system, putting up a list of available products each week, and taking orders from customers by a specified day. The collective runs 10 months of the year, and is the biggest sales outlet for Three Sisters farm. In fact, the bed and breakfast that we stayed at in Gibsons ordered their eggs and vegetables from the collective.

The Nitty GrittyIMG_3244

The soil on the farm is glacial till, recent forest cover, with lots of coarse organic material, large clay deposits and uneven soil – some gravely, some clay. The farm uses some organic-approved soil inputs to balance soil acidity and fertility, and is increasing the use of their own compost for soil improvement. The rocky, acidic soil in this area is definitely a challenge, along with the challenges posed by a forest-covered piece of land, and planting in newly cleared soil. But after four seasons, the farm is well established within the community, and they are finding the right balance of crops that works well for their soil, climate and passion. Future plans include a fruit orchard.

Advice for a Future Farmer

In putting together this case study, Katy had some great advice for me:

  • Ask yourself, ‘What do I want to spend most of my days doing?’  Then try growing those.  Learn from farms that grow them well.
  • Try growing the things you want to grow in many different ways and in different locations on your farm.
  • Look at what there is a demand for in your area. If it matches what you want to grow, try to meet it.
  • Work very, very hard and don’t feel bad about it.  Pour all your energy into your farm dream.  Eventually after all that hard work, it will start to give back and it will make you happy.

Touching Base – Preparing for Farming 2014

Oops! I thought that over the winter, I would spend much more time vamping up this blog, with theoretically more time on my hands. But a funny thing happened – as soon as the farming season, and the UBC Farm Practicum, ended, I felt a sudden loss of energy and motivation. I no longer felt creative, engaged, or particularly interested. I even stopped the frantic farm-related reading I had been doing over the summer.

In some ways, this is distressing. What good is a winter off if I don’t accomplish anything! But on the other hand, it shows me that I’m on the right track, that farming motivates me, and working outdoors, doing physical work, and being around like-minded, conscious people did a lot of good things for me.

Now that I’m over the holiday hump, and 2014 is officially on the go, I can feel myself waking up. I picked up my first farming book in a while, I’ve reconnected with farm friends, and started to think of the upcoming season.

Next Adventure – Apprenticeship

The next step in my farming learning is to live, breathe and really inhabit a farm. So, for the upcoming 2014 farming season, my partner and I will be moving to Pemberton to be apprentices on a farm there. This will be a test, to figure out if we really have the mettle to do this full time, and if really, we both want to do this. Maybe this will result in both of us farming, or maybe just me, or maybe neither of us! But we can’t know until we try.

I’m breathing in the hope and renewal of the new year, and looking forward to the next season!

Making up for lost time

Although it may seem out of order, the next few posts will come from the end of the 2013 UBC Farm Practicum, highlighting a few of my last assignments.

Evaluating Farming Income Sources

As I’m nearing the end of my practicum program, and creating my own farm plan, I have been evaluating the different direct marketing streams that are the main sales points for small scale organic growers. I go through them here to compare and contrast the benefits and challenges.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)

In a CSA model, customers typically pay at the beginning of the season for a share of the produce. Generally, they expect a certain number of weeks of produce, and the idea is that they share in the ups and downs of farming. This provides farmers with cash flow at the beginning of the season, when it is greatly needed, and an assured market. Since the customers don’t typically choose what is in their box, they are exposed to a variety of fruits and vegetables that they may or may not be familiar with. CSAs often result in longer term, established relationships between customers and farmers, and often include some aspects of engagement, like on-farm pick-ups or other activities to connect the customer with the farm.

Some of the challenges associated with CSAs can be the administration and logistics – preparing the boxes for pick up/delivery each week, arranging with customers who are not able to pick up at the allotted time, and collecting the bins back from customers each week. There is also some stress associated with having to meet the CSA requirement each week, no matter what’s going on at the farm. Generally, though, CSA is a good option for new farmers, because customers can be recruited from friends and family, and are often made up of supportive people who will cut you a bit of slack during your first couple of years. Longer term, though, it may not supply enough income to be worthwhile.

Farmers Markets

UBC Farm Market

UBC Farm Market

When people think local and organic food, they often think of farmers markets. The markets offer a great opportunity to interact with customers, and allow a farmer to sell whatever they have without having to meet specific quotas. They also allow farmers to charge top dollar for their produce, and can be quite lucrative. Plus, they’re fun!

The downside of markets is that they can take up a lot of time and travel. If the market isn’t right on your doorstep, then fuel costs have to be taken into account, and the time that the farmer spends at the market instead of at the farm is valuable. And if the farmer isn’t a people-person, it would not be as fun, and dealing with the same question 100 times an hour can get frustrating (See what questions not to ask!). And poor weather or a holiday weekend can seriously cut down your profit, making it less worthwhile to have driven all the way out there and spent the day at the market. There is also a lot more competition, and for a new farmer, it can be difficult to become established and well-known, as customers often have their loyalty to a specific farmer (which is why it can also be great once you have it!).

Restaurants

Restaurants can be an excellent source of income for local farmers, especially those restaurants that are focused on local, sustainable food. They often take produce that would be considered specialty items, will pay a good price for them, will buy produce that may have cosmetic deficiencies, and will order in large quantities, which reduces the labour involved in bunching or bagging small amounts. Chefs understand the value of high quality produce, and know what to do to make it taste great. Also, once a relationship is established, it can be a regular, weekly, assured sale.

A challenge associated with selling to restaurants is that there is high turnover among head chefs, and if a chef leaves, your relationship with that restaurant may disappear suddenly. Restaurants also expect that you will have somewhat more regular, predictable amounts and quality, which can be challenging in the first couple of years of farming. Also, it can take a lot of upfront work to establish relationships with restaurants.

Farm Stands

Three Sisters Farm Stand

Three Sisters Farm Stand

In many rural areas, especially along major roads, you often see farm stands at the driveways of small farms. These stands are stocked with what’s available from the farm (eggs, produce, flowers), and often use an honour system of payment, with a locked pay-box and a list of prices.

This kind of farm stand is great for saving labour, because no one needs to be standing there (although you should be close-by), and customers who know it is there can come when it suits them, instead of waiting for a designated time. It often capitalizes most on a local, committed customer base, who know that you are there and will come to you for their shopping.

The challenges are obvious, though. Theft and dishonest payment, not being able to keep produce looking its best, potentially losing sales if you are not there to restock when something runs out. It also doesn’t work if you are not easily accessible by road, or are too far away from town centres.

Wholesale

Selling wholesale to grocery stores, chains or distributors is one way for a farmer to sell a large amount of product, all at once. It also means that the produce is going to the place where the majority of people still buy their produce, which is the supermarkets and grocery stores.

By selling wholesale, farmers sell more product, but receive a lower price per item. There are also a lot of costs (and waste) associated with packaging and shipping, with standardized expectations for each product that must be taken into account. Distributors and wholesale buyers also want to have a regular and predictable supply, and be able to buy large volumes from one source, instead of many shipments from smaller sources.

In reality, most small-scale farmers don’t sell wholesale, because of the difficulty in administration, not enough production, and the lower prices. But there are certainly larger scale farms that make this a successful marketing avenue.

Other Avenues

Other farms are successful at using variations of these marketing avenues, such as co-ops, group buying clubs, made-to-order CSA shares, full-diet CSAs, online buying, and many other ways to sell directly to the customer. Marketing is only limited by imagination!

Conclusions

For me, and the farm I envision, I imagine that my marketing will be a combination of CSA, farmers markets, and restaurant sales. If my farm ends up in a location that is favourable, I would love to have a farm stand one day. What’s important to me is that I am able to make my farm financially sustainable and successful, that I can connect directly with my customers (and they with me and my farm), and that in the end, my farm produce goes to feed people in a healthy, environmentally friendly way.

CSA Survey

Hello blogging world,

As part of my UBC Farm Practicum in Sustainable Agriculture, I am completing a farm business plan, and I need your help!

I have put together a (very) short survey that will help me build my marketing plan. Please take 5 minutes to complete this totally anonymous survey.

http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/TWYT7LG

If you can complete it before Sunday, October 27, that would be fantastic.

Thank you very much in advance! Please forward to anyone you think might be interested in completing it, the more input I can get, the better.

More Farm Tours

Wow, have I been doing a lot of farm tours the past little while! I want to see as much as I can before the end of the season, so have been taking advantage of every opportunity. Here are a few of the not-so-urban farms I have visited in the last while.

Klippers Organics

Klippers crops in the hot, dry, fertile Okanagan

Klippers crops in the hot, dry, fertile Okanagan

Klippers Organics is located in Cawston, in the Okanagan. We visited at the end of August, and the heat was incredible, at least for my west coast self. With that heat, though, comes some definite growing benefits, with field tomatoes going crazy and endless crates of peaches and plums. One of the owners, Annamarie, was kind enough to share hours of her knowledge and experience, while we helped peel and pit blanched peaches, to be frozen for later jamming.

I have long been familiar with the Klippers booth at the Vancouver farmers’ markets, which is always in a prominent location, and always features a wide variety of items long after most of the coastal farms have finished for the season. They farm about 40 acres of mixed vegetables and perennial orchards. Our tour of the farm showed how they have grown over the years, expanding with owned and leased land. They work with about 9 apprentices for the season, who live at the farm, a great opportunity to get a lot of hands-on experience and responsibility.

One thing that sticks out for me whenever I drive through this area is the water – how is it, in a desert, that there are so many vineyards and farms growing so well? I made the assumption that water use was unsustainable and unnatural, because it is not obvious. But I learned that the underground water is rather plentiful, and that is the source for all of the area. Now the very green vineyards make a bit more sense…

Crisp Organics2013-09-07 18.49.34 Crisp Organics

For another Young Agrarians tour and potluck, I went to Crisp Organics, an 11 acre farm in Abbotsford that grows year round, with a large abundance of the west coast-friendly brassicas like kale. Two hoophouses grow tomatoes and seedlings, and the rest of the fields are rows of mixed organic vegetable crops. Andrew toured us around, and described how he has made this piece of land very successful in just 4 years. His success seems to be in abundance, and intensive planning to have crops throughout the year. Many of his leaves seemed to have been battling with hungry critters (very holey), but there was still a great variety of market quality produce.

One of my favourite parts of visiting Crisp was the opportunity to camp overnight and get up early to walk around the mist-covered fields. I look forward to the day when I live on a farm and get to do this more often!

Zaklan Heritage Farm

Doug & Gemma at Zaklan Heritage Farm

Doug & Gemma at Zaklan Heritage Farm

I met Doug and Gemma, who farm Zaklan Heritage Farm, at the Crisp tour, and wanted to make a point to go see their farm. They cultivate 1.5 acres within the 8 acres of Zaklan family land, with mixed organic vegetables and 99 laying hens.

The land has been in the Zaklan family since 1928, and has kept its farmland integrity, completely surrounded by Surrey suburban houses. This is the second season that Doug and Gemma have been farming the land, and they are expanding the amount of land they grow on each year. With the influence of their UBC farm training apparent, they grow mixed vegetables, and sell at the Surrey farmer’s market and through a CSA.

These two are great role models for people like me, trying to see what it would be like to run a small-scale mixed organic farm. I enjoyed the opportunity to see them at work, tour their farm, and discuss things like organic certification, business planning, and the future of farming, while pulling out tomato plants in their hoophouse.

Creative trellising

Creative trellising

Urban Farm Tours

I’ve had many opportunities recently to visit some of the awesome urban farms in Vancouver lately. Many of these tours have been organized as part of a tour/potluck series by Young Agrarians, and have been great chances to not only see cool farms, but meet some of the amazing people that are part of the food revolution happening here and everywhere. Definitely check them out!

City Beet Farm

City Beet Farm is a funky farm set up, run by two young women in their first year of independent farming. They cultivate 8 front yard spaces in the Mount Pleasant area of Vancouver, and move around mainly by bicycle. Working mainly in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) model, they seem to be doing pretty well in their first year. Great example of how food can be grown on land in the city, look amazing, and feed people!

Getting a lot of good info from Tessa at Farmers on 57th

Getting a lot of good info from Tess at Farmers on 57th

Farmers on 57th

The half acre cultivated by Farmers on 57th is a hotbed of productivity. Although there have been more in the past, one farmer, Tess, is running the farm this year. They sell through a 40 member CSA, and at markets through the City Farms Co-op. Our group was particularly impressed by the large tomatoes being grown, outside of a hoophouse, which we haven’t really seen being done on a farming scale in Vancouver. They work with minimal machinery, and really work to include community as part of their work, encouraging CSA members to come and hang out on pick up days, and working with the Coastal Health facility on whose property they farm.

Southlands Farm

Me trying to milk a goat

Me trying to milk a goat

This was another Young Agrarians potluck, and so much fun to visit.

Southlands Farm is a magical place where chickens and sheep wander around, and also includes horses, ducks, goats, and a pig. The main income from this farm is the educational programs, which connect kids with farming in an urban area. The highlight for me was trying to milk one of the goats (pretty unsuccessfully). While not following the more traditional farming structure, Southlands shows how a working farm can be integrated in a residential neighbourhood, and engage families in growing food, caring for animals, and generally stewarding the land.

Fresh Roots Urban Farm Society

Fresh Roots has a pretty unique system. They farm in schoolyards, with 2 main half acre plots on 2 different school grounds. Along with being a working market garden, selling the produce to the school cafeterias as well as farmgate sales, they have a strong focus on education and community building. They use their highly visible position at the school to engage people in conversations about local, organic food, about different food traditions, and about how the farm can be a part of the community.

Yummy Yards

Who wouldn't want a cute guy like this guarding the chickens?

Who wouldn’t want a cute guy like this guarding the chickens?

Yummy Yards is an urban farm with a variety of locations in Vancouver and Richmond, and I had a chance to visit the home base in Richmond as well as 3 of their urban lots. At home base, I got to meet the chickens and Reverend, the llama, who has now completely convinced me that a llama is a great addition to my farm plan! Farming in front yards has some pretty interesting implications, not least among which you need to keep your garden beds very weed-free, since you’re usually on someone’s front yard, and there are often challenges around neighbours, different expectation, watering, and the logistics of just moving from one place to the next. But Yummy Yards makes it work well, and it’s a pretty interesting operation.

Conclusions

Urban farming is a pretty awesome thing that continues to grow in Vancouver. It is a great way to combine food production with education, and increases the connection of urban dwellers to where their food comes from. It might not be able to produce on a huge scale, but small areas can be highly productive, and I think the fringe benefits to society are much greater in terms of visibility, awareness, and overall well-being of people living nearer to thriving food gardens. While I don’t think urban farming is for me, I have a great admiration for those who do it, and think they deserve a lot of recognition from us urban dwellers.

Words of wisdom to ponder from the toilet at Southlands

Words of wisdom to ponder from the toilet at Southlands