Over the past several months a significant amount of energy has been building in the House of Beo towards doing more concrete things to effect change in our little corner of the world. Much of this had focused on us attaining our dream of founding a micro farm and selling wholesome organic produce to the community. When we researched land and ran some high level business plans-both made it very clear that without moving out of south central Wisconsin we could not afford to do anything more than part time farming-even 4 acre lots with homes were going for about $30k/acre plus the $250k home. Takes alot of radishes to make that mortgage payment. Too many infact. I believe strongly in Gene Logdson’s advice of avoiding debt like the plague on a farm. Tripling our mortgage to get us land that needs another $50-80k in equipment and buildings to become efficient was not a viable solution.
Small scale organic agriculture is possible in WI, but one needs to travel to where you can still buy ag land for under $5k an acre with property that is already set up with outbuildings and fencing. We considered this, but eventually turned it down for several reasons. First-this gets you a long ways from your markets, making a CSA or a direct sell (farmer’s markets) operation less feasible without driving hundreds of miles every weekend which is counter to our Slow Food aspirations. We did find a very viable alternative to this problem with Organic Valley’s Cooperative. As long as you build near one of their current routes, they will pick up your produce market it, and give you a fair wholesale price. I even toyed with becoming a small scale Grass Farmer to harvest organic milk from goats and cows. This was getting us a long way from our original plan and was smacking of a slippery slope taking us away from our plan. So Mia and I did some talking and got Back to Basics. We live in a house we can afford, Mia has an awesome job running a local non-profit that helps dozens of people every week, I have a stable job that provides good health-care and benefits while giving me 3 days off a week. We have done wonders with the past 18 month on our property on the interstate and are loathe to leave it just yet. When our Green Committee passed the Eco Municipality resolution in August it was the final blow to our moving. We were effecting to much change here to leave. Instead I will be focusing much more on eking every last but of produce out of our suburban yard. I recently read an article in Natural Home that chronicled a family pulling over 3 tonnes of produce from their yard-which is smaller than mine (though graced with mild CA winters). Hitting even a fraction of that is my new inspiration!
But the energy was still there. When I was in the early stages of planning our rain garden I took a bid from a local Ecological Landscaping Co. from them to install it. The bid came in at about $15/sq ft-and that is with us donating 20 hours of labor. This rain garden was to be about 400 sq feet-we were talking almost $5000! Mia and I ended up installing it ourselves for about $600 in plants and soil amendments plus 2 weekends in labor: and it looks great. Everyone gushes over our gardens… Could we actually make money making the world a better place? Crunching some numbers on what it would take to start a very small scale garden design and install business we realized that start-up costs could be as low as $1000-mostly for a trailer and some better tools. We could realize that return on our first garden, even by pricing ourselves below the competition.
Not really having $1000 that I wanted to invest this summer, I chose to add another element to our business plan-rain barrel manufacturing and installation. With some creative networking I found a local source of oak whiskey barrels from a local brewery and Someday Gardens was born. With the sales from the barrels we should have enough to buy a trailer hitch by winter, and a trailer by next summer-sooner if I can find a used one. Within the first month of incorporation we have 4 barrel sales under my belt-I’m no Trump but considering my marketing budget is approximately $3.24 I am calling it a win. Not only will this generate some needed capital, but each barrel I build saves 6000 gallons of runoff annually. An added benefit to the barrels is that they are a great ‘In’ with clients. When my first customer came over I spent about 30 minutes touring our gardens and educating him on native and edible plantings. After his comments about how boring his yard was I planted the seed of us doing a garden install to complement his new barrels next spring. We could realize a few thousand dollars in profit from the sale of a rain barrel, while also increasing native habitat and biodiversity in our village. Can someone pinch me, please?
While it seems to good to be true, this is exactly the way it must work if we are to turn Capitalism to work for positive ecological change. And for that change to be truly sustainable, it must be not only ecologically and socially just, it must also turn a profit, be it for a household, government or business. Their are plenty Eco-Aware citizens out there who either don’t have the time, skill, or inclination to spend an entire summer landscaping their yards-but many of these people will pay to achieve their eco dreams. Hence our motto “Turning your Someday, into Today” as we launch ourselves into the new Green Economy.
Wish us Luck!