The Sustainability Stool has three Legs.
- Social Justice
Meaning that for any venture to be truly sustainable, it must support Ecological health (everyone breathes) while not sacrificing Social Equity by stealing from Peter to pay for Paul (the US with 85% of the wealth in 20% of the hands fails this) or forcing someone else to move like factory “growth” in India’s commercial districts displacing thousands of the poor. The final leg is one that many environmentalists get queazy on with the whole aversion to capitalism and all: It needs to make money or it will fail. (grants don’t count, but they can help w/startup). We can beat around the bush and talk about barter economies and time banks (both absolutely vital for the decades AFTER this one), but the rub is that for the next decade or so money is the primary means of exchange. My answer to the Queazy Leg (and hopefully the other two) is what this post is about. While this may one day provide an income for us, in the mean time I need to make money to self-fund my ideas.
The farming year is shaping up to be a Big One. I am a STRONG advocate of farmers planning for profit. That means setting some real revenue goals and determining what they need to grow to get there – in systems thinking we call this backcasting: where do you want to be in 20 years and what do you need to do to make that future happen; everything I do on this blog is my answer to that question… but I digress. For 2010 gross revenue goals, I put mine at $13,500 for produce with another $1500 in compost sales, and $1500+ in tours and workshops. Chump change or waaaay too much depending on where you are on the home gardener > professional farmer spectrum. With a goal in mind, you then pull up records of last years sales (or reasonable assumptions [CONSERVATIVE] if you are new) and get to work. The Organic Farmers Business Handbook is a huge help in this process. I will spare you the details, but I know that potatoes are my “cash” crop, but that my sandwich shop needs more diversity, but has the most room for growth since I am their only grower thus far. Both my restaurant clients have fairly set menus and traffic, meaning that to make more money with them, I need to grow longer not more. I.e. I can sell 150#’s of potatoes a week to one client. If I can sell for a month, that is 600#’s and $900. If I can sell to them for 8 months… well then I am rather far on my way to my revenue goal aren’t I? Growing on this scale also helps the other side of my business plan: this is a part time business with about 10 hours of field time a week (on average – don’t check my time card in April or August!). Harvesting 200#’s of potatoes a week is easy enough and can be done with hand tools, some sweat equity, and a VW Golf for a delivery vehicle. Harvesting 5000#’s of potatoes in a week for wholesale means buying a “real” tractor and mechanizing my harvest ($20,000): not an option. That arithmetic –less over longer– is what has been driving my research over the past several months and is really the only way for me to increase revenue given my time constraints. Add it all up and I have committed “orders” from my two restaurant clients for over $11,000 if I can stretch the season to the extent I hope. This will take alot of work, some new tools, and more than a little money – hence the rest of the post and my business planning.
Quick Tunnel pic from Johnny's
Longer means that I need to get in the soil earlier, stay in the soil longer, succession crop, get funky with my cultivar selection, and look real hard about harvest extension / storage. Some of this can be planned around (cultivars and succesion cropping), but season exstention means purchases. To that end I purchased a low tunnel bender and 2 rolls of Tufflight from Johnny’s seeds. The Hoopty is still in the works and is absolutely vital to the project going forward to its fruition, but siting is taking some time. To get into the ground for 2010 Spring Spinach I opted to go small. Two tunnels will get me 1000 sq ft of covered bed (4, 2.5’x90′ beds) for about $150/bed and the plastic ($75) should last for 2-3 years and 4-6 seasons, with the bender and hoops lasting essentially forever. Use will look like this in 2010: Tunnel #1 Red Gold Potatoes for babies in May>field crop covering with Agribon>fall Spinach, Tunnel #2 Spinach>Sweet Potato Slips> overwintered onions. 1 tunnel 100′ long will get me 4 rows of spuds -400#’s mature or 100#’s baby. Baby potatoes go for $3/lb. Net profit on one crop (paid off the tunnel!), not factoring labor – and there is 9 more crops to come out of these hoops in the lifetime of the plastic.
Hoop House and Quick Tunnel growing mean that I am going to be pushing the soils harder than can be replenished naturally and in the Hoop House cover crops will not be practical. That means compost – ALOT of compost. For perspective that means that we are moving from measuring and thinking of compost in yards to TONS. Much time has been spent on winter composting this year, and I have proven to myself that not only can I cook compost year round, but that I it function stacks nicely in hoop houses. That helps with the “longer” part of the business plan. Essentially I would like to be harvesting at least ton of compost every 3rd month, with peak in late summer and an annual production of about 10 tons (about 40 yards) total with 2.5 tons processed through worm bins. Again, compost on this scale is significantly beyond my current few bins and a pitch fork. Plans here include a PTO driven manure spreader, a 30hp tractor and a 40hp skid steer. The skid loader puts bucket loads of browns alternating with greens into the spreader which is parked and flinging material out the back like an angry monkey. When the monkey flung pile get about 4′ tall you pull the spreader forwards 5′ and let the monkey loose again aerating and mixing the materials. Making windrows 100′ long this way is not overly hard – let it cook until temps start to drop, then repeat about 20′ away (the turning radius of a skid loader), but it goes faster as you are just scooping up the compost from the old windrow rather than driving to a pile of manure and then a pile of leaves. That is ALOT of money for equipment and would be impossible, but luckily I live a charmed life and all are available on site, though not in good working order. I will need to do maintenance and tune-ups to get everything working, but cost should be within line with the 1.25 tons of worm compost I plan on selling ($1500). So that means I will have fixed all the farmers equipment, learned a ton about 1940’s era tractor repair, and generated a surplus of 8 tons of compost to be reapplied to the fields.
Ok, some of you may be thinking: back up. Where in the hell are you going to get 30 tons –60,000 pounds!– of raw compost material? That is a GREAT question and one I have had to work to answer all winter. First – I’m going to grow alot. Sudangrass or summer alfalfa will generate 8 tons of biomass per acre, fodder Sorghum with its 13′ tall stalks will get me closer to 14 tons an acre. Sunflowers and Dry Corn will be grown for chicken fodder specifically to get the stalks for carbon in the piles add all three up to about an acre of growth on site. Another large component however will be restaraunt waste. 500# a week, every week. Add to that the 50 truck loads of municipal leaves and the 150# of horse manure a day and I’ve got more than enough We will also be planting a coppice nursery of willow and biomass shrubs for additional, long term, perennial biomass that will eventually take over for the restaurant waste should that or the leaf source fail.
Earth Tools: my implement dealer
To get all this material on site I will be purchasing a beat to hell dump truck with a fellow farmer. $4000 or less won’t get us a pretty one, but it will get us a working one. For chopping up all this material a shredder for the Grillo will be purchased very soon for $1200. It will handle everything from orchard prunings for compost to chipping coppice wood (2″ and smaller) for the gasifier. As the perennials biomass comes on line (and we are using it to power the whole system) we’ll need a bigger chipper. Do not think that scaling up to this level is easy ethically – that is alot of dead dinosaurs I’m burning to make all this happen, but I gots that covered too. More on that in a bit. 🙂
This is alot of stuff – tons of produce, tons of compost, and a decent amount of revenue. But there is an overriding goal to all of this: the growing, the composting, the planning– is to get us a revenue positive farm so that we can build the foundation and funding to finally move forward in 2011 with the energy side of the SAFE (Sustainable Agriculture Food and Energy) Centers which we have been trying to do since we did not get Stimulus funding in 2009. With a market farm generating $10k+ a year in net profit, we will pay off our Hoop House in 2 years and generate enough additional revenue from tours to fund the real cutting edge work of building a novel synergistic energy/food systems that we feel will push the envelope of sustainability. Our Mission from God (Blues Brothers fanatic)? To build a true Energy Farm where the natural systems of nature: photosynthesis, decomposition, and carbon sequestration are channeled through permaculture to produce surpluses of not only food crops, but also fertility and grid electricity and transportable fuels like methane, ethanol, and biodiesel to power the equipment and the a part of community. This project is the culmination of my three year journey as detailed on this blog – the tens of thousands of pages read, the hundreds of people met and networked with, the thousands of dollars and hours spent in experiments and reskilling. Making food, energy, jobs, fertility, community in one system on under 5 acres with resource loops reaching out into the village. And every component -from winter composting to gasification, to biodiesel, to small scale ag, either myself or one of my Co-op partners has already done and proven. The only thing left is commit the time and money to put it all together. All major expenses are covered -I have sourced over $20,000 in Slow Money financing in the community- but expect a funding push soon to help with incidentals like a Worm Wigwam, the Grillo Shredder, etc. If you would like to contribute – send me an email at one.straw.rob (at) gmail.com.
2010 is the year of the Tiger –36 years ago I was born a Tiger: courage and hard work will be rewarded.
This is the year.
Let’s get down to businss and be the change!!
Filed under: Activism, compost, CSE, Market Garden, Renewable Energy, Small Scale Agriculture, sustainable agriculture, Sustainable Development, Winter Farming | 13 Comments »