This is take two, my friends. If you follow me for a while you know that I tried to start a vegetable farm back in 2015 and failed miserably. It took two years, many many changes, and a whole lot of work to dust off, pull together, and bring us to the point where we are ready to try again.
And we are going to try again. Even though 2015 was exhausting, frustrating, terribly hard, and a total failure, I am still thankful for it because we learned a whole lot and I feel like we are much more ready now. But I have no clue if what we plan now is going to work. Once again, we will have to work hard and figure it out as we go.
So, back in 2015, we were in a much different situation than we are now. We lived in the city, about an hour from our land in the country. My husband was running a very busy business and we barely saw him at all. My plan was to shift our life to where we can spend much more time together. Since he was working all the time I decided that myself and my three little kids will start a farm. Once the farm started bringing in some income, my husband will be able to slow down the business and join us and we can all work together at the farm happily ever after.
Since we lived an hour away, I knew that I will have to have a place on the farm for the kids and myself to get away from the elements, cool down, and rest. So we bought an old RV and worked very hard to fix it.
We (my husband helped me on the weekends) worked so hard to make a driveway and get the field ready for planting. We purchased a whole lot of equipment and signed up with a local farmers market. We were ready. I knew it was going to be hard but I didn’t care.
Spring rolled in and I started planting. We parked the RV on the field, the weather was great, the kids were running around, happy to be outside, I was doing what I love… It was great… Until we got a letter from the county informing us that it is not allowed to park an RV on land if there isn’t a house on it.
I was so mad, you guys. I checked and rechecked that there were no restrictions on this piece of land before we bought it because my husband and I have crazy ideas sometimes and I didn’t want us to be restricted by anything, but I never thought about checking county restrictions!
Anyway, we had to remove the RV. I kept working for a while but as spring turned into summer and the temperatures started climbing higher and higher it become impossible. I was fine, if it was only me by myself I would probably keep going but my kids were suffering. They didn’t have a place to escape the sun, they didn’t have a place to take a nap, they didn’t have a place to put a few toys or to lay down and watch a movie and relax.
After a couple of months, I had to call it quits. It was hard to let go but I had to admit that it was just too hard.
Lessons We’ve Learned…
A place to stay – so obviously, we learned that we had to have a place for us and the kids to stay. Since we can’t park an RV there we will need a house. It doesn’t have to be our forever home, just a small place where we can cool down in the summer.
A miracle happened and we found a house across the road from the land for $34,000. This changed everything. Now we are literally 2.379 minutes away from the farm.
Electricity – we had no electricity in 2015. We had a generator that we used a few times, for example, I could start the AC in the RV with the generator. But I couldn’t start seeds early because I wasn’t able to control temperature by using seed starting mats for example. This time we are going to have a pole there with a meter box on it. We will have outlets on the pole so we can use extension cords to bring the electricity wherever we need it.
Greenhouse – we built our own from PVC pipes. It was a fun and inexpensive weekend project but it proved not strong enough for our once a year Southern snow/ice storm. We thought about building another one for this year but decided against it. The next greenhouse we put up will be a professional one and we feel like we are still not exactly sure what we want or need. And we can’t afford a nice greenhouse at the moment anyway.
So we are going to go a different way and set up a germination room. A few years ago we found an ad for a free tiny house on Craigslist. We went to see it and found ourselves on an old homestead that used to be a hippie commune. It was an amazing place that was about to be torn down. We ended up hauling away the outhouse (!!) and we paid someone $300 to move the tiny house for us. It is a 10’x10′ room that is insulated and dry walled and it has a great wooden floor. This room, that is on the farm, is going to be our germination room. I’ll explain more about how this is going to work later in this post.
Water – I had no running water back in 2015. I had the creek close by but that’s it. We get good rainfall here in NC and there are many farmers who rely only on rain, but I think that they all live close to their crops and if there is a dry spell they use the house well to water the vegetables just a little bit to keep them alive. At least this is what a few of them said.
This year we are going to have a watering system that I hope will cover us in case there is not enough rain. I’ll explain later how we are going to set this up.
Field set up – guys, there are so many ways to farm you won’t believe it. I read every book out there about farming and what I got is one giant headache. All this was so much simpler if I had a grandpa to teach me but I don’t and believe it or not the local farmers are not as friendly as I thought they will be. It seems like they love free volunteers but the moment you tell them you actually going to open a farm down the road suddenly they are not as inviting. I guess I can’t blame them.
Anyway, with no experience, I decided to go with Elliott Coleman’s method of 30” beds. We set 66 30”x30′ beds and it turned out to be a nightmare. The idea is that on just a couple of acres you can grow a full-size market garden since the plants are planted very close together. But everything was way too tight for my claustrophobic self and there was no room for the tractor to do any of the hard work.
I thought it will be better because this way I didn’t need to deal with the tractor and the implements by myself but I couldn’t manage the amount of manual labor that was necessary to keep things growing. It took hours to weed just one bed and I had 66!
People, our tractor cost more than the house we live in! I am not kidding. If you know us personally you know this makes total sense, if you don’t you probably think we are stupid or crazy or whatever and you’re probably right. But that’s the fact and this year, the red machine that we love so much is going to do the hard work.
Husband – I need my husband. Plain and simple. I wanted my husband in the field with me and the kids. I know this is what he wants to do just as much as I want to do it, and I knew he was getting tired of the other business but sometimes you are just trapped in your own reality that you created for yourself. So we had to untrap him. It started with moving to a very small house that cost us less than a car payment every month and continued with the decision to live with less. Much less. Like, under-the-poverty-line less.
It’s super scary but I personally believe that there is magic in the faith of following your dreames, so the heck with it, we are going to do this. Hopefully, things will get better once we start selling delicious and beautiful vegetables (not that I expect to become rich from farming…).
The Farm Plan…
Can I complain for a moment? Yes? Thank you so much!
Every time you read and learn about starting a business you hear “make a business plan” “write a business plan” “Make sure to start with a business plan”, let me just tell you, I think it’s a load of BS.
You have absolutely no way to know how many carrots you are going to sell, therefore you have absolutely no clue how many you should plant. You have absolutely no way to know if people in your town like purple kohlrabi or white one or if they are going to buy more on Wednesday morning or Saturday morning. You have no way to know if 40 rows of vegetables are too much for you to handle or if it’s too little.
Unless you’ve been a farm hand for a while or grown up farming and you carry on the family business you are just going to have to jump in the water and learn how to swim.
So I made a basic plan for us to follow cause I like things organized. Is it a good plan? I have no clue what so ever. Is it the right plan for us? I don’t know. Is it going to change? Probably 2 or so million times. But anyway, it’s something to go by for now.
My plan has five parts…
- Our why
- Mission statement
- What to grow
- How to grow
- Where to sell what we grow, or in other words, marketing
When times get tough, and they will…
When beetles eat all of our squash plants, and they will…
When it’s a 100F and we have to be there in the field and work, I am sure we are going to ask ourselves, why? Why are we doing this?
We have a few whys, but the biggest one has to be the kids. Yes, we want them to grow up on a farm, where you work hard and you are connected to the land. You live with the seasons and you learn about death and life. We want them to learn how to grow their own food and be independent and responsible.
But above all we want them to be free. We want them to know that they don’t have to do whatever the rest of the world is doing. They don’t have to have a $200,000 mortgage and an expensive car. They don’t have to go to college if they don’t want too (**gasp**) and start their lives with tens of thousands in student loans only to go spend the rest of their lives in a cubical. They can, if that what they want, but they don’t have to.
We want to teach them to hunt, grow, build, cook, and make whatever money they need from the land they live on. We want them to enjoy childhood and be free to explore.
So what is it that we are trying to achieve here?
I’ll tell you what I want, what my goal is, but the truth is, I don’t know if it’s possible. It might not be realistic, but I sure am going to try.
I would love to supply our community with great food at an affordable price.
Truth is, I am having a bit of a problem with the organic, local food movement. My problem is that I and many others like me can’t afford half of the things they sell at the market.
Does a chicken that isn’t even fed organic feed should cost $6 a lb? $25-$35 a chicken? I can’t afford it, can you?
So you probably say, Lee, just grow it yourself. Yes, I will, I am, but what about the people that can’t? What about older people? What about single mothers? Aren’t they deserve good quality, locally grown, fresh food? Is this kind of food a privilege only for a group of people? In my mind, locally grown, fresh food should be the norm. It should be affordable and easy to get.
But what do I know? Those people can be in my heart and I can hope to be able to grow good food and sell it for an affordable price that they can afford, but maybe those farmers sell one tomato for $4 because if they didn’t they wouldn’t be able to make a living. I don’t know but I’ll find out soon enough.
What to Grow…
There are two ways to go about this; grow a little bit of everything or grow a lot of one thing.
We decided to grow a little bit a lot of not really everything.
We decided not to grow things that we are not good at growing or that are a bit more complicated. For example, we are not going to grow cabbage, broccoli, and artichoke. We are also not going to have garlic and onions because we had a new baby in August of 2016 and didn’t get everything together by planting time. In the South, garlic and onions are best planted in the fall, so we are going to have to wait for fall of 2017 to plant those. We might decide to plant onion sets in the spring if we can afford them, we’ll see.
Spring and Fall Crops:
**We will plant those in the spring and then again in the fall.
Beets – Detroit Red, Bull’s Eye.
Carrots – Danver 126
Kale – Vates, Lacinato
Kohlrabi – Purple Vienna
Lettuce – Buttercrunch, Speckled Bibb, Cosmo Romain
Chard – Ruby Red
Leek – American Flag
Green Onion – Evergreen Hardy White
Peas – Sugar Ann (dwarf, no trellising required)
Potatoes – not sure yet…
Beans – Contender
Corn – not sure yet…
Cucumbers – Marketmore 76
Eggplant – Black Beauty, Listada De Gandia
Ground Cherries – Crossack Pineapple
Peppers – Bull Nose, Hungarian Wax, Cayenne Long, Corona
Butternut Squash – Waltham
Tomatoes – Cherokee Purple, Matt’s Wild Cherry, Mortgage Lifter, Glacier
Basil – Sweet Genovese
Zucchini – Grey
Squash – early Golden Summer Crookneck
Sweet Potato – Carolina Ruby
Cut Flowers – Zinnia Giant Dahlia Flowered Violet, Closia Pumpas Plume, Dara Ammi, Marigold Durango Outback Mix, Aster Tower Custom Mix
This year we will buy most of our seeds from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. It will be the first time I order from them but so far I liked their website and how they have a bulk option for most of the seeds.
How to Grow It…
The first question that comes to mind is organic or not organic? If you know me a little bit from this site, or if you looked around here you probably think that organic it definitely it, after all, I grow organically in my home garden and talk about health a lot.
But will we be able to accomplish our goal of providing our community with affordable food if we grow organically? I sure hope we will. I would really like to stay away from chemicals and we will do anything that is in our power to do that.
But, remember my 100 feet row of potatoes that was completely consumed by colorado potato beetles a couple of years ago? This time around we are going to try and use row covers, diatomaceous earth, neem oil, guinea hens and whatever else we can, but if we can’t control it and about to lose all of our hard work, revenue, and crop, we might decide to spray. Hopefully, we won’t get to that.
So our set-up this year is going to be 200 ft raised rows. Each raised row is going to have either one or two rows of vegetables. For example, we can have 2 rows of beets in one raised row but only one row of tomatoes.
I am not sure exactly how wide the rows will be. The tractor is going to make the rows and we are not doing more than two rows of vegetables per raised row because our equipment can cultivate only two rows and because I need the space.
Some of the seeds will be planted directly in the field and some we will start in the germination room.
The germinating room is the tiny house I told you about before. We installed shelvings and fluorescent lights there and are able to start up to 48 flats (we will use 72 cell flats and 128 cell flats). This room is also going to be heated or cooled for fall crops.
After hardening the plants we will transplant them to the field by hand.
We will be using organic fertilizer and manure that we source locally and might end up buying a few truckloads of compost.
We have a broken pond right next to the field, it’s in a great location but it’s overgrown with brush and even a couple of full-size trees. We decided that for right now it will be too big of a project to clean it, so instead we might buy a 1000 gallon water tank. It will collect rainwater from the roof of the tiny house. A pump will be pumping the water to a system of drip irrigation that we will install in the field. This is just a thought, we are not really sure how watering is going to work yet.
Where to Sell…
We have three options here and I think that we will end up combining them.
We have an old fashion farmers market in town. It’s open 6 days a week and farmers can come and go as they wish. There are no fees and no farmers market politics. We plan to attend this market at least twice a week.
Farm stand is our other option. Our farm is on a road that connects two towns, we will have a fam stand by the road probably twice a week.
The third option is a program I am thinking about for a while. I named if our BFF program which stands for Box From Farmer. Instead of doing a CSA and having people paying a big chunk of money at the beginning of the season, I was thinking to give people the option of paying per box.
I am not sure completely how this will work and if people will like this (will you if you had the option?) but the idea is that people can contact us to request a box, we fill it with whatever is ready for picking and they either pick it up or we deliver it and they pay per box.
I really like this idea because I never had $700 to pay all at once at the beginning of the season for a CSA so I hope it will work and will give more people the opportunity to enjoy fresh vegetables.
You guys, there is sooo much to do! The seed order is almost done. We still need to finish the germinating room, install the electric pole and connect it, finish cleaning the field, order supplies like fertilizers and flats, install the water system, and on and on…
We are working non-stop and I am not complaining. I love it! It feels good, so good to work towards your dreams. I sure hope it will work this time. We would love to work together as a family and grow more food for us and for others. It will also feel really good to be able to make our living from the land by feeding others.
This is going to be one heck of a year! Let’s do this!
Whatevery your thoughts are, I want to hear them. Comment bellow and tell me what you think about our plans.