Farm Startup — Year One Income

First year small organic farm earnings broken down by culture

It’s a bit of a chore slogging through and organizing the data from this past year’s production in my Canadian farm startup, but I feel like it’s worth it. Last time I split my expenses down according to different categories, and here is some info for earnings.

I took my original OpenOffice Calc spreadsheet and I painstakingly split out amounts for each of the product areas that I cultivated… Really, I shouldn’t say cultivated, because a significant portion of it was wild edible plants. “Cultures” — is that better?

Anyway, I made an Airtable out of the data so I could tabulate how many grams/kilograms and pounds of each thing (the Airtable is mostly in grams, with some exceptions: dozens for eggs, just straight-up dollar amounts for a few things I didn’t ever weigh, like carrots…).

There are a lot of cool things about Airtable, but I couldn’t easily figure out how to order everything in a more elegant group of linked tables. (I’m not database expert, so they should make that design process easier, I think) Instead I just made it all into one big honkin’ table, and I’m not super sure how useful it will be to anyone else.

Instead, this higher-level view done in Silk might be a better way to visualize my data:

And here’s the dollar amounts (approximate, but pretty close):

  • Microgreens — $3,640.00
  • Garlic — $702.00
  • Wild edibles — $594.00
  • Lettuces — $544.00
  • Poultry meat — $480.00
  • Fine herbs — $434.00
  • Herbal Tea — $320.00
  • Eggs — $264.00
  • Veggies — $237.00
  • Hops — $112.00
  • Shallots — $102.00
  • Mushrooms — $90.00

My actual sales total that I tabulated in Calc was $7,544.15 CAD.

Estimating (to the best of my ability)

I should note that the sum of the dollar amounts above is $7,519. So I’m missing about $25.15. How? Estimation based on not quite perfect documentation. Now, during the year I tried to be pretty careful to mark down my prices and quantities for everything I sold. But I was also really busy and at times kind of tired of the whole thing. So my notes are imperfect.

Not only that, it’s impossible to know precisely what data you should and shouldn’t record until after. So you just gotta do your best in the moment and then try to piece it together afterwards.

So that $25 that I’m missing is because, even though I was able to get pretty good final quantities in grams for my products, I had to then determine from my records an “average price” for each area (price per kilogram), and then multiply that against my total grams sold. An imperfect method, but really not so far off in the end… Despite missing $25 out of the total amount, I’m pretty happy that my estimates were close enough to even get that close. So kudos to me.

I now understand much better how to record useful sales data for next time. That doesn’t mean I’ll necessarily do it perfectly next time either, but at least I know a bit better what to look for. Offhand, I would say that the missing $25 can probably be spread over garlic, wild edibles and microgreens pretty realistically because my prices varied a little bit for those over the season.

Finer Grain Details

Here is a more specific breakdown of the cultures above with earnings, average price per kilogram and total weight by kilogram and by pound. (Some of these items may require some explanation, which I’ll do next)

Hops: Fresh flowers

Sumac (staghorn): Red velvety flower cones

Borage: Cultivated flowers

Edible flowers: Dandelion, lilac, clover, malva, some others (I forget)

Milkweed: The buds — aka, the “broccoli”

Wild greens: Mostly sorrel, lambsquarters, dandelion and perennial sow thistle

Fine herbs: Marjoram, horseradish (leaves), fennel (as an herb), tarragon, savory, sage, parsley, dill, thyme, oregano, mint (wild), chive [basil is tabulated separately because I did a bad job with it]

Funky mix: Funky mix was a way for me to combine whatever I had extra of that week. So it could be salads, wild greens, some microgreens, and so on.

Lettuce: Black-seed Simpson, Romaine

Carrots: Laguna and sugar snax, but I never weighed any of it. It was like “three big boxes” and then a small bag sold somewhere

Chicken: Cornish cross, slaughtered between 4–12 weeks (80 birds, but I didn’t sell all of them — the rest we ate or still have in the freezer)

Turkey: “the white ones” (6 birds, but I only sold 1.5 and the family ate or is still storing the rest)

Potato: Kennebeck, they were harvested small because Colorado potato beetles destroyed the foliage

Herbal tea: Mix composed generally of mint, anisse hyssop (agastache), milky oat tops, lavender, lemon balm, calendula, chamomile, mugwort and some others — mix varied a little

Mushroom: White oyster mushrooms cultivated with a non-sterile tek that I figured out.

Microgreens: Radish, peas, sunflower were the big successes. Easy, quick, reliable. I tried some others and never succeeded in any significant way with it. (See Luke Callahan’s microgreens guidebook)

Eggs: free-range, between 6–17 birds, depending on the time of the season. Fed conventional grains because getting organic stuff was just too damned complicated and expensive.

Scapes & Garlic: The same plant, but sold in two different formats: the scape is the unopened garlic flower that grows on top of the stalk. I planted somewhere around 400 garlic (“music” variety)

Kale: The frizzy one. I didn’t have great success with it and I’m pretty “over” kale in general.

Basil: I kind of slept on this one. I had a short window of harvest when the plants were of good quality and shortly after the leaves burned from the sun and I ended up selling a big quantity (3kg) to a friend for a low price to make pesto.

Chickweed: Probably this should have gone in either “Funky Mix” or “Wild Greens” in retrospect. This is a really fantastic plant though. Highly recommended — covered in Vol. I of Wild Flavor.

Shallots: The shallots subject, when it comes to varieties, is actually strangely complicated, but these were the “normal” shallots in Quebec. They are like whitish/yellow (not the red ones — though I’ve planted some of those last Fall for this year)

Notes and Takeaways

Microgreens were my best seller, accounting for nearly half of my sales. But after a season of them (daily care, with lots of time spent harvesting and planting) I will probably phase them out this year as I have another source of off-farm income I will be able to replace that revenue stream with.

I still think microgreens make for a pretty viable new farmer training program, and relative to startup costs for it and facilities needed, you can do pretty well on this. Again, see Luke Callahan’s work.

Garlic is next. Garlic is an all-star. Scapes, edible leaves, harvest and sell fresh as the whole plant and later in the season dry. And you can store it for maybe close to a year after if you’re successful. I planted in something like 2,200 bulbs last Fall.

Wild edibles comes next in earnings. This was a big learning curve last year as far as what’s good, when to harvest it and how to interest chefs and other buyers in it. I’ve learned a lot since then and am going to come on strong with this stuff next year. The key thing here is there is only harvest with wild edibles. There should really be no planting, no maintenance, no weeding, and really no sorting if you make a good job of harvesting in the field. This = money.

Lettuces came next after wild edibles. The thing here is my lettuces I sold at the same prices as my wild edibles, but with lettuce I had to harvest, weed, sort, clean, etc. That = tons of work + shitty. I wrote a lot about my lettuce technique here, and I don’t plan on repeating it because tons of other more organized and more established with more staff and more equipment can do ten times a better job than I can. Not worth it.

Poultry deserves its own post which I’ll do some other time. Suffice it to say, I only sold a small portion of the meat produced and despite low sales numbers, I have a lot of really high quality products for the family. The price of buying poultry meat like this would be really high relative to what I spent. Unfortunately also, I don’t have exact weights for all the birds that went to slaughter. One thing I plan to improve next year.

Fine herbs I’m gonna go big on this year. Perennials, baby! Bought in transplants and had much love from these little guys all season after once they were established. Will be excited to develop this further.

Herbal teas go hand in hand with the rest. It’s a perfect fit for me and profitable, once you get the process worked out. You can store it for a long time if you do it right too — and potentially ship it anywhere via the web. The fine herbs are mostly culinary, but alongside them and the wild stuff and a few others, the herbal tea game is a super good one that I really like. Also worthy of its own post at some point.

Veggies. For whatever reason, maybe it’s lack of interest, I suck at growing “conventional” veggies (organic, but I should maybe say “normal” instead of conventional). And anyway, everyone who’s doing small farm CSA and farmer’s market stuff around here is doing veggies. With veggies, I will probably only stick with potatoes of a bunch of different varieties, carrots, and then a bunch of weird ones if I can track them down. Perennial vegetables?

Hops. Hops was a surprise hit and I was able to sell them fresh for $40/kg to my chef, which was a big boost at a moment when my season was flagging (still only make a little over a hundred bucks off it though). This is something I would definitely consider going big on in the future, but I want to find more varieties (Richters in Ontario is a decent Canadian supplier). If I could go bigger and connect with some local breweries on this, I think hops could be pretty interesting as a culture (paging Rogue Ales & Spirits).

Lots more information to be distilled down out of all of this (especially relative to expenses for each production area, where possible), but I have to call it a night for now.

Until next time!

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