New Year 2019
When I first started writing the new entry for our blog, I was going to try to write something deep and philosophical about the farm, the forest and our places in them. Instead, since it is a new year, I am going to tell you about our new business plan for the farm – where it came from and where we think it is going to.
When we started building the farm we had the idea of being closer and more in control of our food and building in an income stream to supplement our retirement income. A classic smallholding scenario that is widespread throughout the world. It is also called other names – market garden farm, hobby farm, et al. So we started by designing our farm using permaculture tools and growing our soil.
Right away we knew that at 2/3 of a acre cleared and fenced we would not have enough acreage to produce large quantities of any produce. So we decided to focus on culinary herbs and later medicinal herbs. We would grow the very best fresh herbs in the Spokane area and sell them hungry chefs and consumers. Well, it didn’t quite work out the way we expected. We discovered that there was, and is, no market in a mid-sized city like Spokane for fresh cooking herbs. Most chefs cook with dried herbs that are included in the recipes they use and most home cooks don’t know how to cook with fresh herbs and complain that the remainders spoil in their refrigerators, wasting their money.
Because of these facts, over the past few years we have been tinkering with that business model and this year we are rolling out a new model that we think will work for. We are going to focus on a few specialty products that require a relatively low amount of labor to produce and sustain and that will have the best chance of generating the most profit. We are going to combine this change with selling at farmer’s markets and improving our online sales through our website. In other words, the permaculture principle of minimum input and maximum output.
We have decided to concentrate on mostly value-added products with the exception of a couple of specialty produce items. For the last few years I have been making pesto, vegan pesto and horseradish sauces. The pesto has entailed the planting and harvesting of over 300 basil plants in order to produce 100 or so 8 oz jars of pesto. While the labor involved is not particularly great, the square footage, especially with crop rotation regimes, is significant and only the vegan pesto is the best seller of the two. On the plus side, pesto is the kind of product that should sell well at farmers’ markets because what I have found is that if a potential customer will taste the pesto, they will buy the pesto. Also, we have been trying to sell the pesto through our co op, LINC Foods. These are wholesale+ sales to which means our profit per jar is down around $1.50 which is just unsustainable. Selling at farmers’ markets at retail will allow us to at least double our profit.
The other sauce I make, horseradish, is our highest profit sauce even at wholesale+. We can make about $3.00 per jar profit. It has also been picked up by a local organic grocery store that can sell all that we can provide. This sauce will also sell well at farmers’ markets where, again, our per unit profit will be greater. The other plus with horseradish sauce is that it is made from perennial plants, horseradish roots, that are low labor and high profit when sold raw. Horseradish root will sell for about $4.00 per lb. Last season (2018) I planted more and dug up more and this season I will double the number of roots I put in the ground. Unfortunately, it takes 2-3 years before the roots are large enough to harvest for sale. Fortunately, if you take good care of the roots and only harvest ½ the root, they will last for many years.
This year we will also make a major push to raise and sell plant starts both from our farm and at a local plant expo in mid-May. We want to offer around 1000 4” pots of herbs, vegetable, bush and small tree starts. This is one of the more labor intensive parts of the business plan but only for brief periods. We are hoping to make around $4000 from these sales. What we don’t sell, we will plant on the farm for other uses.
Other value-added products we are concentrating on are our dried herbs and teas and a new product we are launching, black garlic. We grow, dry and package a full range of culinary herbs including all of the common herbs as well as 5 different flavors of teas and about 7 different spices. We will offer these at the farmers markets that we sell at this summer. I first have to make a nice display stand for them. We will produce the black garlic from the 800 garlic we grow every year. We should be able to produce and sell about $3600 worth every year. Some of those same garlic we will sell as seed garlic for around $12/lb, a good price and profit for an, again, relatively low labor endeavor. They are all fairly high profit items and can be sold and shipped from our website.
The other major part of our business model is Tories CBD salves, infused oils and tinctures and gift baskets. The sales of these products has soared even though we cannot sell them openly. They have become a source of a sizable chunk of income for us. She also makes and sells elderberry syrup, herb infused oils and some wildcrafted and homegrown medicinal herbs that we grow. The gift baskets include a sampling of many or our products and can be customized for celebrations, holidays and other events. They sell for $30-$50 each.
Finally, we will continue to raise a few turkeys and a couple of hogs which we will sell each year. The sales of these pays for the meat that we keep for ourselves representing a sizeable source of revenue just by not having to buy that meat. From these sales we realize a half a hog and 2 turkeys each year. We also grow some produce for barter. We grow Thai basil, thai peppers and bell peppers for a local Thai restaurant, Maw Phin, where we barter them for 2 free meals evey other week during the season and 2 free meals once a month during the winter. It is a sweet deal.
One of the main reasons we think that this will be a successful business model is the reputation that we have carefully built up over the past 7 years. Our farm even has a nickname now – Footehills. When people use this shorthand in mentioning our farm it now carries our entire story of sustainable growing methods, superior soil and unequaled quality of our products. We will build on this reputation and, hopefully, be able to generate enough revenue not to completely live on, but to supplement our other income.
So to summarize, here is our new plan in a nutshell:
- 3 sauces
- 1000 plant starts
- Black garlic
- Horseradish root
- Dried herbs, teas and spices
- Torie’s salves, infused oils and tinctures
- Seed garlic
- Animals meat sales
If you would like to sample or buy any of our products, visit our store at our website, footehillsfarm.net or our Facebook page, Footehill Farm where you can shop to your heart’s delight.
We hope your new year will be as profitable as we hope ours will be. Contact us anytime. Better yet, come and visit the farm, stay awhile, volunteer for work and enjoy the setting.