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9 Member Whole Diet CSA to provide our sole income thoughts?

 
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I'd like to have a 9 member whole diet CSA where each member picks up their share each week from March 1 - October 31. Basically subsistence/homestead farming but for 10 members (my family included) instead of just one.

Each share would provide:
-All the fresh vegetables they can eat
-Root cellar stored potatoes, sweet potatoes, squashes, onions, garlic
-fresh fruit (that they can freeze, can, preserve for other months) from May-October
-lard
-40 meat birds (chickens or ducks)
-1 hog
-1 sheep
- one to two gallons of goat milk from April 1st - October 31st
-2 dozen eggs from March 1st to October 31st

To accomplish this we'll have:
- 1/3 acre market garden
- 5 fruit trees per member (total of 50)
- 400 Cornish cross and Muscovy ducks grown and butchered annually
- 10 hogs raised and butchered annually
- 10 lambs raised and butchered annually
- 6 dairy goats kidding in February, ready to separate kids by April 1, producing 1/2 to 1 gallon of milk per day
-flock of 100 laying hens

We have a cabin on our land we will convert to an on farm store. 1 room will have a walk in cooler for eggs, dairy, produce, and lard. We'll also have upright freezers for the meat.

I think each member would have 3 insulated grocery bags with their name on it. They can come pick up their share anytime even if I'm not there cause they'll have access to the cabin/store via a code on the door lock. They'd have an insulated grocery bag with their name on it, one in the cooler, one in a freezer, and one on a table for each of the weekly products.


Additional details: I manage a 1/2 acre market garden for a vegetable CSA for a non profit currently which has been a huge help in understanding the vegetable production side.  
My wife and I have been raising pastured and paddock shifted pork, goat meat and dairy, chicken, duck, eggs on our 12 acre zone 6b farm the past few years. We live 10 minutes (4 miles) from downtown Tulsa, OK.

We spend around $160/ week on organic groceries if we don't eat anything from our land, so I'm thinking of charging around $150/week for those 40 weeks (if we have all those things available that I listed). Based off of experience, I think $50 of that would go to expenses, which would come out to $100 to go to my salary. $100 x 9 members x 40 weeks = $36,000, which is all we'd need to live on.

I think it'd be awesome to be able to build a much deeper relationship with 9 customers rather than 100's at the market. I think they'd appreciate being able to pick up their share any time and that we would trust them enough to let them access the store by themselves any time that was convenient for them. I think there'd be lots of opportunities for them to see really closely how everything is grown. I think we could do a couple "feasts" in the season to celebrate the bounty and eat together to say thank you to all of them.


Those are some of my thoughts...what are yours?
 
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It sounds awesome. Back in the day when I lived in an apartment I had a CSA and I loved it. I mostly helped with distribution (we were a coop work CSA as well as a pay-a-share thing), but I did get to spend some memorable days in the fields. Good stuff.

If I were you, I would consider adding a "pad" of maybe 10% (?) to your animal production. 440 chicks instead of 400 will be a minimal difference. It gives you a bit of margin in case something happens and you could always freeze or sell the extra. It would really stink to have some disaster (predator, disease, whatever) and this gives you at least a bit of room to negotiate without harming your own family (because it is easy to say "oh i'll just take it out of the family share, but it is a business, not a charity, right).

Your setup sounds absolutely gorgeous and it seems like a real good time for this, especially if you have access to the urban market of people who will appreciate this the way they ought. If it goes well, maybe you scale up, maybe you specialize. I would be thrilled if this were near me. I wish you the best of luck!

Edited to add: looking at it with my business hat on. It sounds like you are maybe considering a sliding fee if not everything is available? Sit down with that for a while, maybe along with your spouse or anyone else whose opinion you value. What happens if not everything is available? Maybe brainstorm a list of possibilities, and when you get people to sign up make sure all your bases are covered just in case something happens. Have it all written out as part of the contract if you are going to have a variable fee (keep in mind that the more options you give people the more it's going to make your life a living hell). The last thing you want to do is have to give money back to someone. Also consider what happens if people want to cancel the subscription, how much you need upfront, etc (you should have that down pat from your CSA experience).
 
pollinator
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I understand the attraction of CSA as a business model, I would worry about relying on just 9 families for basic incomes, though.  Just one customer dropping out would have a relatively large impact on your monthly receipts. Maybe keep up some side revenues streams?

Also, as a business owner in a different line of work, I know it is easy to paint yourself a rather rosy best case scenario, and then there's always some unexpected expense or loss. Seems like you are in a better position than most to whether the ups and downs though, since at lease you have your own food covered from your land.
 
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I would worry that many/most customers are going to find it restrictive, While people say they want to eat seasonally they don't really mean it, and spending that much money on one box won't leave much for other fruit/veg that you can't grow or beef or even bread/spices.
how many people is each box geared for? I can't imagine going through 24eggs every single week or even 1 gallon of milk, but we are only 2 people.
Your costing sounds very optimistic. the vegetables yes, but the meat? don't forget processing fees, and freezer/fridge space (all inspected and certified) Also things like egg washing and grading if required. things get massively more expensive when you have to do it "properly" and don't forget insurance!
If the target market is city dwellers then they will probably not have space to freeze/can a years worth of fruit (or anything) and almost certainly they won't have room to keep the meat so you would have to store that and dole it out each week, which takes me back to how restrictive it would be, People would have to have chops when you gave them chops, sausages when you wanted them to have them, not when they want them.

It is so much better to have fewer good customers than lots of small ones I agree, and if you can get a couple onto a waiting list that will get rid of any danger of losing one.
 
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You might check out Essex farm since they do this:
https://essexfarmcsa.com/

I have not visited but I read The Dirty Life and thoroughly enjoyed it.  It definitely seems to be a sustainable model.

Apparently she has a second book that details some real challenges that they faced. Maybe worth reading both before you leap.
 
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I love the concept! If you blogged about it I would follow you 100%.

I run a small CSA program providing eggs, produce, and chicken for 10 families but not on the same scale! Sounds like you have way more experience than I do. I think you have more than enough space to pull it off, from my understanding.

I would ask the families to pay up front for the season. Worst case scenario, if you really can't fulfill part of the 'share" you can refund them, but this would prevent people from dropping out of the program the first opportunity or if they get cold feet. I found that it was my wealthiest clients that dropped out of my program at the slightest chance of economic instability, but hey that's just my little CSA.
 
master steward
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It sounds like an awesome product for your potential consumers.  From a numbers side, things don't often go exactly as you intend/predict/calculate.  I'd be tempted to charge enough or have enough shares so that if you suffer a 1/3 loss of projected income, you'd still be able to pay the bills.  After the first year, you'll have a much better idea of how the business works and can scale down or adjust with confidence.  
 
Skandi Rogers
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Sonja Draven wrote:You might check out Essex farm since they do this:
https://essexfarmcsa.com/

I have not visited but I read The Dirty Life and thoroughly enjoyed it.  It definitely seems to be a sustainable model.

Apparently she has a second book that details some real challenges that they faced. Maybe worth reading both before you leap.



That's a really interesting website. they are charging $180 per person per week, lots more than yours but offering a bit more. (personally I can't get over the 7600 cost per year! of that one)
 
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I really like the idea, but wonder if an option for half shares (at a bit more than half price to cover your extra labour costs) would be worthwhile? Personally, those quantiites would be too much for me, and adding a few more people would add resiliency and also add a lower cost/risk way for people to try it out before fully committing.

I have no idea if your costing seems reasonable, but i would do a very detailed cost calculation, assume 1-2 shares not paid for whatever reason and see if it still works. Include your labour in the calcs, too. Calculate how much it would cost to get equivalent groceries in more traditional manners, especially the meat. If your CSA is a 50% discount, perhaps increasing prices would make sense. If its 50% more, you likely wont get as many takers.

It also sounds like the value will vary depending on the week. How do you prevent people from picking up their hog, then cancelling the next week? Perhaps monthly or less frequent lump sum payments would be safer.

I know of one local CSA that does options, and seperates their shares out. So you can buy 2 shares of veggies, none of meat. Or 2 shares of meat, one of milk, one of veggies, etc. So long as it is arranged long in advance, it should be plannable.

What would you do with excess meat/produce? How could that be marketted?

 
Ashley Cottonwood
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From my experience... giving options and doing half shares makes for extra headaches for yourself. If you can sell all your shares in full I would go with a simple program to make your life as easy as possible and your first year if possible. Again, just my opinion.  

I agree with Catie that split shares and options opens up the market, so if for some reason you aren't able to fill your program it creates greater access for people.

However, I think if you advertise that you can 'split' a share but have the customers organize among themselves how they will split it between two individuals/families. Collect one payment and deliver one share and leave the rest to them. One of my greatest headaches this year was dealing with split shares that I had to organize and solve other people's drama and poor organization.
 
Braden Pickard
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Tereza Okava wrote:It sounds awesome. Back in the day when I lived in an apartment I had a CSA and I loved it. I mostly helped with distribution (we were a coop work CSA as well as a pay-a-share thing), but I did get to spend some memorable days in the fields. Good stuff.

If I were you, I would consider adding a "pad" of maybe 10% (?) to your animal production. 440 chicks instead of 400 will be a minimal difference. It gives you a bit of margin in case something happens and you could always freeze or sell the extra. It would really stink to have some disaster (predator, disease, whatever) and this gives you at least a bit of room to negotiate without harming your own family (because it is easy to say "oh i'll just take it out of the family share, but it is a business, not a charity, right).

Your setup sounds absolutely gorgeous and it seems like a real good time for this, especially if you have access to the urban market of people who will appreciate this the way they ought. If it goes well, maybe you scale up, maybe you specialize. I would be thrilled if this were near me. I wish you the best of luck!

Edited to add: looking at it with my business hat on. It sounds like you are maybe considering a sliding fee if not everything is available? Sit down with that for a while, maybe along with your spouse or anyone else whose opinion you value. What happens if not everything is available? Maybe brainstorm a list of possibilities, and when you get people to sign up make sure all your bases are covered just in case something happens. Have it all written out as part of the contract if you are going to have a variable fee (keep in mind that the more options you give people the more it's going to make your life a living hell). The last thing you want to do is have to give money back to someone. Also consider what happens if people want to cancel the subscription, how much you need upfront, etc (you should have that down pat from your CSA experience).



Thanks for the response and suggestions! Yes, that definitely sounds wise to grow out at least 10% more chickens than I need to account for losses.
And a really clear and well written out contract sounds like a must!
 
Braden Pickard
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Mk Neal wrote:I understand the attraction of CSA as a business model, I would worry about relying on just 9 families for basic incomes, though.  Just one customer dropping out would have a relatively large impact on your monthly receipts. Maybe keep up some side revenues streams?

Also, as a business owner in a different line of work, I know it is easy to paint yourself a rather rosy best case scenario, and then there's always some unexpected expense or loss. Seems like you are in a better position than most to whether the ups and downs though, since at lease you have your own food covered from your land.



Thanks for the reply, yeah that's definitely a good point. My plan is to work towards this goal incrementally over the next few years before I drop my other income streams.
 
Braden Pickard
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Skandi Rogers wrote:I would worry that many/most customers are going to find it restrictive, While people say they want to eat seasonally they don't really mean it, and spending that much money on one box won't leave much for other fruit/veg that you can't grow or beef or even bread/spices.
how many people is each box geared for? I can't imagine going through 24eggs every single week or even 1 gallon of milk, but we are only 2 people.
Your costing sounds very optimistic. the vegetables yes, but the meat? don't forget processing fees, and freezer/fridge space (all inspected and certified) Also things like egg washing and grading if required. things get massively more expensive when you have to do it "properly" and don't forget insurance!
If the target market is city dwellers then they will probably not have space to freeze/can a years worth of fruit (or anything) and almost certainly they won't have room to keep the meat so you would have to store that and dole it out each week, which takes me back to how restrictive it would be, People would have to have chops when you gave them chops, sausages when you wanted them to have them, not when they want them.

It is so much better to have fewer good customers than lots of small ones I agree, and if you can get a couple onto a waiting list that will get rid of any danger of losing one.



Thanks for the response! I get that it would be restrictive and not as convenient as a supermarket to the average person, however I feel like if my target consumer is just 9 families then I can be really selective of who I choose to accept as a member. This is a work in progress that I'll be moving towards over the next few years so I'm sure I'll be adjusting the amounts a lot as we learn more about eating most of our diet from what we grow.

That's good to know! My wife and I go through 2 dozen eggs easily each week haha. I alone typically drink a gallon of raw goat milk each week, and we make yogurt out of a second gallon, and cheese out of a third gallon.
I was thinking each share could feed a small family of 2 adults plus one or two kids.
We're on our 4th round of hogs this year to take to the butcher, so we have pretty good records of how much they cost to raise and process. My plan is to have the walk in cooler and freezers purchased in the next couple years. I'd like to be able to have a website just for the members where they can see all the cuts of meat that they have for the year from the hog they purchased and that's being stored in our freezers, so each week they can choose what cuts they want for that week's meal plan and see what cuts they haven't used and what they are eating too fast of (bacon etc...).

As for whether people will take the opportunity to preserve and freeze the extra fruit and veggies we give them, I just see it as an opportunity that they can capitalize on if they want to, but if they don't they can give away to friends.
 
Braden Pickard
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Sonja Draven wrote:You might check out Essex farm since they do this:
https://essexfarmcsa.com/

I have not visited but I read The Dirty Life and thoroughly enjoyed it.  It definitely seems to be a sustainable model.

Apparently she has a second book that details some real challenges that they faced. Maybe worth reading both before you leap.




I love that website! Thanks for sharing! Definitely want to get those two books.
 
Braden Pickard
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Ashley Cottonwood wrote:I love the concept! If you blogged about it I would follow you 100%.

I run a small CSA program providing eggs, produce, and chicken for 10 families but not on the same scale! Sounds like you have way more experience than I do. I think you have more than enough space to pull it off, from my understanding.

I would ask the families to pay up front for the season. Worst case scenario, if you really can't fulfill part of the 'share" you can refund them, but this would prevent people from dropping out of the program the first opportunity or if they get cold feet. I found that it was my wealthiest clients that dropped out of my program at the slightest chance of economic instability, but hey that's just my little CSA.




Thanks for the response, glad to hear from someone currently doing this sort of thing! That's a good suggestion about the up front payment, thanks for sharing!
 
Braden Pickard
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Mike Haasl wrote:It sounds like an awesome product for your potential consumers.  From a numbers side, things don't often go exactly as you intend/predict/calculate.  I'd be tempted to charge enough or have enough shares so that if you suffer a 1/3 loss of projected income, you'd still be able to pay the bills.  After the first year, you'll have a much better idea of how the business works and can scale down or adjust with confidence.  




Thanks for the input, yeah, that sounds very wise!
 
Mike Haasl
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I do love the idea.  It's like 9 families can outsource the homesteading work to you and reap the benefits.  
 
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Mike Haasl wrote:I do love the idea.  It's like 9 families can outsource the homesteading work to you and reap the benefits.  



I think that's a fantastic way to put it, Mike.
 
Braden Pickard
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Mike Haasl wrote:I do love the idea.  It's like 9 families can outsource the homesteading work to you and reap the benefits.  



Which makes me wonder if you could avoid a bunch of regulations if there's a way to let them sort of "lease" the homestead and I'm just the caretaker.
I'd love to be able to offer them yogurt and cheese but that takes on a lot more regulations and expensive equipment.
 
Ashley Cottonwood
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Braden Pickard wrote:

Mike Haasl wrote:I do love the idea.  It's like 9 families can outsource the homesteading work to you and reap the benefits.  



Which makes me wonder if you could avoid a bunch of regulations if there's a way to let them sort of "lease" the homestead and I'm just the caretaker.
I'd love to be able to offer them yogurt and cheese but that takes on a lot more regulations and expensive equipment.



Are you in the US? Canada? Other?

There are some "work arounds" but essentially if someone has a bone to pick with you they can come up with some reason to shut you down. Best to pick your customers wisely and just not advertise anything questionable. My experience with the health authorities where I live is that "they don't want to hear about". If they hear about it they have to intervene but really they don't care (or personally they love what your doing but their job demands they step in).

Again, if you happen to live in Canada, I can give more beta.

Cash is King. Happy customer's can be your best friends in sticky situations.
 
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Waving my ignorance flag...what does CSA represent?

I love this concept from a consumer perspective. How would I find something like this where I live (wet coast BC, Canada)?
 
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Lorinne Anderson wrote:Waving my ignorance flag...what does CSA represent?

I love this concept from a consumer perspective. How would I find something like this where I live (wet coast BC, Canada)?



CSA == Community Supported Agriculture.  Googling "csa vancouver" found me this:  https://eatlocal.org/programs/csa-box-program/  and I assume you can find something more local via similar searches.  Also, I think there's a regional Canadian subforum where you could ask for recommendations...
 
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Brandon, I literally just had an identical idea this morning. As I was getting ready to milk the cows I was thinking “I wonder if I could offer outsourced homesteading?”. There are a few differences I was thinking of that may or may not be a good idea.

For the regulation part that someone mentioned, if you (or me as I was thinking about it) offering management services or a homestead extension, you aren’t selling meat, eggs, veggies, milk, etc. that makes regulation void in my opinion, but you’d have to market it that way. I’m not selling you a pig, we all bought the pig and it’s my job to raise it. When it’s done, we decide if we want to send it to the butcher or do it ourselves to save money and gain the community building experience. Don’t want to or can’t make the butcher date? I’ll charge you a small fee for my time. Again, I am not charging you a butcher fee, it’s an hourly rate because you asked me to do something for you or maybe I’ll take some extra cuts- which I don’t think could be successfully criticized by a regulating body.

Outside of the management contract, you can raise extra things for sale, which they can buy and as a member they get a discount. Non members pay a higher price.

I’m not sure if this is a good idea, but you could also say it takes me xx time and XX money to raise 50 birds at a time. If we raise 100, the time increases by xx  and the feed by xx. We pass on the feed cost, but now I can be more efficient in my time and so instead of charging 10 people $2/hr for my time ($20/ hr total for me), I can charge 15 people $1.75. You pay less, I make more. Win win. Kinda like economies of scale. You’d have to identify sizes of things to see where those points are where it doesn’t take much more time to produce more as that would be the only place it’s applicable. A completely new batch of chickens for example with a separate butcher date does not really create time savings.

I’m not sure if this would fly, but as far as refunds and such, I’d say there are none, except in the case of gross negligence on my end. You are paying me to do the work for you. If you back out, I still had to do the work to that point. Feed costs would be calculated and deposits based on this would be collected. The rest would be a monthly payment. If there is a disaster, we all share the risk. I think this is similar to how early the early csa model was in many cases. Because we are sharing risk, you aren’t paying retail prices and where it makes sense, you aren’t paying for food by weight or volume. If we do well, we all do well. If we don’t, we are all there too. If you don’t want to take risk, you can buy things at a different, retail price. That’s one thing I took away from my days in the finance world, we get paid for risk. If I take the risk, you pay. If we take the risk collectively, that’s different.

I was also thinking there needs to be an ROI component in there so that infrastructure and investment needs of the homestead/farm are funded by the business, not by my wages. Large purchase could be crowd funded among members. “If we raise money to buy xx, we can do this thing that we can’t now or we will save XX much time, meaning we can produce more or decrease what we charge you per hour for management”. They don’t collectively own the infrastructure, but they derive benefit from it in this model.

My goal, and I think your goal, is to figure out how to make a stable, living wage while doing what I love and and to help other people enjoy the advantages of homesteading/farming while building community.

I’d love to hear any follow up thoughts from anyone as I am kind shooting from the hip here
 
Braden Pickard
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A J Stevens wrote:Brandon, I literally just had an identical idea this morning. As I was getting ready to milk the cows I was thinking “I wonder if I could offer outsourced homesteading?”. There are a few differences I was thinking of that may or may not be a good idea.

For the regulation part that someone mentioned, if you (or me as I was thinking about it) offering management services or a homestead extension, you aren’t selling meat, eggs, veggies, milk, etc. that makes regulation void in my opinion, but you’d have to market it that way. I’m not selling you a pig, we all bought the pig and it’s my job to raise it. When it’s done, we decide if we want to send it to the butcher or do it ourselves to save money and gain the community building experience. Don’t want to or can’t make the butcher date? I’ll charge you a small fee for my time. Again, I am not charging you a butcher fee, it’s an hourly rate because you asked me to do something for you or maybe I’ll take some extra cuts- which I don’t think could be successfully criticized by a regulating body.

Outside of the management contract, you can raise extra things for sale, which they can buy and as a member they get a discount. Non members pay a higher price.

I’m not sure if this is a good idea, but you could also say it takes me xx time and XX money to raise 50 birds at a time. If we raise 100, the time increases by xx  and the feed by xx. We pass on the feed cost, but now I can be more efficient in my time and so instead of charging 10 people $2/hr for my time ($20/ hr total for me), I can charge 15 people $1.75. You pay less, I make more. Win win. Kinda like economies of scale. You’d have to identify sizes of things to see where those points are where it doesn’t take much more time to produce more as that would be the only place it’s applicable. A completely new batch of chickens for example with a separate butcher date does not really create time savings.

I’m not sure if this would fly, but as far as refunds and such, I’d say there are none, except in the case of gross negligence on my end. You are paying me to do the work for you. If you back out, I still had to do the work to that point. Feed costs would be calculated and deposits based on this would be collected. The rest would be a monthly payment. If there is a disaster, we all share the risk. I think this is similar to how early the early csa model was in many cases. Because we are sharing risk, you aren’t paying retail prices and where it makes sense, you aren’t paying for food by weight or volume. If we do well, we all do well. If we don’t, we are all there too. If you don’t want to take risk, you can buy things at a different, retail price. That’s one thing I took away from my days in the finance world, we get paid for risk. If I take the risk, you pay. If we take the risk collectively, that’s different.

I was also thinking there needs to be an ROI component in there so that infrastructure and investment needs of the homestead/farm are funded by the business, not by my wages. Large purchase could be crowd funded among members. “If we raise money to buy xx, we can do this thing that we can’t now or we will save XX much time, meaning we can produce more or decrease what we charge you per hour for management”. They don’t collectively own the infrastructure, but they derive benefit from it in this model.

My goal, and I think your goal, is to figure out how to make a stable, living wage while doing what I love and and to help other people enjoy the advantages of homesteading/farming while building community.

I’d love to hear any follow up thoughts from anyone as I am kind shooting from the hip here



I love everything you said! Would love to move towards this and see others doing it as well.
 
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We have a very small customer base to sell pork and chicken to. We carry a million dollar liability insurance policy, yearly cost is $125. That is in case a customer says our food made them sick and wants to sue us. It does not cover them coming to the farm and hurting themselves.
 
Skandi Rogers
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Dana Jones wrote:We have a very small customer base to sell pork and chicken to. We carry a million dollar liability insurance policy, yearly cost is $125. That is in case a customer says our food made them sick and wants to sue us. It does not cover them coming to the farm and hurting themselves.



My farm insurance covers illness from foods, but it also covers trips and falls on the property and even what it called occasional workers. so if a friend comes and helps do something and gets injured they are covered, but an employee would not be. I'm not sure if it would cover regular unpaid workers but I'm sure there are policies that do.
 
Braden Pickard
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Skandi Rogers wrote:My farm insurance covers illness from foods, but it also covers trips and falls on the property and even what it called occasional workers. so if a friend comes and helps do something and gets injured they are covered, but an employee would not be. I'm not sure if it would cover regular unpaid workers but I'm sure there are policies that do.



Where do you get your insurance through?
 
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Skandi Rogers wrote:
That's a really interesting website. they are charging $180 per person per week, lots more than yours but offering a bit more. (personally I can't get over the 7600 cost per year! of that one)



You chose to look at their New York City share (quite far from their farm, hours away) and the cost reflects that distance, however the "Local pickup share" price is $105/week ($4505 annually) PER ADULT, children slightly less.

Of course, one should always keep in mind that it is hard to base one's own business on someone else's figures.
Yes, going rates/market prices and all that... however only your own numbers matter.

Braden, as Tereza said, you have to get your numbers right. An example from your own post, you say March 1-October 31 then later on count this as 40 weeks (it's actually 35 weeks) that's a whopping 12.5% overestimation on the WHOLE thing! Also consider that every dollar adds up (for you and the shareholders both), $1 x 35 weeks = $35 for them... x 9 = $315 to you.
A spreadsheet where you can calculate/track your costs and also quickly calculate and see what effect losing a hog, or a dozen chickens, a row of crops, feed prices up/down, or paying for irrigation vs. rain has on when you start losing money.


 
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