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Mark Shepard on Making Money with a Food Savanna Restoration Agriculture System

 
Andrew James
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Hey Mark!

I'm starting up a food forest in Northeastern MN. Where in WI are you? I went to school in Menomonie and was working all over the state out of MILW a few years back, WI is a lovely place.

How did you start making money? Do you do honor stands? Farmers markets? Sell to restaurants?

Which foods do you sell most? Which is the biggest money maker for you?

Have you created warm microclimates on your land? Do you grow warm climate foods?

thanks!
Andrew
 
Xisca Nicolas
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Location: La Palma (Canary island) Zone 11
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That is interesting and would like to add a few questions on the same theme.
Each of us lives in a different place, so we cannot grow the same staples.

So I would like to know about what sells in other terms and about % of the income:
- % Food selling compared to other products (like courses, coaching etc)
- About food: only untransformed products or what % of processed food (dry, preserves, oil...)
- % of plants and animals in the sold products
About plants:
- What % for the biggest production?
- How many others? (I mean as a polycultural practice, how many plants do you rely on for your income. But you can put carrots, radish and salads as 1 category, as for sure there are many vegetables...)

Thanks!
 
S Bengi
Posts: 1355
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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This is a idea that neil bertrando throw out earlier this year.


http://www.permies.com/t/20151/financial-strategy/Permaculture-business-plan-templates#171265

Applying Permaculture Design to a business plan, I like the Zone model using
Zone 1: Short term product yields to provide cash flow and operating costs: these have rapid turnover time and easy market access: production example sprouts, seeds, annual veggies, poultry; service example 1 day workshop in your expertise, consulting, landscape maintenance
Zone 2: Medium Term product yields developed with cash flow: these require some time to develop infrastructure or life cycle development to establish production: product example fruits, jams, nuts, nut butter, nursery plants: service example Design-Build firm,
Zone 3: Long term product yields that leave a legacy and provide retirement and operating costs for the next generation: these are the resilient, regenerative systems outcomes that we strive for: product example black walnut lumber, oak mast and lumber forest, sugarbush for maple sugar, high quality pasture providing seed, honey, herbs, and livestock, lumber systems for veneer, etc. service example: policy group guiding local and regional legal and cultural systems towards regenerative systems development and management
 
Xisca Nicolas
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Location: La Palma (Canary island) Zone 11
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This is a way to look at it from the timing point of view (good for starting AND "perennializing" the business),
but our questions and at least mines are about something else.
 
Mark Shepard
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Q: I'm starting up a food forest in Northeastern MN. Where in WI are you?

Mark: I'm located near Viroqua, WI

Q: How did you start making money?

Mark: with a rototiller and hand-tools. The first year's earnings bought a tractor and then we've just kept it all snowballing since then...

Q: Do you do honor stands? Farmers markets? Sell to restaurants?

Mark: Our primary produce market is wholesale. We are a member of the Organic Valley Co-op and move all our produce crops through them. No restaurants, farmer's market or honor stands...
We're out in the middle of nowhere... I think 2 cars went by today. We're 4hrs away from the nearest REAL market (Chicago) so we pool our crop with others in order to fill trucks going to distributors... HIGH volume, lower price...


Q: Which foods do you sell most?

Mark: Hard to say and it varies year-to-year... Acorn squash, green peppers, asparagus, chestnuts, hazelnuts, beef, pork, chicken, hard apple cyder, scionwood, nursery stock, cutflowers... We're kinda diverse, I guess....


Q: Which is the biggest money maker for you?

Mark: Here's where a journalist once picked apart one of my statements in order to make it sound bad... "There is not any one thing that I do that is economically profitable all by itself. It is the system as a WHOLE that is"
I make little chunks of money over and over again. No BIG moneymaker...


Q: Have you created warm microclimates on your land?

Mark: here's where some of my philosophical perspective comes into play. I think that it is a total waste of time and energy to try to keep stuff alive that wants to die. I also know of very few places in the world where something is NEEDED that doesn't grow there well without microclimate manipulation. So NO I don't go out of my way to create warm microclimates on my site. I DO use the actual differences in actual microclimate that exist on the farm in determining what I'll plant. I'll plant things that are more drought tolerant on the rockier, SW facing sites. More cold tolerant plants on the north slopes. Moisture tolerant plants in the wetter bottoms.
The only MAJOR microclimate manipulation I've done is with keyline water management... There are literally MILES of swales, berms and pocket ponds on the farm. You can read about it all in Restoration Agriculture: http://www.forestag.com/book.html

Q: Do you grow warm climate foods?
Like what? Doesn't a high summer temp of 116ºF qualify as warm? Seriously... I really do prioritize what will work using STUN: Sheer Total Utter Neglect. If it wants special microclimate or special soil or requires protection crew it... I'm not interested.. NO wonder there are so few Permaculturists making money from their site.. they're working too hard...
 
Xisca Nicolas
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Location: La Palma (Canary island) Zone 11
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Though I understand the year-to-year variation, is it possible you answer these questions please?
(I think you did not see them under the 1st post)
I did not do it product by product, but by categories, in order to provide a broad view.

Xisca Nicolas wrote:So I would like to know about what sells in other terms and about % of the income:
- % Food selling compared to other products (like courses, coaching etc)
- About food: only untransformed products or what % of processed food (dry, preserves, oil...)
- % of plants and animals in the sold products?


 
Mark Shepard
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Xisca....

Q: So I would like to know about what sells in other terms and about % of the income:
- % Food selling compared to other products (like courses, coaching etc)
- About food: only untransformed products or what % of processed food (dry, preserves, oil...)
- % of plants and animals in the sold products?

About 1/3 of my annual income is teaching/consulting... 2/3 is foodstuffs... From Scionwood to nursery stock to asparagus, peppers, squash, beef, pigs, chestnuts, hazelnuts... "transformed" products are probably the biggest LOSS on the farm, in that we've spent oodles developing the recipes, getting the licenses, inventing and testing the equipment in order to make those value-added things... I'm SERIOUSLY deep in thought about the whole myth of "value-added" agricultural profits... It's EXPENSIVE in dollars and time to add value to a product... That's why the companies who do that make all the money... Somewhere along the line we've got to figure out what we want to do.. grow the stuff or add the value. There's not enough time in the day to do both regardless as to what extension says....

Other income.... There's a guy I admire down in Virginia who has self-published about 35 books. On his website you can read that he charges $4,000.00 to have him come and speak for one hour. He also doesn't pay the people who labor for him on his farm, oh... and by the way... Daddy gave him the farm free of charge and he is located only 1hr from Washington DC, the Wealthiest, trend-hungriest place in the country. (well, maybe besides Hollywood).
We bought our farm with 100% borrowing. We live 4hrs from the nearest metropolitan area (chicago), we lived in a camper with an infant & pregnant mom, lived in a concrete bunker at -50ºF and a hand-saw to cut firewood. We've grown a dozen of acre of produce with hand tools while driving truck, working at a bakery,tending bar,working at a lumber yard, logging in the woods and whatever it has taken to stay on the land... Finally, 17years later we're STILL IN BUSINESS and yes I wrote a book... I didn't publish it myself. Acres USA did... For every book sold through Amazon I make a grand total of $1.50. We didn't have running water in the house until 3 years ago....

Yes... We have a "profitable" Permaculture farm, but it ain't the gravy train... It's a strange mix of incomes, but it's what works..



 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
Posts: 4434
Location: North Central Michigan
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I'm not Market gardening, however I have found that things that I have been able to sell are things that aren't easily available at a good price locally..I've always been able to sell any excess raspberries or blackberries, they are so perishable and expensive and taste like crap from the stores..your good fresh blackberries or raspberries will be huge sellers as will any jams or jellies that you make from them..(added value)..but I find the fresh berries go fast at a roadside stand here.

Genearlly I just put up a sign and keep them cool in or near the house..so as to keep them really fresh.

Eggs are generally huge sellers if your chickens are free range..people have a hard time finding true free range chicken eggs anywhere (most are penned even if they are "organicallyl fed")

If you have nice fruit trees, excess fruit will be a given, most times you can sell that quite easily and you don't have to replant every year.

unusual plants will also sell quickly like jerusalem artichokes, horseradish, rhubarb, asparagus, baby greens, ..and as Mark said "cut flowers"
 
Xisca Nicolas
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Location: La Palma (Canary island) Zone 11
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I have also noticed that added value are worth it ONLY
- when you have small quantities
- and the opportunity of selling easily.

I guess that medicinal plants is what is best when you have a little place, and then I have seen people living with 2ha = 5 acres selling organic veggies and berries.

With fruit trees and critters, sure you need more space...
 
Xisca Nicolas
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Location: La Palma (Canary island) Zone 11
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Mark, thanks for pointing out
- the long-run work that is needed
- and the firm path that one must keep walking on.

I will think about you and fellows that do the same when I will go to sleep in the ancient potato cave
...as it was the only dry place I had when we went from drought to strong rains!
I am so glad it is 56°F in there when it is "only" 38°F outside...

Temperatures look great but the natural environment is almost void of food here...
The diet should be rats, almonds and figs!
And a lot more greens in winter than summer...

The natural tree is a pine but I have never found a seed.
just great for the fire...
 
Adrien Lapointe
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Mark Shepard wrote:
Yes... We have a "profitable" Permaculture farm, but it ain't the gravy train... It's a strange mix of incomes, but it's what works..


I like the idea of multiple income streams, if one fails than you are not left without any incomes. I guess this is permaculture applied to personal finances.

Mark Shepard wrote:For every book sold through Amazon I make a grand total of $1.50.


Wow! that is dismal and the book is ~$30.
 
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