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How to start from scratch.  RSS feed

 
Bryan Cooper
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I am very interested in how others became successful enough to support a family with thier permaculture life style. I for one am tired of working at a job I hate, that pollutes the environment, and doesn't have any opportunity for growth. I am not a fan of money per say, and I really don't care to do anything but rehabilitate land and grow food. However, I do have other people to think about, and want to be a good provider.

With the ultimate goal being producing my own food and creating a strong CSA. Where should I start? If I get a permaculture certificate what would that do for me?
 
Paul Schmidt
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The permaculture certificate can be important if you want to get into consulting or permaculture design, but, whether or not you have this certificate, if you grow good food, then you'll have something to sell.
 
Adam Klaus
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Location: 6200' westen slope of colorado, zone 6
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Bottom line is if you want to make a living for a family from growing food, you are going to have to be very very good at growing food.
The economy of industrial food is stacked against you in profound ways.
Certificates do nothing for your end of the day ability to produce food and sell it at a profit.
Practice practice practice. Get really good at farming. Develop a dozen different potential farm income streams. Market conditions will make some work some of the time, but they will likely not all work at once. Diversity equals economic resiliance.
Aim for products that dont need a ton of overhead. Your capital and your labor, will both be at a premium. Efficiency is critical. Margins need to be huge to compensate for the small volume of human scale farming.

Start with a plan. Run the numbers. Be honest and realistic. Then, when you really think it will work, go for it. Go for it with everything you have. Heart and commitment are often the most undervalued assets.
It can be done.
 
Bryan Cooper
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That was great advice about margins. It sparked an interest in the foods that people are willing to spend more on. Today I am going to focus on my floridian natives like the Everglades tomato and Seminol pumpkins. With your advice I'm going to try a road side stand and see if these varieties get bigger bucks.
 
Renate Howard
pollinator
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Location: zone 6b
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It helps to have land near large populations to draw customers from. Lancaster PA is so successful because it's a day trip from NYC and also close to Philadelphia, for example. It also helps to not have to buy your land (especially near cities where it is expensive and property taxes are high). I've met people who were full time farmers and owned no land at all - just rented it! If you want to be organic and can sell your ability to enrich the soil, improve the land, etc. you may be able to get land for pretty cheap because you're a) keeping it from getting overgrown and in need of clearing at some time in the future, and b) maintaining/increasing its property value. As the average age of farmers keeps getting older, there are a number of people who want to stay "home" on their farms but no longer have the ability to work the land the way they used to - they might be a good place to start. I've known some who would have happily handed over use of their land in return for some of the produce, lawn care service, and company.
 
Bryan Cooper
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These are some awesome responses! I live in downtown Orlando, so if anyone in my area is willing to let me experiment I think it could be a home run. I'm going to start making phone calls today.

Has anyone ever had success with selling guilds? I have a banana guild that is just, banana, lemon grass, sweet potatoes, and pineapples. I thought it would be cool to market it as a "no to low watering system". It would come complete with the plants mulch and bio char for 50.00 dollars. Does that sound reasonable. I get all my mulch from local tree trimmers for free, and the bio char I make myself with regular pioneer plants and clippings form the garden. Man this forum has me so enthusiastic about the future! I can't wait to hear your responses.
 
Renate Howard
pollinator
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The guild sounds like a great idea, and I think $50 sounds like a good price. Be sure to include some planting/care instructions.
 
Renate Howard
pollinator
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There are a lot of time share condos in the area, right? I wonder if you could sell a food forest to them? People from out-of-state might *love* to have citrus, etc. as part of their time share landscape. I'd say they can pick enough for daily use and a few to take home with them but they cannot strip the plants - the rest would be your payment for planting and maintaining them.
 
R Scott
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Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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I am going to counter-point this with something I learned from Mark Shepard of Restoration Agriculture:

In your margin calculations, you need to count your time and expenses of marketing and managing CSA and farmers market stands. Those are REAL TIME SUCKS!!!

It is really important to manage that time and have a good division of labor between you and your spouse.

Another thing is to be able to build repeat business. The guild is an awesome idea ($50 sounds cheap to me), but how do you get that customer back for more? The guild sounds awesome to me, you would sell a ton of them for a while if you get word of mouth working right, but then you would saturate the market for anyone interested in banana guilds. What else can you sell them next? Another guild? Design service (urban food forest landscape)? Just something to think about.

 
Adam Klaus
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gardener
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Location: 6200' westen slope of colorado, zone 6
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I had to jump back in to highlight these very sound points. R Scott- much respect for your insight, hope it is okay to selectively quote in this case.

R Scott wrote:count your time and expenses of marketing and managing CSA and farmers market stands. Those are REAL TIME SUCKS!!!

have a good division of labor between you and your spouse.

$50 sounds cheap to me, but then you would saturate the market


I think the thing about division of labor within the family is most especially critical. The small farm model that has historically worked is the family farm. Not the new age intern farm. Family farms work when the whole family works the farm. It is a full on undertaking, that everyone needs to be passionate about and dedicated to. A lot of failures I hear about include wives that arent really into it, or teenage kids that wont help out working. Have a lot of dialogue within the family to make sure everyone wants this as much as you, and will be willing to contribute that much as well.
 
R Scott
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Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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Adam Klaus wrote: The small farm model that has historically worked is the family farm. Not the new age intern farm. Family farms work when the whole family works the farm. It is a full on undertaking, that everyone needs to be passionate about and dedicated to. A lot of failures I hear about include wives that arent really into it, or teenage kids that wont help out working. Have a lot of dialogue within the family to make sure everyone wants this as much as you, and will be willing to contribute that much as well.


Thank you for saying it so well. It is a topic I am too passionate about to articulate well without sounding hypercritical or religious.

Family farms work when the whole family works the farm.
-- Adam Klaus


 
Bryan Cooper
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I completely understand R Scott.
R Scott wrote:count your time and expenses of marketing and managing CSA and farmers market stands. Those are REAL TIME SUCKS!!!

have a good division of labor between you and your spouse.

$50 sounds cheap to me, but then you would saturate the market
I was thinking about offering the banana guild with the four plants as a way to get my foot in the door. After they see how well the guild does without any care I'm confident they will take me up on my other packages. I thought of selling guilds in sections. Start with a banana guild then you would buy the next component like a plantain attachment that has taro and Mexican sunflower. It would be like buying their food forest in sections. I could offer multiple guilds each split into these packages. Then I could offer to come back once a month and harvest the fruit for the older folks or manage any overgrowth and chop/drop that needs to be done. It's a ruff idea right now but I think it would work.
 
Jonathan 'yukkuri' Kame
Posts: 488
Location: Foothills north of L.A., zone 9ish mediterranean
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Bryan Cooper wrote:I completely understand R Scott.
R Scott wrote:count your time and expenses of marketing and managing CSA and farmers market stands. Those are REAL TIME SUCKS!!!

have a good division of labor between you and your spouse.

$50 sounds cheap to me, but then you would saturate the market
I was thinking about offering the banana guild with the four plants as a way to get my foot in the door. After they see how well the guild does without any care I'm confident they will take me up on my other packages. I thought of selling guilds in sections. Start with a banana guild then you would buy the next component like a plantain attachment that has taro and Mexican sunflower. It would be like buying their food forest in sections. I could offer multiple guilds each split into these packages. Then I could offer to come back once a month and harvest the fruit for the older folks or manage any overgrowth and chop/drop that needs to be done. It's a ruff idea right now but I think it would work.


It's a great idea, but way too cheap! Fine as a 'loss leader' of sorts, to get foot in door as you say.

Modular guilds - yes, very sale-able!

What are your margins and how many $50 banana guilds do you have to sell to cover your expenses and have an income? If the cheap guild is your 'foot-in-the-door', then what is your bread-and-better product? The thing that earns most of your income. How many of those do you have to sell?

Play with some generic marketing numbers...
Make an offer and 2% of those who hear the offer will take you up on it...
60% of those who buy your offer will buy from you again.

If you want to sell 20 banana guilds, you are going to need to make an offer to 1000 people. 200 banana guilds, then 10,000 people. Are you going to be able to generate those sorts of numbers month after month?

I becomes very important to retain clients and also be able to offer higher line items - the upsell.

Also consider that most Floridians are already paying for yard maintenance on a weekly basis. Do you know how much they pay the leaf blowers? Is there a way you can help them cut their expense AND have a productive edible landscape?
 
Have you seen Paul's rant on CFLs?
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