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Visiting Mark Shepard's New Forest Farm

 
Adrien Lapointe
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I am going for a tour of New Forest Farm on Wednesday and attending the Restoration Ag short course afterwards.

If people have good questions that they would like me to ask, I might be able to get some answers (no promise though).
 
R Scott
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I wanna go, too! So jealous.

If you can ask him about scale and mechanization. He has talked about how they have to get a lot bigger to justify machinery, but are also at their limits for manpower during peak harvest. Has he figured out how to make that jump in scale or did he figure out a different answer entirely?
 
Ann Torrence
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Wow-what an opportunity.

Anything he might have to say about tweaking his model for arid lands and short season climates (like at altitude) would be of interest.

Also curious, breakdown of revenue from top 5-10 crops in percentages (not dollars). Would be very curious to know if the first crop is say 25% vs 40% of total revenue and how the curve tails off. How high does a new opportunity have to forecast to get his attention?
 
William James
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1. I'd be very interested in a more detailed description of his business model. I've been wracking my brain trying to figure out how he has multiple entrepreneurial activities and an umbrella company that he uses to get bigger bank loans. Also property-development fits into the model somewhere, but that also remains vague to me. There also seems to be a lot of trading of services and loaning of materials under the umbrella company that (I presume) helps to add substance to the umbrella organization and helps get bigger loans.

2. I'd also be interested to know if he feels that this approach works, or has the potential to work economically for the people involved and could keep them on the farm. I think he said a significant amount of his farm income comes from teaching and presenting, which doesn't figure into the economies of most farms.

3. I'd be interested in more detail about the nuts and bolts of mass selection. Which cover crops? How many square meters can 1-2 people manage well? Ripping or plowing? What does planting-out look like? What does maintenance and selection look like? As I'm planning on doing this in the fall, any details would be of great help.

Thanks Adrien! Cool event. Me jealous too.
William
 
Frank Brentwood
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Adrien Lapointe wrote:I am going for a tour of New Forest Farm on Wednesday and attending the Restoration Ag short course afterwards.

If people have good questions that they would like me to ask, I might be able to get some answers (no promise though).


I am so jealous!

As well as answers to all the above questions, I'd like to hear his thoughts on the impending regulatory nightmare that the Government & Big Agro are about to unleash (FSMA). Even with the stuff they've sent back for reworks, it's almost a foregone conclusion that the Zombies in DC and the Big Ag lobbyists are going to get together to screw things up.
 
Adrien Lapointe
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This is way overdue! But I will try answering some of the questions based on what I got during my time there. Note that this is my interpretation of things and I unfortunately was not able to get answers to most questions, there were lots of questions during class and it was hard to go off topic.

R Scott wrote:If you can ask him about scale and mechanization. He has talked about how they have to get a lot bigger to justify machinery, but are also at their limits for manpower during peak harvest. Has he figured out how to make that jump in scale or did he figure out a different answer entirely?


He did talk about mechanization of the processing and said that the issue he was facing was having access to processing equipment that make sense on the farm (until there are aggregators for woody crops). His solution has been to develop some of the equipment, which has turned to be time and money consuming. We did talk a bit about machine picking, but not much.

Ann Torrence wrote:Anything he might have to say about tweaking his model for arid lands and short season climates (like at altitude) would be of interest.


Some people were from more arid places and his strategy was always to manage the water first with keyline design and then choosing plants adapted to the biome.

Ann Torrence wrote:Also curious, breakdown of revenue from top 5-10 crops in percentages (not dollars). Would be very curious to know if the first crop is say 25% vs 40% of total revenue and how the curve tails off.


We did not get any precise numbers on the income, but I think the asparagus crop is still one of his most profitable one along with the pigs.

Ann Torrence wrote:How high does a new opportunity have to forecast to get his attention?


Not sure.

William James wrote:1. I'd be very interested in a more detailed description of his business model. I've been wracking my brain trying to figure out how he has multiple entrepreneurial activities and an umbrella company that he uses to get bigger bank loans. Also property-development fits into the model somewhere, but that also remains vague to me. There also seems to be a lot of trading of services and loaning of materials under the umbrella company that (I presume) helps to add substance to the umbrella organization and helps get bigger loans.


He did do a presentation on how everything fits together, but it is quite complicated. This document probably will do a better job at explaining the basic structure as I would do. I believe this Permaculture Voices podcast and this Survival Podcast one will help too.

William James wrote:2. I'd also be interested to know if he feels that this approach works, or has the potential to work economically for the people involved and could keep them on the farm. I think he said a significant amount of his farm income comes from teaching and presenting, which doesn't figure into the economies of most farms.


I don't think he said anything new during the course about the income. His take is that initially use the annual as an income source that will be complemented by off-farm jobs as required while the trees and the other enterprises grow. The economic side of things will depend a lot on your location. Some people will be able to do direct marketing and make a pretty good living, in other areas it is trickier.

William James wrote:3. I'd be interested in more detail about the nuts and bolts of mass selection. Which cover crops? How many square meters can 1-2 people manage well? Ripping or plowing? What does planting-out look like? What does maintenance and selection look like? As I'm planning on doing this in the fall, any details would be of great help.


The mass selection seems to be: 1. plant trees from multiple sources really close together. 2. Mark the ones that fit your selection criteria (hardiness, early fruiting) and propagate those ones. 3. Cull the ones that do not perform (and didn't die on their owns).

One technique he talked about to suppress grass was to use herbivores, either with fences or no fences and quick rotation.


I feel like I did not do a very good job at answering any questions. I am sure glad I put a disclaimer in my initial post to lower the expectations
 
Dean Howard
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Thanks, Adrien. Just last night I watched my first Mark Shepard/geoff lawton video... What' an amazing farm. Thanks for sharing.
 
gary reif
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Can you post a link to that video, I can't find it
Thanks
 
Ann Torrence
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Thanks for even thinking of asking!

What were some of your takeaways?
 
William James
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Adrien Lapointe wrote:
I feel like I did not do a very good job at answering any questions. I am sure glad I put a disclaimer in my initial post to lower the expectations


Thanks bunches and bunches for doing this. Whatever little bit helps further the knowledge.
William
 
Adrien Lapointe
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Ann Torrence wrote:
What were some of your takeaways?


Everything! That course was information dense, maybe more than my PDC. I think to see a functioning, productive permaculture system and to see how it can be done as a profitable business was my main take away.
 
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