Hello Permies! I've been handed an amazing offer by a local farm. They are looking for a couple to work a 1/3rd acre established market garden, in exchange for a free 1 bedroom apartment with an attached garage/wood shop and , and an (as yet undecided) share of the money generated selling produce and value added goods. There is also a possible small salary attached too, as there is currently a staff of 1 to 4 people that are paid, who we would be replacing. Below is a picture of the garden and the areas they want to develop.
The land belongs to a larger 60 acre farm, in their family generations. The farm as a whole has a bed and breakfast, 3 season campsites, wilderness education classes, music venue, AND has a certified commercial kitchen. The farm has been actively working to bring in more attractions and money. Which brings me to their garden.
The garden has been established for years already. It was double dug and has been run organically from the start. There is a gentleman who puts in the money for running the garden, but does not live nearby. He spends about $15k on the seeds/plants every spring and pays the labor to weed it, which I do not know the cost yet. He uses the garden as his therapy, and does not depend on it making money at all . HOWEVER it does make "good money" already as a laze-fair farm stand in the larger farm. While he currently is the labor organizer, planter, and planner for the garden, he is looking to reduce his involvement to harvesting and hanging out.
In a week or so I will be going with my girlfriend, Earthquake, to have a meeting with him. I have confidence in my knowledge of raising plants from seed to harvest, but this project is bigger than anything I have done before.
I am reaching out to any Permie folks who have experience taking over an established garden for profit. What would you like to say about your own experience?
Is the site somewhere that summer irrigation is needed? Is this by hand, or drip lines, or...? Automated, or manual valves...? Hand watering is a big time sink, if it's necessary.
The first thing that grabbed me was the 15K number. Seriously?? Is the whole thing getting planted in very expensive starts bought at retail nurseries? That's a LOT more than I would plan to spend on that much space.
14,520 square feet in a third of an acre. A packet of 20+ tomato seeds is ~$2. Perhaps 18 make it to the field. 3 rows 4 feet apart, of 6 plants 3 feet apart... somewhere around 200sf easily, for largish tomatoes varieties.
Sure, lots of things cost more per square foot to plant, and there are costs attached to the starts, but still... a few hundred bucks tops to plant the whole thing in assorted tomatoes... what the heck is he planting that makes the average cost to plant a square foot 75 TIMES as expensive as tomatoes? Or is paid planting labour included in that figure?
In any case, seems to me there might be some of room for cutting costs if that's at all desirable to this guy, and in that case some of the thousands of dollars that could be saved, might be on the table as compensation for reducing said costs...
'Theoretically this level of creeping Orwellian dynamics should ramp up our awareness, but what happens instead is that each alert becomes less and less effective because we're incredibly stupid.' - Jerry Holkins
The farm is located in my hometown, Newtown Connecticut USA, zone 5/6.
Irrigation has not been discussed in detail. However the farm has a spring and a water tower about 150' above the garden in elevation. There is 1.5" black irrigation piping running generally all over, so I would be able to use some of the water, but not all. I walked the garden once so far, but it was under 6 inches of snow, so I am not sure if the piping runs through the beds.
The 15k could easily include the labor as well as the plants. Having only talked to the farm owner, she mentioned they buy a lot of starts because it is easier for them than starting seeds indoors in March. There is also beds in asparagus and other perennials, that I would not need to plant each year. One of my questions at the meeting will be for a receipt of the plants purchased last year, as well as any written records of the labor, or produce harvested.
Personally I would like to start more seeds myself indoors, as I like to have a backup army of plants to go in behind any spring disasters. I have been in Denver for the past 5 years and still have hail shell-shock on my mind But I think late frosts will be my main issue in Ct.
Talking more to the farm owner, they take 30% off the top of what I will make at the farm stand, and I can use their kitchen for canning, drying, etc and they get 50%. I still have to wait until the meeting with Mr. Financial backer to hear his proposal for compensation.
Once I have the job for sure, and their permission, I will start using everyone's names and the name of the farm. But I am always weary of the department of headaches.
yeah spending 15k on the garden sounds ridiculously high to me, even with paying laborers, if that is included. i'm pretty extreme on the other end of not spending money, and am not a market gardener, though we produce a surplus on many things, and our gardens have more eaters than gardeners. but still i cant even imagine spending that much money, like how it could add up that high...i think even with every fancy thing one could get each year...i couldnt even manage to spend that say if i actively tried. of course if labor is included, i suppose thats quite different. for much less than that, one could put up a greenhouse, to help with starting seeds.
i also get a lot of seeds for free ish by trading, cost of the stamps and the seeds i save myself, start most everything from seed-- even trees, that does take considerably longer to get to a harvest age, but its all extremely cheap. last year i splurged on a number of cool perennials, and actually purchased a lot of seeds, mostly uncommon perennial seeds...and maybe spent a couple of hundred dollars total. i am working through it these days, and now have so much seed its going to be hard to find time and space to plant them all. and my landmates went and purchased a number of named trees and perennials...still probably not adding up to more than a few hundred dollars total, getting some very high value fruit trees, blueberries and other berries and currants. even just a couple of hundred dollars in starts is quite a lot of plants, enough to supplement whatever seed starting can be done.
from my own little business ventures, i have learned that one of the main keys to making it work is not to have to make more and more and sales, as seems obvious. although of course this helps! but the real key is making sure you are not spending a lot of money to make those sales.
theres so many little things that come up, to buy office stuff at a staples type place, to buy new hoses say, instead having to patch up old water lines, etc etc...theres all this little stuff...that many people just go out and get, this ends up adding up to a lot more than it seems while you are there buying those odds and ends. so eliminating as much of those kinds of things as possible, trying to only do that when you are totally sure it is completely needed, and keeping your costs and overhead as low as possible, this is the key to a small business, IMO.