Farming the Garden – The Curse of Abundance
I remember pushing a mower over the grass, hot, sweaty, itchy, 4 hours every week from May to September. I hated every minute of it. The sun beating down as sweltering humidity arose from the freshly cut grass. From that first day I knew the grass would succumb, pushed to the edges, relegated to a bit player rather than the lead role. The sun would be tamed, shaded from below, its harshness softened, its light dancing upon the ground rather than baking it mercilessly. It was during these day dreams, and observations that it hit me. I ran the numbers in my head as the shovel dug yet another hole, chickens frothing at my feet, woes to the earth worm. 65 trees average 2 bushels each plus over 120 berry bush’s, that’s over 4000lbs of fruit! We could become fruitarians but wait that’s not including the sorrel, asparagus, rhubarb, or the possible herb production. Then there were the annuals, soon to expand to nearly 6000 square feet and the beehives were doubling every year.
I was going to have a serious problem in the not so distant future. I was going to suffer from; the curse of abundance!
Excitedly in the evenings I built a spreadsheet, checked my sources. Stacks of books grew, sprouting little scraps of paper, the web burned from my searches, tab upon tab open to the edges in over a half dozen pages. Never had anybody relished data entry as I did those weeks. The numbers crunched as a picture formed.
Chickabee farm was officially born in 2014, selling honey at the local farmers market. The problem with this was that honey is a ‘specialty’ crop in southern Ontario, sales were promising but with only one item rather sluggish. I started bringing a few vegetables and this bolstered sales. I would walk around and talk to vendors and patrons. Nobody was selling mushrooms so I brought these from a small business, sales rose again. I was stacking functions and this is how my farm has grown.
I had to stack the .9 acres, fruit alone would not produce enough, hive products were profitable but specialty and so had a limit to sales. Annuals alone couldn’t produce enough but together they formed a great foundation. 6000’ square feet could produce from $1 to $6 per square foot depending on the crops grown. For my projections I chose $3, or $18,000 dollars. Using extension data from universities, my own experience and others, I spoke to local farmers and settled on conservative numbers for fruit production at 4000lbs, Organic fruit in this area can sell for $7 lb, I chose $5 resulting in up to $20,000 in sales. If I was keeping the hives only on my property I would keep the total to 14-15 in numbers. However I have 2 other apiaries and several other possible locations so the goal is 100 hives by year 5 (2019). I have been averaging $350 per hive, so future production of $35,000. Together it stacks up to a nice income.
As the property develops I am observing so many spaces that are not being utilized. I do have several small areas that I consider zone 5, I’m not talking about these. I thought .9 acres was too small but as it grows I’m realizing that perhaps it is too big. I spent $20,000 on plant materials over three years and barely made a dent. As you build the mainframe design it is rather amorphous, ill defined. Like a blank canvas, lines and form begin to manifest. Existing structures, contour, water flows, access. We look at the energy flows on and off the property, wind direction, solar aspect, day length, average temperature, humidity. Soon we start to plop down green circles, tree here, shrub there, we envision vines and herbs, but we (or just I?) don’t realize just how many plants can actually fit! After three years of planting I went back to the spreadsheets, crunched some numbers. It was a rather complicated sheet, different plants width, height, and location. Variable number of species for trees, shrubs, vines, herbs, ground covers, at minimum I was going to need over 20,000 plants. With the price ranging from $3 to $60 apiece for purchased stock, it was going to cost me over $60,000 dollars! I went back to the books and built a nursery!
I should have done this in the first year but better late than never. Geoff talked about building a nursery during the PDC but its value and productive capacity was not fully understood, it should be included in the Manual, perhaps Chapter 13b? In 2014 it was rather rudimentary, a pair of lights over a shelf with a potting table. By 2016 I have expanded using 300 square feet of my basement for tender starts and over winter production. Just outside the basement door opens to a 500 sq’ dog run (fence keeps the chickens out) where I built benches with hoop coverings, near the barn I installed a 400 sq’ hoop house. 2017 will again see expansion as success is realized, the nursery is taking up another 1500 sq’ of grass (Yea).
My research provides knowledge and the numbers, my experience builds upon and refines these, and my dreams create vision for the future. I have been choosing plant varieties for and learning how to propagate these and the future is abundant. Thus far I have been able to produce thousands of plants for my own use and have sold more than $6000 worth. Producing your own from, seeds, cuttings, layering, and grafting turns it from a cost to an income. An income that can stack another $10-12,000 a year from my small space doing something I need to do anyway.
There is one other item that has been stacked and another I am developing during the winter, and these are consultation and education respectively. The past year I had the pleasure to join a group of other local farms in a ‘Farm crawl’. Hundreds of locals visit the farms travelling from one to another, participating in workshops and tours. There were three dates over the course of the season and afterward I had several visitors contact me. They wanted a consultation, or a design for their property. All I had to do to gain these contracts was do what I was already doing! I loved what I was doing and they did too. This added another couple thousand dollars with a huge future potential.
From the numbers as given, Annuals $18,000, Fruit $20,000, Apiary $35,000, Nursery $10,000, Consultation $5000 we are looking at $88,000 on less than an acre! Ok so how realistic is this? This past year (2016) I am closer to this number than I had projected. The Annuals are bringing in greater numbers, and many of these aspects are still to begin producing, (the fruit) or expand larger (the Apiary). I am able to sell all that I can produce currently with still greater demand and have noticed that the single largest missing piece at the farmers market is…
Part of the marketing strategy is not to produce large quantities of one thing, how much lettuce, or honey can one person eat? Rather it spreads it out by growing over 125 varieties of annual and perennial vegetable and herb. Each of the 65 fruit trees are different cultivars as well as mixed species of berry bushes. This stretches the harvest window from Early June (Haskap) to December (Medlar). By producing a large variety of products every week I capture a larger ‘basket’ and my patrons spend more per transaction. They are fulfilling more of their needs in one stop and becoming friends along the way.
Within my business plan, marketing plan, production plan functions are stacked. Stacked in time and space, complimenting, and enhancing each through diversity, grow as many varieties and cultivars over the longest period of time, spread over many points of contact (sale). Sounds like the rule of water flow for creating maximum life.
I know I have mostly discussed money and this may turn some people off but I do find it is somewhat lacking in this space. It is the current form of transaction and so must be considered. It is an energy flow, so should be analyzed while understanding other sectors. Energy flows onto my property producing food; additional energy is expended to bring this to a market. A patron, who has expended energy to acquire currency, exchanges this for the food and the currency (energy) flows back onto the property. Energy is not lost in the removal of food; it is changed to a different form. Wealth comes from Ecological function!
Shawn McCarty is a Chef, Baker, Butcher and now candlestick maker. Obsessed with food since ‘75 he operates Chickabee farm, a small profitable apiary and market garden located on .9 Acres just outside Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Here he rejects sustainable living in favor of regenerative systems. Permaculture teaches us how to garden and the garden teaches us how to live. Visit his site at www.chickabee.ca or contact shawn(at)chickabee.ca