Thoughts on Family Farm Finances and the Role of CSA

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At Mile Creek Farm we explain that we grow our produce sustainably, but is the farm financially sustainable? One of our winter jobs is running the farm’s financial reports from income to expenses. We enter in all of our receipts from the year and categorize expenses. We review half a year’s worth of harvest data to better understand the farm’s output crop by crop. It takes a lot of money to grow a lot of food and profit margins are super slim. We grow a little more food and bring in a little more money each year, and are continuously working towards a goal of long term farm stability.

Efficiency is crucial to a farm’s strong financial footing, therefore we are constantly reinvesting in the farm to increase efficiency. The past few years we’ve focused on efficiencies in the field and have purchased a newer tractor, pallet bins, and various tractor implements.

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2017 came with a tractor upgrade- newer and more horsepower! First Day on the Farm!
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In 2017 we added a potato digger to our fleet of implements and sweet potato and potato harvest efficiency has improved greatly
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In 2018 we acquired a dozen large macro-bins for harvesting larger quantities of vegetables. These worked great for our onion, winter squash, sweet potato and rutabaga harvests.

While we’ve made steady improvements to our field operations over the years,  we’ve run a pretty bootleg and inexpensive packing shed (where the vegetables come in after harvest to be washed and stored). Years ago we got tables and a stainless steel sink from a school auction, we’ve added concrete floors to the barn in several installations section by section (whatever we could pay for at the time), we’ve built coolers from scratch and walls with recycled roofing material.

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Our functional but not super efficient wash area

This year we are making huge improvements to the pack shed. We are getting a conveyer rinse line that has the ability to serve many functions from to spraying carrots with a high pressure spray to washing lettuce with a low pressure spray.  We are also finally getting the entire pack barn concreted. This winter brings the third and final concrete installment. The entire barn is now a functional space and we can design a wash area exactly how we want to with efficiency in mind and no space limitations getting in our way.  Last but not least we are adding a 53 foot refrigerated trailer to our cold storage. Our small 8 x 8 and 6 x 10 coolers have been filled to brim the past 2 years and have limited how much we can grow, especially in relation to fall vegetables and winter storage crops like cabbage, carrots, and other roots.  The trailer has been purchased and will be delivered this week!

So what does all this have to do with Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)? Everything! We can’t invest in the farm without CSA member support. CSA members typically commit to buying from the farm before the season starts and their support is guaranteed for the entire season so we know we can count on it and plan accordingly. Our early bird CSA membership campaign is especially important to the large winter purchases and farm infrastructure improvements I mentioned above. Without CSA funds coming into the farm we can’t make these necessary upgrades.

Our CSA subscriptions are about 60% of the farm’s total income, so in other words, a big deal! This year we had the most early bird CSA sign ups ever! Thanks to everyone who has committed to our farm again or who is giving us a try for the first time! The early bird campaign was wonderful, but we aren’t close to full so we’ve got to keep those memberships rolling in! Hopefully a CSA membership works for you this year! And if you need more information about CSAs, I encourage you to check out the Five Rivers MetroPark CSA Fair, this Friday Feb. 22 from 5:30 to 7:30 at 2nd Street Market! We’ll be there talking about our CSA program, serving delicious veggie-centric snacks, and handing out some sweet potato samples!  More info here Hope you can make it! And if you can’t and have questions about our CSA, send me an email at emily@milecreekfarm.com!

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