From Baling to Budgeting: Explore The Business Side Of Local Food And Farming
By Maggie Cramer of ASAP
Close your eyes and conjure up an image of a farmer hard at work. What do you see? Someone out amongst the crops or cows or chickens—plowing, planting, harvesting, feeding, milking, getting their hands dirty—right?
And you are right. Except farming doesn’t only happen in the field, barn, or greenhouse. It also happens from behind a desk. After all, a farm is a business, and running a successful one requires time be spent on, well, business.
“Each week we create a schedule,” says Kimberly Kirstein of Adelbert Farm in Fairview, where she and her husband, Joe, raise heritage breed animals, grow vegetables, and teach children about food and agriculture through homeschool classes, field trips, and summer camps. Onto the spreadsheet go farming duties, certainly: starting seeds, weeding, caring for the animals, etc. But so do tasks like writing grants, creating e-newsletters, and budgeting. Kimberly updates the farm’s finances every Friday, for example. “Having a weekly schedule with regular time for these tasks keeps us from getting sidetracked and ensures the important stuff doesn’t continually get put off,” she shares.
“The devil is in the details when it comes to running a small business,” echoes Jennifer Perkins, who owns Looking Glass Creamery, LLC with her husband, Andy. The Fairview operation produces artisan cheeses and goat’s milk caramel using milk from area farms. “You can make a great product, but if you don’t manage your invoicing and receivables, or don’t understand who your customers are, or don’t give your product the best chance you can through good packaging, labeling, and providing good customer service, then you’ll have a tough time succeeding.”
While Jennifer entered the world of cheesemaking to work with animals and find an outlet for her creativity, she quickly learned there was much more to it. “In the year and half prior to ever making our first batch of cheese, we were building our facility, sourcing equipment, forming an LLC, and jumping through all of the regulatory hoops you have to when starting a business.”
While Jennifer admits the day can’t come soon enough where she can turn over accounting duties to someone else and focus more on her craft, she has found creativity at the desk. “I will always keep my hands in the marketing side; it’s fun!” What’s more, building and growing the business side of Looking Glass has actually changed her reasoning for working in local food. “We’ve developed strong connections with our customers and other people in the local food and farming community, which has become an important part of what we do and why we continue to do it,” she says. “It’s now about that network, sense of the community, and the broader commitment by a large number of people working toward a more diverse, stronger, healthier food system from the dirt on up.”
Networking Not Just for 9-5ers
Bringing together this network of key players in the local food community is just one goal of ASAP’s annual Business of Farming Conference (BOF), which takes place this year on February 22 at Warren Wilson College, before the 2014 growing season begins.
During lunchtime grower-buyer meetings, farmers have the opportunity to meet with food buyers—whether restaurant owners and chefs or those running a hospital or school’s food service. As a new farmer, Adelbert began informally in 2011 and formalized to sell to the public in 2012, Kimberly attended BOF last year and capitalized on the opportunity to connect with potential restaurant customers.
“I loved the opportunity to talk with local chefs about what products they wanted and how best to get those products to them,” she remembers. “Local chefs are really excited about getting local food and are looking for the produce just as much as we are looking to sell it!”
With new offerings in store for 2014, Kimberly definitely plans to attend and network again this year. Adelbert has expanded their animal production to include heritage hogs, adding pork to their product line.
While Jennifer is less farmer and more food producer—although she and Andy do raise animals and grow vegetables on their land—she has also used the conference as a networking opportunity. Specifically, the conference has allowed her to talk shop with other cheesemakers, like Kathryn Spann and Dave Krabbe of Prodigal Farm who have traveled to Asheville from the triangle area to attend the conference the past several years. “They came and looked at our operation before they opened theirs, and we sat down and shared what advice and ideas we had at the time,” Jennifer notes. “BOF has been instrumental in keeping that relationship going.”
The Business of Farming
As the conference name implies, another goal is teaching about the business of farming through workshops covering everything from beginning and advanced QuickBooks™, to successful Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) models, to setting up web and social media sites, to managing labor on the farm.
“The conference, now in its eleventh year, developed out of ASAP’s recognition that WNC’s farmers know how to farm—they’re as informed, innovative, and intrepid as they come—but they often need help navigating the world of marketing,” says Molly Nicholie, ASAP’s Local Food Campaign director. “It has since grown to cover many more topics, with business and financial planning workshops now a key element.”
Last year, Kimberly attended a farm business-planning workshop to help continue to form and grow Adelbert. Before BOF, “I kept a basic budget and hoped that each month we came out ahead,” she confesses. After, “I started keeping much better records so that I could extrapolate data about what was making money and what wasn’t. Now, I can determine what is working and what isn’t.”
That’s music to the ears of ASAP and all those seeking to transform and sustain WNC’s food system and increase community well-being and resilience.
“Attending BOF helps you take a step back and recognize the importance and reality that your passion is also a business,” Jennifer drives home. “At the end of the day, your business will have to be able to pay the bills to survive in the long term.”
Both Looking Glass and Adelbert are not only surviving but also thriving. Five years into the business, Looking Glass has added an on-site cheese shop (which they’ll grow this year), achieved countless awards for their cheeses, and already sold out one of two cheesemaking classes scheduled for 2014. What’s more, they plan to add new cheeses to their lineup and hint they may even have an entirely new product line on the horizon.
In addition to Adelbert expanding their product offerings to include pork, they also plan to offer a weekly local meal grocery bag program this year. The bag will include locally grown and produced ingredients, a recipe, and a grocery list so that a family can easily make and enjoy a delicious local meal.
Yes, the business of farming and local food also happens around the dining table.
To learn more about and contact Adelbert Farm—an Appalachian Grown™ certified farm—regarding their products, camps, and classes, visit adelbertfarm.com. Find Adelbert during the regular farmers tailgate market season at Oakley Farmers Market
Looking Glass Creamery—an Appalachian Grown producer—is located at 57 Noble Road in Fairview. The cheese shop is open Thursdays 3-7 pm and Saturdays 11 am-5 pm. You can also purchase their products online at ashevillecheese.com and from area Appalachian Grown retailers who source from certified farms. Enjoy their cheeses on many Appalachian Grown restaurant menus. During market season, find them at Black Mountain Tailgate Market and Flat Rock Tailgate Market.
Register Now: Are you currently farming or seriously considering farming as a profession? Sign up today for ASAP’s 2014 Business of Farming Conference!
What: ASAP’s Business of Farming Conference, with workshops for new and experienced farmers and one-on-one buyer meetings and consulting opportunities
When: Saturday, February 22 (7:30 am-5:30 pm)
Where: Warren Wilson College: 701 Warren Wilson Rd., Swannanoa
Cost: $40 per person or $60 for two farm partners by Jan. 31; $60 per person or $90 for two farm partners Feb. 1 and later
To register and find more information, including workshop descriptions, visit: asapconnections.org/conference.
Maggie Cramer is the former communications manager for ASAP and a freelance writer, editor, and communications specialist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about ASAP and their Appalachian Grown program, which certifies local farms and farm products, visit asapconnections.org; browse their online Local Food Guide for Appalachian Grown farmers, restaurants, retailers, and more at appalachiangrown.org.