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Landworks Farm Evolves

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2013 December Issue Newsletter

Suzy Konecky, NOFA/Mass Beginning Farmer Program Coordinator

Kathleen Geary and her partner David run Landworks Farm together in Petersham, Massachusetts. They grow a diverse array of mixed vegetables for their farm stand, a farmers’ market in Petersham, and the North Quabbin Community Co-op. Kathleen and David share the work of running the farm; they both plant, weed, and bring the produce to market.

Kathleen and David enjoy growing the gamut of vegetable crops, but are considering a change for future years. They are toying with the idea of changing their business model to a storage crop CSA, focusing primarily on growing winter vegetables. One reason for the change is that it would help Landworks Farm fill a niche in their local foodscape, while moving away from a heavily saturated market of summer vegetables. “There is kind of a glut of farmers’ markets right now,” says Kathleen. There are three markets on Saturdays in the three towns that touch Petersham, and one on Thursdays in Orange. The wide availability of fresh produce from these markets is wonderful for eaters, but can be challenging for producers. Going to the farmers’ market in Petersham is a lot of time and energy for a small return. Transitioning to a new business model would allow Kathleen and David to produce vegetables and market them a new way. They are only having the preliminary discussions about this, and will spend the winter assessing the potential benefits and drawbacks of the idea.

Kathleen is a mentee in the NOFA/Mass Beginning Farmer Mentorship Program and feels lucky to have a mentor to bounce ideas off of and to help guide her as she makes these decisions. Kathleen’s mentor is Julie Rawson, who farms at Many Hands Organic Farm in Barre, MA. Kathleen has turned to Julie with many questions and ideas. Julie shared her crop-planning schedule, which was useful for Kathleen to see, especially as she contemplates this change on her farm. Kathleen and Julie have also talked about labor, which is a big piece of the overall farm puzzle for Kathleen and David.

Currently the two of them run the farm alone, but they are considering other labor arrangements. They will possibly hire someone to work part time, or perhaps have an apprentice work with them. They currently have friends helping out in a volunteer capacity, but they don’t want to ask too much of them. Kathleen shares that when her brother came to visit this summer she put him and his wife to work weeding for an entire morning. She says, laughing, “perhaps that isn’t really the best model.” Julie has worked with many different labor structures at Many Hands and is able to give Kathleen an honest perspective of the benefits and challenges of different structures.

As a mentee in the Beginning Farmer Mentorship Program, Kathleen was able to use her $100 voucher (given to all mentees for NOFA/Mass events) to attend Michael Kilpatrick’s seminar on farm profitability. Michael Kilpatrick encourages farmers to figure out the cost per row foot of the produce they are growing, “which I found stunning and scary,” says Kathleen. Now Kathleen is combining what she learned from Michael Kilpatrick with what she learned at last year’s Advanced Growers Seminar and is looking at all her notes. She is intrigued by the idea of creating a more careful record keeping system with regards to planting schedules. Currently Kathleen and David keep track of the money that comes in, but they don’t keep track of the production process and timeline. “This is what I have taken from both years at the Advanced Growers Seminar, a record keeping system is needed and it doesn’t have to be fancy.” Creating a simple system will help Kathleen and David evaluate how they can make efficient changes on the farm so that it can better meet their goals.

Kathleen and Julie have also discussed infrastructure related issues, such as irrigation. Right now Landworks Farm doesn’t have any irrigation. In 2012 when it was extremely dry they filled a sap tank with water that they pumped from an old well and drove it around on a trailer in order to be able to irrigate a few fields. The system was not ideal and they are exploring different options going forward; Kathleen is especially interested in a gravity fed system.

Checking in regularly with Julie is helpful because Julie’s years of experience inform the guidance she offers to Kathleen. Kathleen is in the process of figuring out what is reasonable for her and David to expect of themselves, given their other work and obligations. They are not only assessing what additional labor might look like, but what is reasonable to ask of themselves, how much time and effort they have to put into this operation, and how to optimize the time and energy that they do have. A mentor is a great person to bounce ideas off of, whether it is for a change in farm business planning, or specific questions about irrigation or pest management.

Finally, Kathleen appreciates the Beginning Farmer Mentorship Program because of the chance to connect with other farmers who are coming to agriculture a bit later in life. She shares, “there are a lot of kids in their twenties...not that there is anything wrong with the young whipper snappers,” but it is helpful to meet others who are coming to it later, and see how people manage and balance it all. “I appreciate the program, and the opportunity to have organization around that.” NOFA/Mass is NOW accepting applicants for the 2014 Beginning Farmer Mentorship Program. To find out more about the program, please visit us online at: http://www.nofamass.org/programs/ mentoring and consider applying NOW. Please contact Suzy Konecky at suzy@nofamass.org with any questions.

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