Saturday, February 27, 2010

Hashing it all out

More ideas keep popping up, it's just insane.  "You know what we could do..." is a pretty common thing to hear in our house right now.  Part of it is that we have a ton of things we'd like to do, and a few that we know we should do...but the area is so void of fresh anything as far as food goes (again, not beef or baking potatoes) that we keep having conversations about where the steady money lies.  Both of us would like to have a small dairy eventually - maybe 10 cows - but only if we could sell from the farm.  It'd have to be pasteurized - the USDA is pretty serious about this - but what other requirements there are we have yet to find out.  Guess we better, because not only is dairy a huge part of our food dollar but we could sell products like ricotta, mozzarella, cottage cheese & yogurt and give the whey to our pigs.  Just rolling all these things around.  

Friday, February 26, 2010

Back online with Good News!!

We bought this new computer and it promptly had to go right back to the shop.  Lovely.  Onward...

Jonda from AERO (Alternative Energy Resources Organization,) returned my call and I was thrilled with all the cool information she had for us!  She said that we were in an excellent place (progress-wise) to get funding next spring (our goal)!  AERO is linked to the Western Montana Growers Co-Op and they do Farm Tours in the summer so she's sending me contact info for people doing what we want to do.  They have a woman who works with beginning & transitioning organic farmers (she, too, is a farmer) to develop a strong business plan.  Helpful when you're needing financing.  Plus, she'll be able to suggest ways to improve our product line's marketability.
My mom called today from work (all excited) to tell me that a local resort would buy whatever we could produce!  They spend over $3000/wk on groceries and NONE of it is local or super-fresh (except beef, but average produce travels 1000 miles to get here) so the owner was thrilled to hear what we were working towards and said that in the meantime he would certainly be happy with produce!  We won't sell everything to him of course, we will still do the Farmer's Market because we want everyone to enjoy our harvest - not just tourists.  It totally opened our eyes to that market though; not every business in town would be interested, but there are certainly a few who would be glad for the option.
We have an appointment with the Small Business Administration's SCORE counselors next week.  They will help us develop a business plan also.  At this point we feel that it's important to have as many points-of-view as possible regarding business management.  Business is the place we're foggiest.
All-in-all we're feeling very positive, very excited and are reading like crazy about crop rotation and sustainable farm planning.  What a wonderful thing to have such an amazing response from not only friends and family, but from the community as well!!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Are USDA/FHA loans the way to go?

Sure way to fire a farmer up: ask him/her what they think of government direct or guaranteed loans.  Sheesh!  Apparently there is a LOT of skepticism about who these loans help more - the government or the farmer.  "Some guys barely make it out of them with their shorts on."  Guess we better read the fine print of all the documents before even applying.  Maybe it's something to do with the managing skills of the people I've way to know!
When I talked to the Farm Service Agency's Loan Advisor today, he actually told me to find a property first.  As in before we develop a business plan, like thats secondary to getting funding. Excuse me?  I'm pretty foggy on investing, but personally, if someone came to me and said "Hey, I need some money for this land - we're gonna farm and stuff."  You can bet I wouldn't be very eager to hand you a check for up to $300,000 (their loan limit).  I was under the impression that you should have an idea about what you'd be able to repay...just a thought.  Maybe I'm just a bumpkin, but this non-chalant (?) stuff worries me a little.
We're still exploring the options, maybe the local food movement has links to funding or grants for start-up!  All of my contacts for local food/organic/sustainable farming have messages on their voice mails, but all of their voice mails said that they were out of town for days or weeks alternately.  Bummer.  Waiting is not my favorite thing when it comes to business/money.

In the midst of all this we're trying to figure out how we can pasture poultry behind pigs in a rotation system.  Shelters are an issue to consider, as is cover for the chickens so the hawks/eagles/carnivores don't get them.  These shelters have to travel with them around the pasture.  LOTS of thinking/design ideas floating around.  Also have to have permanent (and warmer) buildings for them off the pasture to winter and sleep in, as well as a large greenhouse for the produce side of the farm.  Minimal footprint is the goal so we're thinking of using a couple of plastic-covered, Kwansit-style buildings with rotational pens within.  I think Mother Earth News had an article on a system like this a while back.  Pretty sure they turned the soil within the structure in the spring and then planted in all the lovely soil the animals had made.  Better look for the article.

Any ideas/experiences/input would be lovely!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Finding the Right Breed

I've spent most of the afternoon researching breeds of pigs and attempting to network.  There are a TON of organizations interested in making Montana's food supply more locally based.  Very good to know!  Now if I just can get a hold of one of these groups - I left 5 messages today and haven't heard back from anyone yet. Sigh.  Guess I should expect us to be more excited about this than others.  I'll just have to convince them!  Better find my "Sales Lady" hat and dust it off.
Our goal is to breed and raise "heritage" livestock.  Our heifer, Ruby, is a native Milking Shorthorn (a critical status breed).  The native part makes her special - it means that there is no Jersey slipped in there, no Holstein...just Milking Shorthorn right back to the 1700's or so when they were introduced.  We're trying to find a balance between structure, foraging ability, temperament, good mothers and hardiness for our farm.  Ruby has so far fit the bill perfectly.  We'll find out in another month or so when she calves how she rates on milk production and mothering.    The reason that we're focusing on heritage breeds is simple: they have not been bred to survive in a tiny cage.  We need animals that have strong instincts about what to eat, how to weather a storm, birth their babies...all of this is essential.  I can't imagine having an operation that has to pull every single calf - somethings just wrong there - and then doesn't allow the cow to raise it.  This is business, I know, but to me it goes beyond some sad moral place that too many of us ignore when we grab a jug of milk at the store.
Tenatively, we're looking at Large Black Swine (also Critical Status) as our Pig Choice (Watch Status, but the nearest breeder is in Rigby, ID) and Dominiques are our Chicken Choice (picked long ago).  I feel like there should be an award handed out or something lol.  Chicken Choice is tricky because I'd like to have our meat birds be the same breed as our layers so that we don't have to keep buying a zillion chicks.  I'd much rather let then hens raise them so we don't have to fuss with heat lamps, feeders, and waterers in a small space.  The more we can let the animals do for themselves the less work load we'll have.  Of course, we're going to have to figure out the economics of this at some point.....
If you want to learn about the breeds we've selected so far I've posted the links below.  Also have posted a link to the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy in case you're interested.

Meeting with a Business Counselor

Called the Small Business Association's volunteer SCORE counselor for the Butte area.  Have a meeting set up for the 3rd of March to help us get started!
Left a message with the local Farm Service Office requesting information.

Starting out & planning for Farmer's Market this year

Alright - off we go!
This weekend we printed all the information we'd need (hopefully, it says so lol) from the Montana Department of Agriculture web site.  We found a local organic feed supplier only two hours away!  What luck!  I was worried we'd have to find a way to get feed from much farther away.  Plus, they only make feed for hogs and chickens - perfect.

Sunday we bought $125 of seed for our garden this year!  We'll be producing as much as possible so that we can show records of our production when we apply for funding.  We figure if we can show profit and production from less than a 1/4 acre lot then it'll help.

Today's To-Do:

  1. Call the Range Management Specialist for this area, I've heard he idolizes Joel Salatin & Polyface Farms so he may be an excellent source of information.  
  2. Contact the Small Business Administration for an appointment with a SCORE counselor (you can take them an idea and they get you pointed in the right direction in regards to paperwork, business plan etc).