By Daniel Rivera
I found some much needed inspiration and practical ideas to apply to our small organic farm recently while attending a workshop and field day at Old Ford Farm in New Paltz, NY. Becky and Joe Fuller run several operations together with the goal of maximizing their land and efforts into offering something unique for their customers.
Old Ford Farm sells raw milk, eggs, chicken, pork and have an all-you-can-eat vegetable CSA. In just a few years, Becky and Joe have managed to brush hog their leased 15 acres of land into a beautiful, productive farm. It hasn’t all come easy for them but their willingness to make it work is plain for all to see.
Unlike a lot of other young farmers that you hear about nowadays, they started with minimal training. This led to more than a few mistakes at the beginning but also proved to be valuable learning experiences.
I would say that they could afford to be “green” at the outset, because they had two things going for them. They had the time to invest and they had willing land owners able to assist them in this joint venture.
A Joint Venture
The land is leased by a conservation easement and the owners are able to get the valuable agricultural tax exemptions on the land because Joe and Becky farm it. The land owners also get a share of the farm fresh bounty.
Joe and Becky get up and running with a farm business and get to make a living on land they could not otherwise immediately afford. This is a great model for other aspiring farmers to look into!
A Real Bootstrapper’s Delight
It’s amazing to see what they’ve been able to accomplish with minimal funds. Even though it might not have the best roof for Hudson Valley snow, their barn is a great example of frugality and ingenuity. You wouldn’t know it by looking at it, but there is a licensed raw milk dairy inside one of those trailers!
Jealous of their Jerseys
Milking about 6 cows twice daily gives them about 200 gallons per week. They sell about 130 gallons at their farm store and the rest they sell to a local artisan cheese maker who makes a rare Caciocavallo cheese.
Their sweet cows are mostly grass-fed with some additional non-GMO grains. They mow the pasture after the cows graze it which I had initially thought to be counter-intuitive. But on a limited pasture acreage, this makes sense for them.
Mowing allows the choicest grass, the stuff the Jerseys really love, to rebound quickly. Forcing the cows to eat everything in the paddock might alter the flavor of the milk. Their raw milk after all is their #1 product and it is in high demand. It is super tasty and very creamy.
It was like drinking ice cream. Oh, so good – and good for you!
Resources, Labor and Profits
The main topic of the field day was to get a sense of the farm’s inputs & outputs. As Becky & Joe described each operation of their farm, they included a spreadsheet on the labor, expenses and profits derived from each enterprise.
As I said, the demand for the raw milk is high in their area. It is often this demand that helps drive the rest of their profits. As folks come by to pick up their raw milk, they also buy eggs, meat and other items.
Legally in New York State you can only pick up raw milk from the farm – so their farm store becomes a popular destination. Joe said that for a short time they ran out of raw milk. When this happened sales of their other items plummeted.
Eggs do well for them as does poultry, which they harvest at the farm. On poultry slaughter day, they can process upwards of 150 chickens in about 5 hours working in a group of 6 people.
Pigs, although still a small operation for them, tend to not be as profitable. They are high labor, high input and their profits are not as high as they’d like after expenses.
A lot of this has to do with the cost of slaughter, butchering and smoking. They also feed a large amount of grain. They say factory pork is sold so cheaply per pound in the grocery stores that this is a hurdle for some customers to overcome when educating about the benefits of pastured pork.
A Veggie CSA “Outside the Box”
Becky and Joe find that the vegetable CSA they operate on about 3 acres is also a high labor enterprise. Recently with some out of the box thinking, they’ve been able to tilt the scales more in their favor. Now they do an all-you-can-eat vegetable CSA which means their members once a week can take as much as they want of what has been harvested.
They have about 60 members right now. Becky says many of their members are home cooks and foodies who love having a large quantity of vegetables to chef up and preserve. Doing the veggie CSA as a free choice option for folks saves Becky & Joe time in packaging and weighing all the produce every week.
Full Diet Farming Thoughts
Having a diversified operation has helped Joe and Becky weather the storms over the years. By not having all their eggs in one basket they’ve been able to grow steadily year on year and explore new ways to serve their members better.
To build on their model, I would look for ways to integrate the operations beyond just rotational grazing for creating efficiency. One example that comes to mind is to find out if excess whey is available from their cheese maker. If so they could then feed that to the pigs to help defray some of the costs of grain.
I have thought about this type of farming diversification for a while for my future customers and also for my families’ own full diet needs. I think it’s the right way to farm. I think it scales well and provides opportunities to hire others to work on the farm as they have been able to.
The Fullan’s honesty and transparency in providing the net profits and expenses they have tracked over the years is immensely valuable and appreciated. Seeing them do it first-hand makes it seem very possible to do on our own small farm.
One step closer… in the journey.