Farm Club

2018/05/06 deej 0

The first rule of farm club is..  please do in fact talk about farm club. Tell anyone you know who might be interested. Encourage other people to start their own versions – maybe we can make it into a movement.

Farm club is a combination of a (hopefully) practical co-op for food sharing and an attempt at a real-world version of a gifting/barter economy. The idea is that members offer “shares” in whatever they produce, along with what they need back to keep producing the thing, and other members sign up for those shares.

So in our case, we produce eggs. We’ve tried selling them directly, either for eating or hatching (we have roosters, the eggs are fertilised), but it’s hard. Working full time and trying to do a weekly or fortnightly egg delivery run is hard; working full time an hour to an hour and half commute away from home and trying to maintain social connections, and spend time with my kitties and my geese and my chickens, have a little bit of time to myself to write or read or play, AND doing a weekly or fortnightly egg delivery run is well nigh impossible. I just don’t have time, or the energy.

Plus, chickens aren’t machines. They don’t lay an egg a day all year; they molt, or a fox comes past and tries to get in (and fails, but still, it does them a frighten), or the weather turns cold or gets too hot, or something happens in their little chickeny brains and they stop laying. Or they find a cache of delicious bugs or something, and they go berserk laying like they’re mental (2 eggs a day from some of the hens, for no apparent reason). To reliably produce enough eggs to sell, we need to actually over-produce, which means we then have an excess to try to sell (but then we have the same problem of supplying the demand once we generate it) or to use up ourselves (our diet is already egg-heavy, we really can’t effectively use any more).

Thus: farm club. It’s a variation on the idea of people jointly buying and owning a cow or goat, and all taking a share of the milk produced by the jointly owned animal (this idea has been used by people wanting raw milk, because while it’s illegal to sell raw milk for human consumption, it is legal to use the raw milk form your own animal).

In this version, we’d offer a number of bird-shares for eggs and farm club members could sign on for one or more of these egg shares. Each share is equivalent to a half dozen eggs a week, and the ‘cost’ of your share covers the feed for producing those eggs (either directly as chicken feed, be that commercial grain-based feed or fruit & veg e.g. excess fruit from a loquat or lilly pilly tree, or in $$). We’d set a day and time (and frequency) that farm club members could come and pick up their eggs (thus sorting out our distribution issue) – for us it would be one Sunday afternoon per fortnight (Fresh eggs will last up to 3 months in the fridge, a fortnight won’t hurt them or you). If the chickens aren’t laying, or are laying less than usual, we’d post an update saying that there are no eggs that week, or that there are limited eggs.

 

farm club spreadsheet

* One standard 10L bucket  of fruit/veg scraps is approx 2 kg, but feel free to bring more if you want. Best options are greens (celery tops, cabbage, cauliflower, spinach, lettuce), fruit (lilly pillies, loquats, strawberry tops, bruised bits of mango or peach, the seedy bits from the middle of melon, watermelon rinds,apple cores) or chook-friendly vegetable scraps (cooked beans, corn cobs, the seeds from pumpkin or cucumber, peas or green beans, cooked potato or sweet potato). Leftover cooked rice, barley, couscous or pasta is also okay. No citrus or onion please, and nothing mouldy (those should all go into the compost).

I haven’t worked out all the bugs from the idea, but I think it has possibilities. For example, as we start producing more things, farm club will get different types of shares that members can sign up for – and maybe even some different types of shares that other members produce.

Check out the Farm Club page – it’ll be updated as we work the idea out further. 🙂

June 28: tastes of the Blackwood

2016/06/28 deej 0

Last night we attended a Tastes of the Blackwood evening at Taste Budds cooking studio in Highgate, showcasing some of the produce of the Blackwood Ruver region in the South-West of WA. It was brilliant. Gorgeous food, talks from the producers, and a chance to ask questions both about their farms and farming practices and about their produce. The producers represented there were:

 

The food, as expected, was amazing. We started with fresh focacia bread spread with butter and honey (from Southern Forests Honey) and cider from The Cidery & Blackwood Valley Brewing Company. That was followed by grilled lamb (grass-fed dorper lamb from Blackwood Valley Beef), then gnocchi with a pork ragu using chestnut-fed pork from Chestnut Brae, and more melt-in-your-mouth gnocchi in a chestnut cream sauce. We followed that with roast chicken (from Southampton Homestead) with polenta, leeks and kale, and finally grilled tamarillos with custard (made using eggs from The Organic Fine Food Company). There must have been around 30 people there, and everyone cleaned their plates.

 

The food being excellent was no surprise – I have a very high opinion of our local producers, and the Blackwood River region has gorgeous soils and good rainfall. What did surprise us was how casual and friendly it was, how much the farmers appreciated everyone just showing up. This wasn’t an expensive event, and they honestly seemed surprised that they had sold out. The group of producers is a newly formed collective (only about 4 weeks old) of individual producers who want to share information and skills, and help each other out to produce and market the best food they can; I’d say they’re succeeding very well. I’d also suggest that everyone check out these six producers because wow. So much deliciousness in one go.

 

We had no idea going in that the intended audience (and indeed, most of the attendees) were chefs, media, and food industry people. Previously I’ve been to similar events, but only those aimed at the general public, so it was really interesting to see the differences (and similarities) in the kinds of questions asked of the producers. Also interesting for us were some of the lessons learned that the farmers shared, like the dangers of running pigs directly under the trees of the chestnut orchard without putting rings in their noses to stop them digging up the trees, and the conversations about the potential for starting a small or even mobile abattoir for the region. The main reason we aren’t considering commercial meat production ourselves is the difficulty of getting animals to (a) any abattoir, since they’re all quite a long way away from us, and (b) the stress involved for the animals in such a long trip. A mobile abattoir would be perfect.

 

I’d love to see more events like this – I spoke to so many people who would have loved to go if they’d known about it a little sooner. I’d love even more to be able to be involved in them and start contributing – we’re a couple’ve years off having any sort of commercial product quantities, but I’m taking so many notes that even K laughs at me for it. And we’re slowly gathering some potential customers and some market data. It’s exciting, starting to see it all coming together – and last night was really inspiring for us. Soon, the Tastes of Chittering will be a thing too. Soon.

productivity

2016/01/08 deej 0

One of ethics of permaculture is ‘right livelihood’, which is a boiled down abstraction of the idea that people should be able to make a living – being environmentally conscious doesn’t necessarily mean giving up on commerce. Which is good news for those of us with a mortgage. I want to be ethical in my interactions with the rest of the world, even the financial ones, but I also want my bills to get paid.

On that front, although this property is home now, and a test bed for a great many ideas and experiments (such as my dino-chook project – more on that in a later post), it is also intended to be a productive farm. Not just productive in terms of providing us with fresh, ethically produced food with low food miles and a certainty of no pesticide residues, but in terms of producing things for sale, to make a profit with which to pay for things we can’t produce ourselves (including mortgage repayments). I don’t think that Gallifrey Forest Farm will be making enough to free us entirely from our day jobs any time soon, but.. well, let’s call it an aspirational goal.

For this aspirational goal to become reality, we need some profitable enterprises. In order to count as profitable, an enterprise must bring in enough money to cover not only the associated production and packaging costs (e.g. fertilising the trees which produce the fruit, sugar to add to the fruit, bottles and labels for the resulting jam, etc.) but also the cost of our time. I have a notional minimum hourly rate which I would bill myself out at as an IT contractor. This rate is less than my day job currently pays me, but it’s enough to pay my share of the bills, and working on farm stuff is much more satisfying to me than my day job so it works out. If the amount of time that I need to spend working on an enterprise, billed at that minimum hourly rate, pushes the cost of the finished item past what someone would reasonably pay for it, then that item just isn’t profitable. And since estimating how much time something will take is actually part of my day job, I’m pretty good at it.

The end result is that a lot of farming enterprises which look superficially cool are almost immediately off the list. Milk, for example: keeping goats or a house cow to produce milk for our own use is definitely worthwhile, but selling milk just isn’t. The cost of producing and packaging and certifying it leaves a very, very slim profit margin (or no margin, depending on packaging choices, wholesale costs, and the cost of animal feed). Cider, on the other hand, seems like a good option. Wine has weird taxes placed on it, but cider and beer don’t. I don’t like beer, so there’s no chance I’ll be able to work out how to brew a good one, but I do enjoy a good artisanal cider (for anyone in the US, I’m talking about hard cider, with alcohol in it – not just apple juice).

This also works out well for me because one of my passions is heritage fruit tree varieties. So, with cider production in mind, I’ve been looking at lists of old apple varieties, and making a shopping list. I’ve whittled it down to 32 varieties, mostly dessert apples (i.e. good for eating fresh) with a few cider-specific types for the astringency and acid I’ll need for a good cider. Today I planted the first six trees, which I bought as bare-root stock last summer and have been keeping in pots since then. Only another 26 trees to buy and plant.

It made me happy, planting them. Even in the heat this morning, dripping sweat as I dug holes for them and hauled watering cans full of water to settle them in, it felt good. Next step, a couple’ve boxes of apples from the market, an apple press, a brewing kit, and some experimentation. Who’s in to taste-test the results? 🙂

 

Plausible marketing options – initial thoughts

2015/06/30 deej 0

I’ve been thinking about agriculture – well, for some time now, actually. Thus the currently-in-progress Masters of Sustainable Agriculture. But I’ve been thinking of it in our specific context for the last few weeks.

I would like our farm to be more or less self sufficient. I don’t mean in the homesteading survivalist sense, although producing as much of our own food as we can would be cool and is one of the goals. I mean in the overall part of the local economy sense, that the things we produce can either be sold directly or used by us to offset our living costs enough that they are effectively cost neutral. The benefits we get either in money or bartered goods, or in using the things we produce ourselves and so not having to buy their equivalents is at least equal to the cost of producing them.

It’s a fairly ambitious goal. I know that. I’ve probably done more market research on price points for various products and what the costs of production are for those products than is normal.

I have no definitive conclusions yet, but I have some ideas. There’s Farmhouse Direct, a virtual farmers market set up by Australia Post to allow producers to sell direct to the public while sharing the marketing benefits of being on a single, well-maintained website. Physical farmers markets are an option too, but since I’m counting the notional cost of labour in the costs that these products have to offset, the time required to sit at a market stall all day on a Saturday makes the offset difficult – even calculating it based on minimum wage, and I would like to pay myself more than that for my own labour.

My latest idea, based on the number of people who have enquired about buying some of our eggs from us due to concerns about commercially available eggs and poultry management practices, is a sort of co-op / CSA notion. I genuinely love my chickens, and I intend to get more, as well as some other farmyard poultry – but there’s no real way I can use the number of eggs that they’ll produce. And I really want a miniature cow, and a couple’ve milk goats, but again – there’s only so much cheese I can make or milk I can use in the time I have available. So I thought, perhaps I could ask some friends and family and co-workers if they’d be interested in paying a monthly subscription fee to pay for the upkeep of the relevant animals and receiving a share of the produce in return. If we set it up well then as the olive grove and the orchard start to produce, the shares would include fresh fruit (and maybe jam, seasonally) and olives (pre-pickled, not raw inedible ones).

I don’t know if it would work, but I know a lot of people who care about the provenance of their food enough to keep animals but don’t have the space, time, or mental bandwidth to do so. Even chickens do take a certain amount of time and energy, and they don’t work in apartments or with very tiny back yards.

There’s more research and thought to be done, I’m sure. But – those of you who have my contact details, drop me a message if you’d be interested and after the house is up we’ll talk.

On that note – the earthworks have started! The builders have told us the house will be on site my the middle of July, and we should be in by late August. Which is super exciting 🙂