6 Resolutions for Growing a Small Farm

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I’m a little reluctant to call these resolutions. I’m not drawn to the idea of resolutions; public declarations of an intention to do this thing or not do that one. I’ve come to see life and its relative success or failure as a moving target. That said, I’m a sucker for goals and intentions. I like the new year as a set point for reassessment and goal setting. I like to think somewhere between an on-high pronouncement of hard resolutions and a quiet intention to work towards a few little things is this list. Six not-so-little things I’ll be concentrating on in 2015. [click to continue…]

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State of the Farm : 2015 Farmprint Course

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farmprintvertpicsEvery year about this time I begin to take stock of how our farm is functioning. Some years it’s inspiring, other years it’s frustrating, most years it’s a little bit of both. Regardless, it’s become a sort of cornerstone of how we do things and something I’ve come to look forward to and appreciate. The advice to write and follow a farm business plan is ubiquitous, but less so is the advice to regularly review, re-assess and revise that plan. Yet, it’s the latter of those two that has actually helped us grow our farm. Any business — especially a small business — is a constantly transforming entity, but I think that’s even more so for farm businesses. We’re subject to market conditions, weather conditions, and consumer psychology perhaps to a greater extent than business people in any other industry.

When we’re in the trenches my thought process rarely makes a conscious stop at the business plan, but because it has never been more than about twelve months since I revised it, it’s always in the background. I probably wouldn’t have recognized it in the earliest years, but I can now say for sure that it has been the conscious effort to adapt to continual market changes that has allowed us to make good decisions at the right times; it’s the little subconscious stops my brain makes when I’m trying to decide what to do that has saved our butts more often than not.

Which isn’t to say it’s always perfect… farming is still farming, but I shudder to think about decisions I might have made if this yearly tradition weren’t in place.

Which is all simply to say that this year, I’ve decided to open that process up as a course.

As I was penciling in time to make this happen for us this year I realized that this is something the industry could use. So I developed the steps I take into a curriculum, designed printables and forms, adapted my thought process to lessons and I’m inviting you to join me on the journey to The State of The Farm Address 2015. When we’re done, you’ll have your own state of the farm address. If you already have a farm business plan you’ll have revised it to better reflect where you are now and where you’re headed next; if you don’t have one you’ll have written one which is a great step in the right direction itself.

I’m calling the course “Farmprint,” because every business needs a blueprint — even farm businesses. Assuming it goes well, I think we’ll make it an annual event, but we don’t have to get ahead of ourselves. For now, you can go here to enroll.

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Monday Miscellany: Christmas Stores & Old Dogs

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We spent Sunday in Frankenmuth, Michigan. “Little Bavaria” is known for being home to famous chicken dinners and the largest Christmas store in the world. It’s one of those small town tourist experiences that is little known outside of its own state, but something of a legend within. I remember going to Frankenmuth as a kid and being awestruck. Everything feels bigger when you’re small and Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland is big even as an adult. For years now we’ve meant to take our own kids up there, to make the trip a yearly family tradition, but it seems like something always gets in the way. December is incredibly busy, but if there’s anything I’ve come to realize this year it’s that there will never be time unless we make it. So that we did. [click to continue…]

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Name that Ewe

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A few years ago we bought a dog to work livestock. This year we bought livestock for the dog. The irony here is not lost on me.

As The Pig Dog has grown, it’s become clear that we got very lucky: he’s the perfect dog for us. Though I tend to be of the mind that, when you’re raising a dog from a puppy, it’s probably going to become the dog you’d want anyway, I hear this is not always — or even frequently — the case with working Collies. Some might be cut out for cattle, others sheep, few might even be able to work both. And pigs? Pigs aren’t even a normal part of the equation so few people have really pinned down the capacity of any given subset of the Collie population to work the beasts. Yet we’ve found ourselves with a dog who has been able to help, in one capacity or another, with all of the above. [click to continue…]

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Whenever the Dixondale Onion catalog[1] arrives I know other seed catalogs are never far behind. Last year, thinking I knew what kind of crazy this summer would bring, I didn’t order much; I didn’t plan for much of a garden at all and mostly planted from the stock of seeds I always seem to have in reserve. Turns out I didn’t really know the kind of schedule this summer would bring at all and even those were a waste given that the only even-remotely successful thing I did with the garden this year was the heavy straw mulch that kept about 50% of the weeds away. [click to continue…]

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