Daniel Allen raises fifteen acres of vegetables at Allenbrooke Farms, just outside of Nashville, Tennessee. He and his wife, Stephanie, market all of their produce to 367 families through their free-choice, market-style CSA.
While many farmers are intensely focused on maximized dollars per acre, Daniel has taken a perpendicular approach, grossing just $200,000 on Allenbrooke’s fifteen acres of vegetable production – but he does that with no season extension, and just one hired hand.
Daniel digs into the details of production and distribution at Allenbrooke Farms, and how the free-choice distribution system enables them to maximize efficiency and minimize complexity in the production side of the operation. We get into the details of their rapid harvest system, simple-but-effective production systems, weed management, and how Daniel keeps his mind and body in condition during the production- and off-seasons.
He also shares the colorful history of his farming operation, where he and Stephanie jumped in with both feet and sold their car to pay for seeds in 2011, their first year in production. And we hear just a little about Daniel’s career as a high-fashion model in New York City before coming back to the family farm.
The Farmer to Farmer Podcast is generously supported by Vermont Compost Company.
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Quotes from the Show
[Raising vegetables for a hundred CSA members our first year] was definitely a learning experience. We didn’t even know what we didn’t know.
[Stephanie] does all of the logistics, the emails, all of the communication with the customers, which is a lot. That’s more than a full-time job.
We communicate with our customers: It’s a farm. For y’all to be able to choose whatever you want and do it this way, you’re going to have to sacrifice having perfectly clean zucchinis.
[The free-choice CSA model] takes a lot of labor out. We don’t have to pack all the boxes, and bunch everything and wash everything and count everything.
I’m a firm believer that there’s people around you that need what you’ve got.
We try to be really hands on and be there and see the people, because it’s a relationship. That’s what a CSA should be, it’s a relationship between this community of people and me and my wife that are farming and feeding them. We need to be there and they need to see us and we need to see them. It shouldn’t be a faceless entity.
I’ve found that as a time saver, if I just have it set up one way, I grow everything that same way, and I don’t have to be changing cultivators around and knives around or setting up the two-row or the three-row or this and that.
I don’t really see the point of super weeding a crop of lettuce that I’m going to harvest in a week.
The main part is keeping yourself healthy and strong enough to do [the majority of the production work on the farm]. I’ll spend four or five months in the off-season resting, eating well, and going to the gym doing a strength program to train for the next season.
A lot of people farm their animals they’re really interested in the percentage of protein feeds to make their animals grow a certain way, but they neglect to do that for themselves.
I’d rather be pulling foods out than pulling weeds.
It’s easier for me to do twelve acres this way than it would be for me to do an acre another way.
Daniel uses ahori hori tool for a harvest knife.
Daniel referenced Farmer to Farmer Podcast episode 013 with Bob Cannard as an inspiration for his approach to weed management.
Allenbrooke Farms uses Mighty Grow composted chicken manure when fertility needs exceed what’s provided by compost and cover crops.
Daniel’s favorite tractor is the John Deere 5065e