Dan Brisebois was a founding member of Tourne-Sol Cooperative Farm, begun in 2004. Located just outside of Montreal, Quebec, Tourne-Sol is an employee-owned cooperative with five members, engaged in about seven acres of vegetable and vegetable seed production.
Dan provides an eye-opening discussion of his experience as part of a cooperative farming venture, including their use of Holistic Management to guide decision-making with regards to both profitability and quality of life. We dig into some of the logistical details of how the Tourne-Sol farmers plan their business and divide responsibilities, as well as how they make operational decisions together and how they assign leadership responsibilities. And, Dan lets us in on the ways that being part of a co-op allows them to work less than many of the farmers they know, both day-to-day and seasonally.
Dan manages garlic and seed production at Tourne Sol, and we discuss the details of seed selection and processing, as well as the planning and cropping adjustments that seed production requires. We also spend some time discussing crop planning on the vegetable farm, as Dan is a co-author of Crop Planning for Organic Vegetable Growers.
Farmers Web: Providing small business software for farmers. By allowing you to streamline wholesale ordering and operations, FarmersWeb makes it easier to work with your buyers, reducing costs and increasing your business capacity.
Quotes from the Show
[Running a cooperative farm] is one big challenge, but running any business is one big challenge.
You discover people in a different way when you start running a business with them.
Most people don’t know how to be a team player… in the first years of running our farm the biggest challenge was learning how to work well together. It took us three to five years to start working well as a team.
Had we started independently, we would have been three farms. We would have had three tractors… three washing stations, three cold rooms. By being together we were able to just have one of each of those things.
Since each farmer has a chance of doing [weekly and daily planning work] their own month, it’s easy to accept and respect the authority of the planner.
By the time we’ve been organizing and planning for three or four weeks, we’re usually tired of the job and very happy to hand it on to someone else, and very happy to have someone else make the tough calls.
In our early years, we tried to self-apply some of the Holistic Management stuff.
Prior to taking the Holistic Management course, we were focused on having a profitable farm… but we hadn’t totally realized that quality of life was what was profitable, and that the money was just part of that.
The goal isn’t to increase productivity in tomatoes or to have a better seed yield of something; it’s that we’re looking for a farm that makes us happy.
[I realized that] the quality of life that we had was much greater because we were farming with other people than if we were just farming on our own.
The system isn’t as important as how the system works.
We put a lot of emphasis on people being able to get away from the farm and do something different in the summer or early fall, which is traditional summer vacation time when it’s nice to do something other than work hard.
Employees start to get burnt out by the end of August, early September. Really keeping to a schedule and trying to find ways to reduce the hours a little bit has actually helped out. In August, when the work actually starts to get heavier, we take off on Fridays at 4pm instead of 5pm, in order to give the employees a little more time for their weekend.
Any enterprise that you have on your farm should be planned out.
After a seed crop, we don’t till the ground immediately, because if we bury all of those seeds, we’re going to see them popping up for years. Instead, we’ll leave the ground undisturbed until fall, and we’ll let the mice and beetles predate on the seeds… and we’ll almost always follow a seed crop with a cover year.
Plant selection for maintaining and improving varieties.
The value of looking at what seed will be producing your next seed.
Dan’s book, Crop Planning for Organic Vegetable Growers, is a great resource for really digging in and fleshing out your crop plan. Very straightforward and practical, it is, as Dan said, the book I wish I had had when I started farming.
Dan Kaplan’s spreadsheets helped Dan Brisebois wrap his head around crop planning. Dan’s system, as described in his book, goes further, but these are a great starting point.
Dan’s blog about seeds, Going to Seed, has lots of information about seed production and the seed business.
We talked at length about Holistic Management, which is a great book, if a little long. You can also find information about Holistic Management at Holistic Management International.
Dan suggested Susan Ashworth’s Seed to Seed as a great starting resource for seed growing.