In this episode, Josh provides insights into what makes a small farm work. We discuss the importance of automation and good systems, and good systems to manage the automation. Josh also shares his perspective on how limiting hours and scale helps to increase focus and productivity, as well as avoiding burnout.
We also discuss Josh’s experiences as a part-time farmer, his own Slow Hand Farm, where he farmed without any fossil-fueled equipment, and his comprehensive planning and record-keeping system.
Perennial support for the Farmer to Farmer Podcast is generously provided by Vermont Compost Company and BCS America.
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Quotes from the Show
It’s very complicated what you're making in terms of your income, because you're also building assets.
[The compact farms I talked to] were all doing a lot of planning and putting in place what is it that we're going to have in the ground at a particular point in time.
The first step [in market farming] knowing how to grow it. Then the second step is figuring out how to sell it. Then you also have to figure out not just how to grow it, but how to grow it very efficiently so that you can make money selling it.
I think one of the things that made it possible for me to do part time farming and to do it really effectively right off the bat, was having been completely immersed in [farming] for over a decade at that point, and having explored a lot of options and looked at a lot of different farming systems, and thinking very clearly, "These are all the things that I really have to concentrate on, and these are the places that I can essentially take shortcuts or make compromises that aren't going to kill the business."
Everybody is doing planning whether they say they're doing planning or not, and they're just doing planning in different ways…
The advantage to doing the planning up front is that you get practice rounds, essentially. You can make a set of decisions and kind of carry those through and basically make a dry run at something and then realize, "Oh, that might not have been the right decision."
Just acknowledge that there's always going to be more work to do, but we are only going to work this many hours in order to do that.
You can't buy an automatic system and then expect it to just take care of itself forever.
You actually have to continuously check back with that plan and make sure that the plan that you have is still the right plan.
I've found is paper is what's most convenient when I'm in the packing shed or even when I'm out in the field doing seeding or any of those kinds of things.
Josh’s own work lives in three different places:
- joshvolk.com – home for Josh’s blog and farming information.
- Slow Hand Farm – home for Josh’s consulting work.
- Farm Hand Carts – the very cool carts that Josh designed to work on small market farms.
Josh talked about a letter that he read in Growing for Market that inspired him to be okay with farming part time. We both agree that Growing for Market – a sponsor of this show – is a fantastic resource; indeed, its model of information sharing from farmers around North America was one of the inspirations for the Farmer to Farmer Podcast.
Josh’s record-keeping system is described in this article, which also includes links to his crop planning spreadsheets.
Josh is working right now at Culley Neighborhood Farm.
We didn’t mention this in the show, but Josh recently had a nice interview about the future of small farms in the new political circumstances published in the Huffington Post.