We are forever looking for ways to assist the Farm in making enough money to at least break even. We’ve had lots of ideas, but they either haven’t succeeded, cost too much to implement, or can’t make enough money by themselves. On a farm, it often takes several enterprises to make enough money to move from solid red to solid black. Mostly, you can make enough to hover in that reddish gray area for a while.
We currently earn income from selling our calves once a year. We sell our eggs, produce and some of the value-added products we make, such as jams and jellies. Once or twice, we’ve sold ‘Pork on the Hoof’, which means we sell the pig to an end-user, but raise it up to slaughter weight. From there, we take it to the meat packing plant, where the end-user is responsible for the processing fees and pick up. Since it is cost and time prohibitive (not to mention we don’t have the energy for all the hoops we’d have to jump through to get a USDA license and certification) for us to become an abattoir (which is basically a small butcher shop or a slaughterhouse), we gave up long ago on processing and selling our own beef and pork. But a commercial kitchen, although expensive, might be within our means within a few years. Thanks to the new Cottage Industry law in Louisiana, we can do at least a little of our own value-added products, as long as we have proper labelling on them.
This year we have decided to grow and sell vegetable and herb plants. The start-up costs are minimal, and we already have the greenhouse. A call to the Louisiana Department of Agriculture told us that we don’t have to be licensed for vegetables. If we opt to do flowers later on, then licensure is a requirement. To begin, we are keeping it small, and hoping to grow into a larger market. We opted for four different types of tomatoes; two squash + a small offering of zucchini; one type of bell pepper, jalapeno, banana pepper, okra and cucumber. If we are able, our herbs will be limited to basil, cilantro, oregano, sage and parsley.
To begin any business, you need to make sure you’ve done all your research. Will you need licensure or permits? What are the initial start-up costs? How many supplies and equipment do you already own, and what will you have to purchase? How are you going to let people know about your product – advertising, signage, something else? You also need to consider the time investment. For us, starting a plant business means that we will be required to spend time every single day for watering and monitoring the heat in the greenhouse – not counting the hours it will take to start all those seeds and then bump them up into cells for purchase.
One thing I have learned on this farm is that research can make or break a project. The more I look into the foundation of selling any product from the farm, the more I know just how badly I want to do it. As already mentioned, we talked about selling our own beef and pork, and quickly determined it wasn’t in the cards for us. I love to weave, and I pretty much knew the cost of each item. What I found out was that hand-woven items won’t really sell here. I started small, with hand-woven dishtowels. Instead of making a profit, I had some good gifts for a while, and put a few in our own kitchen. I learned a valuable lesson, but fortunately the original investment was for my own use, and not intended for market. I could start an online business, but with my research, it just isn’t feasible right now – especially the time involved.
Starting your own business doesn’t happen overnight. Start small. Grow a few extra vegetable plants, or make a few products and then take them to your local farmer’s market or use word of mouth. You won’t get rich, but you just might bring in enough income to pay for your costs. If you want to grow a larger business, then think it through. Take all the time you need to do thorough research on your idea do an internet search, read books and talk to those who have already tried it. Ask yourself a few of the hard questions – who is going to buy this? Is it something new, or is there a tremendous amount of competition? Make sure you do a detailed budget. You don’t want to get knee-deep in preparations to discover you will need an expensive piece of equipment. Don’t overlook the start-up cash – make sure it’s an amount you can afford to lose. You don’t want to spend the house note or the utility bill money, ‘thinking’ this is a great business idea. Instead of a thriving business, you could find yourself deep in debt, if not living in a cardboard box. Think through the time involved to produce your product and how you plan to market it. And if you do decide to start up your own business, let me know. I’ll be happy to put in a good word for you on this website. Send me the information and we’ll work out the details!