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Re: organic farming

In a message dated 1/3/97 6:17:55 PM, you wrote:

>Hi my name is Andrew Erb I live in Jefferson City, Missouri and want to
>start growing organic produce. Can anyone reccommend specific vegtables,
>herbs, or dwarf fruit trees, especially those native to or suited to
>Missouri, to start growing organically so that I can get started without
>going in the red my first year.  I am determined to grow organically and
>would appreciate any advice.  Also I would like to help low income
>families and communities start growing organiclly so they can eat
>healthier food, and improve their self esteem by providing for themselves. 
>If any one has knowladge of Missouri specific.  I would also like
>info/advice on building and sustainable communities development.  I would
>like to at least partially support my family, I am currently working and
>want to supplement my income in the next year by grow ing and selling
>vegtables, herbs, etc. I would like to concentrate only on growing
>organically for my sole income in the next 2-5 years.  My question is how
>do I get started with very little capital and can I make a profit my first
>year.  I have access to 5 acres of pasture My brother in law has 5 acres
>of pasture with a slight slope and a lot of sun.  I don't know the soil pH
>but will have that tested.  He has agreed to partner with me in this
>business which could be a good way for both of us to supplement our
>Thanks for your time and help!  
>Andrew Erb

Hi Andrew:

This really depends on your market and your marketing.  Most folks can grow
enough food to make a living, organic or otherwise.  The problem is selling
it for enough money.  If you sell retail, that is a lot of your time when it
is really most needed in the field.  If you sell wholesale, you get a buck or
two for bushel of squash.

If you are near a population center that you think wants organic food enough
to go out of their way for it, you have a shot of making it.  Look into a CSA
or similar marketing agreement directly with consumers.  One youth project
that I worked on sold futures on the open market.  That is, the kids went
around in late winter and sold people little slips of paper.  Give us $5 and
we give you a slip worth $6 in vegetables, redeemable in a matter of months.
 (Pretty good return.)  A CSA works something like that except you get the
people more involved.  Don't get hung up on how "Official" CSA (stands for
community supported agriculture) formats go--work out what is best for you.
 Please try NOT to have people drive to your place individually.  This makes
your farm much more polluting than a conventional farm using chemicals that
wholesales.  There are various solutions--get some of the more vocal
consumers you meet in charge of solving the problem of transport for your

As for the crop, the members tell you what they like to eat.  You can grow
more for other markets, of course.  With consumers, you can be a little early
or late with a crop of string beans and they don't care.  When you are really
experienced, and providing you have affordable irrigation, you can eventually
get into marketing contracts where you get a premium for guaranteeing your
high quality produce at certain times (will deliver 50 cases of organic snap
beans--maybe even variety specified--July 7--that specific.  July 8 won't do.
July 5 won't do.  They had better be perfect for picking the afternoon of
July 6.)

Without subsidy of your risk from the community,  it is pure shit luck if you
run in the black the first year.  It just isn't a reasonable request,
regardless of whether or not it is necessary in your case.  it takes time to
get good at growing commercially (not like having a nice garden) and to
develop markets and a reputation for quality.  It also takes time with a
piece of land for your produce to DESERVE a repuation for quality.  I've
taught this sort of stuff for 20+ years and moving to a new place in Florida,
we do not expect to make money the first year.  

A few final tips, if it fits your philosophy, have at least a few beef or
pigs--beef are cheaper to feed overall--to sop up your surplus.  Stuff that
gets overmature or ugly squash that nobody wants.  If you can keep the feed
organic, you can have organic beef, pork, eggs, etc.  Since most grass is
organic anyway, beef is a good start and you can run forage crops on land
that is in excess of what you can market.  Second, take a GOOD permaculture
design course and learn how to use the Keyline method of cultivation and
particularly of water storage.  This can really mean bucks to you if ;you are
serious about making it in farming.  Third, plan for work flow.  Regardless
of how much money you can get for them, you can only pick so many
raspberries, cut so much asperagus.  They may be high value crops per acre,
but you need to keep working at a steady pace, not in fits and starts.  You
won't get this right the first year so go light on perennial crops that are
labor intensive until you build experience.  This becomes more important if
you hire help.  You want one hired person for a year rather than 50 people
hired for a week.  You just get better help that way.  

Good luck.

For Mother Earth, Dan Hemenway, Yankee Permaculture Publications (since
1982), Elfin Permaculture workshops, lectures, Permaculture Design Courses,
consulting and permaculture designs (since 1981), and now correspondence
permaculture training by email. Copyright, 1996, Dan & Cynthia Hemenway, P.O.
Box 2052, Ocala FL 34478 USA  YankeePerm@aol.com  

We don't have time to rush.