We are tough people, and you know that, but at times like this I need to remind myself. Mary is so tough that she can wrestle me to the ground; while traveling as a researcher in Panama years ago, she defended herself from a situation that could have been deadly. About the same time, I broke up a mob that was on the verge of losing control in The Ivory Coast. When living in the Philippines, on assignment for National Geographic, I survived a fall down a ravine, that, while left me unscathed, landed a leech in my eyeball. And, this past winter, in Turkey, one an outside work trip, while suffering through a fever, I endured clients that unsuccessfully tried to bribe me, day after day, hour after hour to the extent that I started fearing for my safety. And we farm. Yes, we are tough people.
Yet, when we had a visit from a distant non-profit last week, one that knows farming but not production agriculture, the leaders asked us tough questions. I ticked off our current challenges: $3000 of unexpected expenses (that week), a broken passenger vehicle (sitting at the mechanic), two large crop failures already this year due to bad germination and massive work on the new garden (mostly rock picking) and not enough organic matter. Mary and I take pride in our greens production, and it hurt when I mowed the ten 120’ foot beds over the course of this week and last week of greens that should have been high value crops: baby spinach, arugula, salad mix. Patchy germination, immediate bolting, and a thick layer of weeds left us with nothing worth salvaging, rather than the projected 1,000 pounds of greens—enough to supply all of our members, chefs, and the farmers’ market for two weeks. Income from those beds, with good production, could pay my student loans for a summer or make a go at paying our annual tractor loan payment. While we’ve completed our propagation house on schedule, we finished the new high tunnel late, and that will mean later crops. Those two, two hundred hour projects have left us exhausted. We’ve been working 12-15 hour days, since longer than we can remember, and we are on the verge of burning out. While we’ve doubled our production and have purchased and built innovative tools that can change our farming, and makeit all more sustainable, but we don’t feel sustained. We have two thousand dollars of fence materials to put up and at least one other big farm infrastructure project this summer. We’ll ask for at least one large workparty, but even prepping for this projects — so it can take people - seems exhausting. You all know as as happy people, and because of the exhaustion, I need to confess, we are not happy or feeling like ourselves these days. As we look at our very real shortfalls, it’s clear that we will not make our income goals this season. We will be do a deep dive into our books soon, but the quick overview provides this brutally honest potential:
After we pay normal season debts, expenses, and labor, at the end of the season we may have precariously little money left to make it through until next season. We run a tight ship, with our $280,000 of debt (mortgage on the land and house we rent, my student loans, startup loans from family, and our tractor loan). Our cashflow projections, though, if we adjust them for some late plantings and shortfalls, give confidence to my gut for our long-term potential. Butas I write this it’s ten minutes past two am and Mary is still washing and packing. Even for us tough people, this is extreme and not normal. We could have avoided this, perhaps with more rest and planning this winter, but we didn’t get that rest. There are a lot of reasons for this.
We want to be a community farm, we want to feed all income levels, that Mary and I want to have time to be strong members of this community. It’s clear to us that we are dangerously close of not reaching our vision, that we could not be around next year.
We’ve decided while we may need to take on work this winter, and that’s normal in the early years of farming, we cannot take on winter work if we are faced with another long winter of building, especially in a farm that doesn’t shelter us well from the elements — or have a kitchen. We need housing, and while we can see a pathway towards building our core farm infrastructure, on that sustains us and our community, we can’t build a house — we don’t have the money or the time, for at least three to five years.
Because of this, we are taking some immediate and urgent actions. We will get our Jetta back from the mechanic, but we are not going to repair it. One vehicle will suffice till we have funds to fix that.
An email is going out to our banker, later this weekend, letting him know we are okay for our tractor loan. It’s not this season that’s really in danger— it’s next. We are communicating our shortfalls to the three chefs we work with and coordinating sales for other farms. And, we are letting you, and our core farm members know that we are still on track to feed our community this year — despite the fact that salad mix will be short for the next two weeks and a few crops will be late.
But the big thing, the thing that lets us continue this work, and can help us get through this season with more hope and excitement, is that we will need some winter housing, on farm, something that’s not our barn or the rental house, so we can work (on and off farm), recharge, and plan, or we just won’t be around next season. This is a crisis, and like most farms that shut down, this is a slow one. We don’t want to fail. We have one good idea, one that we think solves the key problems, and it can give us a suitable home-space that is safe, easy, and comfortable enough to last as long as we need, allowing us to continue to build up the farm without wearing ourselves down.
I know this a lot for many of you to take in, but I wanted to write now, letting you know what we are thinking and feeling and that, we are going to need help. By the middle of next week we will outline our solution with more clarity. We are all in this together, and we are going to need some help.
We look forward to seeing you at market.
-Noah, Mary and SweetRoot
P.S. We have a growing pile of dishes and tupperware containers to the wonderful friends who have brought us nourishment this week. We love you.