Within the world of agriculture, the most common story is one of the struggling farmer. You know the one — the farmer works 16 hour days doing back-breaking work in the field, only to barely make ends meet, or lose the farm altogether. And this indeed is a common reality. But it doesn’t need to be!
To be a successful Agri-business entrepreneur, one needs three separate skill sets: Food-growing skills, people skills, and business savvy. There’s loads of “Great Growers” out there, but very few who possess the business savvy to make their agri-businesses a thriving reality. This is one of the main reasons the story of the struggling farmer persists.
However, a new generation of small-scale organic farmers are emerging, and cultivating a new story. This new generation of farmers is combining old-time organic agriculture methods, with 2010 business savvy. The Cutting Veg Organic Farm (http://www.thecuttingveg.com) is one such example.
The Cutting Veg (TCV) runs 3 programs aimed at cultivating personal, social, environmental, and economic health. TCV grows a variety of vegetables and herbs, which are sold at farmers markets, and through Community Supported Agriculture programs (CSA). In addition to produce sales, TCV runs the “Global Garlic Project”, cultivating varieties of garlic from around the world, including Tibetan, Persian, Italian, Russian, Korean, and Israeli. TCV also provides Food Coaching Services, which offers garden & composting project support, agri-business training, food-based workshops, and part-time farming internships.
A variety of entrepreneurial strategies, learned in part through business-training courses at BizLaunch and FarmStart, have helped transform The Cutting Veg from struggling farm business to entrepreneurial ace. For example, the business savvy Farmer must have an internet presence, including the ability to market products on-line; must be able to access scores of unpaid labour (and in the case of The Cutting Veg Organic Farm, being 30 minutes from downtown Toronto doesn’t hurt); must put care and intention into all business-related relationships (volunteers, customers, etc); and must be able to assess all sales opportunities by measuring required time and energy output vs. potential financial return.
It is the last entrepreneurial skill that most farmers lack. Take selling a bunch of carrots, for example. To grow carrots, one needs to order seeds and compost; prepare the soil for planting; plant the carrot seeds; weed the carrots; thin the carrots, weed again; harvest the carrots; and wash and bunch the carrots. After all this work, the farmer will then commonly sell this bunch of carrots for $3 or so. This focus on $3 sales is largely why the story of the struggling farmer persists.
The Cutting Veg, on the other hand, focuses its energy on $500+ sales. They do this through their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Programs. A CSA is a mutually beneficial partnership in which individuals or families receive fresh, local, organically grown produce weekly, while supporting local farmers and sustainable growing practices. Essentially, people choose to become members in the farm for this season, pay up front (approx $550 for a regular share for 20 weeks, and approx $750 for a large share), and this entitles them to a weekly share of the harvest. One can see how $500+ sales will add up a whole lot more quickly than the typical $3 sales. The Cutting Veg now runs a CSA in downtown Toronto (near Bloor and Yonge), enabling great quantities of Torontonians to connect themselves to a healthy food system, and representing tremendous revenue potential.
In a culture where healthy food is becoming more and more a priority, tremendous opportunity lies ahead for small-scale organic farmers. However, simply being a good grower will not lead to a thriving business. Without the business savvy, the story of the struggling farmer will continue. Fortunately, The Cutting Veg is cultivating a new narrative for others to harvest.