Vermont New Farmer Project
UVM Extension

Vermont Farmer Profiles

Betsy Mattox, Spring Chicken Farm

Betsy Mattox, Spring Chicken Farm
Down a narrow paved road, on the way to the transfer station in Topsham, Vermont, Betsy Mattox is in her fourth year of managing Spring Chicken Farm.

“Being on the way to the dump has its advantages,” laughs Mattox as we tour her property. Despite her initial reservations about the location, the Saturday morning traffic has been a boon to her spring seedling sales, which are a small but significant part of her evolving farm business. For Mattox, every year managing her farm has been different, as she has sought to find a sustainable model that suits her personality and makes room for other things in her life. The most recent difference is her baby girl, Claire, born in December 2010. Much of Mattox’s planning has been influenced by her desire to have children and manage her farm independently. Her husband is a carpenter and sawyer. He helps when needed, but isn’t interested in a working full-time on the farm. As Mattox has honed in on her goals and the quality of life she aspires to, her niche farm has taken shape and is taking off.

Mattox began working on farms as a teenager, gaining new perspective with every experience. The farmers she has worked for have been some of her greatest mentors. However, marketing and business know-how was something she missed being employed on educational and start-up farms. She regrets never working on a large, profitable farm where she could have experienced effective business management first hand.

Spring Chicken Farm, Topsham. VT

When Mattox came to Vermont four years ago, she knew she was ready to manage her own operation and decided to learn business and marketing skills on the fly. From the beginning, Mattox wanted to see how small her operation could be. While she admires large, sustainable farms and their capacity to serve larger markets, she also knew that was not her style. In her first 2 years, Mattox operated a small CSA, serving her local community. During that time she started experimenting with growing broiler chickens. With this new enterprise, she found both an eager market for her high quality poultry, and also a venture that suited her personality.

In her third year, Mattox gave up all market gardening except a small Thanksgiving share CSA to compliment the heritage breed turkeys she was raising.

While she never planned to be a poultry farmer, Mattox has found that this enterprise is tailored to her management goals and the quality of life she desires. As with her seedling enterprise, Mattox appreciates the focused sales window for her products. The animals are off the farm by winter, which frees up time for other things.

All of her chickens are pre-sold and secured with a deposit from her customers. Most customers come to the farm to pick up their orders on slaughter day, relieving Mattox from the necessity of freezing and storing her product. How does she market her products?

“My town has a really good gossip train,” Mattox remarks. And nearly everyone in town drives by on Saturday mornings. An extensive mailing list, good signs and flyers have all assisted in her focused community marketing.

To gain new skills in farm business management, Mattox was accepted in 2010 to a course in Holistic Management offered by the New Farmer Project. Whole Farm Planning for Beginning Women Farmers is a 10 session course that facilitates creating a values-based mission for the farm and teaches participants about financial management, business planning, marketing and monitoring land health. For Mattox the most important aspect of this class was networking with other beginning women farmers. Feeling isolated on her farm was balanced by the opportunity to share experiences and learn from other course participants.

Mattox has faced challenges in starting her business but sees many opportunities as well. Mattox jumped right into managing her own farm when she came to Vermont. In retrospect, she wished she had taken more time to prepare her land, therefore reducing the time she has spent fighting perennial weeds. She also thinks she would have benefited from a mentoring program for new farmers. She feels there is no substitute for mentoring with someone who is a master in their field. Additionally, Mattox admits, she has a hard time letting go of established enterprises. In the future she plans to make a clean break from products that are not profitable or don’t meet her personal goals, and to start new enterprises when she is really prepared.

As for opportunities, Mattox says, “Really healthy foods often have a cultural and political niche market, but they are for everybody.” She envisions working with midwives and health care providers to provide nutrient dense foods to pregnant women and people fighting chronic illnesses. “I want to make nutritional food available to those who are newly open to improving their diet.” Mattox is working on expanding her operation and is using funds from her Individual Development Account (IDA), a matched savings plan offered through local Community Action Agencies, to purchase a bulk feed bin. For more information about Spring Chicken Farm, contact Betsy Mattox directly, at 802-439-6077 or betsymattox@gmail.com.

Last modified June 28 2011 05:48 PM

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