Growing a Farm Business in Rutland County
By Lindsay Arbuckle, Alchemy Gardens
In the summer of 2008, my partner Scott and I fell in love with gardening. We were serving as Americorps VISTA members in Montpelier and decided to sign up for a Community Garden plot. Within weeks, we were spending all of our free time at the garden. In our 20' x 20' space, we grew as many crops as we could, falling deeply into the rhythms of the seasons and joys of eating freshly harvested food.
We knew at that point that we wanted to see what farming was all about. We looked at a farm apprenticeship near Montpelier, but a friend in Scott’s hometown of Rutland encouraged us to consider Rutland area farms. With the buzz surrounding RAFFL (the Rutland Area Farm and Food Link) and its help for beginning farmers, we felt very compelled to settle in the area. We approached Paul Horton of Foggy Meadow Farm in Benson to see if he was interested in hiring apprentices. He was, and invited us to visit in January.
We arrived on a cold, snowy day and were amazed to see unheated greenhouses full of spinach and other tasty greens.
Paul's interest in teaching us about farming, and knack for bringing high quality produce to market, was all we needed to decide that we would spend six months in 2009 working on his farm. That season, we worked 55 hours each week and absorbed as much as we could about Paul's operation—technical skills, equipment use, marketing, business planning. At the end of the season, we were still unclear about whether farming commercially was in our future.
With part-time work starting in the fall of 2009 co-managing the Shrewsbury Cooperative at Pierce's Store, a historic general store that reopened as a small food co-op, we approached another local farmer about finding space for a garden. I think we had a large personal garden in mind, but when Greg Cox of Boardman Hill Farm in West Rutland suggested that we "just take an acre," we started thinking about going to market. We decided on a half acre for that first season in 2010. With an unconventional free lease agreement, we were able to use Boardman Hill's equipment, refrigeration, and processing areas. The generosity of Greg and his wife Gay allowed us to really "go for it" without much risk.
In the early months of 2010, we started taking advantage of the many training programs for beginning farmers in Vermont. We signed up for Growing Places and learned all about crafting our business vision, setting goals, and the basics of financial management. We took part in NOFA-VT and RAFFL workshops. We saved money through an IDA (Individual Development Account) program that we put towards our business. In May, we started attending the Rutland Summer Farmers' Market and sold nearly $10,000 in produce our first season. That boosted our confidence enough to know that we could do this as our profession.
We are starting our third year of growing, and things couldn't be better. We have scaled up little by little and purchased equipment that will help us to be more efficient. We've continued to take part in as many workshops and trainings as possible, including the Holistic Management Whole Farm Planning course and Dan Kitteredge's Nutrient Dense Crop Production. I've attended WAgN trainings and the Women in Sustainable Agriculture Conference. Starting this year, we'll work with the VT Farm Viability Program to fine tune our business practices and plan for the future.
Editor's note: Visit Alchemy Gardens website to learn more about the farm, it's products and their growing business.
Last modified May 09 2012 12:22 PM