What Now? Arcadia Farms’ New Mission0
I’ve spent the last three years of my life jumping from one major change to the next. One of the biggest changes came in 2012 when I left my full time job as a Human Resources Director to start a micro-farm and CSA in my suburban backyard. Arcadia Farms is the realization of my dream to become a farmer and an entrepreneur. The journey from HR to agriculture has been enriching in numerous aspects and is evolving in ways I never could have predicted.
By the end of our second CSA season I came to realize that I needed to choose between two competing factors. I could either continue operating on a small enough scale that I could manage the program as a work-from-home-mom who makes a hobby-level profit, or I could grow it into a larger, multi-acre operation with a small team of employees who help me bring in a sizeable profit.
Both options have major pros and cons. A small-scale operation allows me to work significantly less than 40 hours a week, to be at home focused on family and to have a flexible schedule doing work I enjoy. Small scale comes with disadvantages as well, namely a commensurately small profit. Even at my less-than-40-hours-a-week schedule, I was working far too hard to make as little as I did in terms of an hourly figure.
The alternative was to go into debt to purchase more acreage, buy equipment and fund the salaries of a small staff. We had built some great momentum and had wonderful customers – increasing our scale probably would have worked. But it conflicted heavily with a value our family holds to strongly: Debt avoidance. Because we’re committed to a debt-free approach to business and life, growth has to be slow, steady, and paid for in cash. That meant making the leap into a larger scale wasn’t an option.
After two years, I decided to discontinue our CSA and transform Arcadia Farms into something new.
Something new is pretty vague. At the time we decided to no longer operate a CSA, I wasn’t sure what that something new would look like. I started asking myself questions about who I wanted to be when I grew up and what Arcadia Farms should be all about. I asked difficult questions like “Do I even want to own a farm?” and “What will I be happy investing my life into every day?” I told myself honest answers about the things I wanted and like and needed and disliked.
I enjoy writing, including blogging.
I love growing vegetables.
I need to contribute to my family’s financial health.
I need a schedule that allows me to focus on my family.
I heart efficiency. To a fault.
I love teaching and training.
I enjoy being creative.
I believe that local, natural food has health benefits for individuals, habitats, economies and communities. I believe that increasing access to local, natural food is an effective solution to several social problems.
I love beautiful things, especially in nature.
I’m a business woman by training and instinct, and I love marketing.
I want to do work that matters. I want to do work that uses whatever skills and talents I might have to provide real solutions to real problems. I want to do something that is bigger and lasts longer than me. And I’m ok with doing it slowly, as long as that “slowly” is accompanied by “but surely.”
New Mission for Arcadia Farms
I pondered this list while thinking about the agriculture-related opportunities that had evolved during my two years of operating a CSA. After considering all of these things and brainstorming with Ryan, the mission of Arcadia Farms finally transformed into this:
To provide information and inspiration that equips community members (online and in Southwest Michigan) to grow their own food using interrelated (permaculture) systems that are both efficient and beautiful.
While growing food for other families (through our CSA) is a noble thing to do, I feel that teaching others to produce food themselves is a more effective, sustainable way to increase access to healthy food.
Our target market is large but specific: We’re hoping to equip members of our local community (Southwest Michigan) as well as members of the web-based community who share our interests. These web-based community members are individuals interested in topics such as health, cooking (foodies), local food, sustainability and permaculture. In Southwest Michigan, we want to reach everyone – people who are crazy-into local food; people who eat at McDonalds daily and think nothing of it; people who want to grow a home garden but don’t know where to start; people who have never given gardening a second thought; people who make $250k a year; people whose income is solely based on government assistance. Our aim is not just to equip those who are already interested in sustainable food (although that is definitely part of our mission!) but also to inspire those who have never considered the concept.
Part of the inspiration portion of our mission comes from candidly sharing our own journey. Operating a CSA for the last two years has allowed (and sometimes forced) me to absorb information about food production concepts to the point of feeling very confident in my knowledge on gardening and homesteading. Even so, I don’t pretend to be an expert – yet. I’m an analytic and innovator by nature, so I’ve enjoyed the process of not only figuring out how this thing works but also finding ways to make it simpler and more efficient. Because my formal education is in business and not agriculture, I’m freed from the age-old trap of “we’ve just always done it this way.” The mission of Arcadia Farms is not to point out that professionally-trained farmers with agriculture degrees can grow food, but to prove that if a Human Resources Director with no formal farm training can produce her family’s food in a suburban backyard, you can too. Even more so, we’ll share the reasons why you should.
As I just mentioned, I enjoy innovating ways to make home food production more efficient. Function is important to me, but so is form. I love beautiful things and as I’ve studied home-scale agriculture I’ve discovered that form is often abandoned for the sake of function. Sometimes issues like cost and space draw home gardeners to solutions that might be unsightly (at least to the neighbors!). On the flip side, an assumption that home-scale agriculture is messy (including HOA rules and zoning laws that assume the same) leads to a premise that having a productive garden or raising a few chickens isn’t an option in suburbia. That is why a primary portion of Arcadia Farms’ new mission is to equip our community to go about home food production in a way that is as beautiful as it is efficient. In fact, this concept will become our niche and I plan to write about it in more detail in a soon-coming post.
Now that you know more about the what and why of our new mission, I’d like to briefly share how we plan to accomplish our goals. In 2014 this mission will be accomplished through five focus areas: Blogging, education, custom garden plans, community investment and vegetable sales.
The Arcadia Farms blog focuses on topics that will equip and inspire readers to produce, prepare and preserve their own food through systems that are both efficient and beautiful. Heaven knows there are already plenty of blogs out there about growing food, cooking food and preserving food. Though we hope to grow into comparable quality and readership with the best of those blogs, our niche will be focusing on that balance between form and function. We’ll focus on agricultural solutions for rural, suburban and urban settings with results that are both pleasing to the eye and the tummy. We’ll be able to focus more on topics like edible landscaping when spring fully arrives.
Arcadia Farms will provide classroom and virtual training that equips and inspires students to produce, prepare and preserve their own food through systems that are both efficient and beautiful. For example, this month we’re hosting our very first Introduction to Gardening Class for beginners. We also hope to develop classes for topics such as Gardening for Renters and Preparing Your Garden for Fall. At some point self-paced online courses will join the mix as well.
Arcadia Farms will support individuals and organizations that invest in our community’s ability to produce local food through financial, time, promotional, food and knowledge investments. Current plans include teaching free classes to low-income families and donating produce to area food banks.
Custom Garden Plans
Arcadia Farms will equip customers to grow food at home by providing plans that are customized to maximize each customer’s gardening needs, resources and skills. This is so much fun to do and our current customers have been thrilled with the results! You can learn more about our custom garden plans by clicking here.
Arcadia Farms will financially supplement other focus areas through the sale of brokered and farm-grown food. We’re no longer operating a CSA, but we do still have nearly 1,500 square feet of garden space. That’s a lot of food for our small family! I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to preserve more of our home-grown food for our own consumption, but I anticipate that we will have plenty extra. With this in mind, we plan to sell excess produce to our corporate customer to whom we also sell vegetables from other local growers. If you manage an organization that would like to buy local, naturally-grown produce – or if you are a market gardener who is looking to expand sales – I can help you with brokerage services.
This plan still has room to grow and change. I’m not 100% sure where I’ll end up, but I at least wanted to share with you where I’m aiming.