We’ve talked about how to start up a farm, how to get it up to speed, and how to get into the groove of farming. Have you ever wondered how your farm can look like after it has taken off?
This episode will be a little different—we’ll be talking to farmer Elliot Seldner of Fair Share Farms who has been farming for four years, and we’re going to take a snapshot of what it’s like to have kept the business going after it has become successful.
Today’s Guest: Elliot Seldner
Elliot is a farmer and co-owner of Fair Share Farms in the Piedmont of North Carolina. He operates the business with his wife, Emma. Together, their goal is to produce the best food possible for their community. They are currently operating on five acres of land growing greens, roots, garnishes, and a number of specialty crops.
In this episode of Farm Small, Farm Smart
- How farming feels like after four years (02:50)
- Relinquishing some control as an opportunity to build the business (06:45)
- Hiring a good fit for the farm (09:50)
- Trusting instincts: workplace fit vs. skills (13:15)
- Keeping the right people around during the off-season (18:30)
- Using the freed-up time for business development (21:50)
- Farm and business worries in the fourth year of farming (24:45)
- The motivations behind business growth (29:45)
- Replacing the colinear hose with a process (32:45)
- Product outlets, market streams, and Pareto’s Law (37:50)
- The context behind scaling the business (46:10)
- The Market Gardener: A Successful Grower’s Handbook for Small-Scale Organic Farming by Jean-Martin Fortier and Marie Bilodeau
- Scaling the farm appropriately with the future in thought (52:20)
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Diego: [00:00:00] Beyond startup taking your phone to the next level. That's what this one's about. Coming up. Welcome to farm small farm smart. I'm your host Diego, DIEGO. Today's episode of farm. Small farm smart is brought to you by Paper Pot, Co. One of our goals at Paper Pot, Co. is to help you farm smarter in what way that you can do that is by using appropriate technology to make your life easier, better, and faster.
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Today marks the first episode in a longer series that I'm going to be doing with farmer Elliot Seldner, owner of Fair Share Farm in North Carolina.
Elliot's a farmer who's been farming for about four years now. He's a seasoned pro at this point together with his partner, Emma, they run Fair Share Farm, and that farm is known for greens and microgreens predominantly, and it's a farm that does really well. So part of what Elliot and I are going to do in this little mini-series over the next few months, he's talk about beyond startup scaling, growing some of the considerations that you have to think about when you get three, four, five, six years down the line.
I think it's going to be very different than a lot of the content that I've done on the show previously, because a lot of the previous shows have focused on successful launches or success at startup. This is beyond startup�taking your farm to the next stage concerns and considerations.
Let's jump right into it. It's episode one with Elliot Seldner of Fair Share Farm.
[00:02:35] So Elliot, it's been a while since I've last, had you on for an actual podcast episode, you're in your fourth year of farming right now, given that you're four years into it. How do you feel about farming at this point?
Elliot Seldner: [00:02:47] Oh, we're feeling good overall. our business is strong and the local food scene is strong and getting stronger.
So in general, we're really positive. And, I think like a lot other people, we feel like things are going in the right direction and just, we're just hoping and praying that the rest of the world lets us keep doing what we're doing being four years in.
Diego: [00:03:10] Does it feel like four years went by fast and things stair stepped in a palatable way, or do you feel like it was a grind to get to where you're at today?
Elliot Seldner: [00:03:24] Time flew and I expect that it will actually continue to go by faster. and, the business has developed in that time in what feels like a linear way. We tend to pursue opportunities and avoid challenges, avoiding resistance.
So we just go with what's easiest for us. So in that way it seemed a natural, maybe that's how better than linear or stair stepping. It just felt like a natural progression. and a lot of it has just been on the fly. Natural I'd say is our progression.
Diego: [00:04:02] Do you feel like you're at the stage yet where it feels like everything is clicking? I was talking to another farmer recently and they were in their fourth year and they were mentioning like, yeah, I'm finally at the point where I feel like, I've got most of it figured out it's cooking now. Now it's just subtle changes or bigger changes, but they can be engineered changes versus just scrambling at the beginning where you're trying to figure it all out.
Elliot Seldner: [00:04:30] We started our business, with already bringing in five or six years of prior farming experience. And so we felt well prepared to start our business. And then we definitely got to practice it and work it out. And on certain of our crop enterprises, I do feel like we're just keeping the flywheel going.
And that feels very easy and natural. Things like our lettuce, this is something like that this year I really did feel like we made progress with our, our understanding how to grow the crop. And then on other things, it's incredibly wet year and you just don't get to choose dry or wet.
So just really challenging and lots of, redoing and undoing nonetheless, so overall, yes, I do feel like we've started to hit our stride in some places, which is really exciting because we've got a strong team with us right now. And I feel like, now for the first time, I'm able to start letting things go on the farm and letting myself trust other people and letting those other people have space to do work and communicate with me.
And so that I can start working on what's next for the farm. And, can we go and serve more customers? Yeah. we're at a great place right now. Yeah. I feel like if we were left to our own devices, we'll just keep doing well.
Diego: [00:06:01] How has it been getting to that point where you can pass off some day to day control to other people so you can focus on those bigger picture things.
Most people listening to this they're entrepreneurs, they're business owners. they, it's tough to let go, and we want to have our hands in everything and be very controlling. But I know, and I think a lot of people know that the only way a business ultimately grows bigger as if the person or the people in charge can focus on growing the business, not just running the business.
It's easy to hear. It's easy to say can be hard to relinquish that control. How's it been for you?
Elliot Seldner: [00:06:42] Not easy, but I've had some failures and good learning opportunities along the way, that have I've just come to the conclusion that I must let go. And I must let go sooner when I'm working with new people, to build their confidence and competence and allow them to really just handle things, more on their own and provide the safety net, the better tools and the, routes for communication and structure in day so that they can build their confidence. so letting go is not been easy.
And like I said, My inability to let go has ruined some relationships in the past. So it's been an exercise in self-awareness and then being, deciding that I need to be, putting the priorities of the farm first because the priorities of the farm. I really simpatico with my personal priorities and, in order for me to have a lower stress life, I have to trust other people, and encourage them and bring them on board that the farm is what we all put into it.
It's not just what myself and my wife put into it. It's what we all can put into it. So folks are helping me build the business. Then, they're working, they're putting in their, labor and turn, reap rewards of a growing business too. we've been able to, for the people that were able to hang on to and nurture, we're able to pay them more over time and, that's all important.
The business can grow in one area and not grow in other areas. We want to add our updates across the board. And so that means reinvesting in personnel, both, through structuring the day, as well as doing our best to give people quite simply raises, whenever we can, as we can. I think generally we're approaching, letting go in order to build the business,
Diego: [00:08:51] You mentioned safety net, building confidence, putting trust in employees, hiring for any small business, I think can be tough. It can be challenging. And I've heard some absolute farm horror stories of hiring. And I think that makes a lot of other farmers very leery of hiring. You had some learning experiences with other employees in the past. What have you learned about trying to find a person who's a good fit on your farm?
Elliot Seldner: [00:09:20] Trust your instincts and also know what you want. So the more clarity that you can provide somebody as far as what the job offer is, what the position being filled is the better you all are going to be. We haven't known a lot of that until recently and beginning farmer probably won't know that just like a beginning entrepreneur in any field probably won't know exactly where they need to stick somebody because it could be that your business is growing. And, you have, even if you add somebody full time, you still have more work than everybody get done while the team is small.
So I'm going through. Generations of employees. And with any luck, if you're able to staff up enough so that you're not turning over all of your staff, every time it doesn't work out, or somebody decides they need to move on or take a new job or life stuff. yeah. Start building that institutional memory soon enough, the employees that stick will start teaching new employees.
And then all of a sudden you were like, Oh my goodness. We're not just employing people. We're cultivating, we're creating culture. We�re creating an employee culture and workplace culture. And then, it starts to it's� things to keep this ship pointed straight, correct.
Corrective changes subtle. They're not drastic anymore. And that's a really great place to be, right? So it's about a lot of successes about maintaining momentum and so success as far as retaining and cultivating employees is about small corrective measures frequently and as positively as possible. So that would be, if you have to go negative, it has more of an impact. certainly don't want to burn. You don't want to spend all your negative points fast because, you'll break your relationship before you ever had one. anyway, remembering that people are people and that, while they're on the clock, you want to use them as effectively as possible.
So that they're feeling confident, building competence, confidence, and then hopefully returning more value to you in the business. That way you can pay them more. That's the whole arrangement. They give you more. You give them more, all ships rise, that sort of idea.
Diego: [00:11:49] You say, trust your instincts and I think some people have really good people instincts. Since some people just have poor internal instincts about this.
I've heard other business owners say that they hire based upon character or they hire for workplace fit, meaning they don't want to bring in a cancer or somebody who's just going to stir up a whole bunch of crap and create drama. Is that kind of what you're referring to when you say I'm going to trust my instincts or do you look for skill?
Like I want to hire somebody who has these types of skills that are more learned things versus who a person is.
Elliot Seldner: [00:12:29] That's a good question because, maybe my answer won't be what you might guess. so I haven't had a skilled person. I actually, I take that back. I have, I've had one very skilled person work for me, and I simply could not pay him enough to keep him around for several years.
Let's say so. that's, what's tricky about. And micro farm is that it's hard to have enough cash being generated to really pay professionals, to stay on board. I'm talking minimum $15 an hour, if not, 20 plus to really justify, if you were to have staff a carpenter full time, you expect to pay them at least $25 an hour.
It's hard for a micro farm, at least for my micro farm on year four to do that, I can't do that. so the trust your instincts is more like, yeah, we're looking for people who on paper may have certain professional deficits, maybe they're it's their age.
Maybe it's that they're not done with college yet or whatever, or maybe you just find somebody who's interested in working and it's not a deficit issue at all, but there's certain key criteria, right? If you're a young, still in school or just out of school, 20, 23. These are ideal people because if they've done decently in college or demonstrate that they can stick with certain other life things, then maybe those are that's the starting place to say, Hey, maybe this is the right candidate but it really just comes down to, can you see in somebody or do they have the right references that back up the fact that these are hardworking people and that they're able to stick with a task. and then it really comes down to there's other criteria kind of criteria to beyond instinct.
It would be who are you as the employer? What sort of person do you work well with? What sort of person do you not work well with? And I think. If you're coming from a place like me, where at the end of the day, we can't really offer wages to necessarily poach other people's that competitive, we're competing and fundamentally in the labor market that maybe is paying people similar to.
Those working in kitchens and restaurants, those working on landscape crews. And so we're in that, eight 50 to $15 an hour zone. So we're looking for people who have a love and a passion for being outdoors, probably at a minimum. and then, take it from there. But basically we had a few people who will apply to work with us every once in a while.
And whenever we're looking for people, we look for the best possible candidate at that time. And, what I've learned. over the few years is that if it's not working, you address it as soon as possible. And if it's not going to work out, then you end the relationship. and you just make it a, you need to make things professional.
So remember that if you're hiring people that unfortunately you're not hiring. For friendship, at least not first you're hiring for workplace compatibility, but you're looking for, you may have to sacrifice a little bit of, I don't like certain little things about this person for the fact that they're entirely competent and they work at the right pace.
So you make these trades, but yeah, I think any mature adult running a business, trying to start a business will relate. Just what I've been trying to finesse out. I don't know if I've been terribly clear or not.
Diego: [00:16:21] I like the thought process there. One thing that you mentioned was keeping professionals or people around. You're in a semi-seasonal area.
You're not in Minnesota where you have a true winter, but how have you as a small farm approached. I find somebody who's good, but it slows down some in the winter hours go down income into the farm, comes down. I want to keep this person around. What do I do?
Elliot Seldner: [00:16:52] We've been lucky to choose, the right crops and the right, crop enterprises to pursue your rounds.
so we are making money. year round. And like I said, it doesn't get too wicked cold, so we can certainly hold a lot of crops and we could be, we'll put up some storage crops and, whatever. But, we're also in a growth mode. We're not done growing really anything to max out all of the best space that we're that's available to us, we haven't done that yet.
As we're in that growth mode, we really do have work. We may not have, we may, we may be making sacrifices as PR as far as personal income goes, but, if we can keep people here and they're putting up, tunnels for us or helping us, get ready for.
Food safety auditing or, there's plenty of work to do. We have, we usually have to reorganize everything since a year in the winter time, just to remember where we put stuff and do we want this here anymore? And what's going on with this? All of the little stuff, it's really good to keep.
Good people through the we're doing that because then they know where everything is and what they really know the details. The, they're intimate. They become much more intimate with this farm through the wintertime, because to stay busy, you find you have to sign some work to do, some days.
It's really a great time of year if you can afford to keep people on because. Then you've got people building that intimacy with the farm, getting a lot of work done for you outside that you'd otherwise have to do. And, that's really a great time of year for doing office work. I don't have time to, do planning, whatever that might be or try and make new customers in July.
I am either too busy or I'm too hot and tired. So it becomes a great time of year to let, to again, start seeding a little bit of control, letting people have autonomy, and, a law that allows me to pursue other important business building exes, tasks that I need to do with that. I've been putting off probably.
Yeah. So it's really, it's a blessing in disguise. Did you just have to have enough money coming in to pay everything, that's all.
Diego: [00:19:15] Having employees on the farm and having the discipline to pass tasks off to them that you used to do. It's freed up bandwidth for you. Given that you're four years in, how do you use that free time now to think about where we want the farm to go and how are you using that time? I think a lot of the shows I've done in the past, they talk about farm startup and getting your farm up to speed. But here you are, you have a farm that's working, it's producing a good income.
You can pay employees, the flywheel's going. Now you as one of the people at the head of the farm. How do you take what you have and now this new free time and get direct the ship towards the vision where you want to go?
Elliot Seldner: [00:20:08] That's a good question. It's one that I'm asking myself right now. and that's the trick, I think too, I think, in the art education space, so much emphasis is put on, successful launches, which is really important.
And it's important because the majority of people seeking information in this space are beginning farmers. And there's a flywheel, not a flywheel. There's a revolving door, right? There's a lot of incentive for educators to give beginning farmers as much of a competitive edge as possible and I think that's brilliant and we wound up starting our farm just at the beginning of that, which was a really exciting time to be part of starting a farm.
What remains tricky and a head scratcher. And this is a problem beyond farming. This is an any business farm, a lot of I'm sorry, this is an any business problems. A lot of businesses are going out of business in year four year five, because maybe we're not quite making enough money or maybe we're doing well, maybe we're doing so well that the primary stakeholders become disengaged and let things coast. this isn't an, I don't have an answer to this problem per se.
I'm struggling with it right now. the phenomenon of letting go is new to me. the success that we're having and letting go is new because I've never been at year four before. This is only my first farm, so I don't have that answer. And it becomes a whole other level of self-discipline.
So I wound up planning the day for everybody, and then I'm not involved with every task anymore. So what am I doing?
Diego: [00:22:02] Knowing that a lot of businesses do struggle in this middle ground here. Is there anything on your farm or within the current state of your business that has you or leery, or that you want to prop up or build up or reinforce?
You mentioned like a lot of things are fixed. So lettuce you can grow. You've got that figured out. You're not worrying about, can we produce lettuce every week and supply customers at this point in your career, those worries are gone at this point. What are the worries on the farm?
Elliot Seldner: [00:22:41] That's also a good question. Whereas on the farm are not so much about how things will get done, particularly this time of year, because things are slowing down, but it's more like big picture stuff. Ifeel some pressure. So while we're receiving the most reward for our workplace into the community now more than ever in that a lot of the favors or what you might think of as a favor or sort of work done on gratis is really coming back to us.
Now we have a lot of momentum and things just keep coming back to us and, Oh, wow. There's a new opportunity here. Customers lead us to new customers. Friends lead us to new opportunities in the community. I continue to think about, okay, how do I, how do I keep going and keep our farm, our little brand relevant in the community, because that's really important to maintain our social momentum so that people continue to think of us first when an opportunity comes around.
So we're thinking about the future stuff like that. And then, I guess w a big concern that I think about a lot is how do we keep our staff are, we've got two core excellent people right now, and how do we keep them happy? How do we keep our communication honest so that we, when somebody says, yes, I'm happy, I actually know that they're happy and either they know that I'm actually happy and confident in their ability and reasons to be here?
So there's a lot of psychological, stuff, not so much the, Oh, dang, I hope we have water in the well today. It's not that problem in the same way that it might've been, several years ago.
In the overarching arching scheme of things, when I think about, how do we keep good people? What is the world doing and stuff? I hear reports in the news. Okay. This is a gig economy. Over 50% of the population within the next two, five years is going to be making is going to be hodgepodge a lot of work together to make their livelihood.
So how do I recognize those realities? How do I recognize that maybe the best person to work with me isn't available full time. And so how do I start building in, simplicity? Proceduralize the farm. So that I can plug in the best possible people to work with when they're available. So trying to be more flexible on my end now that we have some structure set up.
so another thing, another big picture objective for mine for me is how do I gear the farm through the right tools that help me grow the right selection of crops? How do I make those adjustments so that I can take the individual employee from being a laborer to a farm technician or a farm engineer, if you will.
So how do I transition the farm from being I'm digging potatoes by hand to I have an elite small crew. Who are operating the best, most specific mechanically assisted tools to get as much possible work done while maintaining that high level of quality that we're known for, which was achieved by doing it on the hand scale issue. It's a really exciting problem to start looking at, so that it's a fun problem.
Diego: [00:26:22] Does that problem then require a certain growth trajectory where the farm obviously has to be producing more and more income to get to that stage because any sort of larger mechanical investment or larger mechanical equipment is going to require investment.
And then you're also want to be continually paying the staff alongside of that. So does do a lot of these visions of where you want to grow, have to parallel alongside with growth of farm income to fuel this growth?
Elliot Seldner: [00:27:00] Probably. But to me, your question for me is more of an existential one and it, so why do we do what we do?
And right now I'm interested in growing more produce. And feeding more people. So I have simple motivations and I'm willing given that I don't have anything better to do with my life. And given that I take a lot of pride, get a ton of satisfaction out of doing this. I want to see this thing grow as far as I can push it, With the limits of my reality, what the limits of my available money, my family time, my know how my ability, there's a lot of restrictions on what I can do, but given my restrictions. Yeah, I wanna, I see no limits on my production. I see no limits on my income, except for the paradigm in which I operate.
yeah, I specifically, I, I don't, I see no reason to stick to an acre. I see no reason to stick five. I think we do whatever we want to do. Whatever seems like, a side note is I guess, yeah. We're we want to grow our business and what we do every day is we try to take as many conservative risks as possible, very small gambles.
That hopefully will pay off little gambles frequently for small returns frequently. And so letting things go one day at a time, letting people say, I'm guys, I'm going to throw you at this year. We haven't used colinear hose. We haven't. We haven't cultivated with colinear hoes very much. We're in the last year we did it almost every day.
We've switched things up. We don't use them anymore, but for what we're doing in one space in the wintertime, we're needing to use colinear hose again. But these guys haven't used them before. So I'm like, this is how you hold it. This is how you use it. I trust you guys on other areas of the farm. You obviously know that this is the crop.
This is the dirt. This is the weeds. Go for it. And I don't have to go look, it's fine. because I, we trust each other and we know how to, we, we, we know how to communicate. We understand the nomenclature of our farm. So we're just on the same page now. So we're just letting it happen.
It sounds unorganized, but so like it's not magic. Every day I'm planning for an hour before everybody gets here, everybody has tests, sheets. To do list, it's super organized, but it's that structure that allows for a lot of freedom and individual problem solving.
Diego: [00:29:41] I like the approach and I want to continue on that. But one thing I do want to pause and get some info on, because I know people will be curious is you didn't use colinear hose this year, which to me means, okay, you've replaced a tool with a process. What did you do to get rid of using colinear hose?
Elliot Seldner: [00:30:00] It's a long answer. The short, the shortest answer is that we, people who follow us, know that we use. Almost the paper pot transplant. We use the paper pot transplant on are almost exclusively for a lot of our productions. Over the past couple of years have been developing a frame of thought where I was like, I've seen other farmers using fingers. Leaders have seen other farmers using planet junior with finger weeders, and then Through going to the slow tools conference with Johnny's and getting little sneak peeks at what might be coming down the pike.
We were like, okay, if we could get a wheel hoe with a finger weeder, then maybe we could give up, maybe we could switch to mechanical cultivation in a paper pot planted row. and so embracing that full stride this year, we've put up a 10, a 100 foot long Caterpillar tunnels, which would basically cover us, one tunnel a week harvest and the slowest time of the year, what we're headed into, January, February, And then allow for a five week rotation and a little bit of rest period on the soil in the summer.
And so once you understand the nuances of the Caterpillar tunnels, they're great because the return on investment is incredibly fast. You can be profitable in a Caterpillar tunnel. In a single year, if not just like a quarter of a year. So long as you have enough customers for whatever you're going to throw in there.
But the nuance of that tunnel is it's tight to work and, and there's a pretty iffy drip zone. and station, or rain or whatever, when you're venting the size. There's about 18 inches on the shoulder that are essentially forfeited in my opinion. And I just didn't want to put crops on those shoulders because maybe three rows of one bed were way too wet versus the interior.
No matter what controls I might put in. As far as internal irrigation goes. So we said, let's get rid of growing in that space and let's create, get rid of walkways entirely. So we just cropped 14 rows across a Caterpillar on the inside, and we've switched to entirely mechanical cultivation, hand powered mechanical cultivation, on the 14 rows that we grow in there.
and for a number of reasons, it's incredibly more efficient. And highly effective. So the efficacy is through the roof and we cut tons and tons of time out of our a week. I don't know, hundreds of hours per year, probably. So that was part of putting the lettuce program on autopilot control, precipitation control density.
mechanized cultivation, and, that gave us a lot of room to get better at how we apply. And water gave us more time to pay attention to how is the lettuce growing rather than have we kept up with hauling yet? These sorts of it's like Laszlo's hierarchy of needs as far as education goes, we have beat we've met our basis needs on some of these important crops for us. So it starts letting us go way more in depth on culture and care. I think I've answered your question there generally, Diego.
Diego: [00:33:38] No, you did, and it's a great subject and it's one that we'll try and get into more in depth in a future episode.
And a lot of people, lettuce is the big driver of revenue for a lot of small farms. So to grow it better is pretty much going to help a lot of people. When you think about your system, it works and adding new tunnels, which you've alluded to, and growing the farm is essentially just copying what you've already done. There's nothing new. You're breaking new ground, putting a new tunnel down, repeat all those types of things. But one thing that comes with growth is like, it's one thing to grow. It's another thing to sell it.
How do you view your current outlet for product, the wide array of different market streams, which you can sell to. If you're thinking, Hey, I just want to grow more product. I'm not going to put a limit on this right now. You must see your market streams as pretty open, like you can push as much product into them right now as you want.
Elliot Seldner: [00:34:41] Yes and no. And I think that we're better salespeople than we are growers. So we just enjoy that part of it. So I can't go to them restaurant, Hey, who's already my customer and say, you can take more lettuce right now. They're probably buying all the lettuce they can. it's not a one to one sort of thing. but we can certainly take on more restaurants. As far as volume goes, right now, to take on more restaurants would be a little tricky.
That's something that we're going to do. that's such a big topic. how to choose your customers, how to grow more and how to sell more. We're looking to simplify we're trying to going into next year. We were going through a lot of steps that we're hoping will simplify, what we're growing and selling period.
So we want to grow less variety. We want to grow more volume of that lesser, that smaller pool of crops. so that means probably. Keeping about the same, maybe some more restaurants, but there's now starting to be proper food, local food aggregator distributors, which is an exciting place to be working with an exciting space to be working in.
Because that lets us really focused on the backend work and getting growing the best. Let us, we grow great. Let us grow better. Let us, Working where we were interested in taking up another farmer's market. So we really want to just be looking at like maybe a 10 core products and really trying to.
Pursue those. And those could be not just like lettuce, but it could be like some different mixes and things like that. And so we want a blend. We'd like another strong farmer's market, where we could bring in another thousand to $2,000 of revenue a week, we're interested in doing more clamshell packaging and selling to grocery stores.
because grocery stores, if you're offering them enough variety of products that are in demand, then that could pursue that could conceivably be even better than a restaurant. That's good. That could be a couple of good restaurants at one delivery. So it's just trying to pick and choose and find the right.
Crop array. And we're torn on that. We're torn on how to do that in which crops those will be. when we think about how to do that on a micro farm production wise, certainly covering your space becomes more important because that just starts letting you lock in schedules. And then I'm looking for a few core crop sets.
And so you're generally headed towards baby greens or petite greens or small heads of lettuce because the DTM is short. And then, our next logical extension is then if we're looking to have a finite crops, then perhaps there's a few key tools that we can continue to invest in that we'll have.
broad overlap as far as harvest or cultivation goes because those crops are generally grown in a similar way or maybe the postharvest handling is very similar. And so we start looking to save and economize in certain key areas that then let us handle in aggregate a higher volume, but the diversity comes on yeah, it's all greens.
But then we have a rubella kale spring mix. Mesclun whatever, increase overall category volume. With offering more diversity within a category, but also a spaceship takes off, right? Reddit get us in certain fuel, like certain engines and fuel canisters. Just shed away as you get off into the, into space.
I don't know how to talk about space, but the analogy is there. You use certain crops squash to help you get. Just certain plateaus of, revenue and cashflow, and then maybe it just doesn't last into the next level of the business, So we're at the point where people know us for a few things.
And what's interesting about our businesses, try as we might to grow a wide variety of products, 80% of our business comes from micro greens. And lettuce. So we're those people, it would probably behoove us to put more effort into those few product categories and get rid of the rest because they're not really helping us with much the probably costing us a good bit more, and labor and effort and input, then continuing to pursue growing a few crops.
Are the sort of stuff that you've talked about with Curtis stone in the past, the Pareto�s Law it's coincidental that our business is also made up of 80% of a few crops that sell. It's fascinating.
Diego: [00:39:52] As somebody in year four, do you feel at all worried about the crops that got us here might not be the crops that always keep us going into the future? With 80% of the eggs in one basket, is there a worry that market sentiment changes for whatever reason and the farm could take a pretty big hit?
Elliot Seldner: [00:40:15] I think for sure, why? I think it would be foolish not to worry about that. at the same time, things that, give you some confidence are things that I said in our conversation, just now Caterpillar tunnel, for instance, the ROI on that is incredibly short.
So a lot of our cheap infrastructure is paid for very quickly. Which then lets us say, okay, let us, isn't cutting it anymore. Beats is what we need to grow. And what's cool about beats are, is that it's almost identical cultivation and planting cultures. All that stuff is basically the same as lettuce as far as how I grow it.
So it becomes very simple to still stick within a growing FA framework. And, stay nimble. so yes, I'm worried about that, but I think that's a rational fear and that's one that through doing good work, You can be prepared to handle that, obviously tracking sales and this and that is useful.
being able to back up your intuition and, or a suspicion with numbers and now having numbers for several years. that's really helpful to see what's going on too. I worry, but not too much about that
Diego: [00:41:41] With the open market. That sounds like there's a big appetite for product in. How do you decide how big you want to grow? And you've touched on this a little bit in this episode and I could play devil's advocate and say Elliot, like you've got it figured out. The business is working. It's supportive and you guys, you have employees, you could step back, enjoy it, make it better. Or you could grow it, and you could make it better and grow it, but there's a whole other layer of work there.
I asked this because a lot of people�They don't, I don't think they have a sense of how big is big enough. And America has this bigger, better, faster attitude where you gotta just be huge or it doesn't matter. Or if I'm only a quarter acre, like I'm not a real farmer, I have to be on 10 acres or whatever that is.
How do you view growth and meshing it with who you are? And where you want to go, not just with the farm, but with life and your overall holistic context, your vision for business, your vision for say, making change, how does all this fit together into how big fair share farm will get?
Elliot Seldner: [00:43:05] And this is like a continuation of the question I didn't know how to answer. I guess what I didn't get to say earlier was. How useful I'm plugging JM Fortier�s book, right? How useful that book was. He said, you can make $120,000 on an acre or acre and a half or whatever the case was. And that blew my mind because until that, without a tractor was the whole point.
Yeah. And so that my mind, and so I said, okay, dad, I'm thinking about doing that. my dad's the first person, my parents are, the first people that I tell besides my wife has got an idea that I'm excited about. So I'm telling them this. And that was the first time basically that I let alone some other farmers that said you can start, are making what seemed like real money on not a big space.
And so that was really crucial, right? And then I think what's tricky about the hundred thousand and acre issue is that, while that is staggeringly productive for an acre and, set aside the fact that it's farmer's market or CSA pricing and that people are actually paying for the real cost of hand labor and this, then the question is.
Is a hundred thousand dollars enough to support your household period, plus continuing to run the business, at least at the same level. And, over the, over some years now I've come to realize that for us, that isn't enough. so I think there's plenty of examples out there now that Connor Crick Moore is doing a great job showing off.
How you can be much more productive. You can have much more revenue off of a small space than just 120. And I think there's people there. Yeah. And specific nursery businesses or the right crop mix. Maybe it's hydroponic, maybe it's cannabis, where you can do even more than that. so where we balance it is that.
I love growing lettuce. I love growing other salad greens. It's my art. It's my passion. the soil work. I love that, seeing the lines, can we do a better job going straight? Can we push this? Can we push our yield by an ounce per head? what can we do? that excites me. And, The way I see.
So basically we took that $120,000 goal. I was like, that's going to be our five-year goal. And we beat that goal in two years. And now we've gotten to here in four, wherever that is. And to be like, okay, what is the answer to that question slash what I would counsel anybody who's new listening to this is take even more time before you start your business and think about it like this: If I'm successful in five years or whatever, then what, and start planning for success. And I think that farm should be launched and unveiled in phases like other businesses in other projects are. and if you have the aspiration of doing more than a hundred thousand a year, or say our business might cost 170 grand to run a year, I'm supporting other people.
I'm getting a lot of satisfaction out of doing that. And then is what left over after the end of the day of making my life easier day to day and maintaining the business, making that easier. Is there still enough money left for us to do what we're doing now? For me and my wife, what we have right now is like I said, last year, I said, the other night, I said, I'm in, I'm loving this evening.
I am loving this. we, and we have to remember this because this may be the best that ever gets. It may not get easier or nicer for me. and my wife, we're 30 now my wife wants to have a family. We don't have any kids yet. And I'm the worrier, she worries too of course, if our household is making 40 or 50 grand a year, And we have the expectation of doing as well or better than our parents as just personal goals.
then you have to say, Hey, is that net really enough to do that? And it's with these bigger picture goals that. We start that we are beginning to plan phase two, Diego. And so that's where I'm at
Diego: [00:47:52] Really well said. And it's obviously well thought out. One problem I see in the small scale farming space is small scale because a business can either do a whole lot of sales at low margin.
And selling vegetables is really a low margin business, or it can do a few sales at really high margins. The problem with high sales, low margin is I think for a lot of small farms, it's really hard to get to high sales on small land. And then you ask yourself, you run through the math, like you did.
Is it enough to support your household? Is it enough to pay an employee? If it's not enough to pay an employee, then that means it's a you-business. And what happens if you get tired, you get sick, you get hurt. You want to step away. You want to take a vacation, you can't. And I don't think enough farmers plan ahead for�
Elliot Seldner: [00:48:53] That's right.
Diego: [00:48:54] This, what I think is a really crucial point in any business. And I look at it with everything I do. Can I get big enough where I can hire people Ford to pay them consistently all the time so I can step away if needed and as needed because life will inevitably need me to step away at some point.
And I just see so many examples of small farms. That are just at such a small level that while they do provide some great income it's side income. And I just want people to be honest with themselves, when they look at this small side income is this is what it is. It's not going to provide you a full-time living.
And if it is, it's a potentially very fragile, full time living. So I think. Your thought or you look at people like, say what Jeremy Mueller's doing scaling appropriately for your scale, with the appropriate stuff and into the appropriate markets is where a lot of farms have to go to get to something that is really going to be around for a long time.
Because if you want to own this farm for the next 30 years. You're 30 now. I don't think you want to be out there cultivating lettuce, grinding it out when you're 50 or 60. You need to have this thing big enough, where you can have a crew do this and you just manage the other parts.
Elliot Seldner: [00:50:27] Yeah. So you can plan it like that. That would be building a business that if you're doing well enough to make it till 60, 70 farming. And it's doing well enough to support you and then you're actually able to retire right. then there's probably, with climate change in mind, there's probably a business that's well worth continuing to run.
So you've also built something of value for your children or for the manager who you've trained and you'll sell it to him or whatever, or. Or is phase two phase three saying, okay, we made it to your three phase two is I enjoy it. And then I set this life goal down the road. And phase three is how you exit the business.
That's not why we're talking today. I didn't pick up the phone today to talk to you with you, how I exit the business, because I'm still going on all cylinders loving it. But, It's it is a fascinating subject to talk about. And an interesting, maybe another piece of advice that this just makes me think of is when we started our business, we had the blessing that my mom is a lawyer.
She's not barred in our state, so she's not actually operating in any official capacity, but to have a lawyer in the family is super helpful to have a friend who's a lawyer or a friend of the family. No lean on those connections, Emma and I weren't married at the time. And one thing that we did and that any business would do is start up is the draft articles of incorporation.
And that's a document that basically outlays what the entity is that you're creating, who you're creating it with, how it's structured and a really important part of that is. How you plan to dissolve the entity, should parties want to, maybe it should be part of farm planning that you actually know how you get out of it.
And that's something I never really thought about until right now, to be honest with you. and I don't mean that to be a downer either, but it's, that's the type of planning that I guess we've been through and we continue to think about, and I really think that it's depth of thought. That it doesn't, it's never no, what, we didn't know what we were going to do was going to work, but we were thankful that there to be fairly simple open-ended production models out there for us to look at and borrow and try for ourselves.
And that have gotten us to where they've gotten us. And now we are having a ton of fun, creating new ways for us ourselves on our own farm. That's a lot of fun to talk about. Diego is like how there is no right or wrong on the farm. if you're doing well, because it works. Yeah, that's where farming is for me.
What's exciting is that as we have success doing what we are, we've got the cash to support that. And then it's okay, let's bring the agronomist onboard. Let's bring this guy. Who's going to even help us fine. Tune it more. And I just love leaning on others anyway. That's why I'm starting to really embrace working with great employees and these guys are good.
They work harder than me, so I ought to be listening to them and I ought to be letting them have more and more input in how we make decisions, because they're getting it done. We're doing it as a team. These aren't just tools who I've hired. These are human beings who we work together well because, one reason or another, and, building trust on the farm is crucial.
And I guess bringing it back around to, how do you keep going for 30 years, you do it with other people. You do it through teamwork, collaboration, cooperation, and partnership. And I certainly would not be here without my wife, Emma. And I'm not sure we would be doing well at all. If it was just me running the farm.
And to that point as a teacher for several years, couple of years, while we were getting the business going, and our business has only blossoms once it had two people working on it full time. but we were fortunate enough to have her income from teaching to support us, to then be able to like poised ourselves full-fledged into the business full time.
The right time of year and it just sorta really worked. And yeah, so partnership that partnership. Teamwork and money sorta make the farm work.
Diego: [00:55:05] And I think a lot of people listen to shows like this and this information helps people at an earlier stage of their farming career. I thinking we'll glean a lot out of these types of talks.
Elliot Seldner: [00:55:17] These are the conversations that I have with non-farmers, it doesn't matter. It doesn't really matter the business. Once you get past the rudiments and those baits are needs that any farm or any business has, this is a fun stuff for me.
Diego: [00:55:37] There, you have it Elliot Seldner of Fair Share Farm.
If you want to follow along with everything that they're doing, be sure to check them out on Instagram, which I've linked to in the show notes for this episode. And if you're looking to follow in the footsteps of a farmer like Elliot, And you're looking for some equipment to help do that. Consider visiting our site, PaperPot.Co. We�re your online source for all things, paper pot transplanter related from a basic starter kit to chain pods to nursery flats.
But we're also growing beyond just paper, pot supplies. We now carry cheaper, but durable 10, 20 flats, broad forks, Jang, seeders, and a lot more. Check us out at paper, pot.co let's offer this one. I hope you enjoyed it. Thanks for listening. And until next time, be nice. Be thankful and do the work.
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