What are your reasons for growing your farm? Do you want to grow your farm for the sake of growing your farm? Do you want to grow your farm so you could meet more demand? Or do you want to grow your farm because you have to grow your farm?
It’s one thing to think about growing your farm and putting down numbers on paper, but it’s an entirely different thing to execute it and actually grow the numbers. How will you scale your farm in that regard? Will you produce more of what you’re growing to sell to existing customers, or will you produce more to sell to new customers?
Today we have Elliot Seldner of Fair Share Farms to talk about how he and his farm are approaching scaling their business.
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
- The future of Fair Share Farms and the product mix (02:45)
- Crops and customer base playing into farm growth (05:45)
- Reaching your finance goal: just sell more? (12:10)
- Doubling down on crops that fit the farm and the market (17:05)
- Space value and culling crops (21:20)
- A competitive advantage with squash vs. tomatoes (31:30)
- Adding additional production blocks to maintain production (40:05)
- Shifting from 30-inch bed tops to 42-inch bed tops (41:45)
- Blending in niche crops into the current product offering (45:30)
- Curating crops and bringing in new produce to customers (49:15)
- Curated crops as icebreakers for new restaurant clients (54:05)
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Diego: [00:00:00] When your farm gets to a certain size, what do you do to scale it? What market streams do you look at and what products do you grow? One of the subjects of today's episode with farmer Elliot Seldner of Fair Share Farm. 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. Paper pot is your online source for all things, farm efficiency. We're trying to make your job on the farm a little easier. We want to make things faster. We want to make it better. We want you to get in and out so you can do other things in life. Whether that's marketing, relaxing, or spending some time with the people that you care about.
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In today's episode, I'm talking to farmer Elliot Seldner of Fair Share Farm. If you listen to the previous episode that I did with Elliot, Elliot talked about how him and his partner, Emma are trying to grow their farm and then trying to grow it for a very specific reason.
They have to. In order to live the type of life they want to live, they have to scale the farm�s income on paper. That's great. That sounds right. All well and good, but how do you actually scale income when it comes down to it? There are a few ways you either have to sell more products to existing customers, or you have to sell more product to new customers.
Today, you're going to hear what Elliot and Emma are trying to do, why they're trying to do it. And what are some of the challenges with scaling? Let's jump right into it with Elliot Seldner of Fair Share Farm.
So last episode that we did, you talked about your farm being known primarily for two things that you guys do really well, micro greens and salad mixes.
And one of the things that we talked about in your farm is moving to the next level. This farm that's been in business for a few years and taking it to the next stage. When you look at your current crop, which I think you said you have about 10 core products that you have, but then you're really known for those two types, how do you look at the future of fair share farms and the product mix?
Do you continue to focus down, get rid of the stuff that doesn't work and then just develop more processes and techniques around what you are known for and what works so well?
Elliot Seldner: [00:02:41] That's a tricky question. And I think we certainly could, and I think on paper that would make a lot of sense, but an interesting angle, off of that question is, is that for a couple seasons or even a couple of crops in a row, let's take like the farmer's friends tunnel for instance, but really like any heightened, like the potential for added control within that space makes, it's much more expensive per square foot. All of a sudden, the return on the investment, in my opinion, it is.
And In a way, I think in the short term, it really behooves our business to continue to focus on greens and fast production crops and high value crops. But because the tech is accessible, cost-wise down the road. I feel like that's been a really smart move for us to take, because it also will let us say, okay, if the market changes.
And migraines are no longer relevant for whatever reason. It gives us the flexibility to start cropping a wider range of crops, more across diversity. It leaves us flexible to change our business model, but we still have the added value in that space of control of growing. So I think that's more how I'm thinking about certain moves on the farm right now, rather than.
Just, just your question. So I think the rapid background, I do think that a, quite frankly, the short term play for us to continue to grow high value, fast rotation sort of crops. but I'm excited for the future because they were trying to invest is so fast. It gives us flexibility to follow our interest in our market.
Diego: [00:04:40] Because what really got me thinking about this as I was editing the last episode and near the end of last episode, you talked about how ultimately the farm's going to have to grow and earn more, just to support a lifestyle that you and Emma want to go towards. So you can hire people and grow. And at some point, if you look at well, that's the goal on paper, that's all fine and dandy, but you have to produce that revenue.
And to say, double farm income with farmer's markets, that might be really tough. You're 75% restaurant sales right now. So to push more to chefs, maybe that's easier or maybe not, that's easy, hear your response on that. And I'm thinking, okay, if you really want to grow the farm and I asked you about this before we started recording, do you look at wholesale markets?
Do you slowly look into grocery stores because that. Is volume and for a farm of your maturity, it's established and functioning and working and profitable. To really go to the next level. Is that where you go? And then in turn, if you go to grocery stores or wholesalers, like you're not growing potatoes and you're not growing green beans for them, like it's most likely a model like Jeremy Mueller has a of salad mix and going that route.
So when you think about this desire over the longer term to grow the farm, to match the lifestyle and what you guys want to have. How does the crops and future customer base play into that? And then how do you start moving towards that now?
Elliot Seldner: [00:06:23] So I guess with sales to retailer, and I guess what we're looking at in particular would be for us to begin to sell to a retailer would be direct to retail or sales.
So we've been delivering to a grocery store in particular with our own. No delivery route and we would have direct communication with the produce manager. So we're not at a scale where we can work with, the grocery store chains, distributor. We're at a scale where to get our feet wet. We have to think about, are there some local grocery store chains or independently owned grocery stores?
That service high value customers. So that's going to be like anchor stores, and wealthy communities probably who have an appetite and at the right appetite and have the right, home financials to be able to buy the best quality product. That's how we think about how we would get those customers and in a way it becomes like a restaurant account because more than likely, we have a personal relationship with the produce manager is doing the actual purchasing for that specific store.
So what I said, like we can't sell to the distributor per se in most cases, at least not yet. Because we're not a large enough entity when we don't have any proven volumes.
So there's not even a conversation to have per se. so again, direct to customer sales, but with the potential to be higher volume. And it doesn't for a grocery store to work for our type of farm. We can't just offer one product. And this is nitty gritty. This is, I think we've done a lot of thinking about this and I think this part, this point valuable, you really can't make it swaying on one product because at the end of the day, even if it's a great location, how many units of pea shoots are really needed at that store?
Probably still not very many. because yeah, it might be a health food store or it might be a gourmet store or it might be a flagship grocery store. But he shoots is still a fairly unknown produce item. And while it's delicious and those who know it love it undesirable in a way. so for us to have success would be to say, Hey, our pea shoots move well at this store.
Yeah. We only sell one or two cases a week, but the P shoe gives us a really firm basis as a crop. The budget that. And to understand our costs. Those costs are almost, analogs for any other type of product, uncertain ends packing, labor, packing materials. A lot of things are copied and paste the ball as far as math and itemizing goes.
okay. Then what becomes intriguing is not. Not how do I find 10 customers for all of my pea shoots? Cause I'm the piece guy, but I'm the micro guy and salad green guys, and a salary guy, or you find a niche and it doesn't matter what the crop is, but you have to have a pallet of options that you can produce regularly consistently, almost without question.
And then have the right customers who can just handle that volume because, if you build them profit to a case of pea shoots, then the same, thing's true for your radish shoots and your broccoli and your, this and your that. And you just build in the costs. And all of a sudden, you go from selling one case of tissues to selling five different product cases.
And, but with all just cases at the end of the day, it's complicated and takes a lot of work to get going. It's one of these sort of potential cash flywheels, that could definitely help to provide base reliable income for my farm. So that is I don't I, who knows what I covered in that synopsis, but I think that's our current frame of mind as we look to go forward with.
Grocery stores and stuff, and, we'll see it'll work or it won't. But at the end of the day, costing things out, knowing cost and controlling that is still valuable and gives us a lot of liberty to go forward with success or failure. But at the end of the day, confidence, knowing that we know our crop and we can go and sell that.
Diego: [00:11:18] And your farm's numbers, where you guys want to be financially to live the life you want to live. Do you have to look this route? Maybe another way of asking is could you get to that point? With the farm with a level of production and level of sales by just selling more to chefs, can you push that much more product into that funnel and grow that market much more? Or do you have to look this route of a grocery store or something else that we haven't even brought up?
Elliot Seldner: [00:11:53] There's always more chef business, but it, I think there's room to make more money at a couple of ways with restaurants as one's business matures, right? The best customers make themselves known to you often good customers after a while, we'll find you.
And so one way to add to your bottom line with the, as you go forward, looking at raising prices or, and forcing order minimums. certain exercises, certain standardization that may win allow, what you might call a low value, high maintenance customers. and so that's the way to save energy and thereby make more money.
So that's one option. if we're not servicing five high maintenance, low value customers. We could take that time and energy and find one higher value customer who just likes what we do and we'll buy whatever we want. Those people exist. They're harder to find. so that's one way. I do think, sales to produce wholesalers, who are looking to differentiate within their own competitive market.
I think there will be a future for that in our area. there's starting to be now. and I think in certain parts of the country, that's already well established and highly competitive for growers to get into. so it really, that's just a highly variable sort of subject because it's totally, at best anecdotal.
I can tell you my story, but that's something that. Any individual farmer or farming team will have to suss out in their marketplace. I do think that there's a ton of options out there and you can continue to be creative, there's things like, marketing CSS, it's who knows what we're trends go and what comes back in fashion, but it could be that, wow, just because we've stuck around so long, there's actually a demand for our CSA products now.
Or there wasn't in the past because we didn't have, we, weren't a known entity. I think things come and go and you just, we, I know that we will be sealing it out. And I have a feeling that even though sales may grow or stabilize or trends and sales throughout the season start to reoccur year after year.
And and note these trends it's like things will change. Customers will change. Restaurants come and go, chefs come and go. but seasonal trends seem to be fairly similar. And when you make it from year to year and do a good job every year, so far, the business is there. So whatever, whatever, like maybe think of digging as an analogy, right?
you're digging in a compost pile. And you'd take a scoop out who you lost a customer, but then the soil is so loose that it just happens to fill back in and he stayed the same. I know I'm not getting specific here. It's brought it out wide lens, but I just think there's a ton of opportunity out there.
If you're hip to it, pursuing online marketing, for instance, that helps us, Mail, chimping making sure that we're, being regular with your customers, just making sure you're touching base several times a week. Sometimes your best customers are still high maintenance. So you just need to make sure that you're taking care of them correctly.
it's just never stopping and then building infrastructure and procedure so that it doesn't have to be, you are the only one. Doing all the regular maintenance. So I dunno, steer me, let's steer it towards something else.
Diego: [00:15:46] And hearing that, I think those models fit your personality or where, how you like to manage the farm. And this is my impression from talking to you from visiting the farm. Like you strike me as somebody who wants to identify a few crops that, you can sell a bunch of grow them really well. And then find better ways to grow them better, more efficiently, make higher quality, less labor required.
And I think, greens fit in to that model going these routes where you can move volume of product I think just it fits who you are and like what you're really interested in. If that makes sense.
Elliot Seldner: [00:16:30] Yeah. Point like when we talk about volume, right? We have to produce a certain amount of volume just to sell it and to make a certain amount of money.
But remember, I'm a micro farm. Next year, we'll be growing on one and a quarter acres. the only things that can produce in high volume happened to be small things. I cannot produce winter squash and high enough volume to make a living doing it, even though that might. Because something I'm interested, theoretically, like you just, you need to think about how much value can we pull out of this space?
Not totally depleting and hopefully regenerating the resource that is the farm and the farm land. So it's a total balancing act, but, we can grow many more bunches of radishes than we can grow watermelon. So it behooves us to just follow that path because the only way to cover a bit, we can't go out, pick one bunch of radish and sell it.
It's too expensive to do that. A friend of mine, Greg Garbos, I remember hearing him talk and he was talking about, he costed out, what does it cost to harvest, fallow it, fallow one head of lettuce through the entire operation. And you'll find that happens to be a very expensive head of lettuce, but basically you can harvest a thousand heads of lettuce and the cost comes down dramatically per head. So it just behooves us to grow at a certain volume and find proceeds to make that efficient. So those things can just happen. And we're more touching it to make sure it stays balanced. And the operation goes, and that lets us focus our time on higher value things. Like how do we fix our cultivation problems going forward to shave hours out of the year?
Or how do we find better customers, these sorts of things. And as far as the sales stuff goes, You gotta have the volume to match, or to lead your customer base. But at the end of the day, it's like we don't choose any of this stuff. I had a good impression based on Elliot Coleman and 48 and the other authors out there that growing salad greens and small vegetables would be a way to produce high volume on a small space.
And that's totally, that's totally the point. so we offer up these products and we've just done them consistently. and we chose them because they would be the highest value for our space, and the highest probability of us being able to simply mechanize some of this stuff at low costs.
Ultimately we offer the product up in the customers. Who stick will choose us. It's it is a highly risky business and I think that's a constant struggle. And it's like the conversation is almost how do you, how do you remove the worry or the risk out of the operation and quite frankly, you don't, it does get easier, particularly when you seem to make it every year and then you start.
Collecting data to back some of that stuff up. So I think that's how we run day to day and adapt.
Diego: [00:19:56] Given that you're a micro farm and you're producing a lot of high value crops, small crops that you can produce volume of. Last episode, you talked about there are some other field crops that you do.
And I think you said something along the lines of, sometimes we produce those to our own detriment. When you look back at 2018 and you think about in 2019, are there crops that you're going to cull for reasons, related to space value?
Elliot Seldner: [00:20:25] Yeah. Actually, I'm glad I'm happy to talk about that because I've been thinking about that one a lot lately.
And the specific example is squash versus tomatoes for me. both summertime performers, right? Typically speaking for most farms, squash are great. They grow really fast. They're high yielding. And a fairly desirable crop. Like we generally grow a medley of debts, complimentary fatigue, squash that we sell for six or more dollars a pound.
So really expensive squash. it takes a ton of work to keep, on a planting schedule with that. Cultivation, if you haven't invested in the weed barrier stuff and then of course picking, and you have to pick a lot with squash just to keep up and then you have to pick even more to get it at this particular petite size.
So why I'm bringing that up versus tomatoes is because last year we invested in a 30 and two 30 by 120, high tunnels. one was going to grow edible flowers and other novel garnish for us to sell as handpicked, handpick produce curated and sold at a high dollar for garnish. The other tunnel was going to be devoted to tomatoes.
And we did that. and so we did about three or four plantings of squash. At about roughly the same square footage of the high tunnel tomatoes. and at the end of the year, so I was just looking at sales, gross sales to restaurants, and we basically matched dollar for dollar gross sales of either crop.
And I'm like, huh? maybe good for you squash. I'm not sure. And a new tomato sucked. And so it was my first time growing high tunnel tomatoes. And I knew that my first season out would be difficult, but with the expectation or understanding at a certain point, that tomatoes are gonna make me money, hopefully, a space like that.
3,600 square feet. No. I was hoping to make on the order of $10,000 or more in gross sales from those tomatoes. to me that would have been optimistic but conservative at the same time, because I've never done that much in tomato sales, and conservative because I think certain growers would tout being able to grow much more in dollars out of that.
But for me, a good goal. And so we did about half that. and we had all sorts of issues throughout, but what I started thinking about and what the numbers showed me was and what my gut was backed up by my instinct is that, what if I just cut squash entirely from our crop program next year and put all of that attention and resource back into tomatoes, at least in square footage.
I'm covering, I'm cutting my footprint of work, by 75% potentially, and investing one crop's attention. So at least a couple hours, three times a week picking squash. I could then. Potentially put back in tomatoes next year. So of course that's where we're going, and then there's little time savers.
Like we use the stepstool to do our lower end leaning and we were always behind as a result. So it's clear that using like stilts or something, low tech like that to get up into the canopy to lower and lean will save us a ton of time to step up and down two steps per plant. So that's four steps per plant to lower and lean.
Minimum, it takes forever. And as a result, cost is a good amount of money. And the more I think about lowering, and leaning. Yeah. I think the first thing is people will think of, Oh, it's going to extend my harvest season. And, it's gonna extend my harvest season, extend my potential output from that space with the indeterminate tomato.
But to me like the real opportunity, there is labor savings because in the perfect world, you're staying on top of your pruning and, doing your work within an ergonomic work zone. So we're talking about like chest height. through belt, our waste, there's a sweet spot there between maybe three feet off the ground to five feet, five, three off the ground, depending on the size of the human being.
so most of our flowering and fruiting was happening over our end all season long because the vines were so high up, we know, we just know. And these are passive tunnels too. So the only thing we do is bent them and we do have Gable end of peak louvers to vent ambiently, but with no air circulation in there and these vines setting their flowers so high up into the tunnel, and we know that we had hundreds and thousands of boarded flowers that never gave us a fruit.
So we were just. Biting into our potential all season long. I also, irrigating in a high tunnel was new for me. So it took me about half the season to get the moisture right. And by then it was too late. Then there's fertility issues. We didn't set up our fertilizer injector until too late in the season.
So there's all these things that I know anecdotally that I'm going to fix next year. And then I basically have at the end of the year, A lump number of my performance. the sales is the most basic indicator performance. and I know that I didn't meet my goals and I was distracted and spread too thin.
Labor-wise so clearly I'll expect the same odds against me in summertime next year. But this time, I'm thinking we won't do squash. So in that way, I tip the balance, hopefully back into my favor, at least some recalibration occurs at that point. Maybe we are like living the life of Riley by that point, too, with no squash, because it sucks to pick squash and we're just realizing it that nobody likes to pick squash.
So maybe that should be the ultimate decider and really doubled down on our. Double down on the value of our labor and focus it on being much more technical growers, get the, the whole farm laboring thing of picking squash out of the equation. Just stay up to date with our, I made a lowering and leaning and pruning and have a much more ergonomic work experience where we're standing upright working in a good work zone.
And then you're rolling carts with boxes. A full and empty, cases that you're just packing right into in between your lines. And it's not rocket science and I'm certainly not shattering. Anybody's like the, none of this is groundbreaking. It just took me a little bit to realize why all that stuff is worth buying at the beginning. So that to me is like a perfect example of cutting some crops and doubling down on some others.
Diego: [00:27:47] You're in that. I think that's really interesting because if somebody on the sidelines is thinking about this, they're like, what difference is growing one additional crop gonna make, like how much burden is that going to add mentally, physically, learning-wise, knowledge-wise? And it sounds like if you just cut one crop, you'd be lifting a lot of weight off of your shoulders and the farm�s shoulders.
People don't like to pick it. It's one less thing to focus on. You can get that space. You can go all in on tomatoes. So one crop really can make a big difference.
Elliot Seldner: [00:28:22] Yeah. And squash was a really big crop for us though. It's been strong enough crops to make it for years, I should say so. That's not to say that it wouldn't come back, but the product that we were trying to offer is really what kills it for us.
The petite squash. It is maxing out that. It may be maxing out that a return per square foot ideal, raising that bar by selling a $6 a pound squash. Cause that's crazy. it could be the difference of, we should just grow big old squash and sell it for a buck and a quarter a pound because the overall volume would be.
Much higher and maybe we'd wind up grossing the same thing, but it'd be easier to pick squash. And that just comes down to what kind of person you are. We just grow specialty produce and I'm into that stuff. It's just proving to be a little bit too difficult for, my tolerance. So that's all it is. But we, we put a lot of space to that.
I don't think that's apples to apples. Like it's not, I wouldn't use the rationale necessarily to say that I should cut turnips. Because I don't sell as much turnips as squash because turnips just take salad, turnips strength, and just take a much less space. And they're actually very easy to squeeze in sometimes. So sometimes it might be like, so what we're doing and stuff, Diego growing squash is actually growing, crops for the soil and starting to work back, cover cropping into our routine.
Diego: [00:30:03] I guess here's another thought thinking of that, it's one thing to grow something. It's another thing to grow a lot of it, but then you also have to sell it.
Do you have a competitive advantage in squash that you might not have in tomatoes? So if you give up squash, which you said, it's made on its own for four years on the farm, like it stayed. If you did switch over to tomatoes, I'm assuming you think you could push all those tomatoes under the market. No problem.
Elliot Seldner: [00:30:29] We never grown tomatoes either enough or good enough to satiate the market and so yeah, we need to grow more tomatoes. Otherwise I fear we'll lose some opportunity. But, I, I remember I was saying where we were taking squash out of production and opting to grow a cover crop instead, which is new for us.
So part of the strategy. Is, not part of the strategy. I think as many people relate to on the East side of the country, it was a really wet summer and it's still wet and we've had a lot of deferred work, that just couldn't get done in a timely manner. and so it's been a year of. Of learning through some loss, some crop loss.
and that we, I feel like I am pushing my farm too hard, where I'm growing an open field. and so our farm is broken, we do think about the farm organizationally as far as like where work gets done in a permaculture sense. So our, all of our main, infrastructure assets like Washington PA pack our barn, our house, our cold storage, those core function or zone zero or one with whatever it is, where that's, where we're at all the time, a greenhouse one.
but then we have, we have a greenhouse that's very close to our zero. We've got two high tunnels that are very close and then we have. Two fields. One field is better than the other field. One has much better. Sun exposure. Field two is a nice two dimensional slope by and large, but it is northward facing.
So it always gets our worst sun. It's always cooler. There's a close Woodline on the West side that sort of inhibits with shadow, growth, for 20 to 50 feet. And then it being on slope, we lost so much soil this year that it really is one of my chief concerns. so in field one, because it's got our prime sun, We've decided that's where we've put up our series of Caterpillar tunnels for intensive growing.
And that's where we do that and feel too because of its northward facing slope. And it is deep enough that it would require significant grading work and importing of soil to then have properly cited tunnels. it makes more sense. I think for us going forward to slow down our cropping approach, With a mind for regeneration and conservation.
So instead of trying to fit two, three, maybe even four crops and a spa and field two, we're actually slowing it all the way down to one cash crop and one cover crop per year, which is going to be really different for us. But I'm actually maybe the most interested in that going forward. because the soil is our resource.
And it has to be managed for us to stay in business. and so what I'm talking about doing actually in that field next year is almost counter to what we've been advocating in that cutting crops, so that we can fill that space with lettuce or do that. And we do make those choices like super hard and field one, like we literally only grew lettuce and field one this year.
And we'll continue to grow majority, let us indefinitely for the time being, but in field two, I'm only going to grow brassica crops next year, period. And I'm going to grow too. ABA, ACI, and I'm going to grow two blocks. The greens, I'm going to be very deliberate and everything is except for the greens blocks.
Those will be double crops. Everything else will be cropped, either, into an overwintered cover crop or into some sort of a winter kill cover crop, to start creating a rotational cycle where we have we're cause we're just losing a tremendous amount of. Of soil, and we're starting to say rotational crop disease concerns arise.
And so we're just running into roadblocks with the, with, The highly preached high rotation, high intensity growing. I think it is super contextual. And we found that on our site, in our climate, we need to have covered growing in order to pull off high rotation stuff. and so where the conditions aren't right to justify investing in the covered growing, we're going to just, we're going to take a.
Much slower. And in my opinion, progressive approach and be growing crops for soil health, which should then yield us far superior seasonal produce. And so I'm, Part of the plan is field one where we do high intensity tunnel growing. We're making steps to doubling our tunnel production and that space over the next six months.
and then in field two, where things are much different and challenging, we're going to be slowing that down. We're actually graduating from that sort of 30 inch bed, top motif. to a different standard unit where we're actually getting 40 to 44 inch bed tops, where yes, they're going to be permanent and hand dug, but it's going to be very slow and we're going to start allowing for more crop spacing because I'm a firm believer in.
If we can control our risks, we can really be shaving off margins of loss. and the low end of the spectrum. I don't want crop loss period, nor do I want bumper crops, dependable yields, regardless of what that number is when I can hone in whatever a dependable yield is for a given spacing on a crop, then I can start to justify is celeriac worth it is salary worth it.
With the overall investment in I'm going to grow the quintessential item, I'm going to grow the best broccoli that you've ever seen is going to taste the best. And in that way, I don't think it will be a loss either because I think we'll be cutting our costs dramatically in this slower approach, and also be able to offer like our market customers and some of our better restaurant customers. Exceptional seasonal produce like we currently do, but only better.
Diego: [00:37:24] Given that you're such a small farm. Do you have to add new production blocks to maintain the consistent amount of production while some blocks set idle as cover crops?
Elliot Seldner: [00:37:38] no, but yes. in field two where we're going to do the cover cropping stuff.
We're actually going to be removing a block because it is so subprime as far as access to good light that it's just not worth it. We're just not getting consistent enough yields within the 200 foot length of the block. in field one where we do our intensive growing under cover. we have grading work scheduled to begin tomorrow, that we'll prep a site for.
a good, many more tunnels to go up. so in that way we are compensating. Yeah. Dramatically, but in the rotation, in the slower cover crop oriented rotation, no, we won't. We'll just be saying we're basically going to curtail the amount of energy and costs. We're willing to sink into that field because I don't think the return is ever going to match the better field.
And simply, exposure to light is one of my biggest issues. The slope is better. We have Hills everywhere in the Piedmont of North Carolina. So finding flats is difficult unless you make it yourself. We're not going to be making perfectly flat, but we will be blending and homogenizing the slope where we'll go the caterpillars.
We like the caterpillars as a side note because they are accommodating to contour. They're more expensive, better structures, better structurally perhaps, you would for the dollar, you would want to cite them on perfectly well graded, site, but the caterpillars are so cheap and the return so fast for us, general curves and slopes is totally acceptable.
Diego: [00:39:23] And what's the thought process behind going from a 30-inch bed, top to a 42-inch bed top? what are you gaining by doing that soil-wise, production-wise?
Elliot Seldner: [00:39:33] Okay. So certain tillage tools work and certain tillage tools don't work for us. We're one of the tractor list farms out there.
So we do have to BCS, On hand, we own a rototiller and the Berta plow in our soils. The Berta plow does not function like it does in some of the videos online where the soil is gorgeous and well broken. that's not the case for us here. Our soil is tight. It's a soil that I love growing with, but our soils are tight and shallow.
So we can't raise up a very good head with the Virta plow is what I'm trying to say. And so we've set up a 14 foot wide blocks all over the farm that of course coincides with the 14 foot wide Caterpillar tunnel that lets us just think about everything the same. and I'm much less concerned about how many rows or how many beds are in a given block.
I'm mostly looking at what I'm producing criminal block. and so sheer economy of labor. I could fit in 14 foot. I could fit for a 30 inch bed tops with 12 inch walkways at 42 and centers. or I could set, if have about 14 by three, I think you get 4.66. and that works out to be, 44 inch bed tops and a 12 inch walkway.
and so the economy of labor was simply that because the Berta plow doesn't work well for us. we're going to hand dig all of these blocks. So that's 16 blocks. We'll dig by hand and we will save a phenomenal amount of labor, just by digging, two less walkways per block. so that's part of it.
And then, like I said, I'm much more interested in giving the right seasonal produce, adequate spacing, and I'm not confident that the 30 inch. Is more efficient square footage wise per block. We gain a hundred square feet doing it my way. so that's one thing I don't think that I think the gain is fairly small.
I'm mostly interested in and being able to use some of the, some bigger spacings, with less pressure on squeezing things in and, Yeah. So in a way though, Diego, those numbers are arbitrary. They just happened to fit what I'm working with,.
Diego: [00:42:08] Makes sense, yeah, no, I get it now. Dimensionally, it fits under the tunnels and if you think about some of the crops that you mentioned, you could grow in here, broccoli, you said, yeah, I want to grow the best broccoli out there that you've ever seen. How does that fit into again, going back to where we were at the beginning of. Future markets growing the farm, taking it to the next level because you can grow great broccoli, but you can't grow a ton of broccoli where you can grow a ton of salad mix, a ton of radishes. How do you blend in some of these more niche crops into that mix?
Elliot Seldner: [00:42:45] easily, the salad greens. So say if we were to double. our Caterpillar production, right? We're not looking to fill that all with lettuce right away. we're interested in doubling our lettuce production next year, but we're also interested in being able to grow.
Like we transplant all of our lettuce and that's how we grow and sell our lettuce is via transplant. we are interested in adding a line of direct seeded greens into our mix that sort of gets back to the earlier part of the conversation where it doesn't matter if it's pea shoots or radish shoots, I'm just selling cases.
So that's a factor. I get to sell more greens that way by diversifying it. My business is at a place where I don't feel that we didn't grow those crops in the past. We can now, and then it also allows space, to grow. So for me, let us would be a primary crop, undercover, direct seeded greens for my business as a secondary crop, something like radish, turnip, green onion.
beets are tertiary crops, earners, proceduralized, but not as desirable. I think we actually, if we're able to get on a weekly planting sales schedule with those products that had been in the past seasonal products grown out in the field, just by having the product available, we will be able to cultivate a demand for it and be able to then start selling it.
All of those products, fresh bunched by the case, Have crossover appeal to chefs and to grocery stores down the line. So then we're solving some biodiversity needs in my opinion, and field one that way. Yes. For cash cropping, intensively, but slowly we get to start working in diversity of, crop family and roof systems.
Even though we may be cash cropping back to back all year long. so I do feel like that starts to improve biodiversity on the farm as well. We're doing little things for biodiversity too, like feeding Clover everywhere in our drain ways in between tunnels and stuff, things that people would normally be tarping or not tarping, but a landscape fabric thing.
We get so much water that landscape fabric doesn't even hold the soil. So having living mulches and living covers that also are beneficials, that, it's fun as. The business matures, and everybody will see this, that you start having time and insight to say, okay, how about we get something that's flowering in here instead of just hoeing this week after week and stop worrying about it, And that's where we're going with that part too.
Diego: [00:45:31] I love the idea that, and you think about introducing these crops are bringing these really nice heads of broccoli to a chef, it goes back to something you mentioned earlier, you dabbled in of with edible flowers.
How does curating crops, stuff that you're not growing as much volume of, fit into the vision of where the farm is going? Cause on one hand there's production. Do it well, do it efficiently. Let's pump out a lot of it. When I think curated, I think of much more, a lot of the work is on growing and growing well, but there's also a lot of work on the curating part of it.
Elliot Seldner: [00:46:13] Yeah. that's the fun part, that's the artistic expression so that I really enjoy that. I like bringing new products to my customers. I like that cause it's fun. So curation is the romantic side of things. It helps me sell the fact that we care so much that we're, that I'm thinking about you and I buy this seed and try to grow it this way. that has a ton of value for my business.
It comes naturally to me though. it's easy and maybe. Maybe, I can't even explain it in certain terms because I'm just drawn to that sort of thing. I love getting into the nitty gritty of it. Like I wanted a red vein to arugula. I searched for it on the internet, found the seed breeder, British company, and then started calling seed reps and was looking for who wanted to buy it for me so I could get it.
And you start to it's just, for me, it's just a, it's it just comes. It's just interesting. And so I just follow that interest and that's part of the curation, or finding fun P flowers and tendrils. Like those are beautiful garnish, things like that. but curating help sell it, like for instance, Thanksgiving farmer's market.
For us to set up, I think we did an okay job for this Thanksgiving. Like we had some good, heavy hitters. We had kale, a lot of spinach. We had the lettuce and stuff, but we weren't nailing the seasonal flavor. And I regret that. And so far, as far as curation goes for the farmer's market next year, with my slower beds, where I really get to have a space to think about.
What my individual farmer's market needs. My farmer's market needed beautiful heads of Savoy cabinets needed. Celery needed, celeriac needed onion, needed green onion, needed herbs for the holiday. there's all these things that weren't represented at my farmer's market. And we did a good job and we sold our produce, but, At the end of the day, I'm running into a wall with our current size and production because I don't have enough space.
Organized the right way to provide those seasonal offerings, which would certainly raise a ton of value on special sales days strategically placed throughout the year. 4th of July. A lot of farmers want their potatoes for 4th of July. It makes great sense. It's a great potato holiday, or bring your, if you're a meat vendor, right worse than your hot dogs on 4th of July, you got to nail that.
Otherwise, what's the point, so for me, just special things throughout the year where I don't need to, I'm not, I'm not at the scale. I can't do broccoli every year or every week. I can't do that, but I can knock it out of the park or maybe I'm doing a mixed color cases of many cauliflower.
For a few weeks in a row around Thanksgiving or right at Christmas, like that's adding a ton of value to my customers. Like finally, somebody is giving me something interesting. So I guess it's a way to keep it interesting Diego for me and my customers. That's the curation aspect.
Diego: [00:49:32] Yeah, that's it. I think that's a really important mix. And I think your approach blends that. I got to do what I'm passionate about. I got to do what's interesting to me, but I also have to do the bread and butter crops that pay the bills that I can systematize produce a lot of really well, really efficiently. That's what I've heard in this episode.
Elliot Seldner: [00:49:55] Yeah, pretty much. Yeah. Have fun with it. Make space to have fun, have a system that enables you to do that. People recognize the fact that you care and are enjoying your work that certainly will help propel sales and keep everybody engaged for longer.
Diego: [00:50:12] Do you think some of these curated crops can be used as ice breakers for new restaurant customers where you're just not another chef coming to them with pea tendrils, which they've seen before or another bag of salad mix. You have the best-looking and broccoli you've ever seen and a whole bunch of salad mix right behind that.
Elliot Seldner: [00:50:31] Probably, yeah. Maybe saying that I am capable of growing seasonal favorites, while also having a compelling price sheet, for reliable crops that you can produce on top.
Diego: [00:50:48] Yeah. I don't see how that could hurt. So a lot of great ideas, a lot of great inspiration in this one, for people that want to follow along with what you guys are doing, how you're making progress, see some of the things going on in the farm. Where's the best place to follow along
Elliot Seldner: [00:51:01] Instagram we're Fair_Share_Farm. And we are happy to talk with people if they need help getting growing, you can drop us an email if you want at farmersatfairsharefarm.net.
Diego: [00:51:24] There you have it. Elliot Seldner of Fair Share Farm. If you want to learn more about everything that Elliot's doing on his farm, be sure to check them out on Instagram, which I've linked to in the show description for this episode, I'll be back in 2019 with more episodes with Elliot.
So stay tuned for those ahead. And if you're looking to do some last-minute Christmas shopping, or maybe you need a tax write off, check out some of the tools that we now carry at Paper Pot.co. Because over the past year, we've expanded beyond just Paper Pot transplanting equipment. We now carry a full line of Jang seeders.
We have 10, 20 nursery flats for growing micro greens. We have broad forks, my metal creature, and we're slowly adding more tools as we see a fit. So whether you want to order something to give to that special someone or order something, so you don't have to write a check to that special someone at the IRS.
Check us out at Paper Pot.co. And that's all for this one. Thanks for listening. Naturally, there'll be back with another episode of farm, small farm smart. Until then, be nice, be thankful, and do the work.
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