Why We Switched from 30″ Beds to Standard Row Spacing (FSFS262)

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Episode Summary

While 30-inch beds are the standard for market gardening, it may or may not be the best bed width to implement depending on the farm’s context. In this episode of Farm Small Farm Smart, farmer Dean Buttacavoli of Cabbage Throw Farm shares his experience throwing pathways out the window and converting their entire plot into farmland with 15-inch row spacing.

Today’s Guest: Dean Buttacavoli

Dean Buttacavoli began growing vegetables in 2012 before taking up a farm management position two years later. Now, he and fiancée Emily are reaching their farming goals running Cabbage Throw Farm, a certified organic farm in Asbury, New Jersey.

                      Cabbage Throw FarmWebsite | Instagram | Facebook

In this episode of Farm Small, Farm Smart

  • Diego introduces the episode’s guest, Dean Buttacavoli (01:03)
  • How long has Dean Buttacavoli been farming? (01:42)
  • Finding your own farming identity and growing style (03:34)
  • Why some people would rather be recipe followers than chefs (06:48)
  • Changing how you grow to better fit your context (08:57)
  • Five years in, is Cabbage Throw Farm a successful farm? (11:30)
  • Is the two-person team paid a wage? (13:28)
  • Compatibility between a two-wheel tractor and a four-row 30-inch bed (15:52)
  • Hauling totes on a farm with no walkways (19:01)
  • Better growth with wider row spacing (19:48)
  • Different row spacings for different crops (21:26)
  • The difference between mechanized weeding vs. hand weeding (23:20)
  • Cultivating a 30-inch bed top vs. 15-inch rows (25:29)
  • Mechanizing and adding employees in the future (28:16)
  • What to think about if you want to try an open lot with 15-inch rows (29:54)
  • Investing in a two-wheel tractor for cultivation (31:52)
  • Where all the extra time goes (33:43)
  • What would 2022 Farmer Dean tell 2014 Farmer Dean? (36:37)
  • What has worked well for Cabbage Throw Farm this year? (39:54)
  • What has not worked well for Cabbage Throw Farm this year? (40:26)
  • Three things you need if you want to start a farm business (41:05)

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FSFS262 - Dean Buttacavoli

[00:00:00] Diego Footer: Welcome to Farm Small Farm Smart. I'm your host, Diego, DIEGO. Before we get into today's episode, here's a little glimpse into the future. Right now, I'm actively recording a brand-new series All about farming in the field. So think growing stuff, not the business side of stuff. If you want that, go over to Carrot Cash Flow.

[00:00:27] That's my Farm Business podcast. But if you're more interested in the growing side of things, stay right here on Farm Small Farm Smart, and watch for that brand new series, which comes out a little later this fall.

[00:00:42] Now onto today's episode. The 30-inch bed. Why is that became standard, and is that actually the best possible bed width, it might be in certain situations, but it might not be in other situations.

[00:01:03] Today I'm talking to Market Gardnerer Dean Buttacavoli from Cabbage Throw Farm in New Jersey. Dean's a veteran farmer and he's always farmed on 30-inch beds, but this year, they started converting some of their beds over to a completely different system, abandoning the 30 inch bed and going to bed blocks with standard space rows.

[00:01:27] This is very different than how a lot of market farmers are growing crops. In this episode, you'll hear why Dean and Emily made that transition, what the benefits are, what the cons are, and how they view bed blocks and standard road spacings as part of the future of their farm. Let's jump right into it with Dean of Cabbage Throw Farm.

[00:01:42] Dean, we're recording this here in August of 2022.At this point, how long have you been farming?

[00:02:00] Dean Buttacavoli: So I've been growing food for quite some time, probably since 2011, 2012. That first stage was in a backyard with my friends from college, and then in 2014, I got my first job growing food, essentially. I got like, before any experience, I got a farm management position with a nonprofit farm down in Camden, and that was 2014.

[00:02:25] And yeah, that was a humbling experience to be managing an urban farm with not much experience at all. I had I went to school in Arizona and there, me and a bunch of rock climbing buddies. We just had a big backyard and we started growing stuff, mainly squash and corn. Yeah, that kind of launched the dream.

[00:02:46] But essentially we've been running Cabbage Throw Farms since 2018, but we broke ground 2017 and the following year we started selling vegetables. So really, I see us as we're five years into being very serious about trying to make a go out of doing this commercially, making money doing it. And yeah, we're just feeling some maturity like we've got our feet under us.

[00:03:09] We've got a small little farm business that supports our, supports us. So that feels really good. And this is the first year we're feeling really confident about who we are as growers and we're not always looking over our shoulder at what other people are doing, but we're finally, okay, this is what we're about.

[00:03:25] Let's look at our systems and evolve into who we want to be in our context. So that's where we are. Yeah, five years into Cabbage Throw Farm.

[00:03:34] Diego Footer: How hard was that to be who you wanna be when it comes to farming in those systems? And it's similar to life, right? You emulate people and then eventually you grow into your own.

[00:03:45] What was the kind of catalyst for you and Emily to say, All right, there's other people doing their thing. What do we actually need to do?

[00:03:53] Dean Buttacavoli: You have limitations, right? A lot of when you're listening to these podcasts and everyone's like, where's the money? Everyone's getting Caterpillar tunnels and high tunnels, those types of things.

[00:04:04] And for us, we're still mainly in the field because I have a limitation of, we don't own land. Our landowners aren't open to a tomato house and a cucumber house and this big piece of infrastructure. So I can't just like do things that other people are doing. There's also financial limitations on our farm.

[00:04:23] So like we can't just get a 70 horsepower Kubota with a big old spader on the back. It's not where we are financially. So, as you go along in the beginning, we were definitely�I came up actually listening to your podcast, Diego. Like I said, I got my first job managing a nonprofit farm. I had very little experience and during my time off, and I was living in Philadelphia, and I was like walking around the city listening to Permaculture Voices.

[00:04:52] And then you and Curtis Stone started the podcast, and I was like, Okay, this is it. This is what we should be doing. We should be staying small, focus on a very small amount of crops. And so I was just like following that mantra of, stay small, focus on a small amount of crops, and just refine them and get them better.

[00:05:14] But then you start doing it, and you realize you can't always, For me, I couldn't push like hakurei turnips and radishes in the heat of summer and you just evolve and you realize, and we were pushing things probably too long, maybe three or four years. And then you say, Hey, do I need to be doing this? Or maybe I wanna diversify?

[00:05:32] In the beginning, we really wanted to be restaurant-oriented farmers. But we got into farmer's markets and that kind of kept going more and more. So now we're like, Okay, let's not just do the minor crops of radishes and hakurei and arugula, let's do the major crops. Maybe even stuff that takes a lot more space.

[00:05:53] As you do it, we've seen the end of the year balance on our books. We've seen that five times now. So I can, we know the game that we're playing before, you're just throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks. But now I have� Last year, we hit a really great goal for ourselves and this year was like the first year, the following, the same thing where we did last year in terms of like crop planning, the amount of things that we're planting.

[00:06:19] What we wanted to talk about is we're just changing. We abandoned the 30-inch bed system. We adopted the 42-inch bed top. Okay, these systems didn't work for us. Let's chuck 'em. Let's adopt these new systems. And really, we're like getting ready to scale up and we're not gonna do that quickly at all.

[00:06:36] We're very much like slow and steady kind of farms. That's just how I am. But let's test some of these, what the big boys are doing, why are they doing it? And yeah, all over the place with that one, but�

[00:06:48] Diego Footer: Why do you think� Let me say this. When I first started the podcast, there was some podcasters I listened to and I more or less plug and played their formula to get it up and running.

[00:07:01] And then eventually I started to realize, okay, this works, but it's not necessarily what I wanna do, or something's not fully fitting in. And I say this with no disrespect to either the more experienced senior farmers or the people learning, but you have people out there, Connor at Neversink, JM, Curtis back in the day, why do you think so many new people are beholden to just following their system?

[00:07:29] Like kind of dot for dot, instead of looking at it and saying, Okay, what you're doing now, how do I adapt this to my context? It's almost like people are being trained to be recipe followers instead of chefs where they think on their own using the conditions that they're presented with and the materials that they're given?

[00:07:52] Dean Buttacavoli: Yeah absolutely. And I think that's what's so amazing about those guys. For someone like me who was very young, idealistic, had zero experience, I had that recipe to follow, and it was gonna get you somewhere. But once you start doing it a little bit now, you okay? I'm learning a little bit. I'm connecting.

[00:08:10] You know, for me, I was really good at retaining information, but like following through, you just, it's exactly that. You have to come up as your own grower and do what is right for you. Like right now. Like increasing my gross sales is not my priority at all. I wanna have fun. I wanna start trying cover crops.

[00:08:31] I want to, yeah, I want to grow a larger selection of vegetables for my farmer's market customers, my CSA customers. Your priorities change, your confidence in yourself changes, your style changes. These tools might work for them, and it doesn't work for you for whatever reason, maybe whatever it is. And.

[00:08:52] Yeah, it's mainly it. Yeah, I think it's, I think it's just this time, man. Time and experience.

[00:08:58] Diego Footer: How do you become your own farmer? What I mean is that a formalized process like at the end of the year? Now, at the end of a month, like periodically, are you guys looking at what you're doing and saying, Oh, we've been doing this.

[00:09:10] It doesn't work. Because it's real easy to get started. Following the recipe. But if you're never analyzing, does this actually work for my market? Does it work for my life, where I wanna go with my life? It's not that it doesn't work, but it, like you said, it might not work for you. What have you guys done to try and look at your life and your farm and your business and where you want to go with it and say, Okay, here's what we did.

[00:09:38] We need to change some things, or we wanna change some things to better fit.

[00:09:42] Dean Buttacavoli: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I am someone who reflects often. I am definitely like a big picture thinker, like the micro details of the day to day, that's really, honestly, Emily, she's like the one like has the to do list, like we need�she's the manager of the farm and I'm more like, taking an aerial look at what we're doing, where we're going.

[00:10:02] And so I have my eye on all of those things. Are we working too much? How's our quality of life? Are we working with too much weight on our shoulders? Just too much stress, you know, What does the bank account look like this year compared to last year at this time? Are we actually pushing the needle on this thing, or are we just like treading the water?

[00:10:22] How happy are our customers? Are we retaining customers? Do we want a vegetable empire or do we wanna just have something that supports our family and all of those things. We talk about that stuff constantly, probably too much. Me and Emily are both like, we love what we do, and we really want to make a 30-year career out of it.

[00:10:42] So we are very cautious with every single move that we make. And we're always trying to make it more stable and more balanced overall. We have huge ambitions, but we always are calming it down because we've had five years of getting our butt kicked. We're like, we know, like you can't just keep throwing energy and money at farming.

[00:11:05] �Cause it's still a very low margin game and, but I'm okay with that. Really. I'm not doing it for, we're not really doing it for the money we're doing it for�we're passionate about it. We really believe in the work that we're doing and we just wanna ha do it and make it an honest living, get paid pretty well, and yeah, continue to love it and love each other while we're doing it. And that's hard man. But we're definitely doing.

[00:11:30] Diego Footer: So do you think at five years in with your own farm, you're at the point where you can say this farm is successful, given your definition of success?

[00:11:40] Dean Buttacavoli: As of now, yes. We can't continue going on the way we're doing it. But I'm happy right now. I'm 31. My fianc�e Emily, she's 29.

[00:11:48] We don't have kids. This is a time that we're saying, Okay, we can have an unbalanced life, and we can give this farm as much attention as it needs, but we need to be moving away. We need to be figuring out a way to be doing this in a way that's less labor intensive, less time intensive. Yeah, we're, I'm very comfortable where we are right now, but I know that we have to take more steps and push the boundaries even more so we can get to, so we can bring in employees.

[00:12:17] So for our context, we're just a two-man team. It just me and Emily full time. We have one part-timer that just really helps out on markets. We do, we're on a three-acre flat. And we have an acre and a half of market gardens. We're really similar to JM and his wife's farm. We're really, we're CSA-based and farmer's market-based, so we're very diverse in what we're growing.

[00:12:42] In terms of number, we grossed to 150, a little over 150,000 last year. And that's just two people doing all of the work. I'm pretty proud of that. We also take home a decent profit from that. It's always been my goal to be as profitable as possible so we're not just taking those gross dollars and dumping it into the further growth of the business.

[00:13:03] We've been really trying to hold onto those dollars and make sure that like we're okay, the bank account�s full before we continue to grow this thing. But to be honest, we know we need, there's a time we're gonna be needing to be bringing in other personalities and we're gonna need to be growing in order to support those personalities. And we want those laborers, those employees, for us to be earning us a little bit more, too.

[00:13:28] Diego Footer: For a two-person operation, you guys are partners in life and on the farm. Yeah. Do you guys pay yourself a wage or does your quote wage come out of the profit from that 150?

[00:13:39] Dean Buttacavoli: It comes outta the profit. The way I think about, So I try to keep the numbers, the profit as high as possible.

[00:13:44] So I'm usually, like at the end of the year, everyone's trying to spend off all that money. I'm trying to get that profit as high as possible. So I cut off all spending in May, and then we just hoard everything and my, our pay is, we'll use retirement accounts to offset our taxes. And so for me, those retirement accounts are like us paying ourselves money that we can't touch until we're later on in life.

[00:14:10] And I don't know how smart that is. It's good that we're paying ourselves that, but of course, it detracts from the money that we have access to, to continue to fund for our business. But it honestly keeps us humble because at the end of the, Yeah, we take, we take a big chunk out of that, out of the bank account, put it into retirement accounts, and then we have this left-over money, which is much, much less to then say, Okay, how are we gonna spend this 10, $20,000?

[00:14:35] We're not saying, Okay, we have $50,000. Let's just go ahead and spend it and then you're sitting empty. So that's our pay has been the retirement accounts, but anything else that we take that's left over, it's fair game for inserting it back into the business and helping us achieve our goals, which this year our goals wasn't really to make more money, but it was okay.

[00:14:59] How, what pieces of equipment can we use to give us back some more time? And a good segue into what we're talking about was, you know, we wanted to mechanize weed control. So we bought like a two wheel, a two wheel cultivating tractor. From till more the power rocks. And from there we, Cause that was one of our limiting factors, was on an acre and a half with just two hands.

[00:15:24] We can't hoe every piece of ground every day. And at the height of the season in July and in June and then again in fall, we have all acre and a half of that land completely planted. Me and Mar�me and Emily are at markets three days a week. We really are only farming two or three days. So the weeds were getting outta hand, and we were like, Okay, if we're just gonna be two people, we need to figure out how to keep weeds under control and that that was the move that we made, yeah.

[00:15:52] Diego Footer: So standard market farm, 30-inch bed is the norm. Most people are four rows on a 30-inch bed. When you looked at mechanical weed control through a two-wheel tractor, why wouldn't a four row, 30-inch bed system be compatible?

[00:16:11] Dean Buttacavoli: Yeah. There's just not enough space, and once you start bringing in tooling, even with this two-wheel tractor, something, which is like the smallest piece of mechanized weeding equipment you can get.

[00:16:22] In order for those toolings to work, you need to give your�you need to have space in between your rows. So we started studying what larger farms were doing, and lo and behold, a lot of people, the standardized bed unit is a 42-inch bed top, and they're all doing it like the 60 inch center to center beds from.

[00:16:42] And a lot of folks that we were running into, they were standardizing that to doing 15 inches between their vegetable rows and so we adopted that. Yeah, we do not really have a 42-inch bed top. We're actually really just, You're right. We're market growers, so we, we do everything in blocks, which we call plots.

[00:17:04] Our blocks are 50 by a hundred, and so that 50 by a hundred, we actually just� We just go, we're just doing old school row farming. The rows that we deal with are 15-inch, 30 inch, or 60 inch, depending on the crop that we're growing, for the most part, it's 15 and we're just packing that whole plot from one end to the other with rows.

[00:17:27] I hope that's a decent way of explaining it. Yeah, we started out in the year thinking we're gonna have a 42-inch bed top with 18-inch walkways, and unfortunately it shrank our farm like drastically by a third when we are fitting in 30-inch beds with 14-inch pathways, which is how we used to do it into a 50 by a hundred foot plot.

[00:17:48] We would get 13 beds within a plot, and then we would put four to five rows within that bed. And then once we did, we went to a 42 inch bed top, it shrank our amount of beds in that plot from 13 to 10, and then within that bed it went from four rows to three rows. So we ran outta room and they're like, ccrew it.

[00:18:11] Let's just plants even the pathways. And that's been fine. It works fine with the tooling, with the power ops that we got. And so we've, we've probably, we'll go in between them. We're in a period that we're trying to grow and get into more land just to accommodate this mechanization and other things. But yeah, the big inspiration for us has been Jason Weston from Joe's Gardens.

[00:18:34] He did a podcast way back with Chris Blanchard. From the farm to Farmer. I had that in my back pocket cuz I, I heard about it. Probably listen to that podcast maybe five years ago. And so I just studied everything he was doing and we adopted and I noticed that he was going and doing just rows rather than bed tops.

[00:18:51] And he's on a pretty small setting, too. I think only five acres, which is like where our next move is gonna be to going from like a three-acre farm to more of a five acre farm. Yeah.

[00:19:01] Diego Footer: What don't you like about this setup compared to traditional market farming?

[00:19:05] Dean Buttacavoli: There's not much, say I go in with like tote and there's a crop like right in the middle of the plot that's ready, it's hard to get in and out and put the tote down because there's not, yeah, there's not like an 18 inch space that I can just plop the tote down, but it hasn't been hard.

[00:19:22] I've been, instead, we'll just work our way from the edge of the plot inward and I'll just pull the tote on top of the harvested crop that I'm working on, we've been experimenting a lot with vegetable spacing and so we have had some losers. Not many, but for the most part I love it, man, cuz I kind, we completely eliminated running lines and beds. I no longer am staking beds. It's a lot more loose of a system and it works no problem.

[00:19:48] Diego Footer: Have you noticed better growth given a wider row spacing?

[00:19:52] Dean Buttacavoli: In a big way, yeah. Because before we were growing everything in the 30 inch and packing in, so here's some minor crops that like, like dandelion greens. I know it's like such a minor crop, but if you pack 'em in, they get quite big.

[00:20:05] And then the lower leaves, they just yellow out. And then you have so much more airflow with everything at 15-inch, everything looks lush and beautiful. Fennel was the same way, kohlrabi, all of these things, and we're actually lessening the amount of fertility that we're putting on the beds altogether.

[00:20:21] But our spring production, I was amazed because we've been on our space for four or five years, and I've been worried that our plots are getting a little bit tired. And there's definitely a couple, there's a lot of our plots�they've never really been rested or cover cropped. And every time I open that up in spring and plant into it, I'm a little self-conscious as I'm a little doubtful it's going to still produce beautiful vegetables, and this year, we had some of our most amazing spring crops.

[00:20:50] Gem lettuces, romaines, everything. The cotyledon leaves were not yellowing out how they would in when they were crammed on a 30 inch bed. Now, fall production, you get a lot more because the plants go in now and then they start getting crowded at the end of August and early September when there's still a lot more heat.

[00:21:11] And so usually, you'd have the cotyledon leaves yellowing out a lot more in fall. So I think this fall is really gonna be the test as to whether the wider row spacing really does equate to better plant health. So I'm really excited to see that.

[00:21:26] Diego Footer: Have you changed the in row spacing at all, or is that still the same?

[00:21:30] Dean Buttacavoli: No. Yeah. Yeah. We, as we were big users of the paper pot, so most of our stuff's either on two-inch or fou- inch, and then we have a bunch of auxiliary stuff that's on six-inch. We're still huge users of the paper pot, and the system works fine with it. Yeah, we're, yeah.

[00:21:46] Diego Footer: So if you're doing a bed block, 50 feet wide, you said? Is that what you said?

[00:21:50] Dean Buttacavoli: Yeah, that's what a plot is, but we're not�it's all different vegetables.

[00:21:55] Diego Footer: So it just might be five rows of lettuce and then five rows of carrot and then five rows of radish and everything's just 15 rows apart or 15 inches apart? When would you go to a 30-inch spacing something, tomatoes or peppers or something like that?

[00:22:07] Dean Buttacavoli: No, in that we're doing, we're doing like 30, so if it's not 15-inch rows, it's 30 inch rows. If it's not 30-inch rows, 60 inch rows. So those are our three different, like standardize row spacings. And that's more like trying to look forward about the toolings that we think we're gonna get. We're gonna be getting, We just bought like a formal cub.

[00:22:29] It's not, we have, it's in our driveway. We're not really using it in the field, but we, this was the year that we're testing out these different row spaces because we're gonna start putting toolings on the underbelly of that thing. And yeah, the 15, 30, or 60. It's meant so that if you have a tooling that does three rows at 15, I wish you had diagrams for this, but the same tooling would do three rows, two rows.

[00:22:56] So it would be three rows, one outside in the middle, and then that same tooling would do the two outside rows if you wanna do 30-inch, or it would just do down the middle 60 inch. So we're getting ready to have a bunch of, yeah, tractor-based tools and. That can do any one of those variations. Right now with the power ox, we just have single row toolings, so it doesn't really matter.

[00:23:20] With peppers and tomatoes, I already made the switch cuz I wanted to see it even before we're using, going to like tractor-based weed control with something like a formal cub or an A CMS G or any of those things.

[00:23:32] Diego Footer: With the Till more mechanized weed control, how has that compared to doing it by hand?

[00:23:40] Dean Buttacavoli: Insanely�it's com�yeah, game changer. Incredible. We have, we only bought two implements with the till more. I wanted it, I looked at the till more as like training wheels into this world of mechanized we control. So we just bought two things.

[00:23:56] We bought a single row basket weeder and we bought a single row finger weeder. We used both of them at the same time. This week we're gonna be doing a big planting of fall beets. We'll plant them this week. Next week I'll come in with the basket weeders. And it will take no time at all with the basket readers.

[00:24:13] You really want to be moving soil, so it's almost better to have more speed than not. You don't want to be flying to the point where like, you're getting dizzy, but you really are like running down the bed. And then the following week I'll do both a basket and a finger weeding on it. The finger weeders are getting the in row weeds, where the basket weeder�s just getting the weeds in between each row.

[00:23:26] Diego Footer: Do the finger Wes go in front of the basket weeders?

[00:24:35] Dean Buttacavoli: No. They're two separate things. So you're, Yeah, they're complete. They're two separate setups, yeah. But I will do the basket weeders and then change out the setup to the finger wheelers and then come behind it. So I am running over twice. That's probably the only inefficiency, but me and Emily haven't really picked up a hand hoe at all this year because also the spacing is so wide.

[00:25:01] If say, I'm not doing it with the till more, I could be doing it with a wheel hoe and I can really just be, there's so much space in between each crop row. It's so easy for me to just walk between each aisle with a wheel hole that I'm doing either the wheel hoe or the till mo. And yeah, we just, we have just as good weed control as we did in years past.

[00:25:22] Except it's not like a huge fight to get it into your schedule, cuz it doesn't take as much time. Yeah.

[00:25:29] Diego Footer: Let's say, a single plot, how long would it take in the previous 30-inch bed top method to cultivate that whole thing by hand versus now with just 15-inch rows? How long does that take using a two two-wheel tractor?

[00:25:42] Dean Buttacavoli: I can't remember exactly how long it took us with hoes�?

[00:25:46] Diego Footer: Noticeably quick, noticeably�

[00:25:48] Dean Buttacavoli: It is, Diego, it's insane. Yeah, it really is, To the point where I'm very happy about that change that we made. There's some changes you make and you're like, you can't really see the benefit, but this is like night and day. I don't have to be looking down.

[00:26:00] You don't have to really be fighting. And because I have it, we're doing it more because it's a big piece of equipment. Of course, I wanna be using it, so I'm just constantly out there with that tool after planting. So it's just, I don't know, maybe right now, I'm in the honeymoon stage with this tool, but, and if you keep using it, it's extremely effective and quick. Yeah.

[00:26:22] Diego Footer: How much room do you need at the end of an aisle? The turnaround, if somebody's gonna look at a setup like this?

[00:26:26] Dean Buttacavoli: Yeah, so we have five, just five feet. That's all we have. And next year, so most of our plots, the way we set up our garden is we have 50 by a hundred foot, and then there's five foot walkway just to get access to around the plots.

[00:26:43] And then we have another, pretty much what we're doing is we're gonna actually combine plots to lengthen them. They're gonna become 50 by 150, and then we're actually gonna probably take that to 50 by 200 feet. So we're gonna go to a 200 foot length and this tool is pushing us to do that. We're probably gonna do that next year.

[00:27:01] Yeah. And there's certain things of coming from a market gardening background that we've learned to love, and one thing is the hundred foot bed length, it makes things like managing insect netting and row cover is very simple. So also we do a lot of tarping and so you know, I don't want to be thinking about having 200 foot piece of row cover, and like wrestling it around.

[00:27:26] So what we're gonna do is we're just gonna keep the hundred foot lengths and just use two of them to complete a row. Does that make sense?

[00:27:36] Diego Footer: Yeah, yeah. Kind of, after a hundred feet, would you have a little bit of a gap or just keep going?

[00:27:40] Dean Buttacavoli: No, I'll just sandbag it or whatever. And then I start anew. And the same thing with like landscape fabric, cuz we definitely use landscape fabric.

[00:27:48] We'll just keep 'em at a hundred foot lengths, we'll just staple it at the end. And then you'll have a new piece that comes in. Same thing with tarps. It'll be a hundred foot piece, but then to do the other a hundred feet, it will just be another, another piece of tarp, and that's what keeps it human scale because I think that's the benefit of market gardening is everything is human scale.

[00:28:09] And even though we're going more towards tractors, we wanna keep the things that we like about market gardening. Yeah.

[00:28:16] Diego Footer: Earlier you mentioned you're looking to decrease the amount of labor and time you both are putting into the farm. One way to do that is hit it with a bunch of employees. Another way is to mechanize it and leverage the machinery to get a human's output multiplied.

[00:28:35] It's a force multiplier. Is that the direction you're going of, hey, this allows us to manage more or the same amount with less time and labor now while it's just the two of us and then we have to add less employees in the future. Is that the line of thinking?

[00:28:52] Dean Buttacavoli: Yeah, we've been putting off getting employees as long as possible just because I felt like our systems were good, but I felt like if we had to start paying people�out here, the wages are pretty competitive, so we have surrounding farms that are paying people 15 an hour, so a full-time farmer would cost anywhere between 15 to 20,000.

[00:29:13] So I was like, I don't think our systems are that good that we can keep and hire two employees. I felt like it was gonna decrease our margin a lot. And so we're like, Okay, let's become better farmers and yeah, invest in these pieces of equipment that make me and Emily better growers. But we are looking ahead at saying, this isn't gonna last forever.

[00:29:34] We're not get, we're not gonna get younger. What is the direction we need to be looking if we want to be hiring folks in hiring out these tasks and be making money at the same time? So that's definitely the direction we're looking in and we're not too far out from making those moves.

[00:29:54] Diego Footer: I think for a lot of people who've grown up hearing about a 30-inch bed tops, going to just a wide open plot with 15-inch rows, it's like just a mind blow. Are there any, if somebody came to you and said, Hey, I'm thinking about doing this, not necessarily for even mechanical tillage, I'm just, I'm over the bed system, like I don't need the pathways. I don't wanna maintain the beds to streamline it all that type of stuff, like you're saying. Is there anything you'd want them to think about given your experience this year on these just 15-inch rows?

[00:30:27] Dean Buttacavoli: And I guess it makes crop planning a little bit harder cuz now we're doing everything is just like, so like with fall production, we're going hard on roots. Like I know I'm gonna be doing three trays of kohlrabi and that equates to say 250 feet. I don't know where those 250 feet are gonna fall in in that plot.

[00:30:45] Where before I would've said, Okay, these, this kohlrabi�s gonna be in plot two, beds six and seven. So it's now like, when we're recording, when we're harvesting out something, it's just like kohlrabi plot. It's not really in a bed. So, like I was mentioning, I think we are gonna go back to a bed system.

[00:31:05] It's just gonna be a, it's gonna be a 42-inch bed, not a 30 inch bed. It's just right now that would've shrank my farm so much. We had to just go to a row system. We're in the process of doubling our acreage, and I think once that happens, we're gonna have enough room to spread out and then we're probably gonna adopt a 42 inch bed with 18 inch pathways and then I can, it's gonna allow me to crop plan a little bit better, which in my context is very important cuz we're certified organic, so we have to, They love traceability and I love traceability, too.

[00:31:38] But we're treating things as blocks, like larger scale blocks as crop families rather than just beds. Where before I feel like we were just managing beds when we were much smaller. So yeah, our farm is just evolving to be a little bit bigger.

[00:31:52] Diego Footer: Looking at the till more site now, the Power Ox as of today, August, 2022, 2,800 bucks. I don't know if that includes shipping or not. So it's a pretty large investment for a lot of small farms. If somebody was looking at going and getting that, because that's just the tractor, you gotta add all your weers and everything onto it. So maybe that's, I don't know, another thousand bucks.

[00:32:15] By the time you stick all that on, what would be things you'd want people to think about if they're considering going this two wheel tractor route for tillage�sorry, for cultivating.

[00:32:25] Dean Buttacavoli: Yeah, for me in terms of the price. That's why we did the two wheel tractor, cuz. Everything's expensive. It doesn't matter if it's small equipment or large equipment.

[00:32:34] The large equipment just gets even more jaw droppingly expensive. And there's farms around me that are using tools that are just like insanely expensive. So for me, the power ox, it probably was together maybe seven, eight grand. So like for that, I could wrap my mind around our finances around making that investment.

[00:32:54] Whereas in 2030, blah, blah, blah. It's just way too much. Yeah. Be cautious, right? There's, if you go on till more, there's tons of tool setups. We only chose two. We're like, Okay, let's just see if this works. Let's not go all in. With this new bed system of doing it. At 42, we weren't like, Let's throw out the BCS.

[00:33:15] If we're gonna from Bed center to bed center, it's 60 inches. So honestly, we just have to do it twice now. We're looking forward to larger tools, but we're like, let's just use the tools that we have now and test these larger systems for when we're ready to scale up so we can understand them. And these larger tools are gonna allow us to cut down our steps and just make us that more efficient. So, definitely. Yeah, I do a lot of homework, a lot of research. Yeah.

[00:33:43] Diego Footer: So with all that extra time you have now, what do you do with it? Do you hang out more in New Jersey or do you decide to expand the farm and farm more?

[00:33:52] Dean Buttacavoli: This year, we've actually been taking some time off a little bit. It hasn't been as crazy as it has been years past. We have some opportunities in front of us, so we've been reflecting and making sure that we're, yeah, taking a deep breath in before making decisions at the things that we're looking at.

[00:34:06] But yeah, every time we take time away from the farm, I'm like, Oh man, this time could be better spent growing the farm, doing more, but it's been really good actually having some extra time. Yeah.

[00:34:16] Diego Footer: If you did add more land to farm, you've mentioned, hey, maybe we get five acres or something like that under production.

[00:34:21] Dean Buttacavoli: And we're doing that for a lot of reasons. We wanna eliminate, I wanna do a lot more cover cropping. We've seen a lot of promise with our plants� health after cover crops. I really, we really don't have this space to incorporate a lot of cover crops.

[00:34:38] Right now we have this half a plot of Japanese millet, cowpea, and buckwheat, and it is the most fulfilling thing to see, and I just want to do more. We came into this with an environmental ethic, and that's really what feeds us is feeling like we are farming in a very sustainable, and we don't always wanna be taking, we wanna be giving back.

[00:35:02] So the growth, it's not even about increasing sales, it's about being able to incorporate crop, like just healthier crop rotations, cover crops into our mixes and resting land. It really is. And another thing about this wider row spacing is it�s conducive to a lot of the major crops that we weren't doing before, such as if we ever wanna do potatoes or sweet potatoes or winter squash or corn.

[00:35:30] We know we have demand for these things, but with our limited amount of space, we're not just gonna start growing these crops and eliminating the crops that we are making money on.

[00:35:41] So if we can grow. If we can get bigger, we can get a healthier crop rotation and incorporate some of these larger growing vegetables. And that's what we love. We love growing veggies and being really diverse. We have a small client base, and we just brought our first crop amount to market last week and cantaloupes and people were go nuts.

[00:35:59] And it's a blast doing that. And we like eating that stuff. And it's like we talked about before, it's we're coming into our own. We're no longer saying, Okay, melons are below us. They don't make any money. It's just saying, Okay, yeah, melons might not be a money maker, but let's just do it maybe twice rather than doing four successions, or, but we need to, we do need to grow in order to be doing those things.

[00:36:20] And we've been experimenting a lot with growing cover crop and doing crimpings and it's, that's been growing, going really well. And we want to be doing more of that. And I do, we do need just more space to give the time to grow out those cover crops so they can be mulches and all those things. Yeah.

[00:36:37] Diego Footer: Love the direction you're headed. You guys clearly enjoy what you do. To close this one out, what would Farmer Dean of 2022 tell Farmer Dean of 2014?

[00:36:50] Dean Buttacavoli: Patience and persistence, young one. Yeah, persistence always. This year and last year, we just hit that, right? The original we were set, we set the goal of 150,000 a year. It took us five years to get there.

[00:37:03] I thought it was gonna take a lot longer, but it's with us. in our context. It took us a lot longer, but, You know, we're much more humble now, and we just understand you just have to hold onto for ride and let things fall into place, really. So yeah.

[00:37:18] Diego Footer: One other thought on farmer wisdom as you've aged through it here. A lot of people judge their success, their progress, by numbers, and they hear what other farms are making on similar acreage, and you guys could have been like, Shit, like, we're not making one 50 this year. Like, we failed.

[00:37:38] Dean Buttacavoli: Yeah, I still compare ourselves. I feel we could be doing more, but I know it's in front of us. Yeah. We've been doing it long enough that when you hear someone doing a, a bigger number or whatever, you know what it takes for them to be getting it. So like for us in our size, just me and Emily and how we're doing it, and I'm pretty happy with that number. Yeah.

[00:37:57] Diego Footer: And like you said, if the bank account's full, does the number even matter?

[00:38:01] Dean Buttacavoli: It doesn't. And that's why we've been slowing down our growth a little bit. Like this year we, It was very hard for me to say we're gonna try and hit the same number we did last year, because there's just like a temptation to keep climbing higher and higher. It's hard to keep your feet under you when you're constantly making huge investments and saying, Okay, where's the next 60,000?

[00:38:20] Where�s the next big market, blah, blah, blah? It's easier to play small ball and just say, Hey, we spent $5,000 on compost this year. Can we hold onto that? That's a good pay raise. Yeah. And when you do it long enough, you can see, whereas those big leaks are, and that's another thing with the cover cropping, compost by me is really expensive, and then to lay it down is really expensive.

[00:38:43] Can we get rid of that and be five to $10,000 more profitable? I think we absolutely can. I think it's important when you're in the beginning stages of your farm, of your business, to play small ball before and really understand what's happening before bailing up. Some people are just like, they're hardwired to just keep growing, and that's not me.

[00:39:07] Where, we have the ambitious to do that, but we've been doing this long enough that I realize we don't know a lot. There's still plenty of vegetables we do. It's still, we get lucky when we get them, so it feels better just to be profitable and small and stable before, cuz honestly, you can be honest with yourself if you're ready or not, or if you're just pushing it.

[00:39:31] Diego Footer: Thanks for taking the time to do this today. Really appreciate it.

[00:39:32] Dean Buttacavoli: Yeah, thanks Diego. I appreciate it.

[00:39:36] Diego Footer: All right, so that's the main, can I ask you a couple just rapid fire questions, kind of Chris Blanchard style.

[00:39:42] Dean Buttacavoli: I love it.

[00:39:43] Diego Footer: Yeah. Okay, so here we go. What are three things that makes your business successful?

[00:39:48] Dean Buttacavoli: Three things. That's hard, man.

[00:39:50] Diego Footer: We can come back.

[00:39:52] Dean Buttacavoli: Yeah, let's come back to that. That's a hard one.

[00:39:54] Diego Footer: What's worked really well this year?

[00:39:56] Dean Buttacavoli: Okay, so this year, I definitely would say the mechanize weed control, so changing out our vegetable spacing. The other one has been cover crop crimping and planting into, So this year we have.

[00:40:08] Uh, eggplant and peppers that we planted directly into a rye clover mix, and that's been working wonderfully. We did the same thing with winter squash and both of those crops are absolutely crushing it, so we're gonna be doing that a lot more. It's got me really excited.

[00:40:26] Diego Footer: Okay. What's something that has not worked well this year?

[00:40:29] Dean Buttacavoli: Corn and beans. We tried experimenting with corn with the paper pot transplanter. I just wanted to see it. And in the past with a 30-inch bed, we would do two rows of beans. Down the middle, we would do sunflowers, and that has always worked great. This year we did adopted that same thing. We just did 15-inch beans, corn, beans, and it's been a complete nightmare just because the corn's been shading out.

[00:40:56] The beans haven't been grown well, so it's a summer without good beans. I don't know. Okay. Yeah. Right now it's the crop failure that's in front of me.

[00:41:05] Diego Footer: All right, last one here. If you're gonna start a farm business, you need these three things. Doesn't have to be a tool, doesn't have�it could be anything. Knowledge, a resource. These are the three things you'd need.

[00:41:17] Dean Buttacavoli: Okay. You need to be. Open enough to asking for help and more in terms of talking to a lot of different growers, a lot of different businesses. I think that's one of our strengths is we meet it like an older business owner, and we ask them tons of questions.

[00:41:33] How do you structure your business? How do you deal with taxes? How do you guys make it work? Just you and your wife. And then the same with farmers with production questions. Yeah, being a little bit of a social butterfly and yeah, asking for guidance whenever possible. Other things, I think, yeah, I think patience is definitely another one.

[00:41:53] Yeah. Why? Sorry, I'm stumping. Why patience? Because some things can't be forced, and you need to understand what you know and what you don't know. And that takes a lot of time. There are a lot of crops that you do once or twice, and you think you know them and then it kind of changes. Right now, like cucurbits, I'm having the hardest time growing them, and so I'm just realizing we have to completely change or we have to come at it completely differently.

[00:42:17] And that's something that I just opened my eyes up to this year. I'm like, Damn, we suck at growing these crops. And we always have them, but I don't think we grow them well. So that's. Just allowing time to show you Yeah. Your path, how you're doing. Yeah.

[00:42:31] Diego Footer: When you first started in 2014, what's one thing you wish you could do over on the farm?

[00:42:36] Dean Buttacavoli: With us, something that's been driving me nuts is we've been very slow to invest in season extension and it's like the next thing that we're doing, we're trying our hardest to do it. Yeah, see season extension is a profit maker. Just doing that. We didn't get our first cat tunnel until a year three, so I would've done that a lot sooner.

[00:42:57] Diego Footer: There you have a Dean Buttacavoli of Cabbage Throw Farm in New Jersey. If you wanna learn more about what they're doing with their bed block system, follow them on Instagram at Cabbage Throw Farm. I've linked to that below to make it easy for you. That's all for this one. Stay tuned for brand new episodes of Farm Small Farm Smart coming a little later this fall.

[00:43:20] In the meantime, enjoy the last days of summer. Thanks for listening, and until next time, be nice, be thankful, and do the work.


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