The Profitable Mini-Farm – Is Market Gardening a Viable Career? (E05) (FSFS268)

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Episode Summary

The Profitable Mini-Farm is a new series hosted by Diego Footer and Jodi Roebuck to take a deep dive into the technicalities of farming—from designing your farm’s layout to crop planning to treating your soil.

In this episode of The Profitable Mini Farm, we’re asking one question many people have asked in the past: is market gardening a viable career? While there are many growers who make a comfortable living growing food, there are those who struggle to do the same thing. Farmer and educator Jodi Roebuck shares his thoughts on the viability of market farming.

Today’s Guest: Jodi Roebuck

Jodi Roebuck is the main farmer behind Roebuck Farm and is a John Jeavons alumnus. He has been teaching sustainable bio-intensive growing techniques all over the world for over 20 years with the aim of creating sustainable food systems while bridging the gap between farmers and consumers.

            Roebuck FarmWebsite | Instagram | Facebook

In this episode of Farm Small, Farm Smart

  • Diego introduces the episode on the viability of market gardening (00:50)
  • Jodi Roebuck’s thoughts on the viability of market gardening (02:03)
  • The context of Roebuck Farm’s market and where they sell to (04:38)
  • How much Jodi sells their different produce for (06:35)
  • The potential for profitability by looking at dollars per unit (08:54)
  • Increase the bag size, and potentially increase the numbers (10:10)
    • Accommodating more harvest in the wash and pack (11:11)
  • Packing and pricing for restaurant orders (12:47)
  • Common threads among people who aren’t profitable on a given land base (14:45)
    • Reason 1: pricing items too low (15:08)
    • Comparing against New Zealand grocery prices (16:47)
    • Reason 2: no access to a viable market (20:14)
  • Increasing production for new farmers versus veteran farmers (24:29)
    • Production in year one versus production in year six (30:13)
  • Does improving soil affect productivity? (34:52)
    • A classic example of beetroots (37:09)

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FSFS268 (TPMF05)

[00:00:00] Diego Footer: Welcome to the Profitable Mini Farm. I'm your host, Diego, DIEGO. Thanks for listening to the show. If you're a new listener, on the show, each week we talk to Farmer Jodi Roebuck, him and I take a closer look at what makes his small market farm in New Zealand so successful. We started this show because a lot of people were questioning market farming.

[00:00:26] Can you make a living doing it? So we're hoping that this show can help make more people make a living doing it, and help improve the quality of life on the farm for people who are farming. So I hope you can use a lot of the tips, tricks, and things that we talk about in this episode to be more profitable and to make farming more enjoyable.

[00:00:49] With that, today's episode focuses on this concept of, is market gardening viable? As I said earlier, a lot of people question that, and I've talked to a lot of people who've started market farming and they fail or flounder doing it. Is that their fault? Or is that the fault of market farming? Well, that's one of the questions we're gonna look at today and hopefully give you some answers and advice and tips so you aren't one of the ones that struggles doing it.

[00:01:23] Before we get into today's episode, a word from our sponsor. Today's episode is brought to you by Paperpot Co. Farm Tools. Paperpot Co is your source for time and labor-saving farm tools from the Paperpot transplanter to the Jang Seeder, our goal at Paperpot Co. is to help you plant fast so you can live more.

[00:01:45] Learn how you can become more efficient on your farm with some of the tools we have to offer at With that, let's jump right into it. Is market gardening viable with Jodi Roebuck. What I wanted to talk about today was this idea of market gardening viability. I think there's a lot of changes that have happened in market gardening over the past few years.

[00:02:16] There's a lot of people making a really good living from market gardening. And I think there's a lot of people who aren't making a great living from market gardening and are forced to leave it, and I think a lot of those people who can't make a good living start to look at the people who claim to be making a good living, and they're questioning it.

[00:02:35] To start this out, what are your thoughts from having done this for a while, consulted with a lot of people. Can you make a living doing this?

[00:02:44] Jodi Roebuck: Absolutely, I believe you can. And you know, a lot of growers have changed the space, so that is viable historically. I'll jump in with some stats. Horticulture New Zealand recently announced that it's no longer viable to grow vegetables for a living.

[00:03:03] You know, meanwhile, we're turning over 250K on less than half an acre, direct marketed within 10 kilometers, so we didn't just start there. As our market streams mature, we're able to grow to that space. You know, we can do more production, but it's pointless if we can't sell it. So I'm not calling out the easy entry, kind of the appeal of get into market gardening.

[00:03:27] It's low capital investment, it's easy to get set up. I actually think it takes a lot of hard work and discipline and you know, like we talked last week, we built a wash and pack in the early days before we had the farm income coming in. That was the best thing we did. So it just takes time. We're just talking this week, taking on two new clients, first new clients in two and a half years.

[00:03:52] We've got very stable clients that we work with. Some of them we've had five years, and we hope to think that, I like to think when I retire as old as possible that we've still got the same clientele. So there's some longevity there. So we're just looking at a new supermarket and we're also looking at working with the largest catering company in our town of 80,000 people.

[00:04:13] So that's the big change coming up for us that's allowing us to invest in the new greenhouse build, cuz we can see the sales are gonna increase. In our first season, we spent more than we earned, and generally, we're lifting our year by year. We're lifting our sales by 50 to 70,000 regardless of how much labor we have on the farm or what covid�s doing.

[00:04:38] Diego Footer: I think people hear that who are making a lot less on the same amount of land and they're like, no way. That's not possible. Or they think, you know, you're in some unfair situation where like, you know, somebody's close to New York City and it's like, okay, fine. Yeah, if I could sell into New York City too, right?

[00:04:54] And they'll pay $12 a pound for salad mix, like I'd be making that much, too. Can you give people a little bit of background on the market you're selling into. So 80,000 people in the city, is that the only place you can sell? Because it's very different if you're selling into a city of 80,000 versus a city of 5 million.

[00:05:14] Right? Like the economics could be vastly different. So talk about the marketplace you're selling into. What's it look like? What's a typical cost for something there to give people some context how you fit in?

[00:05:27] Jodi Roebuck: So, New Zealand is a very isolated island. We've got 5 million people in total. So we're, our town has only recently been called a city.

[00:05:35] It's a long ways for us to go. We're out west on a peninsula, so it's a long way to the next town. I'm talking, you know, it's three hours away. So historically, we still are in a dairy farming region. We do a lot of dairy production. And I'd say it's pretty conservative. It's only recently, the last 20 years that we've become, I don't even know if it's the right word, a bit more of a metropolitan.

[00:06:01] We've got a lot more internationals coming here. We've got a lot more big international events here. The city's worked hard on putting in things like cycleways, cycleways along the beach and a lot of events. We have huge music events, tattoo events, car events, all that stuff. We also have per capita or per person.

[00:06:22] A lot of restaurants for a small town, which is great. Restaurants have been hurting with Covid though, and you know, so I would summarize by saying we're in a very conservative market space.

[00:06:35] Diego Footer: What do you sell salad mix there per unit?

[00:06:40] Jodi Roebuck: So in retail across the board is the same everywhere. Our we've got two basic salads, same ingredients year-round, just the ratios change in there. There's our flexibility, the 150 grams for our leaves and shoots, which is a combination of microgreens, pea shoots, baby mizuna, and lettuce. That's 150 grams for $6.50. That's been our only item at 6.50. Everything else is $5, whether it's a clamshell of cherry toms, a couple of cukes, about 500 grams of carrot.

[00:07:16] A bunch of coriander, a bunch of spring onions, everything's $5, and it's ta�you know, the, especially the two salads. We won awards for both of those. The other salad is just radish microgreens, mixed with pea shoots. We call that rainbow mix, although in the supermarket, we change the name just to microgreens because people have heard of microgreens.

[00:07:40] But they don't necessarily know what they are when they see them. And so our rainbow mix, when we put it in the supermarket, it didn't sell. We changed the name to Radish Microgreens, and it started selling like hotcakes. So the 80 grams of microgreens, $5, we don't use clamshells for salads. We use recyclable, not compostable, but recyclable bags, and we seal them with air in them and brand them.

[00:08:05] And after our, I'll say after five seasons, we had a very strong, very strong sales for these two salads. People just had to have them. And what we just did six months ago was we lifted the $5 bag of radish micrograms up to $6.50, and we took the grams from 80 to 110 and nobody complained. I think they enjoyed having a larger salad.

[00:08:32] And so I dunno what that ratio is, I could work it out. But we lifted our microgreen sales in retail by 25% just by making the bag bigger. And we couldn't have done that in day one. People wouldn't have brought microgreens for $6.50 here, you know, until we had them as kind of addicted to our salads, which is a good thing.

[00:08:54] Diego Footer: Okay. Yeah. And just to bring people up to speed on some unit conversion here, so you're talking New Zealand dollars. So six 50 New Zealand is about $3 and 90 cents at the current exchange rate US and 150 grams is, that's about six ounces US. So you're about $4 for six ounces of salad mix. Your other items that you're selling for five New Zealand dollars, that's about $3 US.

[00:09:24] So I think $3 US per unit is pretty good. I mean, this is one way I think people who aren't making enough money, this is how you can start to become potentially more profitable, is you look at your dollars per unit. Because if you have�some people go by this whole bag system like Curtis has talked about, well, I'm gonna sell a bag of radishes or a bunch of radishes for $3.

[00:09:50] Well, how big is that bunch? Right? And if you're currently selling through everything and you're not making enough money, one option is to increase the price and keep the bunch size the same. Another option is to grow more, to satisfy the demand. Another option is to keep the price the same but lower the bunch size.

[00:10:10] So now you get more bunches, and you're effectively charging more per bunch on yours. Can you go through that example again of what did you do with the microgreens in terms of numbers?

[00:10:21] Jodi Roebuck: So we literally just increased the bag size and the proportionate price. So it wasn't any more expensive. It was the same price.

[00:10:29] We jumped from 80 to 110 grams, and we took it from five to $6.50. We just got it worked out, you know, what's the price increase? How many grams do we need to increase to be able to sell it at $6.50? And very early spring, we just had snow on the mountain. It's been raining a lot. When the sun comes out, it's warm.

[00:10:50] Things have lifted this week outside of restaurant sales, we did about 600 salads across town or within 10 kilometers. And yeah, we can see, we can totally lift that production for as we take on these two new outlets. And I think what this might be a random comment, but a lot of people comment, well, you're growing, you're expanding.

[00:11:15] You've got the field space to expand. What happens with your wash and pack now? Because our washing pack isn't huge, and is your chiller big enough? So we can see that as we, let's say, almost double our salad harvest, which is twice a week, after everything's washed, washed, and dried, and restaurant orders are put together, we simply bring out half the salad.

[00:11:38] So, you know, 50% of our lettuce, mizuna, pea shoots, microgreens, and mix that first on our portable aluminum trolleys. And then we stack that up on wheels in a tower, put that back in the chiller, bring the second half out, mix that, and then we deconstruct the washroom. We just wheel out all the trolleys, and we've just got two big towers of mixed salad ready to package.

[00:12:01] So and the thing is with the wash and pack design, there's no cookie cutter. It's all about designing to your style of production. So our washing pack really is a mixed salad washing pack. And the one place we don't want any product apart from our storage crops like carrots or cukes. Carrots might be for restaurant.

[00:12:22] They might spend two weeks in the chiller, max. Cukes might spend a few days, but with wash and pack is only two meters square. Sorry. Our walk-in chiller is two meters square. As soon as we're packaged, I'm off on deliveries, so we're not storing anything in the chiller. We've got room to store all of our empty totes, as you call them, after they're washed and stacked in there. Wheels are our best friend in wash and pack and across the farm.

[00:12:47] Diego Footer: With that lettuce mix, what are you selling it to restaurants for? Same price or different?

[00:12:51] Jodi Roebuck: Yeah, we don't use the term wholesale. I might be totally incorrect. Like we're not�we're not sending a, you know, like a wax box with a plastic sleeve full of lettuce to our restaurants.

[00:13:04] We're packaging all our salads in 500 gram bags and� I call 'em single items. If we're just selling baby mizuna to a restaurant, pea shoots, radish micros, sometimes lettuce, not much. We bag up the single items before we set out to do the mix. So really quickly, mizuna, $32 a kg, lettuce, $32, radish microgreens, $70, pea shoots, $54.

[00:13:38] And then once we've made the two mixes, the microgreens mix with peas and radish micros and peas, that's still $70. And then we combine the any leftover microgreens and peas with the lettuce and mizuna to make our Rolls Royce salad, we call it, leaves and shoots. There's a bit more time. There's not a lot of time.

[00:14:00] It probably takes two of us to mix, I'll say 20 minutes. By setting out all the vegetable, the clear containers, they�re washed and dried, and spreading all the salad across and mixing it probably takes 20 minutes to do the mix. We're set up for that. The leaves and shoots mix is $35 a kg and in New Zealand, our GST, government savings tax is 15%. So all our prices are that I've just given you. We're adding 15% on at invoice.

[00:14:32] Diego Footer: So I think the prices probably are a little higher than they would be in the US at the end, but that being said, at the end of the day, everybody has to deal with the prices that they can get for the product in their location.

[00:14:45] From having consulted with people in the past when somebody's not making enough money on a given land base, do you see common threads?

[00:14:55] Jodi Roebuck: I think off the top of my head, two. Um, yeah. Two common threads. One is the price might be too cheap, and I'll give you a classic example. Started supplying years ago, radishes to a chef, a caterer. And at that point, I didn't have enough restaurants to be able to get the pricing from them on what they're currently paying.

[00:15:17] And so we were selling radishes with a little green top on, washed, ready to go. Everything we present to a restaurants is ready to cook. They don't have to clean in the thing. We're selling them for $6 a kg second delivery. I went to the chef and he said to me, can you tell me what we're paying for these radishes?

[00:15:36] And I said, $6 a kg. And he just laughed. And I said, well, what? What do you pay for them? And he said, $22. And so I was like, well, how do I lift my price from six to 22? And so I just did that incrementally over time, we're sitting at $20 a kg. Our chefs don't buy any�apart from carrots, they don't buy any of our root veg by the kg, so we pretty much put them through our retail stores.

[00:16:01] So pricing, I would say pricing for me was the biggest stress when we started out. You know, I kind of knew how to grow food. I knew how to work the relationships with our outlets and our chefs. Make a big effort there, but I had no idea on how to set prices, and so I just created a spreadsheet, and I looked globally.

[00:16:20] What does Curtis, JM, et cetera, sell for? What do the large food aggregators sell for? What are the prices in the supermarkets? What do other growers in New Zealand sell for? What are the prices that farmer's markets? Then we just saw a theme or an average across there. And that's, we set those prices six years ago, and we've still got them the same. And I think, just to finish that, the second, sorry, you go.

[00:16:47] Diego Footer: Yeah. How do you, at those prices, how do you compare against a supermarket in New Zealand?

[00:16:53] Jodi Roebuck: The only item our, our salad might be, compared to a hydroponic salad that is sealed with whatever the gases are they put in the bags, we might be 25% higher. But the thing is, our shelf life is 14, 20 days with the micros. That's what our customer base are ecstatic about, is they keep telling me, wow, I brought your salad, and I can't believe how long it lasts, how fresh it is. So, and same day harvest, going through a slick wash and pack. We harvest it yesterday, and everything was across town that afternoon.

[00:17:30] That's the advantage of small scale local. So our prices, generally, you know, we match like our coriander. We think it's cheaper bunched. Our spring onions are really good value. They're cheaper. Our carrots are more expensive. I�ve never not sold a carrot in the retail space. Never had a return.

[00:17:53] So our carrots are 500 grams. The top and tailed, they�re washed, dried, and packaged. They're good three and a half weeks in refrigeration. What we're seeing with the carrots is parents are buying our carrots for their kids' school lunches, and then they're buying a conventional carrot if they're making something like a soup or grating them in a salad or something like that.

[00:18:16] So also with the restaurant supply, we just matched the, in New Zealand it's called, there's two companies Gilmore�s and Bidfood. They're the large food aggregators. We just match their prices. And I'll give you an, and so you've got a, you've got a, my advice is find a chef that's transparent and that you enjoy working with and talk to them about the prices they're currently paying and you know, you can offer service, strong relationships, and quality, and that they will prefer that.

[00:18:49] One of our top restaurants asked us, can you grow a medium sized baby carrot? I said, sure I can. How much would you like per week? And they said, 30 to 40 kilograms. And I was straight home and get those carrots in the Jang Seeder. We sell�our carrots take 90 days for us to grow. We have them nine months of the year.

[00:19:07] And I said to the chef, what are you currently paying for carrot, for baby carrots that they weren't that happy with? And they said 17.55 a kilogram plus GST. And so I kind of thought, wow, that's a gold mine. And, but carrots are work, they take a long time. That's a keep, you know, your days to maturity. So we've been supplying them nine months of the year with carrots.

[00:19:34] It's a good turnover for us. It's good revenue, it's work. Straight up everyone knows carrots are work. And after my third season, I actually dropped the price for them. So I think it's fair to say we're undercutting the food aggregators by $2.50/kg and the carrots because we're top and tailing them, washing and drying them and storing them in sealed bags, in sealed containers. They're good three and a half weeks, so we stockpile restaurant carrots, which are our grade one carrot, so that on harvest day, we're mainly focusing on salad, putting our orders together, and then getting across town with those deliveries.

[00:20:14] Diego Footer: Okay, so competitive with people in your area, other retailers in your area. I derail this a little bit there, but what was the second reason you think people struggle to make money?

[00:20:27] Jodi Roebuck: I think it's a combo, you know, in the Western world, not being close to population. You know, if you're on a small island, with not many people there. That's that. I see that a bit. We've got lots of small islands north of us.

[00:20:42] You've got a market stream challenge. And then with my travels, I've worked in a lot of places, for example, Bali, where the price of food there is just so cheap that if you want to, as an expat over there, you wanna set up a market garden, the numbers don't add up. There's not many westerners in Bali with market gardeners, with market gardens that are making an income cuz they're selling their vegetables at under 25% of the cost that say we're selling them for in New Zealand.

[00:21:11] And I've got a grower from Portugal coming to train with us this season, and he's telling me the same, that the demographic over there. You know, he's set up fast crops, he's got all the tools, Jang, he's making a wash and pack and that, but he's only able to sell his produce at 25% of perhaps what we're selling them for in New Zealand, Australia, Canada, America. So that's kind of the overall theme that I see. Yeah. You know, it's a big, you've gotta make the question do, do I wanna do this here?

[00:21:45] Diego Footer: That's it. I think that's the unfortunate reality of some locations and we're�like, some places you're not gonna know till you start. If you, I mean you could do research if you're in a lower cost of living area, like a different country or even certain parts of the US are much lower.

[00:22:04] You gotta do your your costs and say, okay, well I need to be selling whatever lettuce at $2 a pound cuz that's what everybody else is selling it at. And then it doesn't take too many phone calls to market gardeners to say, Hey, can I be profitable selling lettuce for $2 a pound for them to say no. So you don't start right, like if you�or you try and find some way to get a higher price, like are, even in a low value area.

[00:22:35] Is there a pocket of people that would pay more because usually everywhere there, there is that. Now that pool might not be huge. It might not be big enough to support a full farm. Somebody else might already be selling to that pool, but you gotta try and find it. And then if you do end up to start, and you find yourself in that situation, it's like you gotta eventually just look at the numbers and realize here, this is not working.

[00:22:56] For the hours in, for the sales out. If you're selling product, if you're selling it all, but you're not selling, making enough money, well your prices are too low. If you can't raise prices, then you're probably just in the wrong business, and I don't think that's a market farming thing. I think it's just�

[00:23:12] It's anything, right? Like if you charge, you tried to sell Lamborghini in a low cost of living farming village in Bali, you're not gonna sell any. Is that Lamborghini's fault or is it your fault for trying to sell 'em there? So I think people really need to try and suss this out. Because I do hear these stories of people working a ton of hours not making enough income, and there's always a reason why.

[00:23:41] And there's other ways you could potentially increase that income. But you gotta start like, is my pricing right? Could I sell more? And then it may come down to something in Darby and I have talked about in Grass Fed Life, you may have to drive to a different area. There may be a better market that is, you know, your next town's three hours away.

[00:24:01] If that town could pay 25% more for the same produce that you sell locally, I'm pretty sure you'd drive or you'd find somebody to drive the three hours once a week to sell into that market.

[00:24:11] Jodi Roebuck: You were spoke�spoken in previous episode about, you asked me would I prefer a beautiful site further away from town, or a challenging site close to town, and we are close to town, but I would choose the site, I would choose the nice site further.

[00:24:29] Diego Footer: Yeah. When you think, well, another way is if I'm not making enough money, there's two issues, right? I don't have enough revenue coming in, or I don't have enough production, or my expenses are too high. But let's say you've lowered your expenses as much as you can. You've gotten all that muda out of there so you can raise prices.

[00:24:49] And if you're still not making enough, but you're selling out, well, you gotta raise production. In your experience, without adding land, so we're not adding more beds, we're not adding acreage for some�usually I think people struggling with this are newer farmers. Like, I don't think you're gonna have a 10 year vet with this struggle.

[00:25:09] But for somebody newer, do you think�it's kind of like when people start working out, they have this thing called newbie gains. So like if I've never worked out before, and I start working out, like I can put on a lot of muscle really quick because I was at such a deficit. But then if you work out for 10 years, you kind of hit the ce�your genetic potential and you really can't add that much more muscle.

[00:25:31] So the curve flat lines, you don't mean what you think of this, but I think it's the same for market gardeners. Like if you've never grown before, like your ability to increase production from days from year zero to year five is pretty good because like you can learn how to grow, get more efficient, your soil gets better, like you get this huge lift early on.

[00:25:51] But later on, you know, for in your case or maybe not your case, because you're not fully there yet with your land, but you run out of kind of levers to push to double production every year. So for somebody who's new, what does growing production look like? Is that as chall, is that challenging? Is it, I don't ever say it's easy, but is it easier to grow production at year two to year three than it would be going from year nine to 10?

[00:26:19] Jodi Roebuck: We're in year six of, you know, direct marketing. I think even at year six, it's getting easier, Diego. So I've listened to a lot of content over the last couple of years as we went through Covid, and I think, you know, we've all been affected by that. Just listened to your Carrot Cashflow episode last night with a grower from New York that pretty much switched from farmer's market to online sales and they took by, you know, there's some challenges with it, but also it, it seemed, it took risk out of it.

[00:26:51] They�ve lessened their waste because it is pre-sold. So they're doing their dropoffs, whether it's a drop off point or a pickup and or a delivery, I should say. And I think the trying to eliminate risk is a big change in growing your confidence, understanding your market stream, and knowing there's not gonna be any waste.

[00:27:15] Um, so our waste comes from limiting waste comes from multiple outlets that we sell at and generally by doing, combining a lot of our crops together, we might be short on one, but it will have more of another, and I think kind of jumping from there, we're also dropping crops each year. And we saw Curtis do this over his market garden in Korea each year simplified his crops.

[00:27:41] And I'm not saying just to grow a couple of crops, but you do need to focus on what is profitable for you. And so we've, we only grow bush beans. Uh, we do three, six sessions and we only grow them for one restaurant. We know we're not making any money on them. It's a lost leader, but it's a thank you to them.

[00:27:59] We dropped zucchinis. If the numbers aren't stacking up, we just dropped it. If a restaurant says to us, can you grow this crop for us? I'd say 80% of the time we say no. Or we'll doa small trial. And really too, when a restaurant comes to and see, can you grow? You need to straight away, you need to know, well, what numbers do you go through each week?

[00:28:22] We grew a, a head lettuce for a chef once, and he started, we had beds of successions on. I hadn't communicated with him about what are your volumes? And he started ordering three head lettuce a week. So we just simply chopped that head lettuce high and put it through our salad mix into our retail. So we learned our lesson there, and that's a lot of waste if we didn't have a market for it.

[00:28:43] So I think, you know, we've doubled our turnover on pretty much the same land area since Covid, two and a half years ago. We've got 18 new beds and the 50-foot-long beds. That's not much growing. That's not much more land to double your sales in that time. So Covid has been a navigational nightmare in some ways, but it's also been our friend in other ways that it's made people value fresh, local food.

[00:29:13] And having it in front of them where it's complimentary and convenient has been for us, the best thing. So if we quickly look back each season, yes, we're increasing our production and our sales, but the ratio of our business has changed significantly to, let's, I'm just hit these ballpark numbers.

[00:29:35] But three seasons ago, we were probably 60%, 65% restaurant sales, 35% retail sales. And if I move forward to now, we're sitting at 80% retail sales and 20% restaurant. The restaurants have challenged to get through the, you know, covid. Whereas retail has really thrived. I think as you get more confident in understanding your market streams and your consistency that you can, that's how you can keep lifting your product. For us, it's fast crops.

[00:30:13] Diego Footer: So year six, do you think your production per bed has gone up since year one on an equal crop basis? Meaning, you would've gotten this much yield of carrots in yield year one? Now in year six, has that number increased for the same bed unit?

[00:30:35] Jodi Roebuck: I think for some crops it would still be similar. Maybe like radishes, but other crops definitely, it's lifted. I'll give you two examples. Uh, carrots. We have, we use the Jang for carrots. We've found once you get the right roll, that the brush is super sensitive. If you adjust the brush, your grams change drastically. So we've got now designated hoppers for the carrots and just that simple trick there of having a designated hopper.

[00:31:07] So we know we're hitting 10 grams, five rows on a 50 foot bed. We've now switched to three rows. We've set up the Jang as a three row, so we're now just starting to see six rows per bed. Basically, we've got our spacing dialed down with the carrots, and so the grade one carrot has lifted quite considerably. It might be 20, 25% lift.

[00:31:31] It's made it quicker for us to lift those carrots, quicker to grade them. And the percentage of carrot grade one carrot that goes to restaurant has definitely lifted. So that's a, you know, a little example just by folk dialing in on the seeding. And then the second crop I'd like to quickly talk about, or um, actually two more Baby mizuna.

[00:31:53] Over the years, we've slowly lifted the gram that we're drilling and we use 90% of the time we draw that with the six row for all our baby leaf. We used to sow about 30 grams on a 50 foot bed. And over the, in winter we generally increase our grams that we're sowing. Uh, cause it's cold, it's wet and it's slower.

[00:32:13] And we lifted that from 30 grams eventually up to 90 grams. And now that's our year-round standard. So again, we're finding the sweet spot with your density on all your crops. And it'll be different everywhere. What size carrot you're looking for. What soil and climate you got, but we're at 90 grams now with the mizuna, and so it's super dense and sure, if it gets too tall, we might lose it.

[00:32:38] The harvest window might not be as long, but we're able to cut it shorter, even with the stem intact. And we've lifted our harvest per bed of the mizuna for sure. And I think, oh, sorry, two more crops. Coriander, definitely. We've been dialing that in LJ 24 in summer, LJ 30 in winter, and here's a, you know, we all make you l we all learn the hard way.

[00:33:06] This winter, I drilled coriander with R 24, which is a huge hole. The coriander looks beautiful, but it's way too dense, and it's like five times the work for me to lift the coriander and clean it and bunch it. So I've learned the hard way there. You can't overdo your density, but you need to find that sweet spot, I guess, where you're as dense as possible.

[00:33:26] And it's still working. And just one more crop that we've dialed in is our microgreen production. We've applied lean all over that and in a very small greenhouse. We pulled everything out, concreted the floor with drainage and made a trolley that's really a trailer that we stack the microgreens onto when they're germinating, and that's lifted.

[00:33:52] Number of trays we can do by 30 by a third, and we're pretty much doing that for the same labor units, apart from filling the tray. That's the only manual part we have in there. We're drop seeding the seed, greens harvesting them to harvest them on a ramp, washing them in the bubbler. So we've gone from 120 trays potential to 220 in the same area for very little extra time, apart from the process of filling trays.

[00:34:21] And these things just all take time, and I'm really open to telling people I'm a slow learner. Some little tricks that we identify come from doing things tens of thousands of times, or by having like an employee six months in that comes up with a great idea. Like David, our Italian employee, he's cutting two trays of microgreens before unloading the greens harvester. Just a little trick, but it's nearly twice as quick. And you know, it's in our sixth season that we've started doing that. So everything takes time.

[00:34:52] Diego Footer: Do you think soil improving soil affects productivity? Obviously, if you're starting on terrible soil, and you move to perfect soil, you're gonna see an improvement. But if you start on good soil and go to better than good soil, you know, think about your farm. If you just look at the change from year one to six in soil, like does that affect crop yield or are you getting just the benefit in other ways?

[00:35:21] Meaning, you may not see more crop, but you're getting a healthier crop, you're getting better drainage in the field, you're getting better water holding capacity, you know, those types of things.

[00:35:33] Jodi Roebuck: For sure. I think you should be able to grow more food of better quality every season in the same, in the same area. We are covering all our soil at all times with shade nets at germination, insect nets over all our salads, mainly cause of the rain and wind. We do a lot of composting. We did a huge amount of soil testing two seasons ago. Even little things like, so we're on a subs soil. It's mountain ash.

[00:36:02] Our top soils removed in 1975. That's our starting point. So our new beds, firstly, even though it's a sub soil, we consider we've got a little bit of a buffer. We're tending these days as we develop new beds to put carrots in first and at the moment, cuz I haven't expanded into new beds, we will, this season I've got a block of nine new beds.

[00:36:24] I pulled carrots in a replanted carrots, we won't do that again. It's new ground. So for us, our new ground, we try to compost and amend that more often. Same with our greenhouse beds. And yeah, I think we're seeing not huge lift, but increase in yield. But I think really the increase you're looking for is increase in quality.

[00:36:49] Cuz everything has to come through our wash and pack. And if it's not ideal, like if you've got weeds in your baby salad or you've got a little bit of carrot scab on your carrots, you just handbrake the wash and pack if you're having to grade, spend a huge amount of time on grading, and the smaller the crop is, in terms of baby leaf, the less you wanna be having to grade it.

[00:37:09] So beetroot�s a classic example for us. We tried to grow that in our first season, transplanting by hand. I did a 50-foot bed, six varieties, and my total yield from that bed was one bunch. And I knew Beetroots were fast growing, popular, and it wasn't until our, I'd say, fourth season that we, based on our saw test, we started applying boron and now we're growing these beautiful beetroots in it. I think it's 50 grams of boron we're putting on a 50-foot bed. It's amazing that a tiny little input like that can suddenly turn it to Game on.

[00:37:50] Diego Footer: There you have it. Jodi Roebuck, on the topic of, is market gardening viable. And I've talked to a lot of people about this subject, and it's definitely a viable career path, but it's not gonna work for everybody. Just like anything.

[00:38:04] I mean, anyone could start a Subway franchise. It doesn't mean every subway, doesn't mean every Subway franchise is equally successful. It really does come down to the owner of the operator, and a little luck comes into play as well. But there's enough people successfully doing this that you too could successfully do it if you give enough time and put in the work.

[00:38:29] If you enjoyed this episode, do me a favor. What else do you wanna learn about? What other topics could we cover on the show? Hit me up on Instagram at Diego Footer and let me know what you'd want us to cover in a future episode. Once again, let me know on Instagram at Diego Footer.

[00:38:50] That's all for this one. Thanks for listening. Until next time, be nice, be thankful, and do the work.

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