There are 24 hours in a day. How do you budget your hours? How many hours do you spend on the farm? If you have a full-time or part-time job, how do you fit farming into the mix?
Today we’re talking to teacher, bodybuilder, and farmer, Michael Bell to tell us how he manages his full-time job, bodybuilding, and farming.
Today’s Guest: Michael Bell
Michael Bell is a teacher and bodybuilder in Dallas, Texas. Before farming, he’s been teaching for 17 years while bodybuilding. He plans to quit his day job and make farming his full-time job in the future.
In this episode of Farm Small, Farm Smart
- Diego opens up the episode and introduces the guest, Michael Bell (00:28)
- How farming has been so far (02:48)
- The initial vision and the initial goal (04:20)
- The approach to tackling the 6-foot-tall Johnson grass (06:34)
- The effects of eradicating the grass (09:15)
- The farm and honoring grandma’s legacy (10:33)
- Growing for hobby vs. knowing and wanting to grow for the market (12:08)
- The long term vision when it comes to farming and teaching (13:06)
- A vision for the farm making enough for itself and to support the lifestyle (15:22)
- Thinking about the time spent on the farm and what it takes you away from (16:52)
- Paying yourself an hourly wage at farming (19:03)
- How much time is being put into the farm (20:49)
- Manageable allotted time while working a full-time job (22:04)
- Planning out a to-do list and being time efficient (22:48)
- Expectations and reality of farming (24:14)
- The learning curve for plant succession (27:14)
- Going about selling produce minus the farmer’s markets (28:48)
- How the CSA basket came to be (31:30)
- The difference between planning the CSA basket and the CSA basket (33:38)
- Valuing the CSA baskets and produce (36:15)
- What the teachers and the school think about Michael the Farmer (37:30)
- Deciding how many people can be accommodated in the CSA basket (38:53)
- Thoughts on scaling up the farming business (41:57)
- Breaking the stigma to make money (43:44)
- Having a little chip on your shoulder that says you can do it (45:45)
- What Michael considers as a success for the farm (47:05)
- The biggest challenges to getting there to success (48:18)
- Making peace with the pace Michael’s going with the farm (49:05)
- Bodybuilding principles applicable to farmers (50:40)
- Zooming out ad how far Michael’s come in two years (52:20)
- Advice and suggestions for anyone who wants to start farming on the side (55:25)
- Where to reach Michael Bell (57:20)
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Diego: [00:00:00] Everyone has the same 24 hours in a day. What are you doing with yours? Today, I'm talking to someone who's making their farming dream a reality using the time on the fringes before and after their full-time job to get all their work done. Stay tuned to find out how he's doing it. Coming up.
Welcome to the world of farming, small and farming smart. I'm your host, Diego. When it comes time to making your dream a reality farming or otherwise, one of the common constraints out there for a lot of people is time to put that plan into practice and make that vision happen between full-time jobs, responsibilities as a parent responsibilities, as a partner and other responsibilities to society.
A lot of us are very time-constrained. But maybe we're not as time-constrained as we might initially think. If you think about a typical day, there's 24 hours in it. If you're working eight, you're sleeping eight. What are you going to do with your other eight?
Today, I'm talking to farmer Michael Bell from Texas and Michael someone who's maximizing his extra eight hours a day to make his farming dream a reality. He's a full-time teacher and he farms on the side all around that full-time job. He puts in hours on the farm before and after his full-time job and on the weekends. And he does it all being a husband and a dad.
But his success is a farmer didn't just happen. By chance. There's a lot of planning that took place here. A lot of the ways that Michael manages his farm and his farm business cater to his lifestyle. For instance, he doesn't go to farmer's markets because he doesn't have time. So he created a sales model that stacked nicely into his other responsibilities. It's a model that's worked well for Michael and allowed him to grow his farm and move him further down his dream of eventually farming full time.
That's the other great thing about Michael's approach. He knows where he wants to go in when he wants to get there. He realizes that right now, full-time farming isn't a fit, but eventually it will be a fit and it's important to observe patience and put in the time and work now to make that long-term vision a reality.
If you feel like starting up a business on the side is hard and you don't have a lot of free time, here's somebody who started a business on the side when they didn't have a lot of free time, let's jump right into it. With farmer Michael Bell.
Diego: [00:02:48] So Michael, your farm will turn two years old in April. Looking back at the past two years, how's it been so far?
Michael Bell: [00:02:56] Fast and crazy. I bought the property, you said two years ago. And when I bought it was a. Half-acre lot with six foot Johnson grass, a ton of bushes and shrubs. it hadn't been touched in 12 years. a guy bought it 12 years ago and he was actually going to homestead it off grid the whole nine yards. And he had a massive heart attack and had to walk away from it.
And all of a sudden at the same time I was looking for property, to get started doing this stuff, this come on the market. So I looked at it, called my real estate agents that I'll take it. And the guy checked the next day and started working on it. And since then, it's literally been the most organic growth. And I don't mean organic as in the farming type, but like just day by day, I've done something small to improve the property, to get it to where I eventually want it to be. And there's never anything. There's never something that I don't have to do, but there's always something that I can do.
And I try to do one little thing every day to make it better, to get it to this position that I want it to be in the future.
Diego: [00:04:12] So going out there writing a check for a property. That's a big step for a lot of people and some people start there. Some people don't start there. Did you know, at the time, here's the vision, here's what I'm going for. And if so, what was that vision?
Michael Bell: [00:04:27] when I say that I wrote a check I'll tell you I'll tell the listeners. I paid $7,500 for it. That's a half-acre lot, six miles from downtown Dallas. sounds crazy teeth and it is excepted zone non-residential so it has no value to 99% of the people there. Like you can't build a house on it.
I don't have electricity on it. I have running water on it. And so it's. Not that big of a splurge. And on top of that, my grandma passed away 2018 years ago. And when she did, she left me an inheritance, a very small inheritance, and she was the one that got me into gardening and farming, not farming, but gardening and growing stuff.
Since I was five, that was me and her thing, me and her thing to do together. And after watching Curtis's videos and JMS for. A couple of months, I started looking for land and I found it and I thought, what better way to use her money and her inheritance that she left me than to buy a piece of property that I actually want to farm and do something that was really mine and hers thing together when she was alive.
So that's the reason why I bought it with the money that I had. if I wouldn't have had that money, I don't think I would have. bought land. I would have tried to do it different ways, like Curtis does with, barring people's land or leasing it or doing something like that.
And I probably could have made it work because there is a lot of land in Texas. we have a huge amount of extra land that no one's really using, but. I thought, you know what? I don't want to have to worry about somebody kicking me off my property after I get it going or something happens. So I'm just going to use this inheritance money, buy this little piece of property and start my journey with farming.
Diego: [00:06:22] Given that you got a property you're starting out with, it's got six foot tall Johnson grass on it. I've been in a jungle of six foot, tall Johnson grass before in Tennessee. What was your plan for tackling that? And how did you go about doing it? And would you do it over? Because a lot of people want to know how do you take a bare lot and convert it to something that you can?
Michael Bell: [00:06:45] The easy part of that question is what I do that again, in a heartbeat. it was probably the hardest work I've ever done. And I grew up in the country building fence with my grandpa. he had cattle. I'm not. Afraid of hard work. I love hard work, actually. So that's the easy question is yes, I had to do it again and I hope I can buy another half, make a lot and do it again in the future.
But, honestly, when I bought the lot, went to home Depot. And I said, I need the biggest, baddest weed or that you have, that will hold one of those chains on the end of it. I don't know exactly what they're called, but they spin them the metal links on the end. So you don't have to worry about the wire and all that kind of stuff.
And so at $400 on a weed eater and I went out there and started just cleaning it up weed in it. Cleaning up the trash. There was, a couple of pretty big pieces of trash where people like a construction company had redone a bathroom and they had went out there and dumped, a sink and a bunch of wood and some old carpet.
So I had, had to haul that off and then I would, we'd eat some more. And then I would stumble across, a couple of toilets and I would have to haul them off and just garbage. So after I got off got a pretty good space cleared off, we'll say 20 by 40. I got to look in for some sort of tarp or something to cover it with so that, the sun could heat it up, kill the, kill, the grass, kill the seeds, Sarah sterile bed it for me.
And I couldn't find anything and I didn't have the money, to buy a sewage tart from Johnny's or anything like this. So I actually topped in billboard signs. On Craigslist. And there was a guy 30 minutes down the road that sold them. So I went and bought five, 20 foot by 80 foot long billboard signs. And that's what I used to cover the ground in July and August to get ready, the grass and, everything that I chopped down. And, so that's what I use to get started was billboard signs.
Diego: [00:08:53] And was that pretty successful at eradicating that grass? Are you still dealing with some of the effects of that today?
Michael Bell: [00:08:59] Amazingly it worked perfect. Like it, I think it's also because Texas is a hundred plus degrees in July, August and half to September. I'd cut everything down with the job with the weeder, just laid it down right there. Made sure I got all the trash, laid the billboard sign on it. And literally all it did was cook.
For two and a half months. And then in the fall, when I got ready to plant the little area that I had cleared up, I pulled the tarps back in that, 10, 12 week time period that grass had already started to compost. And there was no seedlings coming up. everything was as good as I could have hoped for it to be, which I wasn't counting on, but I didn't have any other choice to do it.
So I pulled the tar bed. So I pulled the top back, started making my 30 inch beds, laid down some landscape fabric and planted my salad Nova. And I do not have any grass going through my landscape fabric. I have every once in a while, A stray piece of grass come up, in between my holes. It's not selling over, but I'll just pull it out with my hand. No big deal at all. So it worked really well. And it was so cheap.
Diego: [00:10:06] You know, in hearing that, you're getting right into the bed laying, I'm assuming at the beginning, like when you did go to buy that lot, like the vision was I'm gonna honor my grandma's legacy. And have this kind of shared experience, but also I'm going to set up a commercial farm here and make a go of it.
Michael Bell: [00:10:26] Yeah. that sums it up, pretty well. I've thought of different things over the last 15, 20 years that I thought, you know what? I could use nanny's money for this, I can buy this or I can put it down on my house so that, and it just never felt right.
And then, like I said, I watched the videos and I found the land and it was just about the same amount of money she'd left me. And so I was like, bam, this is perfect. And what's even crazier is the property is five minutes from my school that I teach at full time. I get up early in the morning and I go to the gym, I leave the gym.
I go straight to my farm. I work on the farm for an hour and a half, maybe two hours. If I get there early enough, leave there. I'm at my school in less than five minutes. And, after school I can swing by the farm and do a little bit of work and then go home. So that the area that his hand is absolutely perfect to, as for the commercial farm, I don't know.
I just want to make money doing something I love, I don't know exactly what the definition of commercial farm is. I don't know if I'm at that definition yet that I can call myself a commercial farmer, but I am making money, and I love it.
Diego: [00:11:33] I guess what I'm getting at there. It wasn't like I'm going to buy this lot and I'm just going to garden and grow stuff for fun. Like you had the idea that you wanted to. Go after like a jam or Curtis style and grow stuff and sell it.
Michael Bell: [00:11:47] Yeah. Yeah, definitely. I knew I wanted to sell stuff. I didn't know the exact way I wanted to go about like the restaurant or individuals. I knew I couldn't do farmer's market because of time restraints.
So I've never done one. I'll probably never do one, but, yeah, I knew I wanted to make my money and talking to people. I knew there was a market for it. I knew I was going to make some money. How much I had no idea. Sitting here talking to you, I honestly have no idea how much money I'm even going to make for 2018. I know I'll make a profit, so I'm happy, but moving forward, I'm flying by the seat of my pants to be completely honest with you.
Diego: [00:12:27] So you're, you were full-time as a teacher and I'll assume you like that job. And the farm is starting up as a economic entity that probably has to pay for itself. And it's going to be profitable you said this year, how do you approach the long-term vision here? Is it to just do the teaching thing and farm on the side and just see where it goes is the goal to say, I want to be full-time farming in X. This is one point, I think a lot of people. Have a hard time deciding on or they trip up on or they can't work out the math. What's been your approach?
Michael Bell: [00:13:05] It's been twofold, short term like I have two visions. One is short term. What can I do short term to make money? What is my long-term plan? Long-term there's too many factors. the biggest thing for me with farming full time, believe it or not is insurance.
Because I carry my kids on my insurance and if I quit teaching and farm full time, me and my three kids have to go on my wife's insurance, who was also a teacher. that's going to cost us $850 a month. So economically before I even start farming and have any bills and I'm starting in the whole $850 because it's, and if I keep teaching insurance only costs me 300.
So I know it's weird, but that's the way Texas school districts are. So if Trump does something with Obamacare and changes it, this and that, and my insurance, we can get cheaper insurance. It'll definitely move me to wanting to farm full time, a lot faster and a lot easier. I want to like if I could, if I won the lottery today, Diego, I would quit teaching tomorrow.
By a paper pot, transplanter, a couple of hoophouses from, farmer's friend and farm full-time. And I, if I was a multimillionaire, that's what I would do. That's what I want to do. But like I said, economics with three kids and insurance and, daily life just doesn't allow me to do that right now, but long-term yes, I would.
Diego: [00:14:39] You're dealing with the real constraints that a lot of people have. Those are the same ones I have, kids, life expenses at makes it hard to just blindly do what you want versus if you're 20 and single. Do you see it being possible where you can take that half acre in the market that you have and grow it enough the farm business enough. So then that $800 is covered for the insurance where you can support the rest of life?
Michael Bell: [00:15:12] Not with insurance being like I can't start in the whole $800 and only pharma half-acre. And have all my other responsibilities that I have, I want to be there for my kids stuff. I want to, I can't be married to the farm working 60, 70 hours a week when my kids are 10, five and two, soccer games and dance recitals. And I don't want to do that. now 10 years from now, when the kids are older, I don't really mind, missing quite as much. Is a half-acre enough. Yes.
Without a doubt. plenty of people that makes a lot of money off of a very small piece of land. I know for a fact that I could make as much as I'm making teaching and probably a lot more on that half acre, if I could devote 40 hours a week to the farm.
Diego: [00:16:01] I liked that you said that because that's I think is an important thing to think about. It's not just about the dollars. It's also about how much time is it going to take to get the amount of money that you might need to survive. And what is that taking you away from? And as there may be a better way to do it. And teaching sounds like doing the full-time teaching thing that fits your lifestyle and doing this farming thing on the side.
it's an added bonus. It's fun. You can grow it. There's a longterm plan there. It's a bit of an insurance plan almost.
Michael Bell: [00:16:35] Yeah, exactly, and off summers, that's where we, as farmers tend to make a ton of money is during the summer. So realistically, I'm hoping to make 10 grand in the summer. Know, that's my goal to make a couple of thousand dollars may, June, July, August, and September. And if I make 10 grand off my farm, I'll just say, people pay me in cash. The way I do the way I do myself, I get paid in cash. So it's 10 grand and, we can pay off this and we can put it down on a new house so we can do this so we can, I can buy a paper pot, transplanter, or a couple of hoophouses for the winter, so that I can grow tomatoes and stuff deeper into the fall.
And earlier into the spring, it just opens up a lot of avenues to either. Set myself up financially, with my family, pay off debt or reinvest in the farm. So it gives me a lot of options and I'll say it again because I want people to understand it. I love doing it. I don't even understand how to figure out how much to pay myself in a business model per hour.
People ask me business questions and they're like, what do you write down that you pay yourself per hour? And literally I get in fights and arguments with other farmers. Cause I'm like, I don't pay myself anything. Cause this is what I would be doing anyway like gardening as a hobby for me, it's would you pay yourself to play golf? No, because that's what you enjoy to do. So this is something that I just want to do.
Diego: [00:18:08] Yeah. And I think the pay yourself thing can become a bit of a trap early on too, because. If you're making a profit on the farm, you're paying yourself something and if you're looking at it long-term, you probably want to make more in year 10 than you do in year one. So with anything you're going to have to put in a lot of cheap or free hours at the very beginning to get to that year 10, where that you're 10, you can really get down and say, okay, how much am I paying myself now? But a lot of businesses, the first couple of years, it's. A cheap, hourly rate and becoming beholden to some, imaginary, hourly rate you pull out of the year to pay yourself can kind of mess with your psyche, I think.
Michael Bell: [00:18:51] Oh, very much my, and I just keep going back to the same thing as what would you pay yourself to do something that you love to do in any way? So in my mind, zero, like I don't want to pay myself anything cause I would be doing it anyway.
Diego: [00:19:06] In your full-time job, you like that you enjoy that. So there's no push to say, I need to get the heck out of here.
Michael Bell: [00:19:13] It's like anything, I'm 39. I'll be 39 in April. I've done it almost 16 years and there's just a, any, anytime you do anything, 16 years, especially the first half of your adult life, you're going to get tired of it. Do I hate coming to work everyday? Oh, not at all. But on the flip side, do I wake up excited to come to work and excited to do what I have to do everyday?
No, I wake up excited because I get to go to the farm for two hours before I go to my real job. And then I'm excited at lunch because I get to go back to the farm for an hour after school and then go home and, be with the family and stuff.
Diego: [00:19:49] You've made the farm work too, around those hours, given that you have a full-time job commitment there. How many hours would you say you're putting in on the farm when you don't have summer break when you, while you have the full-time job?
Michael Bell: [00:20:04] during the fall was my, this past fall was following my best indicator because before that I didn't have everything set up. Like now starting in the spring, I feel like I have everything set up. My beds are made. Basically all I'm waiting on is spring to get here so I can plant my spring stuff. and of course it goes back and forth when I'm planning, I'll work 40, I worked 40 hours a week, two or three weeks in a row at the farm back in the fall when I was planting my fall stuff.
And then during the winter, didn't go, maybe 10 hours a week just to harvest a few things here and there that was ready. I would say. 30 hours a week during the busiest times. And then when things are planted, ready to go, they're rolling. All that is water and harvest and no, occasionally plant some more salad mix or whatever, 20, 25
Diego: [00:20:58] Pretty manageable for working around a full-time job.
Michael Bell: [00:21:03] yeah. I believe so. I don't, I work out every day and, hanging out with my kids. I think that I think people waste a lot of time. There's 24 hours in a day, you work eight, maybe nine hours at your job that leaves you 16 hours, 15, 16 hours a day. You sleep eight hours. You still have seven hours left in a day.
I would go insane if I had to watch seven hours of TV, or if I, I don't understand those other seven to eight hours that people say they don't have time to do something.
Diego: [00:21:36] Part of that probably is just no plan. I'm guessing you're somebody who's pretty organized. Like when you go on the farm during the week, whether in the morning or at night, do you have, here's what I have to do. Here's what I have to get done or is it the show up and then I'll think, okay, I've got to figure it out. What do I have to do?
Michael Bell: [00:21:54] No, that's what I do the last five minutes that I'm at the farm. Literally I have Gates. I usually put everything up. I go to the gate and it's just I didn't mean to do this, but it just become a habit.
I will turn around and look at like in an overview, like an overview of the farm and look at it as a whole. And I'll literally say out loud to myself. Okay. Tomorrow I've got sugar snap, peas to plant. I'm going to finish cleaning that bed. I've got a week mean I'm going to pull the grass out of the solid, like I make my list in my head.
And then it's a 20 minute drive home, to my house and I hate music. So if I don't put it on a YouTube, video of one of the guys that I listened to all the time, I literally just said there and think about tomorrow at the farm or short term stuff or long-term stuff, or I need to get this area cleaned out. Cause I want to do this. Or so I always have a plan of what I'm going to do the next day before I get there.
Diego: [00:22:49] So just really efficient with your time.
Michael Bell: [00:22:51] Oh, I'm very efficient with my time. That's probably an understatement.
Diego: [00:22:56] How has it been these first two years going from reading them out this stuff, listening about the stuff, watching them out, the stuff to doing it? I think everybody, when they do something new, they have an expectation going in and then they do it. How has the act of doing it? Not necessarily from a fulfillment standpoint, cause you're somebody who clearly loves this, but from, is this what you expected? Is it harder than what you expected? Is it more challenging than what you expected? How has that been?
Michael Bell: [00:23:27] It's more frustrating. It's, gardening is supposed to be relaxing and everything, and it's frustrating to me because. Like the, work's not hard to me. Like I said, I enjoy hard work. I love sweating and going home drenched and stinky. And I love that. I love going to bed exhausted because I've put in a full day's work was frustrating as the stuff that you see that comes so easy.
On YouTube, to the guys I've mentioned before. and even guys that I find that I've been doing this the same length of time as me. they might still make it look easy. hoophouses is the best example that I can give right now, how people can keep their plastic on their poles for, small hoop houses made out of electrical conduit.
I don't understand. Like I can't do that. I don't know if my apartment is in a wind tunnel, but it's the little things like that just drive me nuts. I get so frustrated at little things that other people on a video makes it look so easy. For example, the plastic on hoophouses or germinating carrots.
Oh, I have the worst times germinating carrots and I finally figured it out after. Seven months of going back and forth and not getting any results. I finally figured out how to do that. So it's, it's little stuff like that. That's that just drives me nuts. And I just want to call and be like, Curtis, how do you do this?
Just give me 12 seconds of your time, because I know you have a way to tell me that will keep me from wasting, three months of time and energy, but I eventually figured it out. I haven't figured out the plastic yet, but I will, or I may just spend a ton of money and put polycarbonate, greenhouses all over my place to be completely honest with you.
Diego: [00:25:17] Do you mean like a poly low tunnel that you're having trouble with the plastic gun or?
Michael Bell: [00:25:21] Yeah, my electrical conduit poles are five feet apart and, I got the clips at the bottom and everything, but then the wind catches in between the five feet pipe and. Just shreds, and I put down sandbags on it and this or that, and it just, it sounds so stupid Diego, especially someone like you, but I have the worst time with it.
Diego: [00:25:48] Maybe somebody�s got a suggestion out there in terms of how to handle that. And we can link to your information in the description for this episode. W what about dealing with succession? that's something I always assume that could be challenging. How has that came for you in terms of learning curve?
Michael Bell: [00:26:02] It's hard. that's very hard for me and I decided to go with a very unorthodox style of doing it and that is plant as much as I can. if I think I'm okay, I'm going to plant. 25% more than what I think, or if I think, okay, I'm good for two weeks, I'm going to go ahead and plant another 25 foot bed of this just in case I need it because I found, and that kind of goes with the business side of my farm.
I have a waiting list. Like I can sell every single thing that I get off my farm with a text message. I've never had anything go bad because I couldn't sell it. I've got a waiting list and all I have to do is send a text message. Hey, I have this and this for this price. Do you want it?
99% of the time I got a text back. Yes. Can I come and get it? Or do you want to drop it off? So I've gotten to the point this spring, where I'm just going to plan everything. every bed is going to be full of what I consider something that I can sell very easily, a lot, my salad mix and cherry tomatoes and, stuff like that. So I just overplant, to answer your question about succession.
Diego: [00:27:19] Given that you're a dad, you have the full-time job as a teacher, you mentioned your time constraint. You can't do farmer's markets, which I get that's a lot to give up a day a week or the better part of one day of a week. How did you approach selling product going in knowing that farmer's markets probably weren't going to be a viable option?
Michael Bell: [00:27:43] This is where, teaching really helped out. I teach in a very big school district. It's just South of Dallas and Duncanville. there's 13 elementary schools and 12 middle schools and one, the third largest high school in the state of Texas is my school district.
And I've been here nine years. I know a ton of people. Previous teachers that I teach with are now at other schools because they transferred to another school within the district. So I know a ton of people. So when I started, when I got started, I found a couple of teachers at my school who, let's just say they like to talk a lot. They talk to all the other teachers.
I won't say the campus gossip or anything like that. They're just very friendly and they like to talk. what I did was I started out with salad mix and tomatoes. I picked some salad mix. I, dot them a bag of, cherry tomatoes. And I took it to them and I said, Hey, why don't you try this? I'm growing it. I'm going to be selling it for the salad is five. The tomatoes are three.
If you want it, every week I can bring you a bag is a one gallon Ziploc bag, which is about 12 ounces. So it'll last one person, a good four or five days. So they're like, Oh, great, thanks. I did that with two and they both, literally the next day came and found me and that's the best salad I've ever had.
Diego: [00:29:05] That's awesome. So you just really using the network that you had.
Michael Bell: [00:29:10] It�s the perfect customer base. The ages of 25 and 60 they're either. They're either trying to lose weight or time to stay healthy. And then all they did was just sit there and tell each other, then it got to other schools and I got into other schools.
And then I got into the administration office from old principals that I worked with that are now there. So during the fall, it got to the point where I delivered every single day on my lunch period. I would harvest in the morning when it was nice and cool. Deliver it lunch, get orders for the next week. He got to be where on Tuesdays I deliver to this school Wednesday, I delivered this school Thursday to this school and it just worked perfectly.
Diego: [00:29:53] And you have a pretty interesting model with which you sell the product with, to those people. It's a CSA basket. You call it. Can you explain how that came about and how it works?
Michael Bell: [00:30:04] I call it a CSA basket. The difference is I don't take money upfront. I don't sell shares and I don't sell anything upfront. What I do is whatever I have to harvest, that day or that week a harvest. And I put in a, a little basket that I bought from the dollar store I bought like 20 of them to start with that way, I could give 10 away and have 10 for the next week.
And then I would pick their basket open up, picked it back up, or when I dropped it off again. And. That's hard. It's $20 a basket. If it's a really big basket, I charged 25. I've never had anyone complain about the price. I tell people, you will get the same amount of produce that you would get if you went to whole foods or sprouts or, these organic stores.
And that's the way it works. And right now I have twenty-five people that I've guaranteed weekly baskets to starting, give or take the first week of may. Maybe earlier, if we don't get a cold spell, and I've got another 20 on a waiting list, they're like, please let me know. if you have anything extra, I'll take whatever you have.
And I just do the common everyday spring, summer, and fall stuff. I have a salad mix and that changes every week, depending on what I need to harvest, what I have more of that week or less of, All cherry tomatoes. I don't do any slicing tomatoes cause they're too hard to grow in Texas for me because they split and the rain and the dry.
And so I decided when I first started out, just do cherry tomatoes. I do bell peppers, banana peppers, cucumbers, squash, zucchini, I'll have green onions up through the middle of the summer. The heat of the summer comes on. I'll have some okra in the baskets. I'll have beets and radishes. So it's just the normal Texas summer stuff that you get, but it's picked the morning that I delivered to you.
Diego: [00:31:55] How has it worked in terms of planning? With a CSA where they're prepaying I think then there's a lot of pressure. From my, based on my impression from talking to a lot of growers, there's some pressure to say, okay, these people have paid us ahead.
We really have to deliver. And I don't want to say that's not the case in your scenario, but they're paying you each time it comes up. Do you approach planning it differently than you would a traditional CSA?
Michael Bell: [00:32:25] No, not really. the key word that you said was pressure. I have enough stress in my life. That's why I didn't take money up front. there's a couple of teachers that I taught with at CSA members before I came along and they're like, how much is it upfront? And I say, there's nothing you pay when I deliver. And it was like, the look on their face was like, Oh, that's awesome. I hate writing a $700 check. people just don't have that much money up front, but they always have $25 a week. Or they always have a 20 on hand or, it's a lot easier to stop at the ATM and get a 20, again, as far as planning, I have a list of people that was with me at the very beginning.
Like literally the first three people that ever bought for me are at the top of my list. And when I have stuff, I'll start at the top that week and say, or I did say until this season, when I guaranteed them, I would have them. Stuff every week. And if I have extra, I just go down the waiting list and say, I have this, do you want one this week?
Yeah, that'd be great. Thanks. So literally I'm going to plant, I have 67 beds on my half acre and I'm going to plant all 67 beds in something so that if I have extra, like it's not going to be that hard to plan because I don't have to worry about having. Stuff to throw away. what if I have too many of these or too much of this, because I don't think I'm going to.
Diego: [00:33:49] you can divert it somewhere pretty easily. Yeah.
Michael Bell: [00:33:52] Yeah, exactly. And if all, if worst comes to worse, the, my farm is in a food desert, which I'm sure you've heard of. There's not any fresh produce within 12 square miles of my farm. And there's this little I, to say it's a shelter. But you can people go there and get food and stuff, and I've talked to the lady and she's if you ever have anything extra, please bring it. So if I ever do have anything extra, I have no problem donating it to this lady, to give out to the people around here that need it.
Diego: [00:34:22] It's a really interesting model in it. Do you try and keep your baskets a pretty standard? Size or standard dollar value. I know you're saying to the customer what's in the basket would be the same dollar value if you went to whole foods or sprouts or something, is that really how you're planning that basket?
Like saying, okay, they get a bunch of lettuce. I value a bunch of lettuce at five bucks and this pint of tomatoes is going to be three. So now I'm at eight. I need to get up to 20. Is that how you're going about pricing this out?
Michael Bell: [00:34:51] Pretty close. Yeah. And after you do it, you know, like I can tell you off the top of my head, a normal basket to summer will be a bag of salad, five, and then the tomatoes at three they'll get two or three cucumbers, two or three squash, two or three zucchini, four or five green onions.
They'll get two or three beats, they'll get a handful of the French breakfast radishes. If the carrots come on, they'll get a nice four or five bundle of carrots. Literally it's going to be equal to $20. I might be off a dollar to two little, a dollar too much, but no one I've not have one person complained about what they get.
Diego: [00:35:32] What are the people that you're selling to and the other people at the school think about Michael, the farmer?
Michael Bell: [00:35:37] Oh, it's hilarious. You've probably never checked out my Instagram page, but, I'm also a bodybuilder. I'm not professional or anything. I'm an amateur, but I am 265 pounds and I'm a pretty big guy.
So when I show up with a bag of salad mix, it's just funny. especially when they see how enthusiastic I am and how much I love talking about lettuce and in this kind of stuff, it's that they find it pretty comical. So I get, somebody bought me a hat last year, a gardening hat, like the older ladies wear the big round Brown garden hats.
And somebody bought me. One of the teachers bought it for me last year for my birthday in April and said, Hey, go coaching and wear it on the farm. it's pretty funny, but they also appreciate the enthusiasm and the passion that I have for it. And they all think it's a really noble thing to do and wish that they could learn how, and then you always invite them out.
Hey, come out with me on Saturday, I'll show you how to grow a garden. show you how to grow your own tomatoes. I said, I'll even give you a couple of tomato plants of mine that I grow from seed in the spring. If you want them, I really try to encourage people to do this on their own too.
Diego: [00:36:46] With a waitlist that's deep. How do you decide here's how many people can go into the basket program? Because you have this enthusiastic crowd of supporters that in theory could be endless because it's a massive school district and people want it. So how do you say here's how many baskets I'll sell?
Because on one hand, I'm thinking you could really turn up the dial on growth, but then you're also limited by what you can produce on land given your time and what the land can support. How have you decided, 20 is the right number?
Michael Bell: [00:37:24] Based on what our grew last year compared see, last year I grew on about 20, 2500 square feet, just because that's all I had cleared this year. I have about 12,000 square feet just because I rented a massive tractor. My dad came down, cleared off a ton of stuff that I couldn't clear off by hand and a bunch of dead trees that were piled up in the middle. So my farm, literally five times itself in one day, with the amount of space.
According last year, what I could easily do last year, every week. And I'm being very conservative with the 20, cause I don't want to over promise myself. I have a feeling I'll be pushing 30 or even 40 baskets by July, but I would rather have people tell people, look, you're on a waiting list. If I have it, which I think I'm going to, I will call you, but I can't guarantee it to you. And they're like, Oh, okay, sure. And I always tell people, this is my first season doing this at this level. this scaling the scaling up this much. This is the first time I'm doing it. So I tell them I'm new to this. Like I'm learning. So please understand bear with me. And everyone's Oh sure.
That's not a problem. We understand Mike, let me know if you have anything, if you don't, no big deal, and they even tell me, Hey, if one of your customers are going out of town one week and you have an extra basket, let me know. I'll take theirs, and that's one other reason why I love working with individuals as opposed to restaurants and I get people.
I get to know people like I become part of their family. Almost. I had a lady who loved my salad mix so much. She asked me last year, if I would cater her daughter's wedding around Thanksgiving. And luckily she told me far enough out, I actually planted extra. And timed it just right, so I catered like a 50 person wedding with salad mix and my French breakfast onions, and some tomatoes, I'm sorry, French breakfast, radishes and tomatoes. And I thought that was the coolest thing ever because I got to be a part of somebody's wedding so that the people is the main reason I do this type of stuff. This type of business.
Diego: [00:39:43] Yeah. It's cool. It's definitely, I think rewarding. and hearing you talk, again, it all fits into the story, right? Like you're doing this for fun. You enjoy doing it. You're honoring your grandma's legacy. So being a connection with these people, I think makes a lot of sense. With the time you have, do you feel like the amount of land that you're farming now, is optimized it's manageable, or could you turn up the dial more and farm more land? How do you feel on that? Because you have a half an acre, but you're not farming that full half acre.
Michael Bell: [00:40:25] I can't answer that right now. Diego, I can call you back in July and let you know. I honestly, I just cleared as much space as I could and made as many beds as I could. And just let's, let's say it's almost a challenge to me. Can this farm beat me? I'm going to win some June and July, all 67 beds. They're going to be full. All 67 beds are going to be producing and I'm going to have a drawer full of twenties. that's, I'm an athlete, always been an athlete my whole life. So if I have to make, this farmer competition with myself, then I'll do it.
I just want to do it and I want to prove. There's a part of me also that wants to do it this way to prove to my wife and my family and everybody else that I can do it because they all thought I was completely nuts for doing this. Completely ludicrous. And so I have a little chip on my shoulder to prove to people that I can do this and I'm going to do this and just watch me.
Diego: [00:41:22] The part you think that has to be proven is that you can put this time in and bring back money in return?
Michael Bell: [00:41:29] No, I think it's more the, stigma of farming to make money. I sold my wife and my in-laws and. people that are really are close to me, I showed them Curtis's videos like a hundred thousand on this little bitty land.
And I don't think people believe you can make this much money on such a small part of a piece of land. They think farming as combines and tractors and in all of this, which I don't even have a tiller, like I'm completely no-till. I'm having to prove it to people every single day, that I can make money doing this on such a small scale.
In fact, the best story that I have to go with that little piece is my wife loves to do family pictures for Christmas, but they're stupid expensive. Like we pay $400 for photography, for a photographer and Christmas cards and all that nonsense. And I grew up about it every year. So in the fall, I put back $200 from my farm money.
And I said, I'm going to wait. Cause she brings it up and I'm not going to complain this year. And when she does, I'm going to walk in and just hand her the $200. And she's going to ask me, where did you get this? And sure enough, everything played out. I handed to her as Hey, here's some family pictures and Christmas cards.
She just looked at me. She goes, where'd you get $200 cash. I said, Oh, that's my farm money. I made that two weeks ago. Actually from the wedding that I told you about, and she just looked at me and grinned and said, Oh, that's really great, honey. And that was just a little puff in my chest to be like, I'm telling you I can make this work and I will make really good money with this baby. She'll just give me the time to go work.
Diego: [00:43:13] I think having that chip on your shoulder in anything goes a long way to really help you out, turning that to your advantage, is that wind to push her forward?
Michael Bell: [00:43:25] Yep. Completely agree. There's days, Texas gets up to 105 regularly. And that first summer that I bought my property after in April, that first summer was probably the hardest summer of my life because I was literally out there eight, nine hours a day.
With a weed-eater and cleaning and hauling and the whole time, and my wife's still pissed at me. Four months later, she's still mad because I bought it and I just kept telling myself, you got to do this. You can't let her win. Like you can't give her the final fee. I told you this wasn't going to work and slowly but surely she's, she's coming around and seeing the money come in. She sees what's happening and my customer base. And, I got people at her school now that we have dinner with friends and whatever. And they're like, Hey, I want a basket.
And literally she'll just look at me and roll their eyes. Oh God. Now you get to tell me you sold another basket tonight. Or, she sees it happening. And so I'm getting to a point where I don't want to be a jerk, but I'm going to get to see, I told you, here's 50 baskets in one week that I just sold. I just made a grant, honey.
Diego: [00:44:26] Thinking about where you're at with everything. And what would you consider a success at the end of 2018? Or if we're talking a year from now looking back?
Michael Bell: [00:44:37] I think if I hit my goal of selling 20 baskets a week for 16 weeks, and then I'll continue to sell my salad mix and my tomatoes and, everything extra. Just to see what I just to see what plan I have in place come to for trip, come to happen is a success.
Like I don't really have a dollar amount. It's more like the plan work. Cause if the plan worked at this scale, the next year, I can scale it to 30 and make it even better. And then that's when. I get a little bit of confidence and I get to tell my wife, Hey honey, I'm not going to go to the in-laws.
I'm not going to go to your parents' house this Saturday, cause I'm going to work all day. And she can't complain because I made, I made really good money last summer. it just gives me more ease to work harder next year.
Diego: [00:45:33] What do you think is going to be one of the biggest challenges to getting there? If you're looking ahead now, at what lies in front of you?
Michael Bell: [00:45:41] Time, that's it. if I was single, I don't want this come off wrong, but if I was single with no kids and I live by myself, I would be at the scale that I want to be at in three years, I would be that right now, because I would literally work eight hours at school, 10 hours on the farm and sleep six. And I could, I'd be so much further along this journey than what I am. So it's just time. That's the only thing that I need to learn, how to put plastic on overpass. So it doesn't blow off.
Diego: [00:46:17] Time's the big constraint for most of us. How have you made peace with this is the pace I have to move because all life works at this pace and not feel too guilty that you can't move faster.
Michael Bell: [00:46:34] Do you know, a guy named Gary Vaynerchuk? He like, he's actually one of the main reasons why I bought my phone. Like he's one of Curtis and JM was the reasoning behind it, but he's the one listening to his stuff. He's the reason why I said I'm going to do go do shit. That's what he says. Just go do it.
And that's the reason why I bought my farm. Another one of his philosophies is patience. Like he preaches patience. and the micro and the macro, the micro is what you're going to do today, tomorrow, or this summer, the macro is what you're going to do in 20 years.
So I've accepted the fact that this is my life and it all leads up to when I'm 50, because my kids will be almost grown. And when I'm 50, if I don't want to teach anymore and I want to farm full time financially, I'll be able to. And That's all I think about is not today, not tomorrow, not next week, but when I'm 50, I get to spend the last 30 years of my life doing exactly what I want to do every day for the rest of my life. And I'm willing to give up these next few years to do that.
Diego: [00:47:46] How is your bodybuilding experience played into this? Because you are bodybuilding before you were farming and I've watched the documentaries and bodybuilding and I follow it a little bit from afar. That is an exercise, no pun intended in patience.
Like you're not going to wake up tomorrow and be Mr. Olympia, Arnold Schwarzenegger that is doing the micro with the macro vision in mind. If you think about your experience there, what have you learned there that you think is applicable to farmers listening to this?
Michael Bell: [00:48:21] Exactly the same thing. No, you just said, this is patience. So a hundred percent patients and hard work. what I do today affects me, a year down the road. And you don't, you build so very little muscle in one week of training that you can't even notice it, but if you do it 52 weeks a year, At the end of the year, you've accomplished a lot.
Like you, your body's changed. It's the same thing with my farm going out there and making one bed today looks like nothing. But if I make a bed or two beds every week at the end of the year, I've created, 60, 70, 80 beds. That's my whole farm, And then you multiply those beds times two or $300 a bed per season, you're looking at tens of thousands of dollars. So it's just patience and hard work. it's exactly the same thing.
Diego: [00:49:20] If you think about bodybuilding and exercising, it's one of those things. I think people get into it because they want a look and then they do. The workout. And it's like you said, in a week, they feel like they've worked their butt off and they don't see any results and they figure, why am I doing this? I'm not seeing anything, when it is that long-term vision.
And I think any business farming or not is very similar. It's the little things that you do every day that you don't think are significant emailing out a newsletter to clients. Putting in that one bed, like you talked about adding a new customer, it feels insignificant at the time, but it all goes to build that greater whole. And when you zoom out and if you think about your journey, how far have you came in two years?
Michael Bell: [00:50:13] On the micro of come further than I could ever dream. I didn't know it would be this easy to sell stuff and I don't want that to sound arrogant or cocky to other farmers. But I'm in a perfect location.
So I don't even advertise, like I would do anything if I could run a Facebook ad or an Instagram ad, I would love to do that, but I'm honestly afraid I'd get hit with a hundred requests. And I can't service that and I don't want to turn people away yet. So the business side of it, has come really well.
Diego: [00:50:43] Are you happy with your progress?
Michael Bell: [00:50:45] Oh yeah. Ecstatic with my progress. there's stuff that I, like I said earlier, there's stuff that I wished I knew, when I started that was going to be this hard, but there's also things that are a lot easier than I thought they were going to be. So it balanced each other's each other out while I'm excited with my progress.
I wish I could look into the end of the future five years and see how I'm doing then, because I think that's going to be. Way more exciting than how far I've come in two years. Like I have this concept that I want to encourage other people to do exactly the same thing that I do. Like I don't want to be rich.
There's no part of me that, of course everyone wants to be rich because they don't want to worry about money, but I don't want stuff. I would rather take 10 people in the Dallas area and get them to do stuff that, do what I'm doing, that they, and that they truly love to do. And we have an effect on the local food market as I would to have all of their customers and make $250,000 a year like that's the ultimate goal is for me to be financially sound, enjoy what I'm doing and get 10 or 15 other people in Dallas to do what I do to do what I'm doing.
And there are others. There's other people doing it, but this there's 4 million people in Dallas Fort worth. There's an then possible amount of opportunity for people to do this.
Diego: [00:52:14] Knowing that you've listened to a lot of Curtis. You listened to this show. You've listened to a lot of Gary V how would you suggest somebody who wants to start farming this year on the side, they're working a full-time job. Like you are approach, goal setting or aligning their expectations for where they should be come December?
Michael Bell: [00:52:34] if I, if someone said, Mike, I want to do what you're doing, how do I start? I would tell them, grow what you normally grow and then grow a little bit extra, see how that produces. And when you have extra, that looks like a nice, pretty basket.
You start telling your friends, Hey, I have this. Would you be interested in it for whatever price you feel comfortable? A lot of other farmers tell me I'm way too cheap. But that's what I felt comfortable asking for. And then you tell that person, this is what I have. You sell it to them.
They're going to, I promise you, they're going to tell their friends and then their friends are going to call you or their friends are going to tell that person, Hey, tell him if you, if he has any extra to call me, I want to buy some, and then you slowly do the scaling up. That's the whole thing. Scaling is the hardest part. Of doing this because of your land restrictions. Luckily I have enough land. I can just plan as much as I want and I should be okay. But if you're in a backyard, you've got to figure out, how much money will peppers make me? Or if you just want to sell salad mix, you can sell all the salad mix you can get your hands on if you do it correctly.
And you just talk to people like it's not even marketing. It's just talking to people, Hey, this is what I do. This is how I do it. try it. Here's some samples. If you like it. Let me know. it really sells itself. If you have a good product.
Diego: [00:54:01] I love the idea of what you're doing with everything down there in Texas, encouraging people for people that want to get in touch with you to talk to you about keeping plastic on your poly, low tunnels, or follow along with what you're doing on Instagram, or ask questions about your basket program, where are the best places to go?
Michael Bell: [00:54:20] Instagram's the best I got, I lost my password to Facebook and I use an email address and I can't remember, so I no longer have access to my Facebook page, but, Instagram, it's Dallas half-acre farms or, my personal pages, a lot more weightlifting and family stuff is M bell nine 71. I'm on both of those all day.
Every day. You can hit me up there. if I can help anybody. No, I have no problem helping anybody with anything. And you could probably help me with some questions that I have too, because I'm still learning.
Diego: [00:54:54] Yeah. I appreciate you coming on today and sharing everything. Good luck with it this year.
And we'll be sure to follow up in the future. Yeah.
Michael Bell: [00:55:00] Yes, sir. It was an honor. I appreciate you
Diego: [00:55:05] there. You have it. Farmer Michael Bell. If you want to follow along with everything that Michael is doing on his farm, be sure to check them out on social media at the links below. And if you want to give him a hand or some suggestions on how to keep that plastic on those poly low tunnels, hit him up links below in the description.
For this episode, I really want to thank Michael for coming on the show today and sharing his story. He's obviously already a busy guy between farming, being a dad and being a teacher. He's doing a lot of great things. And if you want to hear more stories, like Michael's inspirational stories of people going out there to make their farming dream a reality, or the more detailed information that you hear in some of the other episodes, be sure to check out all the archives for farm small farms, smart.
You can do that at paper pot.co/podcast. There's a link to those archives below. And be sure to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and leave a review there. If you get a chance, it really does help me out. Thanks for listening to this one next week. I'll be back with another small-scale farmer making a go of it between now and then keep crushing it until it's time.
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