In all the episodes of Farm Small, Farm Smart, I’ve only interviewed farmers who have been farming up North. And that’s because there aren’t as many farmers down South because of the more humid climate.
But today, we’re talking to one farmer who has been successfully running his farming operation down in Miami, Florida—Moses Kashem. He’ll share with us the wins and the struggles of farming in a tropical climate.
Today’s Guest: Moses Kashem
Moses Kashem is a farmer and owner of St. Simon’s Farm in Miami, Florida. Originally geared up for medical school by his parents, he had an epiphany one day and decided that med school isn’t what he wanted. He wanted to become a farmer and grow food, and that’s what he did.
In this episode of Farm Small, Farm Smart
- Introducing today’s guest, Moses Kashem (00:30)
- The initial interest and pull into farming (01:45)
- Abandoning the initial route to medicine and u-turn into farming (03:50)
- Making the leap and establishing a career as a farmer (06:10)
- Deciding on which farming model to pursue in Moses’ context (06:55)
- Seasonality and the challenges of farming in Miami (08:28)
- Strategies employed to address humidity and disease pressure and some keys to in-row cultivation (10:17)
- Considering the cultivars in a tropical environment (14:18)
- Varieties that really work well in hotter climate (15:27)
- Speckled bib
- Crawford bib
- Pelleted Cherokee lettuce
- Deer tongue lettuce
- Strategies that lower field temperatures (16:35)
- Uniqueness of the farm model in Miami (18:02)
- Starting the farm and funding the farm operations (19:40)
- Approaching the terms for leasing land for farming (21:08)
- Primary outlets for moving the farm’s products (23:55)
- Selling to Whole Foods (24:45)
- Selling to Whole Foods: GAP certifications among other things (29:15)
- Pricing and Amazon’s reputation when it comes to pricing (34:13)
- Moving big amounts of product at lower prices (36:12)
- What happens to the extra unsold product (37:50)
- Approaching the CSA model and how it works in their context (39:00)
- Main selling points of the CSA model for farmers getting into it (41:40)
- Preconceived notions of farming and actually starting farming (43:35)
- Seasonal vs. year-round to fully sustain a living wage (47:50)
- No regrets (51:55)
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Diego: [00:00:00] I've talked to a lot of growers growing vegetables in the more Northern tempered climates of North America. But today we're going to the opposite and of North America. And we're talking to someone who's growing vegetables in sunny and humid Miami, Florid. Find out their challenges and how they're doing with it. Coming up.
Welcome to the world of farming, small and farming smart. I'm your host, Diego. Today's episode is a unique episode for a few reasons, because the farmer that I'm talking to today left med school to start farming, it was a life change that took a lot of nerves and guts. And one that was ultimately driven by the quest for a more fulfilling lifestyle.
Today, I'm talking to farmer Moses Hashim who's farming in Miami, Florida. Farming in Miami doesn't come without its challenges. It's very different in the hot humid regions of Southern Florida than it is in a lot of the country. So Moses has faced a lot of challenges with his crops, growing greens. For example, hasn't been easy, but he's found a lot of techniques to make growing greens easier.
And he's gotten a lot better. He's going to talk about that today. And while climate is one of the issues that is providing its own challenges for his farm. One of the huge advantages of growing in that location is there's a ton of demand for fresh produce, including demand from the big grocer, whole foods, which Moses will talk about today.
It's all about growing in Miami, the benefits, the challenges. And the lifestyle with Moses Kashem. So Moses how'd you first get interested in farming? What drew you to this type of lifestyle?
Moses Kashem: [00:01:53] I was actually headed to medical school and, finishing up undergrad, getting ready, for my entrance exams. And, I took a hard look at my life. It was not where I wanted to be. I was headed for hopefully a high paying career in medicine and I wasn't happy. I grew up with a father who was a contractor, but with he had a love for gardening he's from Bangladesh. And that was, passed on to me.
it was almost seen as a very manly thing to go out and. And plant fruit trees and, work the soil. It was a very biodynamic approach to gardening and farming, and I had a love for it. I remember seeing a company in Miami, I think they were called Ready to Grow and they were planting things. And, for little miniature gardens for people and for schools and they were making money. And that concept was totally new to me. Like you could make money farming, or like planting things.
And I was like, if I would do it, I wouldn't want to set up gardens. I'd probably want to farm, to produce food and I'd want to bang out as much food as I could. So it was like a challenge. It's the same drive that made me go the medical route, even though I didn't want to do it, I felt that same thrive for farming, but with my heart into it,
Diego: [00:03:22] There's a lot of younger people that listen to this show. I'm somebody who switched careers along the way. I don't work in the field that I got my undergraduate degree in now. What changed with your wanting to go to medical school, to decide you didn't want to? I think that's an important point to hit on because a lot of people, they go down one path, maybe parents push them down that one path, or they go after the high paying job thinking they want the high paying job and you go on this route. What was it that led you to really abandon that path and decide like the medical school route? Wasn't right for me
Moses Kashem: [00:04:07] I had a bit of an epiphany. I looked around at my surroundings. I looked around at me, my classmates, and I was like, this is nuts, we're all just like in a room all day studying and it's nerve wracking, and I was doing very well, I definitely was going on to medical school. I was like, this is nuts, we're all just, I don't know, we're in this rat race to go into medical school, to get into debt, and then do a career that I don't even want to do.
Diego: [00:04:39] Did you face any pressure? Or people saying what are you doing? This is crazy. You're giving up medical school to go farm what's going on there?
Moses Kashem: [00:04:50] Oh yeah. I never told my father while he was alive, that I didn't want to be a doctor. and my mother, was from Italy. She said, look, you can do whatever you want, but you gotta do it to the max. So if you're going to be a farmer. You gotta be a bad ass farmer. so I had, yes, the opposition, my dad still, he was like, all right, whatever.
But he never told anyone that I wasn't a doctor. he still continued to tell people, when he'd go to the mosque every Friday, he's Muslim and chat with his friends. He's like, yeah, of course my son's in medical school.
Diego: [00:05:28] So when you make that leap, when you decide. I don't want this med school thing. It's not going to be the right fit for me. I want to pursue farming. What was your initial plan to establish yourself as a career? Farmer?
Moses Kashem: [00:05:43] Me just being, coming from a very practical background. My plan was a, how can I make money? So just doing basic numbers, and seeing is this even feasible? And B how do I get the capital to do it? So those are the two things in mind. Is it possible? And how would I start to get the capital? When I realized, Oh, it's doable, that's when I took the plunge.
Diego: [00:06:11] With a models out there for small scale farming, how did you decide which route was the one that was going to make it possible and fit with your context and where you wanted to go with things? I
Moses Kashem: [00:06:25] knew that many of the more publicized routes would probably not be conducive for Miami, the Curtis Stone thing, it's definitely, maybe doable up North, but down here it is really hard to produce the same amount because of the weather constraints.
I guess there was no model, but it was interesting seeing, a guys like JM Fortier and even some people out West, in New Mexico, kinda named Don Boosto and what he was doing and making a just a mix of the two, but applying it to a tropical climate. I want to grow the same things.
I want to pump out lettuce, cause it sells for a premium down here. It's a wholesale, it's at least $7 a pound. So I wanted to do the same crops, but I had to just really experiment with how I'm gonna deal with the weather constraints and the disease pressure and the weed pressure. That's taken to a totally nother level, a different level.
Diego: [00:07:25] You're in a more tropical location. And before we got started recording, I was saying, you might be the furthest South of anybody I've ever interviewed. a lot of other people are in more Northern latitudes.
What are some of the challenges you faced down there? So you have heat, you have humidity, you mentioned disease pressure. When you try and grow the standard market vege that you hear Curtis, JM and other farmers. Talk about what challenges do you face down there? And can you talk about how seasonality plays into it? Because in the email you sent me recently use, you were saying you just finished up your season when a lot of Northern farmers are starting their season.
Moses Kashem: [00:08:05] Yeah, isn't that funny? You guys are starting and I'm taking, taking off, seasonality there. there's two seasons in Miami. there's wet and there's dry. right now we're entering a wet time. so it's always hot, it'll be December, it'll be January, it'll be November. And you're still going to get, 90 degree days.
But participant the precipitation won't be there. but once April comes around, then you couple rain with that heat and it's just like a breeding ground for every type of fungus you can think of. You can think of amaranth. The nuts says, they're coming at you. but at the same time, Because of this unique climate, we can grow in my opinion.
I know I said, I'm stopping for the season, but why not grow all year round because of the temperature�s right. It's just, you have to deal with the precipitation.
Diego: [00:09:00] What are some of the strategies you've employed in the field to mitigate the humid conditions in some of this disease pressure?
Moses Kashem: [00:09:08] Crop spacing has been huge. You definitely want to maximize your space. Pack as much lettuce as you can into a bed. But, with that packed in lettuce, you're not going to get as much air flow, which will promote, foliar diseases and fungus and so forth. So you've got to space things out a little more. if you're, instead of doing six in spacing with your lettuce, eight to 10 inch spacing, that realization helped me out quite a bit.
and you definitely have to space crops. For heavy cultivation. I'm big in row cultivation and between row cultivation, you have to stay on top of it. it has to become second nature to you like breathing or else those weeds will get you, but with the right discipline right program, you can do well.
Diego: [00:09:52] some of your keys to in row cultivation. Can you walk through maybe the planting of say one of those wider space, lettuce beds in how you'd go about cultivating that?
Moses Kashem: [00:10:03] Originally, we started with 30 inch bed tops right now, moving to a bigger size, but ideas, same. you have to space your crop according to your tools. I didn't, and I still don't have an analysis.
John was G or a Farmall, a cultivating tractor. I knew I'd have to use a, either a BCS, with. a finger weeders on it or a, a simplicity or planet junior tractor with finger weeders on it. but I wasn't even there yet, cause I didn't have the money for that either. So what I incorporated was a tool called a row-hoe cultivator. You know what that is?
Diego: [00:10:41] It's got the wheel that spins around in front and you drag like some cultivating hooks behind it.
Moses Kashem: [00:10:46] Exactly. Exactly. So I found one of those online. I think it was 90 bucks on eBay. it was, my address was 1950 some, so I space my crops out just for that. So they're about 10 inches apart and that thing just flies through your row, in your in-row cultivating, setup, it'll fly through it.
And the more you do it, the better it gets. So once I learned that this had to become a habit, so every couple of days where we're cultivating, we pressure is significantly diminished.
Diego: [00:11:24] So it's really just staying on top of it. And you've you space the crop too. Fit your tool, which I'm sure that tool makes it easy to stay on top of it. The fact that you can just push that down the row.
Moses Kashem: [00:11:38] Yeah. You're exactly right. It's an easy tool to use, so it's not like you're dreading. Oh, geez. I'm going to have to scuffle hoe down this a hundred-foot row. Yeah.
Diego: [00:11:48] So given the wider spacing, do you still stick with the 30 inch bed or have you expanded bed width to allow for say more rows per bed?
Moses Kashem: [00:11:57] That's a great question. so I have decided to expand this last season. we had 30, 30 inch bed tops, but now I'm redoing my farm. So there are basically, I'm trying to eliminate the beds, make it all just flat. The farm is a bed, and use overhead sprinklers, instead of drip tape, And just being able to, with that wider space and being able to have more rows and less inhibition for our cultivating tools.
Diego: [00:12:31] When you think about growing in a more tropical environment, do the cultivar of the crops that you're growing have any affect in results, or do you find that. Is going to be challenged regardless of what type you're growing,
Moses Kashem: [00:12:48] the cultivar is totally different. when I first started out and a couple of years ago, when I first got into small scale farming, I picked up my Johnny seeds catalog and it's Oh, this looks great. Ibought a bunch of different lettuce seeds and, broccoli and cauliflower. And I quickly realized that. Much of what I bought did not apply at all to Miami. So I had to fine tune my selection for very, he tolerant varieties of lettuce, let us variety that so slower to bolt, that didn't get bitter, with excessive heat. So it took years to find those varieties, but that's made all the difference in our operation.
Diego: [00:13:32] What have been some of the varieties that have really worked well, I've done an episode in the past with some people growing in hotter conditions, Eric Schultz and Phoenix, Ray Tyler, down in Tennessee. What's working for you in terms of variety down there in Miami?
Moses Kashem: [00:13:50] Southern exposures, where I get my seeds now and I use their spec speckled bib. And they're Crawford bib. And I also, use, Cherokee lettuce from pelleted Cherokee lettuce from Johnny seeds. those three, lettuce varieties have been really Hardy in the heat and, they maintain their flavor, which is phenomenal.
one other one from, Southern exposures called deer tongue lettuce, a unique variety in the shape, but. It along with Cherokee lettuce holds their flavor longer than any other variety that I've encountered.
Diego: [00:14:25] So with those varieties, are you doing anything to help cut the heat, shade, cloth, intermittent watering? I know there's other strategies that other growers are using to lower field temperatures. Do you have to do any of that?
Moses Kashem: [00:14:44] Yeah. I experimented with a bit of everything. And, it's like this agravon fabric. Yeah, it was really good for, Keeping the heat off Cherokee lettuce.
and the funny thing is it's cultivar specific what you want to use. So I would use Agra bond that white fabric on Cherokee button, but I wouldn't use that on speckle bib, lettuce or Crawford. They have lettuce. I use a 44% bar on those two bits Crawford. And whereas with Cherokee, I can use my aggravate on fabric.
So I don't know why it's different, but it is, and those covers have helped out quite a bit.
Diego: [00:15:28] This is really just getting a feel for what we're tinkering experimenting with at all.
Moses Kashem: [00:15:35] Yeah, you're right. A lot of tinkering, a lot of, a lot of initially failed crops, a lot of being able to not being able to supply restaurants when they're depending on you. So it took a lot of yeah. Patients and a lot of people
Diego: [00:15:50] Being down in Miami, you�re growing crops, like lettuce, where you're saying you're getting seven bucks a pound wholesale. How unique is what you're doing down there in terms of growing this type of veg, regardless of the scale, small or large?
Moses Kashem: [00:16:08] It's picking up, I'm one of, maybe I'd say five or six, Small organic farms. Before that, before I'd say 10 years ago, there was nothing like this, that I know of. It's just big ag down in homestead, which is, an hour South of Miami. And, that left a, I think a bad taste in a lot of people's mouth for agriculture, Miami. No, it took, some brave pioneers to go ahead and say, alright, we're going to try to do this the right way.
And let's hope the pocket population response to us trying to grow organically. And luckily they responded well, they forgot about all of the big ag and homestead and that sort of reputation of tasteless vetch. And. They embraced it. So right now I say there's about five or six of us, small farms, down here that are pushing a lot of vegetables. And the restaurants love it. CSA is, are doing well. and some of the grocery stores to pick that up as well.
Diego: [00:17:12] You're one of the pioneers who's pushing this development of ag down there on a small scale. You're doing all this experimenting in the field. But one of the concerns you mentioned initially, besides can this be viable, was coming up with capital. How did you approach initially starting the farm in funding operations?
Moses Kashem: [00:17:34] That's a great question, and when you're like 23, what money do you have? The one thing I did have the ability to wheel and deal. I grew up going to the flea market, with my mom and my dad. And it's a cultural thing where Italians and the galleys love to bargain. Even if something was priced a little high, I would save up and wheel and deal. and I also knew, that aside from equipment that if there's land to get, you drive by, anywhere in Miami, there's tons of empty plots of land, tons and tons.
And there'll be areas that are very expensive, where the homes are selling for 900 K 800 K, and you're asking yourself, why is this empty? I just, finally Dawn on me, let me just go talk to some of them. And I told them, this is what I want to do. And then I ended up with lease,
Diego: [00:18:25] In approaching a lease type situation. What were you really looking for there in terms of terms? Were you able to get that land just for free? Which I know a lot of people can and in some areas.
Moses Kashem: [00:18:38] yeah, I wasn't that good getting it free, but I knew that. I needed to, I wasn't even worried about my terms. I was worried about them seeing yes, when I was, when I just started out. So I was just trying to phrase the lease thing. look how favorable this for you.
You don't have to maintain the land. I will. I'll pay you a percentage of my profits. and that was my first lease. And then I realized that after going to a farmer's conference in California, where people were like, it's crazy to get a lease less than five years. And then it dawned on me like, Oh my God, I'm putting all this work into turning this Miami quote unquote soil.
It's not soil and sand in limestone into fertile soil. Like I need to protect. Protect this land that I've worked so hard for. I got to know some land advocates and I'm in California at this conference. and they helped me formulate a lease that I new lease that I could present and, with their help, it went well.
Diego: [00:19:47] What was the biggest change you made when you were seeking out new leases? Was it just a longer term?
Moses Kashem: [00:19:54] Yeah, longer term, definitely longer term. And I wanted something, but also was asymmetrical where I could get out if need be, because maybe you outgrow. maybe you decide that your markets are too far away, so I know I mentioned wanting to hold onto a limb, but something in the back of my head was also like, you gotta have a kicker in there. Yeah. They protect you just in case you need to get out. So those are the two things that I did was a secure for a longer amount of time. So five years and give myself a way out, which is ironic, right? Sure.
Diego: [00:20:32] Sure. And given that, where is that landed? You now, are you on lease land currently with your existing farm?
Moses Kashem: [00:20:39] Yep. so my land is located at the church I go to, Saint Simon's Episcopal church in Miami, Florida. That's where my lease is. That's where our operation is and, that's where everything is actually.
Diego: [00:20:52] So at this point, You've got crops working. Like you figured out how to grow these in that climate. You have the land, you have some security there. What are your primary outlets for moving the product?
Moses Kashem: [00:21:05] We have a small CSA, 31 members. We sell to Urban Oasis, which is a, an organization that does farmer's markets. We sell to a couple of restaurants and we recently, I'd say two months ago, got into whole foods. Whole Foods has become our biggest. Fire produce. we definitely realized we step into the big leagues, when someone's with them, because quantities just went up significantly.
Diego: [00:21:34] I don't know if I've ever talked to anybody on the podcast previously who's sold to whole foods. I've definitely talked to people selling to grocery stores. Did you approach them? Did they approach you through one of their local? I think they're called like scavengers. How did that come about?
Moses Kashem: [00:21:51] Yeah, I think it was, they approached us at, I think at a, an event or something like that. It was almost two years ago. one of their local, actually, community outreach, I think they have a community outreach manager or liaison. her name is Lauren Balinsky and she enter and the produce team. at whole foods, North Miami were left with, said they wanted to have a farm visit.
and I was like, cool. I didn't think really much would come out of it, just, maybe, but a PR or something like that, maybe a little donation. but they came out and I guess Lauren, she. Got the produce team to come in there. And then when the produce came team came there, then it was cake, cause they know produce and they recognize that our produce would do well in their stores. And especially since it's not coming from 3000 miles away. so it was, I saw the light bulb go off in their head and then came the real work of actually getting us in there.
Diego: [00:22:57] What was involved in that real work? There's a couple of things I'm interested in when it comes to that. One, how did they view consistency and a steady supply of product? Because here you are small farm, that can be challenging to get consistent. You have the seasonal variability down there. And how much did they end up buying from you in terms of quantity? Are we talking a hundred pounds a week? They're buying of greens or is it more than that? Less than that.
Moses Kashem: [00:23:29] Great question. I wanted to know that too. I was like, how much do you guys want? Can I do this? I'm not there to make a fool of myself, but the produce team, they're a produce manager, Narcan Reavis, really was like, look, you give me what you can grow consistently. So don't list it if you can't grow it consistently, he was very black and white, very easy to understand.
And I said, add, and I was like, I know I have my wishlist of crops that I would love to be supplying hopefully, but what can I really get at them consistently? That made me look at what we had and reevaluate things, I would love to sell them tons of greens in the summer, my lettuce greens might not be able to keep up with their demand, but what can I give them in the summer?
I can give them a lot of implant. Eggplant. I give them a lot of kale, Oh, I can do radishes at decent rate, and then. Now we're mixing it up as well with, sunflower shoots. so the microgreens so we had to first develop an understanding that, Hey, we're seasonal. So they had to understand that from their point of view, Hey, I'm seasonal.
Amanda's, I'm not, I know you can call up the distributor and he'll give you everything you want exactly when you want it. But I can't do that. No. So he had to understand that from his point of view, my point of view, I understand that they needed quantity. They need consistency. So I did take a good hard look at myself and humble myself because of course I want to sell them that lettuce, but I knew.
It might not be feasible as time of year, so I'm going to sell them something else. That's maybe a little cheaper, but it'll give us a good reputation that we're consistent. So I started with kale. it wasn't the most high-valued crop. but they got to order every week and they were seeing us every week and that's all I wanted.
Diego: [00:25:26] And you sell to whole foods. What do you have to do regarding things like gap certification or anything like that? Does that come into play?
Moses Kashem: [00:25:37] Yep. I think I mentioned it was almost two years ago that I approached, or we approached this, this agreement to get me in there. and it took almost a year and a half of really setting things up to make it work, For gap certification, I developed, I had to develop SOP, for the farm, I had to buy things that would be easy to clean and would illustrate proper hygiene. And I had to build the infrastructure at Saint Simons, the church that I farm at, I had to build it. So it wouldn't look like just a rinky dink operation.
Where were we? Yeti Cola. it started out just putting up a sign about how to wash your hand. and then, I took a food safety course, a produce safety Alliance that is held at university of Florida and their extension office down here. I think it was developed by Cornell university, however, the core course, and they really, Put things in perspective from just how much recordkeeping and just what level of cleanliness was expected to pass, a gap audit.
Diego: [00:26:54] And have you found that once you set it up, it's been good. if you ran into any issues, either with. I don't even know who enforces that and, or whole foods pushing certain things on you or checking on you or has it just been business as usual? No issues.
Moses Kashem: [00:27:15] Yeah. I never had issues with whole foods because I was just terrified to make a mistake. I put all the pressure on myself beforehand before getting into it with them. so having, let's say a, certifying company come out, and do a pre audit inspection was invaluable. I felt like I got my butt handed to me, Cause I, I wanted to call an audit and the guy's you're not ready to call an audit.
it was so humbling. And I was like, what do you mean I'm not ready? So there was a lot of things that had to be changed. but ever since, doing that pre-audit inspection, it, it really helped, Putting up screening, so nothing can get into your pack house.
Oh. Or your washing station? keeping records. So all of that, initially was not smooth sailing for me, but I tried my best to do it on the front end and we're still getting better at it, but whole foods has been a. No, it's been good so far. So knock on wood. It keeps going good.
Diego: [00:28:21] What percentage of your farm's output would you say that are buying? Is it large amounts, small amounts?
Moses Kashem: [00:28:28] I guess now since it's summer, I guess the percentage they're getting at least like 60% of what we're putting out.
Diego: [00:28:35] Yes. It sounds like they've really worked with you on this. They're flexible. They understand seasonality. And overall as a farm, reading between the lines, it sounds like it's been good for you.
Moses Kashem: [00:28:47] Yeah. an organization is an organization, but it came down to the people there working there and it just so happened. this produce staff at whole foods, North Miami is run by a group of very young men. My age they're the buyers, it's not the corporate guy in a suit. No, these are young guys my age.
And they knew that I'm trying to grind and trying to make it just like they are. And they understood that and they want me to succeed. So it was. it was, I dunno, so refreshing seeing that they wanted me to do well, cause we're in the same boat, them, a lot of them are working part time jobs or working multiple jobs and they're trying to get somewhere in their career and same with,
Diego: [00:29:39] How do you find their pricing now that they're an Amazon company, Amazon has this reputation, I think for wanting to grind down their suppliers. How's it been for you as a farmer?
Moses Kashem: [00:29:54] I don't know why should be saying this, for sure. The price of some of the stuff that you know, that they were buying from other farmers. I couldn't imagine how farms put it out so cheap, so I didn't know them pre-Amazon but.
I knew that I would have to change something, to get my price off because I couldn't put it out as cheap as other places, with cheap labor and tons of land and huge equipment, like I couldn't compete. so there was. initially a bit of wheeling and dealing, it was a small amount and they understood that we're local and they put a preference for that, they said, okay, we can work with you a little and they did.
but now we're revisiting things, on my end. So right now we're finally getting our organic certification. so our produce, The prices go up my more than 30%. that'll be a huge thing. so I guess my advice for anyone who wants to get to whole foods, I understand that if you're going to sell conventional, even though you're organic, you're going to get paid for conventional pricing.
You may have a little wiggle room there because you're local, but I wouldn't say that you want to. Just continue selling to them conventionally. Cause you could be making a lot more. If you put in the legwork and the record keeping for certification,
Diego: [00:31:19] How do you find it as a farmer? Where on one hand they're taking 60 plus percent of your product. That's nice. That's convenient. It's one sale to move a ton of product. But you're also getting a lower price to move all that product. So those are your trade offs. How do you view that now having been in this deal for a while and running this farm?
Moses Kashem: [00:31:47] I still think it's a rule from my end. sometimes I couldn't push that much kale on the restaurant or farmer's markets.
And we had a lot of kale sin in the field, same with eggplants. people are getting tired of eggplants in CSA boxes. I think it matters which crop, because I could sell lettuce for a lot more at the restaurant. then I could the whole food. It was like a balancing act at first, okay, I'm going to, I'm going to put this on the list, for corporate to see on whole foods.
And that'll be an buyer's list. I'll put the kale, I'll put the egg. I'm not going to put my lettuce yet because it's, I can still get a pretty decent price, from restaurant. so it was understanding what to sell them and that this would be temporary. I'm going to grind it out and maybe not make the most temporarily.
Until I get my organic certification. but it's still coming out as profitable. Cause I'm not throwing that crop away and I'm building the reputation at whole foods for a dependable source of protein.
Diego: [00:32:47] How do they handle what they buy in terms of quantity? If they buy a hundred units of product from you and before that product goes off, they only sell 80.
What happens to the extra?
Moses Kashem: [00:33:06] whole foods is really cool about that. Cause I asked the same question. what, if you don't sell it, they have two routes. One if it's still edible, what they do with the extra is they donate it. they donate to food banks, and the next route is. Past, edibility.
They, they compost it and, I believe companies pick it up and turn it into compost. That's I guess the food ends up being used either way. but obviously we want our stuff to sell, so they keep buying.
Diego: [00:33:34] and then one hand now, then you have whole foods that's working out well, one customer buying a bunch, and then you have the CSA, 31 people in your CSA, a much more maintenance, heavy sales model because you're dealing with 31 people. It's a weekly thing. Boxes of aggregating product. How was your initial approach into CSA? How do you like that model?
Moses Kashem: [00:34:01] It's one of the most satisfying model. There is, direct to consumer, approach and you're right. it is way more laborious and a lot more thought goes into it, because you always have produce to give them, but you're always considering.
How would they like to eat the same thing, from last week. So you're getting in your own head and you want to make them happy. so it's different type of challenge. But I loved it, Cause they're our biggest supporters, our CSA has been amazing. From just the field goods that you get.
it's a nice bit of capital upfront, that can get you. Laugh, get you going early part of the season, and lie to hire the right staff and, stock up on your seats. And so it's a nice little nest egg to have, along with feeling good with the client interaction.
Diego: [00:34:54] How have CSA sales been for you? I've heard from a lot of farmers that sales for CSS have been tough. There's a lot of talk around CSA saturation and popularity. What have you noticed?
Moses Kashem: [00:35:08] It's so weird. Miami's like maybe 10 years behind the rest of the country, as far as farming, because CFAs are novel here.
there was only one or two other CSH that are really known. One's been around for 10 plus years, the other one, maybe eight, and then there's ours. yeah, I constantly had to explain to people what a CSA is. I don't think we've hit saturation point yet. we actually had to turn down, a few people this year, and we're expanding our CSA, this coming season.
so hopefully you don't hit saturation anytime soon, If it keeps going at the rate, it does where it's a gain popularity, And I can see in, five to eight years, it hitting that saturation point.
Diego: [00:35:54] What do you find are the selling points then for a lot of these people that are getting into CSS for the first time or the people in that market? Is it the convenience of it? Is it variety? Is it value? What do you think is resonating?
Moses Kashem: [00:36:11] I know I had a lot of preconceptions like, Oh, this is what we'll sell. this is what, this is how I can market the produce. And this is what will entice them to do want our CSA. And that's changed a little bit.
So initially, I thought, Hey, value, our, it comes out a little less than $30 a week for your box. and you're getting a ton of produce different variety and it's all fresh. So I thought it was value and. freshness, that would entice them and it did. So a lot of people signed up and then as you went from fall to spring, more people signed up.
But I realized that it almost felt it is the produce, but what they're not buying is the product they're buying you. So they come to the farm every Sunday to pick up their boxes and regardless of what's in there, they're happy. They're like, awesome. Moses's is great. How are you doing?
And we sit down and we have tea, we have coffee and there'll be a bunch of us just sitting around and that's, they always leave happy, And they always come back. sure. The produce has something to do with it, but, I think. People are hungry to get back to land, to get back, to see where their food's from and see who grows it and develop a relationship with who grows it and just see where it all starts.
Diego: [00:37:34] You mentioned there, you had some preconceived notions around the CSA. What about farming now that you look back, how have you found the first couple years of getting into this when you, versus what you expected when you decided to forego the pursuit of medical school and get into farming, what's been, have been some of the challenges or what have been some of the reality versus expectations that you've learned?
Moses Kashem: [00:38:08] I expected to come in. approach a plot of land and immediately produce, and then keep up that rate for a while and then just grow, you multiply or if I have an, a quarter acre and then I moved to half acre, so I'm doubling my output. that's one thing I quickly realized was not the case.
and just cause you're up in the land, doesn't mean you're gonna produce the same amount. In fact, it means you have more to maintain more weeds to control. so I learned that expanding wasn't necessarily what I thought it would be. I thought it would mean more production, but that's not what it means in most cases in my case, actually.
And another thing is. I thought as time went on, when I farmed more that it would all become, maybe I'd have less questions and maybe I'd become, an expert in my own. but as time goes on, I have more questions. I have more questions now than I did when I started, I felt like when I started by, I thought I walked in a lot more constantly now.
I tread lightly, and I, as far as my approach to farming and I respect just how fickle mother nature can be. because we are doing something artificial we're trying to produce a certain set of crops that may necessarily, may not necessarily want to grow there.
So I learned that I had to. given, offering almost land in order to reap. so that's been humbling, and I wish I can go back to how I was when I first start, this is going to be easy, now a lot more questions.
Diego: [00:39:53] What are some of the big questions that you're still trying to figure out?
Moses Kashem: [00:39:58] The biggest question is. Can I do this all year around, I thought I could, and right now, I'm playing with it now. a lot I can grow all year round under the open sun, no cover. And now, Hey, can I do this? In high tunnels or greenhouses because it sure as hell isn't working out there and in the summer it gets even hotter and there's rain.
and so for, I had no question about rain. I didn't care about rain now. All my focus is on keeping my cross dry. so many different problems come from, how do you. Keep your crops dry. And how do you protect them from foliar diseases and fungus? That's a whole different ball game, that opens the Pandora's box, but I think this hurdle right now and answering all these questions about how to grow you around and deal with the rain, miss is gonna get us to where we need to be, and produce those lettuce greens all year round. People say it can't be done there. One farmers told me it can't be done but I want to find out for myself.
Diego: [00:41:07] With the farm currently, how it operates. again, you have the opposite season, say of a Northern farmer who doesn't do winter growing. Can the farm support you if you were. Farming in the winter timeframes down in Miami, in other words, seasonal versus going year round, or do you need it to go year round to make this work
Moses Kashem: [00:41:33] Now I could live a meager living if I did seasonally, and just seasonally, at my scale. And my farm is less than half an acre. I could. Live meagerly, and scratch my, away by, but I don't think, as you grow, maybe I want to have kids or maybe I want to yeah. And not live paycheck to paycheck.
I think it's going to have to change. And that's where growing you around will change things, I think. but. One thing, you're right. The rest of the country, which gives us a little bit of advance in the winter time. Whereas, maybe it's harder for others to produce, and they're not, whole foods or whoever else is the price of lettuce, maybe increasing out West or wherever they're getting it from.
but down here, this is our PCs in December is like Primo time for lettuce greens. so we have that advantage. so I guess if I wanted to do it seasonally and just seasonally, it would, I have to change up the marketing approach to sell to buyers who I know need tons of lettuce, greens and stuff that time of year but other than that, I think I'm going to have to go year round.
Diego: [00:42:57] What about in terms of size of your farm? Do you feel like the scale you're operating at is a sweet spot for you now? Or do you feel the need to grow?
Moses Kashem: [00:43:09] I think I haven't even scratched the potential of my, I think, fourth of an acre plot. I have not scratched the potential. I think we can produce much more in it than. And we're currently doing. I think this will be our sweet spot for a bit, I'm happy to net, I can net 60 a year. I'm happy off this plot, and that's where I'm trying to get to right now.
And I think it's totally possible. Cause we, we now have new outlets to sell to and we're employing new techniques to do it all year round, hopefully. but I don't know. Do many of the farms you deal with are they mostly bigger than half-acre? I'm guessing they are?
Diego: [00:43:55] I think it varies. There's a lot of half acre and less. Doing great business. And there's bigger farms doing great business, where it starts to get really nuanced are things like, are you doing microgreens? Because now scale goes out the window because you're packing a bunch of crop into a small space. So it's all over the board. I think you can find people succeeding and struggling on small and big farms.
Moses Kashem: [00:44:31] Yeah.
Diego: [00:44:33] Overall with what you're doing now, do you have any regrets that you didn't build the med school route in your hour where you are now?
Moses Kashem: [00:44:43] Nope. I look at, I'm about to have my 10 year reunion for high school. So I'm 28 and I graduated in high school in 2008. And I look at my classmates, some of them went on to dentistry and medicine and they're looking at me and all of them were like, man, your life is cool. And I agree with them. My life is pretty cool. I wake up every day. I'm happy to go to work, man. I'm so happy.
I practically rushed out the house with my coffee, bagel and I'm out the door, Cause I'm pumped to be at the farm. I know if I was doing medicine, I don't think I'd be that happy.
Diego: [00:45:24] I love hearing what you're doing. You're obviously enjoying it and having a good time doing it for people that want to follow along with what you're doing or see how you're growing down there in Miami. Where's the best place they can go to stay on top of what you're doing.
Moses Kashem: [00:45:41] You can check us out on Instagram at, any Simon's farm, or, check out the urban vegetable project. Dot com and see what we're up to
Diego: [00:45:53] There you have it farmer Moses Kashem. If you want to learn more about Moses and follow along with everything that he's doing, be sure to check him out at the links in the show description for this episode. One thing I found really interesting in this episode was his struggle or the challenge that he was having to survive financially, being a seasonal farmer versus a year round farmer. If you're somebody that only farms, seasonally, meaning you only farm for eight or nine months of the year or less.
And then during that off period, you truly take off meaning you have no other income coming in. I'd be interested to talk to you because I think that's an interesting subject and it's one struggle that I know a lot of farmers face when they get into farming. How do I make this work financially? Do I need to farm year round?
If you're in a more tempered climate, unlike Miami, that means you're going indoors or you're going to have storage crops. How are you making it work? If you're farming seasonally, what's working for you. Shoot me an email. If you'd be interested in talking about that. Thanks for listening today. That's all for this one next week.
I'll be back with another small scale farmer making a go of it between now and then keep hustling and crushing it and stay tuned for another episode where it's all about farming, small in farming. Smart.
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