In this blog series, we’re going to talk about how Conor and Kate Crickmore of Neversink Farm got started in market gardening—particularly his process of developing systems that worked in his context in New York State. We’ll highlight a central theme of theirs: focusing on what works and then getting rid of what doesn’t so that jobs get done faster and easier.
Conor didn’t start out grossing $350,000 a year like he does now. It took a lot of trial and error for years—even bringing him and his wife, Kate, to the brink of giving up—before they started getting their systems and processes dialed in.
City Folk Who Wanted to Live Off the Land
Before Conor was a farmer he was a computer consultant who designed large computer systems for finance and insurance companies. This was fine for a while, until he got married to Kate and decided to move out of the city and into a tiny fishing cabin he had purchased years earlier.
Like many people, they wanted to take a shot at living off the land. So they got some chickens and some bees and they even had a little trout pond. There were no concrete plans—they just wanted to try homesteading, live off the land, and sell things off the homestead.
But they soon figured out that if they wanted to have kids and retire one day, they were going to have to run their homestead like a business. So they found a plot of land, wrote up a contract, and began leasing the land to start a farm.
The Mistake of Throwing a Wide Net
Conor and Kate brought most of their animals from the homestead down to the plot of land where they planned to start a farm. They had layers, meat birds, pigs, and some vegetables. They noticed soon enough that a lot of money was going to the animals, but the animals didn’t expand their business; their investment in the vegetables did, though.
So they scrapped having animals on the farm and instead focused on vegetables. They enjoyed growing more than raising livestock, and they felt like vegetable growing would turn into a more substantial business.
Conor suggests becoming really good at one enterprise. This allows you to invest and learn enough about that one thing to become a master at it.
The First Steps of Change
When Conor and Kate first started leasing land, there was nothing there. It was an empty, rocky field that had never been used to grow vegetables.
So they invested in a greenhouse and a small hoop house to grow tomatoes. By that time, all the money they had saved up was pretty much gone. There was no job waiting for them to come back to, either, so they had to make farming work.
They bought a two-wheel BCS tractor and tilled and tilled and tilled. This didn’t get rid of the nightmare of the perennial weeds, though. With half an acre and inadequate systems that first year, they were lucky just to make enough profit to keep going.
The following year they stopped tilling. This was their first step in observing what worked, eliminating what didn’t, and continuously improving the farm’s systems.
In the next post, we’ll look at the mindset Conor and Kate adopted that enabled them to move toward success.
You can learn more by checking out our podcast with grower Conor Crickmore:
And you can find all our market gardening podcasts at Farm Small, Farm Smart—the longest-running podcast on market gardening in the world.