So far in this series, we’ve covered how Neversink Farm was founded, including the mindset they adopted that led to success. Today we’re going to look into a few different things, including whether to focus initially on getting infrastructure in place or on production.
Prepping the Soil
Getting their farm’s soil right was difficult for Conor and Kate because they live in a river valley. Their soils used to be a river bottom, which means there were a ton of rocks and pebbles that hindered their efforts to make their soil nice and fluffy. So they removed the larger rocks and added clay, compost, and peat to achieve the soil texture they wanted.
Getting all the rocks out of their riverbed soil took a long time, but if he had to do it again, Conor would. The payoff years later has been worth it. Removing rocks from the soil was a one-time endeavor, and he firmly believes that having a half-acre worth of really nice beds is a lot better than having an acre and a half of problems. What they did that first year enabled them to design a good system that works for them and their context.
Which Comes First—Production or Infrastructure?
Many businesses struggle with growing cashflow while balancing the need for behind-the-scenes infrastructure to enable future growth.
In Conor and Kate’s case, it was more manageable to work on a small piece of land—half an acre—compared to working to build a system that would work on a 10-acre farm. They wouldn’t have had the time to do it effectively and efficiently, and that would have been frustrating.
As for the infrastructure, Conor stresses the need to match it with growth in production. Imagine having to harvest five acres and then having to deal with a massive bottleneck at the washing station if all you had was a single tub in the field.
Most people want to put their time into production, and that’s perfectly understandable. That’s what Conor does. He prefers to put his time into production and let his infrastructure suffer for a bit until he can improve it.
Focusing on one or the other also depends on personality. Conor enjoys growing and harvesting over setting up electrical wiring. He’s happy to have someone else do construction work or drill a well; he’ll write them a check and spend his time in the field.
But if someone is able to upgrade their infrastructure and they’re confident they can ramp up production, then Conor says to go for it. You should borrow the money to do it because you’re going to be happy. As long as you’re not buying the wrong things, then it would be a good investment; paying 4–5 percent interest on money that you’re going to double the next year—or maybe even earn 30 percent on each year—makes good business sense.
That was how Conor and Kate went about it. They grew to be knowledgeable enough to know when to make a comfortable decision about investing in the right infrastructure.
In the next post in this series, we’ll talk about how a farmer should think about the size of his or her operation.
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.