Keys and Tips to Run a Successful Farm Business with Ellen Polishuk – Carrot Cashflow Episode 26


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Episode Summary

When people look to start a market farm, either one of two things happen: they either become good at managing both the growing side and the business side and their farm operation becomes a viable business, or they struggle with either the growing or the business side—or sometimes both—and the whole operation struggles. How can we prevent that from happening?

In this episode of Carrot Cashflow, we’re talking to retired farmer-turned-consultant Ellen Polishuk to talk about the profitability of farming, where farmers make mistakes, what both new and seasoned farmers should focus on in their business, and what steps to take to increase a farm’s profitability.

Today’s Guest: Ellen Polishuk

Ellen Polishuk is a retired farmer living in the suburbs of Washington, DC. With over 30 years of experience in the field, she now currently runs her company, Plant to Profit, which is geared towards providing consulting, coaching, bookkeeping, and financial advising to farmers. Apart from providing consulting services, she also speaks at conferences, holds workshops, and has published a book entitled, Start Your Farm.

Relevant Links

            Plant to ProfitWebsite | Email

           Start Your Farm: The Authoritative Guide to Becoming a Sustainable 21st Century Farmer by Forrest Pritchard & Ellen Polishuk (2018)

In this episode of Carrot Cashflow

  • Welcome to Carrot Cashflow (00:10)
  • Diego introduces the episode’s guest, Ellen Polishuk (00:44)
  • Have the market gardening questions changed from then and now? (02:50)
  • The fatal flaws from beginners dipping their toes into market gardening (03:44)
    • Naivete and oversimplistic view on farming (04:01)
    • Easily distracted by the next shiny object (04:55)
  • Why do people struggle with their glorified market gardening hobby? (06:13)
    • There’s something wrong with the soil resource (06:50)
  • Training to know what “good” looks like (08:14)
  • Giving someone a path that has the best chance of success (09:45)
  • Starting a farm is capital-intensive (11:40)
  • Getting adopted by farms and how older farmers view younger farmers (12:37)
  • How receptive are the younger generation to the experience of seasoned farmers? (14:25)
  • What seasoned farmers are missing business-wise (16:06)
  • Because farming has a relatively low barrier to entry (18:45)
  • It’s no good to do everything poorly (19:56)
  • Where good growers fail in business: people management (22:22)
  • Approaching the question: Do I hire or not? (24:47)
  • Reconciling the cost of hiring and the value the new hire brings (29:22)
    • The top two things farmers like to complain about the most (33:55)
  • Getting twice of what you put into that hire (36:33)
  • If a family needs to take home $50,000 a year (42:53)
  • As a huge generalization, how big should a farm be to gross $200,000 a year? (44:30)
  • A realistic income per acre of farmed land (46:45)
  • Figuring out how much a unit of product costs at the market table (49:32)
    • Is it reasonable to set dollars of labor per crop unit? (51:38)
    • What doesn’t get measured are the in-between times (53:39)
  • Which weighs more: soil quality or grower skill? (55:45)
    • The change that going from bad soil to good soil made (56:54)
  • Compost and buying soil versus building the soil (58:46)
  • How to best manage a “resting” plot (01:00:16)
  • For farms that have just been piling on the compost (01:01:35)
  • Going into the specifics of the soil to find the best fertilizer (01:02:52)
    • How often to schedule soil tests (01:03:38)
    • The one thing in a soil test to watch out for (01:05:42)
  • Where to find Ellen Polishuk’s consulting services (01:06:45)
  • Management practices Ellen Polishuk promotes on small-scale farms (01:07:30)
  • How long does it take soil to go from bad soil to good soil? (01:11:46)
  • Management practices for high tunnels (01:13:47)
  • What successful farmers have done well (01:15:32)
  • The best crops to start growing (01:17:37)
    • What crops should new growers stay away from? (01:19:34)
  • Choosing between growing cut flowers or growing vegetables (01:21:08)
    • Ellen’s advice for a young person who wants to start a small-scale cut flower farm (01:23:44)
  • Where to find Ellen Polishuk and keep up with her work (01:24:59)

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Check Out My Book: Ready Farmer One: The Farmers’ Guide to Create, Design, and Market an Online Farm Store (2022) by Diego Footer & Nina Galle

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Arielle Roxas

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