Archive for July, 2019

Here’s a quick roundup of some resources I have to think about local farming in the Northwest, inspired by a friend’s question.

The resource said friend shared with me:
A PhD Farmer Sara Taber from North Carolina who does interesting writing and podcasting:

Erin Adams of Seattle Good Business Network/Seattle Made just hooked me up with this blog: https://kingcountygreen.com/category/local-food-news/

There’s a book that was all the rage one year, I’m not sure anyone has validated it:

Viva Farms has a farm school program in Skagit in partnership with WSU – one quarter of farming and one quarter of farm business. (ooo, actually looks like there are 3 quarters now). I know the folks that founded it. https://vivafarms.org/practicum-in-sustainable-agriculture-2/

Many folks do WWOOFing to learn farming. https://wwoofinternational.org/ I don’t know how many become farmers, access to land is an issue for sure.

The class I’ve organized here in Seattle is from the Food Finance Institute of the University of Wisconsin. https://foodfinanceinstitute.org/ She doesn’t do “production agriculture” (IE how to be profitable with crops) but everything beyond that from distribution to value-added-production to marketing/branding

This publication gives me admiration for what government can do. I only hope it can still produce things like this: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK305181/ it’s pretty amazing.

Multiple times I’ve heard that Farm Accounting is a different beast.  I’m starting to understand why. Tera of the Food Finance Institute commented that you don’t have clear COGS when you’re farming – instead you’ve got all your inputs and then your outputs and how you find value for them.  I’ve heard about this in meat production – a challenge to organic meat production is you might be able to get an organic premium for steak and hamburger, but where’s the organic premium for offal? So how do you make the whole business model work?  Or you produce apples, but what price you get depends on how much of what quality you end up with, oh and of course what’s going on in the commodity markets.  So the usual business accounting of price-cogs = gross margin doesn’t cut it.  Instead you have to think, well, I could invest more in these kind of resources to improve the % of apples that come out to be worth more and that will change the total revenue.  I’ve discovered Steve Bragg of AccountingTools Inc, and I love what I have read of his stuff. He has a book on Agricultural Accounting that is totally what I’d reach for first, but I haven’t managed to read it yet so I can’t make a total endorsement.  Anyone want to let me know?

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I had the privilege of working with Tera Johnson of the Food Finance Institute last week to put on part 1 of her Consultant Training and her Entrepreneur BootCamp here in Seattle.  Business Impact Northwest hosted the training.  Tera is great because of her wealth of experience in food, beverage and agriculture businesses.  After a week of trainings we drove up to the Skagit Co-op (I finally joined!) and met with folks from the local SBDC, the Puget Sound Food Hub, and Viva Farms.  Hopefully we’ll organize future trainings up there.  Tera’s specialty is value-added processing and selling products.

The first week of training focuses on the importance of being in touch with consumer markets – crafting products consumers want and can understand.  Then it moves into figuring out who’s your target market, where they are, and then matching your business model and your market size.   If you’re in a big area like the Puget Sound region, you can probably make a living for yourself and some income for others making your product in a shared kitchen and selling at farmers markets if you have a unique niche.  If you want to go into wholesale distribution, that’s frankly a different business with much lower margins and requires much higher volume – you need to gather your resources and shoot to get to the next level of stability ASAP. Trying to grow slowly and incrementally can accumulate operating losses that eventually drag you down.  The next sessions of class will be about how to finance these different kinds of business.

To better understand where the market opportunities are, Tera shared a wealth of resources for staying informed about market trends.  Most of these are free.

The best trade shows to attend to get a sense of your market:

Attendees also shared their favorite local resources for businesses.  Local CDFIs Ventures https://www.venturesnonprofit.org/ and Business Impact Northwest https://businessimpactnw.org/ offer lots of workshops, as well as the local SBA.  The University of Washington has many programs where student groups will do projects for businesses, market research and target marketing was one such project through the BIG program.


Other Northwest local conferences mentioned included ProvenderSeattle Good Business Network in Seattle has been organizing some food-business related events, and Davis Wright Tremaine in Portland has started an annual invitation-only Farm-To-Label one-day conference.

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