Running Your Farm as a Business First

2020 has finally come to an end. Of course, the uncertainty of 2021 still lies ahead, but let’s just focus on the positives for now. The “COVID Chapter” (as I call it around here) will be long remembered for its many challenges and dark moments. There are also decided benefits that have come out if it, though! For starters, many ASCFG members have reported that their businesses boomed as the demand for blooms surged during periods of quarantine lockdown. Some long-established farmers have even reported tripling their annual sales when it was all said and done!

At my farm, with a lot of pivoting and extra work, sales held steady despite losing 35 large weddings we had on the books for 2020. We made up for it with several new sales channels, including a home delivery service I swore I would never start but now is here to stay! The big-picture lesson COVID taught me over the many months of uncertainty was to be ever-open to change; to be constantly curious about what could happen if I stopped dogmatically hoeing the same old established row (be it sales channel, crop plan, or transplanting method) and tried something new.

Instead of rushing through the growing season this year, eye on the typical prize of fulfilling all my standing wedding contracts and teaching a typically robust series of on- and-off-farm workshops, I actually had some time to just stand in my fields and look around. Week-to-week retail sales are kind of nice in that way:  there is no contracted amount that must be met. What you have is what you sell. So, without the usual pressure (albeit there was lots of new pressure), I was able to “play” a bit. I tried some new crops (hello, alstroemeria!) that would be better suited for daily deliveries than wedding centerpieces. And I tried some new methods of restoring and nurturing my soil web.  

Farm at rest for the winter

One rabbit hole I dove into deeply in 2020 was exploring the concepts behind and methods of Korean Natural Farming (KNF). My interest in farming through a holistic ecological lens began because of a super wet year in 2018 and has been expanding ever since. After studying up on the intricacies of the soil web for a year or two, this past season was the first time I had an opportunity to really research KNF and try experimenting with the associated homemade bio stimulant applications. From there, I learned about JADAM (which, I believe, in Korean means “people that resemble nature”) and have been letting my curiosity run wild ever since. I also gobbled up all I could find about approaching weed management with the tool of soil nutrient balance rather than with a hoe or herbicide. 

Can I say for sure yet if adopting any of these new (to me) approaches at my farm will be a silver bullet for all that might afflict it? No. We all know there is no silver bullet in farming! But what I can say for sure is that there have been decided small victories in long-waged wars. Namely, the health of my overwintering ranunculus and larkspur have never been better after making applications of what is known as “LAB” and “WCA” from the KNF handbook. And my once-dense and tired soil is now fluffy and full of life. So, I will continue with my curious experiments and witchy brews with the likes of leaf mold, eggshells, rice, milk, molasses, vinegar, and nettles. Perhaps there is fodder there for a future article in The Cut Flower Quarterly.

The rollercoaster of 2020 was damn hard. But what brought me real joy and excitement this year was letting my curiosity run wild. I questioned everything I ever thought about farming, including if I really wanted to keep going with my farm. And in the end, it was that curiosity that brought me out to the other side and makes me incredibly eager to get rolling with 2021!

In the meantime, in these quieter days of winter, I will be doing lots of reading on the topics of soil life, nutrient balancing, ways elders farmed centuries ago before commercial fertilizers and pesticides became the norm, recipes for DIY farm inputs, and generally learning from personal observation out in the field and forest.

For anyone who wants to tickle their curiosity too, here is a list of books I have read and generally would recommend (some better than others but all worth flipping their pages):
The Regenerative Grower’s Guide to Garden Amendments by Nigel Palmer
Teaming with Fungi: The Organic Grower’s Guide to Mycorrhizae by Jeff Lowenfels
Dirt to Soil by Gabe Brown
No-Till Intensive Vegetable Culture by Bryan O’Hara 
When Weeds Talk by Jay L. McCaman
Gathering Moss by Robin Wall Kimmerer
Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
JADAM Organic Farming: The Way to Ultra-Low-Cost Agriculture by Youngsang Cho
The Organic No-Till Farming Revolution by Andrew Mefferd
And here is a list of books currently on my desk for further winter reading: 
Farming the Woods by Ken Mudge and Steve Gabriel
Reclaiming the Commons: Biodiversity, Traditional Knowledge, and the Rights of Mother Earth by Vandana Shiva 
Native American Gardening: Buffalobird-Woman’s Guide to Traditional Methods by Gilbert Wilson
Indian Agriculture in America: Prehistory to the Present by R. Douglas Hurt
Biodynamic Gardening  by Monty Waldin

Jennie Love

Love ‘n Fresh Flowers

Jennie Love is owner of Love ‘n Fresh Flowers. Contact her at [email protected]