Got Dirt?

dirt_tomato

Not to belabor the point, but we are a very, very small farm. And while I think we are doing pretty well and will likely turn a profit this year, we’re a long way from pulling anything like a real salary from our tiny farm. I figure at most, if we execute perfectly and add a second weekly market, we can generate 9k-12k per year from our scant 1/8th acre (with as much as 60% going to expenses). So, unfortunately, if one of us ever wants to work this as an only job we’re going to have to expand.

CSA_hoops

Around here, most people expand by leasing county land. We’re in Boulder County where there’s a progressive program for converting public land into leased agricultural plots. The leases are affordable and the county does a lot to support small growers. It’d be relatively easy for us to go that way. We could join with a few other small farmers, form a Growers Association, and together lease land from the county. Frog Star could end up with 1-3 acres, more than enough for us. And, after a couple years spent working it, we could produce between 40k-70k worth of produce per acre per year. That means that from a two-acre tiny farm, with 60%-70% going to pre-labor expense, we could earn at least one full time salary.

Problem is, we’d have to move our farm into the country. We’d have to leave the neighborhood and our community and I don’t want to do that. I like working in a residential setting. I like talking to my neighbors and the people walking by while I’m┬áplanting or cultivating. I don’t want to move our farm from the neighborhood.

This brings us to the question of the week. Recently, a few people have asked if we’d consider expanding into an alternative CSA model where local people could contribute their land (their yards) in exchange for CSA shares. They’d provide residential garden space. We’d provide the tools, amendments, seeds, plants, expertise, and much of the labor. From this, the homeowner would receive a CSA share (or some fraction of share if they can’t contribute much area) and we would expand enough to supply additional farmers’ markets or non-contributing CSA members. The homeowners would be expected to irrigate the garden and help with cultivation. If they wanted to learn or do more they would be welcome and we’d do all we could to teach them.

CSA_bug

This would be a tougher model for us. Maintaining multiple sites would be a real chore (an acre is 43,560 sq ft., that’s a lot of yards if folks can only contribute a 40×40 plot). It would also be real hard to calculate yield and plan the planting season. But, this model would keep us in the neighborhood and help us integrate even deeper into the community. I like both those ideas very much.

Before I burn too many more of my already feeble brain cells trying to work this out, I’d like to know what people think. Is this sort of model interesting to anyone? If you have a yard would you be willing to contribute it in exchange for fresh produce? If so, how much area do you think you could offer? If you don’t have a yard, would you be interested in buying a CSA share from such a motley patchwork of tiny, residential farm sites? Even if you don’t live in Boulder County, even if we’ll never meet, I’d love to learn your opinion. Please, leave a comment and let me know what you think.

5 comments to Got Dirt?

  • It’s an interesting idea. A patch-work of sewn-together community gardens. On the one hand, I agree, it does help to address the space constraints in an urban/suburban setting. However, without a few interns, or volunteers, it seems quite daunting to manage and maintain multiple sites, with potentially varied soil, drainage, and pest issues. Certainly worth thinking about though.

  • If you lease the land from the county does it mean you have to live on that land? I guess from a cost standpoint it wouldn’t make much sense to pay rent on the land while paying for your residential lot, but it could be an option, esp. if that land doesn’t already contain a house on it. You would have to commute of course, but you’d have the best of both worlds.

  • Great post – I particularly like your photos.
    I wish you were in my neighborhood. I think here older people may be interested in “leasing” their back yards to someone like you. Good luck!

  • Mike

    Curbstone and Dog Island folks: How many people work your farm? I think either way we go we’ll need to add some hands. Fortunately, we’ve already had some luck getting volunteer help. Some leases around here are crazy cheap. The county has been known to lease ag land with water for as little as $100-$200 per acre per year. If we could get in at that rate we’d have to go for the lease.
    Elizabeth: Thanks for the nice comments. I hadn’t thought to target older folks. That makes sense though; want to have a garden but aren’t as interested in all the work anymore.

  • Don’t go it alone! There are several neighborhood supported agriculture projects happening in the front range. Here are two lists:

    http://coloradocsas.info/csas/method/neighborhood_supported (disclaimer: this is a directory I maintain)

    and

    http://www.eatwhereulive.com/sfd_nsa.htm

    I’d suggest you (in your spare time) contact these folks and find out what their experience has been.

    As far as my vote, I’d be happy to pay a premium for hyper local produce.

    Thanks for your work!
    Dan

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