Brian Bates is a first-generation farmer at Bear Creek Organic Farm in Petoskey, Michigan. He and his wife, Anne Morningstar, started farming in 2014, and have rapidly grown their business to anticipated 2016 sales of $180,000.With just an acre and a half of cultivated ground, Bear Creek makes most of its money from greenhouse and high tunnel crops, and Brian breaks this down for us. We get an in-depth look at the tools Brian uses to track wholesale and retail sales, and to track those back to the enterprise they’re a part of – something that gives him insights into where he’s earning most of his returns, which in turn drives his business decision-making.Bear Creek sells half of his produce wholesale, mostly to grocery stores, and Brian shares how his work in the back end of his local natural foods store informed the ways he has structured his production and marketing efforts.
We also explore how Brian and Anne financed the startup of their operation, and how they’ve used debt as a lever to both enable and drive the rapid growth of their operation.
The Farmer to Farmer Podcast is generously supported by Vermont Compost Company.
Vermont Compost: Founded by organic crop growing professionals committed to meeting the need for high-quality composts and compost-based, living soil mixes for certified organic plant production.
Quotes from the Show
We were never going to have a CSA… we didn’t want to be a jack of all trades and a master of none.
If it didn’t have to do with garlic, greens, and honey, it didn’t get a loan.
The farm works for us, we don’t work for the farm… if something about the farm is not working for us then we have the power and authority to change that.
The debt has done a great job of making the business have to answer to a third party that’s not just us.
Less than fifteen percent of [last year’s gross income] came from our field production… I think the field’s an expensive place to operate.
What matters so much more than a perfect field of carrots is what your spreadsheets look like and what your margin is.
Following that money is the only reason that I know the greenhouse is as important to our farm as it is.
These [financial choices] are the kind of decisions that let me sleep at night – comfortably.
A produce buyer is buying from you, but each time they buy a product from you, it is very inconvenient for them. Because unless your product comes with a barcode in a standard measured unit the way they order things from California, then it’s inconvenient.
Everybody’s buying their salad greens at the store in a plastic container anyway. The best thing local food producers can do is make an equally well-designed and packaged product that we all know is going to taste better and be thousands of miles of fresher.
If you can normalize the shopping experience, then your market gets a lot bigger.