Struggle with marketing? Here’s a free webinar.

What do companies such as Go-pro, Apple, and Coca-Cola have in common? They all do a great job with marketing. Yes, they all have great products (well, in the case of Coke its debatable), but in reality, they have figured out how to tell the story of how you need their product.

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The first iPod ad.

You can do that too.

You shouldn’t have to struggle with selling your product or communicating with your customers. Join me this Tuesday at 7 PM when I will share simple principles, tips, and techniques to connect with your customers and sell more product. I will talk about the power of developing your farm story and branding your farm, figuring out who your customer is, and connecting with them through simple social media strategies.

Over the last several years, I have spent thousands of dollars on marketing courses and seminars. Why, because marketing is a vital part of any business.  As I tell people, “if you can’t sell you product, its like you are just growing expensive compost

Best of all, did I mention this is free?  This webinar will be part of NOFA/Mass’s Inspiring Ideas from Experts in the Field.    See all the details below.

Marketing Strategies for the Farm, with Michael Kilpatrick
Tuesday, September 27, 2016
7:00 pm  |  Eastern Daylight Time (New York, GMT-04:00)  |  1 hr
Meeting number (access code): 733 334 807
Meeting password: farmer
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You can also click here to see NOFA-Mass’s original post.

Tips for increasing traffic to your farmers market stand

GrowNYC, which sponsors the NYC greenmarket program, recently released a PDF entitled “Understanding Customer Behavior at Farmer’s Markets”. I read through it this morning and thought there were some great takeaways. It’s a great resource for anyone selling at farmers markets or a produce stand.

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Big takeaway- Do you step back and watch customers interact with your stall? Are you watching customer flow? After we had set up our stand and the market started, we would step across the aisle and watch customers. Our goal was to see how they moved by and hopefully through our stand. We would also “secret shop” our stands to see how employees where interacting with our customers.

 

Provide plenty of room inside the stall for customer movement. In retail science, there is something called “butt room”. Customers become uncomfortable when their personal space is invaded during a shopping experience and that can influence brand perception and future shopping habits.

 

Loyalty cards are great- customers always want to feel part of a “club” or “program”. Especially for staples which they can buy from anyone like salad mix, ground beef, or eggs, this can help drive sales.

 

Pile product high! If you can display 100 bunches of radishes, do!  It will help sales as people are drawn to abundance. Of course, then it can wilt, you might say.  Keep it looking fresh by spraying it down with water, we used something like this.

 

Selling meat or hot food presents special challenges. Many growers are using rolling ice cream freezers to keep meat frozen while still allowing customers to see the product. Having big, colorful posters displayed as well as offering samples can also boost displays.

 

You can read the entire report here.
What unique things do you do that help drive your farmers market sales?

Ebook- 10 winter growing secrets we wish we knew when we started

Winter growing can be tough. From unforeseen cold snaps which damage plants, to aphids wreaking havoc, it’s not a forgiving growing environment. Then if you manage to get a nice crop grown and ready to harvest, you have voles to deal with, and downy mildew starts destroying your lettuce. Other questions lurk… If you are building a new tunnel, what features do you add? What’s worth the money?

The winter season should be easy and slow paced. You shouldn’t have to be working long days weeding chickweed from your paths, shoveling your tunnels out and fighting those pesky voles for your super sweet spinach. You need a winter growing system that puts you back in control of your time, allowing you to rest and recuperate from the crazy summer growing season.

When I started winter farming back in 2005 at Kilpatrick Family Farm, we had all these problems and more. I remember plowing out greenhouses at midnight because we hadn’t constructed them properly. I remember losing whole crops to disease, insects, or those voles… And yes, I weeded my share of chickweed (and tomato volunteers) from the beds.

I knew there had to be a better way, so I embarked on a cross-country study of winter production farms, talking to dozens of growers, asking about their techniques, varieties, and styles. We talked to greenhouse manufacturers, extension agents, seed breeders. We refined our system to make it work for us, providing a stream of winter growing profits that allowed us to sleep well at night.

I also shared our system with hundreds of growers across the US, talking at dozens of conferences, giving webinars, and getting lots of feedback. I fielded hundreds of questions too. Over time, I realized the questions started following patterns, so I began compiling a FAQ.

Last winter, I sat down and decided to turn that FAQ into a 60 page ebook, covering the top questions I get on winter growing and season extension. It’s jam packed with information that will save you time, make you money, and help you grow a crop you can stand back and be proud of. It will help you know what parameters to run your greenhouse at so you can sleep well at night, knowing that your crops are tucked in and safe for your customers.Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 10.39.48 AM

Already, the few growers that I have shared it with are giving positive feedback. “A great little book, I enjoyed it” from a grower in Vermont. A grower in NY said “I can see a lot of work went into this, very helpful information”

If you’re wondering how much this information is going to cost you, well, that’s the best part. For now, I’m making it available for free. That’s right, click on the link below, sign up, and we’ll email it to you directly!

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What do you have to lose? Click this link, and I’ll send you the ebook. In a few months, I’m going to rewrite and start charging for this valuable information. Don’t miss out.

You don’t want to miss this free webinar on transplant production.

A couple weeks ago I said that Adam Montri (of Michigan State University) and I were teaming up to offer a webinar on Transplant production. We’re going to cover design, setup, tips and techniques used by some of the most successful farms in the US. It’s scheduled to be an hour but there is so much good information that I’m worried we won’t be able to get it all in!  There is only 100 seats available and they are going fast, so make sure to sign up today to reserve your spot! We’re hoping to record it and share the content latter but no promises that it will work!

Here are the details:

Thursday, March 17th 7-8 PM

click here to register

This webinar is one of three that MSU is offering this spring. I’m definitely going to be sitting in on Adam’s about tunnel crop production!

HhFH Webinars, March 2016-2

HhFH Webinars, March 2016-2

Radical new hoop house design to save you time and money (Edited)

Since being transplanted to Ohio and taking a short hiatus from full time farming, I’ve been wanting to do some backyard growing. I knew that I wanted a small hoop house, but the design was escaping me. So many of the different small houses I had built were too flimsy, or didn’t have a door, or just too much work. So I thought and thought, for around 3 months before I came up with this design. It has only been up for 2 weeks, so it’s not thoroughly tested, but so far, it seems to work.  Let me know what you think!!


 

After I shared this video, Eliot Coleman emailed me that he had used this design back on a house in 2002 to overwinter field crops. Good designs always reappear.

Eliot Coleman slanted endwall 2002

A similar house that eliot designed back in 2002

Do you have ideas to make this a better design?  Comment below!!

What we learned from our Overwintering Spinach Trial

For some reason I’m fascinated with spinach. Perhaps it’s the different colors, textures, and growth habits, but all of it intrigues me. We sell a lot of spinach on our farm: baby, leaf, and bunched.
Last year we decided to do several trials. One was in the fall comparing 8 different types, looking at growth habits, hardiness, and disease resistance. The other was a ¼ acre, 9 variety, overwintering trial, looking at the same characteristics. We are located in zone 4a, and can get quite cold during the winter.
The process started Mid-summer with identifying the area for the trial. We wanted well drained soils as spinach doesn’t like wet feet, especially during the winter. We choose a sloping, Hoosic gravelly loam that had previously been in spring greens. The field was tilled and fertilized, beds where made, and the Spinach seed was planted mid October, 3 rows on the bed, 18” apart. Seed spacing in the row was 12-16 seeds per ft.
After seeding, the spinach germinated and was cultivated once before winter covers were put on in late November for overwintering. We used one layer of Typar 518 or 2 layers of Covertan 30 weight. The winter of 2014-15 was severe, with good snow pack. The rowcover was needed, because when part of it blew off, that area died. (Thankfully it didn’t destroy all of any one variety, so we still were able to collect data from all varieties.)
Spring came on slowly, with late April snowfalls. We didn’t’ get out into the fields until April 12th when we fertilized the spinach with krehers 8-3-3, putting down 60# N to the acre. We were, however, able to check the spinach in late March as the snow receded.
One problem we had was that rowcovers on spinach can cause rubbing, or white spots on the leaves. We didn’t want to hoop the spinach, so we ended up delaying harvest by pulling row covers completely off. This was done approximately at the end of April.
early trial
We started harvesting spinach from this section the last week of April, and continued through the last week of May when the last varieties bolted.

The results: the field was evaluated on May 15th when all the pictures were taken. I evaluated bolting again at the end of May to confirm our earlier results and make any last minute observations.

A note about the pictures: We clear-cut the field early May for a wholesale order, that is why many of the leaves look a little ragged.

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Space- Solid all around spinach. A little slow growing and had a tendency for the bottom leaves to be yellow.

space
Emperor- Wow, what a great spinach. Early, tall, dark green. It did have a tendency to have deformed leaves and show some bottom yellowing. Bolted quickly as well, but for an early spinach this was great. We really like this variety for bunching. Scored low mainly because a low percentage of plants deform.

Emperor
Giant Winter- Bolted early, one of the quickest to size, but color wasn’t great. Leaves yellowed as well.

Giant Winter
Pidgeon- Best spinach overall. Sized quickly, took forever to bolt, held off disease and deformity was okay. Great color, easy to harvest.

pidgeon
Tyee – An old standard. Minimum score on all aspects was a 6. You can see why people still grow this.

Tyee
Racoon- Absolutely beautiful spinach (was our favorite in the fall trials) Very upright, easy to pick, bolted relatively soon though and flavor wasn’t great. Very good disease resistance.

raccoon
Bloomsdale- Older variety, grew a bit slower and bolted relatively soon, but scored best for flavor. Very savoyed leaf.

Bloomsdale
Regiment- Another nice variety. Not on our list to grow again since their are much better varieties.

regiment
Renegade- Second best score overall. Large leaves, slow bolting, relatively nice flavor, good disease and deformity resistance.

renegade

They say the proof is in what you grow next time, so here’s what we’re going to overwinter again. Space, Emperor, Pidgeon, and Renegade. Even though Emperor scored lower, it’s earliness and size were winners for us. Its all about what you want in a spinach, and as our overwintered spinach only has to last several weeks before the regular field plantings come in, we will take earliness and yield over bolt tolerance.

We also overwintered baby red Russian kale in the field. Of course it bolted quickly, but would have been fine for one cutting of early spring greens.

red russian kale

To check out more pictures of the trial, click here!  

What are you looking for in overwintered spinach? What varieties have you tried?

Can the boss work the hardest? PT 2 Tips to increasing worker effectiveness

In the last post, I talked about some of the reasons I feel that farm crews have a hard time operating at peak effectiveness. My main point was that good crew members, while wanting to work their hardest, don’t work as quickly as the boss because many times they are not sure exactly what is expected or required of them.

Cleaning beets with a Fells bunch washer

Cleaning beets with a Fells bunch washer

Here are just a few tips to building a great, more effective team, motivating them, and increasing their productivity.

  • Have clear expectations and instructions. Having and understanding a field map, knowing where the label goes on the kale bunch, etc. can save more money than you think possible. After I give instruction on a task for the day, I have employees repeat them back to me. It’s amazing what can be lost in translation, especially in under 5 minutes.

  • Have a clean, concise farm/crew handbook. There are so many reasons for a crew handbook, it deserves it’s own blog post. A handbook puts everyone on the same page and eliminates many mistakes by informing your crew before things come up.

  • Make them feel that you are all on the same team, because you are. Have a “we” mentality, not a “me vs them.”  If you complain about your crew, it will get back to them, and that is not winning with people.

  • Be organized in thought and space. Walking in and being able to go over how we want the day to go, what we wish to accomplish, and what tools and supplies need to be readied changes the game. Also, having supplies, tools, and equipment laid out clearly decreases worker frustration immensely.

  • Never ask them to do something you are not willing to do. When the weather is nice, the work load steady, and the crop clean, I rarely work with the crew. But when the weather is 34 degrees, sleeting and windy, the fields muddy and the orders huge and ominous, I am out there with them, encouraging them, working alongside, and feeling their pain.

  • Cull the bad apples. Once we had a crew member, who, when challenged to keep up with the rest of the crew in weeding, said, “we’re all winners, no matter our speed.” These need culled, for their sake as well as the crews moral. If a great crew member sees another getting away with shoddy, slow work, all sorts of problems will develop.

Work with them, sweat with them, bleed with them, laugh, and cry with your crew. It will go a long way to building an efficient team that can change the way your farm operates for the better.

What tips or thoughts do you have on helping your team operate well together?

Can the Boss Work the Hardest?

I was working with some of our younger crew members weeding swiss chard today. The chard had been planted on plastic, and because of our cold, dry spring had grown slow enough to let a few weeds take hold.Weeding carrots

I quickly moved through 2/3rds of the bed myself, plucking the weeks and dropping them into the path, knowing that the 90 degree day and steady wind would quickly shrivel them up. The crew members slowly moved through the other third, carefully making sure that no weeds were left in the bed.

My wife and I were discussing this at dinner. The crew members were working diligently and trying their hardest but not getting the amount of work done I was. I think there are a couple reasons to explain this:

  • You have probably been farming longer, and weeding more, than they have. Experience counts. You can identify, hopefully, all the weeds, and crops that you have growing on your farm, and therefore can work faster. Your muscle memory is trained, and weeding is probably at this point more like therapy.

  • You have more skin in the game. It’s your farm, you enjoy all the rewards (and disappointments) of farming. To them, it is a job. To you it is your life and, hopefully, passion.

  • As the boss, you usually have other jobs besides the physical, strenuous jobs that your crew does all day. I know when I worked for other farms, I tried to make sure that I paced my exertion so that I was still productive at 5 PM. As a boss now, I can spend up to 2/3rds of my time doing non-strenuous office or sales work. This allows me to sprint when I’m in the field. The crew needs to treat a work day like a marathon.

  • You know exactly what you want. Your crew is constantly evaluating, checking, and waiting for feedback. I knew that the very small weeds would never make it and therefore left them, the crew heard, “get the weeds out,” and therefore were going to make sure all the weeds were out of the field.

What are your thoughts? Other than the obvious, “you just can’t get good help these days,” what do you feel are reasons that crew members sometimes don’t work as efficiently or as quickly as you, the farmer, do?

The Third Plate- what will we be eating in 50 years?

While I’m on the tractor or driving to a market, I frequently listen to books on tape. Audible is one of the best things for farmers, allowing us to get two things done at once. I usually listen to a mix of history, business, and food books.

The Third Plate

The last book I finished was The Third Plate by Dan Barber. I have been privileged to meet him several times while at the Stone Barns Center where one of his Blue Hill restaurants is located. What I didn’t realize is that he was named one of Times 100 most influential people in 2009, or had won several coveted Chef awards.

The Third Plate is a history of agriculture, but told in a fascinating and taste-centric way. It is a culinary smorgasbord, describing various flavors, foods, and chefs. It is a hopeful book, describing the few in this country that are trying to right the culinary wrong that we have perpetuated over the last 200 years in this country. But overall, it is a storybook, bringing you to far off places like the Dehesa of Spain, the grain fields of western NY and Washington state, and many more. There are stories of wheat, tuna, emar, rice and corn and the infamous Foie Gras.

The overall premise of the book is Dan’s wrestling with sourcing ingredients, and how chefs have inadvertently singlehandedly caused the exploitation of resources. Demands for a consistent wheat has caused the proliferation of just two varieties, when there are over forty thousand available, with specific varieties having overtones of chocolate and other fascinating flavor profiles. The demand for greater and greater yields has diluted the flavor that was once known by our ancestors. Tuna used to be a canner fish, and now has been fished almost to extinction because chefs popularized it.

Back in the day, oatmeal, porridge, and corn meal mush were staples. One of the reasons for the lack of interest in these inexpensive, nutritious foods is because all the flavor has been bred out of the modern varieties. Dan talks about using ancient corn for polenta, and how the flavor and smell changed his opinion of this dish.

This book is definitely worth the read. It is a great education about food, food culture, and how some of the best chefs in the world are wrestling to affect change in an industry which relies primarily on a refrigerated tractor trailer backing up to their door twice a day.

How to transplant better

Here at our farm we transplant well over 100,000 transplants each year. A significant portion of those are transplanted and set by hand. In order to do that efficiently, there are several systems we have set in place.

 

      1. Good soil preparation is key. If the soil is cloddy, or has too much trash, or is hard, sticking the transplants in is going to be tough. We try to till the same day to create a loose, friable soil. This also helps the transplants out compete the weeds as they are both starting the same day. .

        Tilling with the Kuhn Rototiller

        Tilling with the Kuhn Rototiller

      2. Clearly marked beds helps the transplanting process go smoothly and cultivation afterward work well. There are several ways to achieve this. For our greenhouse transplanting, we have created marker rakes that create lines in the soil.

        Bed marker in Greenhouse

        Bed marker in Greenhouse

        With our basket weeder, we can turn the row sweeps upside down and use them to mark the rows.

        Marking beds for transplanting with Super C and Basket Weeders

        Marking beds for transplanting with Super C and Basket Weeders

         Currently, since much of our transplanting is done on raised beds made with our bedder which has a rolling basket behind it, we fasten tubing around it that creates the lines for transplanting.

        Bedder with Rolling basket

        Bedder with Rolling basket

        To mark in-row spacing, we use ½” x1” 6’ long sticks that have the different spacing marked on them in different colored paint. That allows us to easily scoot along the field as we lay transplants out.

      3. Properly grown transplants that come out of their trays easily is another essential. Start with a good compost base mix, use the right size cell, and harden them off properly. We prefer the Speeding or Winstrip branded trays, although there are many other options. Right before transplants head to the field, we loosen them by using one of our poppers. See video below for a quick explanation.

      4. Efficient planting techniques is the last key to good transplanting. Our transplanting team is usually comprised of 3 or more people. Two to lay out the transplants (one on each side of the bed) and one person to do the actual transplanting. We find that the transplanter works fastest by being in the bed, and straddling a row of transplants. As you can see in the video below, we have a specific method we use to transplant. One hand grasps the transplant and lifts, the other hand pokes the hole with the index (and middle finger if they are big rootballs) and the thumb follows up by sweeping soil back around the plant. We try to irrigate right after transplanting or time our transplanting before a rain storm to set the plants in well.

 

Having a good system for transplanting has made it much more enjoyable. We find with 3 well-trained people we can plant 3000 plants per hour. What are your favorite transplanting tips and techniques?