Thursday, April 4, 2013


ReThinking Baker Heritage Farms

ReSetting Priorities

The first step in our process of ReThinking Baker Heritage Farms is to re-set our priorities.

One of the issues that was burying us was our efforts to get the farm fully up and running as soon as possible. This was obviously the wrong approach and almost lead to our demise. The best way of ReThinking Baker Heritage Farms is to revisit our Farm Plan.

Last year we drafted a Farm Plan under the guidance of the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture (Beginning Farmers & Ranchers Class). This process included Identifying Short Term (1-5 years), Intermediate (5-10 years), and Long Term (10 plus years) goals. After identifying our goals, we went through a process to prioritize our goals, a process that required us to consider those goals most important for family well-being and business success, short-term goals that will help achieve long-term goals, short-term goals that could conflict with or impede long-term goals, and goals so important that they should be attained even if they prevent reaching other goals. From this process, we established Baker Heritage Farms' top five goals by priority, which included:
  1. Determining the best use of the land while maintaining good stewardship;
  2. Plot development, fencing, and stock housing;
  3. Determining the best produce and stock/poultry for improving health, decreasing expenses, and remaining sustainable and environmentally friendly;
  4. Purchase appropriate seed, seedlings, and stock/poultry; and
  5. Being an integral part of the community through farming and sharing of experiences.
Determining the best use of the land while maintaining good stewardship is an ongoing process. This is the goal that reminds us that, no matter how rough the work gets, we cannot lose sight of this goal by reverting to commercial farming methods (use of insecticides, herbicides, GMO seed, heavy machinery, etc.). To stay on track with this goal, it is important that we set reasonable priorities that allow us to complete the necessary work within an acceptable (and doable) time frame.

We have accomplished a good part of our second goal, plot development, fencing, and stock housing. Unfortunately, the loss of our first flock of turkeys last year can be attributed, in part, to getting in too much of a hurry. While we protected the flock from overhead hazards, we neglected to ensure that the ground level was secure, and neighborhood dogs got in under the fence and killed the entire flock. We ran into the same problem when we built our hen house. While we had rough plans, and did all of the measuring (even measured three times to cut once), we forgot one small detail that has turned out to be a rather large detail, we did not "square" the house. As a result, we have doors that don't open or close easily, and already lost half of the roof (temporarily covered awaiting for better weather to install new roofing). Wasted time and money from being in too much of a hurry to "grow" the farm.

Goal number three, determining the best produce and stock/poultry for improving health, decreasing expenses, and remaining sustainable and environmentally friendly, is another goal that will be ongoing. Based on this goal, we spent several months over the winter preparing our 2013 seed orders, however, twenty-twenty hindsight tells us that we could have done a better job. Rather than working with seed we could get that would meet our requirements (both organic and heirloom), seed that would meet the literal terms of these requirements, and seed that would be less expensive, we based our preparations on  criteria that was not necessarily practical. We prepared our seed order based on what we wanted to grow rather than what we could (and should) grow, forcing us to spend more money and stretch the the requirements to the edge of the envelope. Even our original flock of turkeys did not meet the literal requirements we set (they would have needed to be artificially inseminated), though our current flock of chickens does meet the literal requirements.

Goal number four, purchasing appropriate seed, seedlings, and stock/poultry, has been met as of this moment, only because we stopped purchasing seed when we realized that we would not meet our planting schedule.

We are currently failing to meet our goal of being an integral part of the community through farming and sharing of experiences. As we have been in such a rush to get the farm up and running on a large scale that we have not been able to actively participate in our local community, the farming community, or even in sharing our experiences. This blog is a prime example of our failures. We have not delivered what we have promised, to keep you informed of many aspects of backyard and small acreage farming. We have promised to deliver our costs, and have not yet done so (I promise we will be doing so soon). We have not kept a complete dairy of our work here on the farm.

All in all, while we are on track with our goals, we have failed to keep them in mind on a daily basis. Thus, we are rethinking our priorities.

Our immediate priorities are evident.

First, we have 26 live chickens in our barn that are ready for their new home. Our most immediate priority is to prepare for their transfer to the chicken coop as soon as the weather permits.

Second, we have close to 1,600 pepper seedlings and 200 tomato seedlings that will need to be planted soon, and the plots are not ready. It is imperative that we get these plots prepared as soon as the weather permits so that they can be transplanted in a timely manner, or we will lose the entire crop.

Third, we already have a substantial investment in February seed. Our next priority is to start working the appropriate plots so that we can get these seeds planted. We will be reviewing the seeds on hand to determine if we should wait and do a fall planting (some of the seeds can be spring or fall planted) or go ahead and push to get them planted now. Our decision will most likely be weighted heavily by what the weather does once we have seen to the chickens and the transplants.

Next, we need to stop, look, and listen (no, not for the train, but possibly the train wreck). We need to stop what we are doing, look around and see what needs to be done, and listen to common sense. To do this, we have placed Debbie's homework assignment for the Beginning Ranchers and Farmers Program on high priority. This is the Whole Farm SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) Analysis. This analysis will help us to build on and further develop our strengths, while minimizing the impacts of our weaknesses, if not eliminating them (in other words, slow down and do the job right). This will also allow us to be more responsive to the opportunities and threats our environment offers.

Another area we need to look at is curtailing our expenses. We went overboard in 2012 and the first part of 2013, again, trying to get everything done at once. Prior to our starting our push to get the farm up and running, most work on the property was based on what we could do with little or no expenditure. There is no reason that getting the farm up and running cannot be successful using this same strategy. Our ReThinking Baker Heritage Farms has opened our eyes to what we can do that does not require large expenditures. Restarting our compost operations, which took a back seat to field work and other operations this winter, is a prime example. Composting is probably the most effective and least expensive method of reducing expenses available to the backyard or small acreage farmer.

Another priority will be to get the farm in shape. We have neglected the aesthetics of the farm. Never having been interested in impressing others, we have allowed the farm to vegetate, building up brush piles, leaving work half-done, allowing materials to pile up, and generally becoming disorganized. Guess what, having an aesthetic farm does not mean impressing others, it means having pride in what you are doing, which is hard when you are always seeing things that need to be done (generally small things) and putting them off because you have work to do to make your farm "real", or you are too tired to do the small things because you have been working to make your farm "real". Again, twenty-twenty hindsight actually showed us that, while we were obviously not impressing people with the aesthetics of our farm, we were trying to impress people (or maybe just ourselves) by showing them we were "real" farmers. Another lesson learned - we don't really care what others think, it is what we think that really matters (not to discount others opinions, but rather to do what is right for all).

You will be a part of our resetting our priorities. You will get to be a part of the process. As we rethink our priorities, we will share them here on the blog, and hope that, if those of you who follow us have comments or recommendations, you will feel free to offer them. We want this farm to be a family farm, not only our family, but our farming community family as well.


Donald Baker

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