Our 2013 farming season, by the numbers.

Pat at the wash stand.

At the wash stand, at the end of the season. Photo by Omar Robinson.

Now that the season is over, I finally have time to work with the spreadsheets and get a good picture of how things went for us during the 2013 growing season.  (Though, who am I kidding, I played with the spreadsheets every week, after every market, because I’m numbers-obsessed.)

This growing season started out terribly.  Our garlic was plagued by garlic bloat nematode (very bad news).  And the weather just wouldn’t cooperate–we saw an early hot spell, followed by a LOT of rain (more than a foot of rain in one week at the end of June/early July).  Our fields just wouldn’t drain, especially our newer field–which suffered from compaction issues from a few years of poor soil management. Our early crops either rotted in the field or just failed to grow. And then it got super hot again in July, with something like ten straight days of temps over 90–bad news for all kind of crops.

I was pretty sure we were going to lose money, since we lost our early beans, onions, lettuce, our peppers barely grew, the potatoes were sweltering.  It seemed pretty bleak.  The main question was: how much will we lose?

And then the end of the summer and fall were just about perfect.  Very little rain.  And warm enough that I was harvesting tomatoes into the third week of October.

So how did it all turn out?

We did just fine.  In May/June, we’d projected gross sales of $15,398, with profits of $2,640.  Our final total was $15,814 in gross sales, with $4,200 in profit (approximately–sales are over, but we’re still spending a little money).

That’s not bad for half an acre, especially since a chunk of that land (about 5-8%) ended up being unplantable, due to weather and soil problems.  So we’re talking gross sales of $31,600/acre, and profits of $8,400/acre.  (Note–my wages are solely taken from profits, but that’s the way many small businesses work.)

To get those sales took about 900 hours of my time, plus I drove 7,777 miles for farm work this season (which is one reason why our profit is so low–at the IRS rate of 55.5 cents/mile, we spent $4,300 on mileage/car costs).

Where did the money come from?

Our sales were distributed like this:

  • World PEAS Cooperative CSA:  $6,5232  (41%)
  • JP Farmer’s Market (16 weeks): $6,542   (41%)
  • Our mini-CSA to neighbors:  $2,159    (We signed up a small group of friends and neighbors to buy $20 bags from us, every week)  (14%)
  • Other (mini-markets in our house and at the Huntington Theatre Company and to random neighbors):  $587  (4%)

Which crops did best?

We harvested about 6,000 pounds of vegetables this season.  I’m going to do another post that gives a detailed crop report, but I want to mention a few standout crops here.  Our best crops were:

  • Tomatoes:  $4,917  (we sold more than 1,700 lbs, and used more than 250 lbs ourselves)
  • Kale:  $3,397  (1,445 bunches)
  • Husk Cherries:  $450.  From 20 plants.  These were definitely our MVP (most valuable plant), yielding more than $22/plant.  These weren’t even in my crop plan!

These numbers are a little crazy, if you realize that kale and tomatoes accounted for 52% of our total sales.  We grew 27 different crops (and tons of varieties), but most of our income was generated by just a handful of them.

How does this compare to last year?

Last year, we had sales of $7,600 and a loss of $2,440, on a quarter acre (we grew about 3,000 lbs of veggies).  So this year, on not quite double the land, we doubled our gross sales, and increased profits by $6,600.  And the time I spent on the farm–last year I spent 734 hours, this year it was 900.  So, 20% more time, for double the land and sales.  In other words, it kind of looks like I’m getting better at this farm thing.  I got more efficient with my time and did a better job of growing and selling high value crops.  Our weekly farm stand sales rose by about 80%.

So what’s next?

I’m not sure.  A bunch of our plans are up in the air.  We’re definitely not returning to the New Entry site–it’s just too far to drive.  We can’t afford to spend half our profits on mileage costs.  There’s a decent chance we’ll take the next season off, while we try to figure out a way to farm closer to home.  I really like the half-acre scale.   We’ll just have to see.

The one thing I do know is that I’m really hooked on the challenge of farming.  It continues to be fully engaging–physically, mentally, and spiritually.

next up:  a detailed crop report, plus posts on my Lessons of a Second Year Farmer.

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