First, meet the farm team. ltr- backrow: Lerato [intern], Baselien [farmworker-to-farmer trainee], Nolunge [intern], Hafeez [intern], Maxwell [farmworker-to-farmer trainee]. front row: Pumla [intern], Geraldine [farmworker-to-farmer trainee], Yamkele [intern], Winnie [farmworker-to-farmer trainee].
Now for the lessons in bullet points and then some comments on the constraints we face.
Customer service: to operate a successful small farm business we must learn to engage with customers well. Trust, honesty a smile and presentation of product and farmers matter.
Prices and weights: display our prices clearly and make sure when the price dont change with the new farmer at the farm stall. Everyone gets a turn to deal with the 'market'. We had to buy a electronic scale because we wanted our produce bunches to be uniform in weight, and so we can sell accurately by the kilo.
Production efficiency: now that we have a consistent market, we need to 'read' the market, and respond by planting what customers want; improve timing the planting of crops better; super-improve succession planting while making sure soil fertility is always improved through crop rotation, maintaining soil cover, weeding and generous application of compost at every planting. And choosing the right seeds.
This is truly both an exciting and daunting phase of our development as farmers and of the farm.
Now for some comments on farm progress.
We farm on 1/2ha with vegetables and herbs and will expand this year or next year depending on available funds, with flowers, fish, chickens, fruit and nut trees on another half of 1/2ha. The rest of the 1ha is made up of our farm house, outbuildings, gardens, pathways and the PHA Campaign Centre.
Since the opening of our Organic+ Farm Stall, the numbers we recording [we collect production, sales and expense data- nobody likes doing it!] is throwing up some interesting facts. From the data we have a good idea how we doing and can make some pretty good assumptions on where we heading.
Farm income is on average paying for two learner stipends out of a total of four. Four interns are paid by the DoA. Our produce is pegged at Fruit & Veg retail price. We made a choice to sell our high-quality Organic+ produce at affordable prices. This is an important food justice issue for us.
We estimate our production is running at about 25% of our capacity and our target is 80% to 90% by December this summer. I think this is realistic enough. It means that by the end of this year we will not only have covered our whole farm wage bill, but can also engage in monthly profit sharing with the four farmers minus 25% for covering our operating costs such as electricity, seeds and maintenance.
Now for the constraints. There are two major ones:
1. Production efficiency [see above]
2. The carrying capacity of the soil ie soil fertility: compost is THE major component of our soil fertility program on the farm. Other elements include mulch, minimum tillage, leave roots in the soil and applying compost tea. Our preferred compost is hot composting and our piles contains, food waste, chipped garden green waste, weeding materials, farm produce waste, and animal manure. To make good quality compost, piles are turned by hand [aerated] and watered every Monday. This is a hard physical slog! We able to make about 5m/3 per month. But what we actually need is 20m/3 per month for intensive horticultural production.
3. Another constraint is access to quality non-gmo, non-hybrid seeds. In February Max cleaned a small section of the farm for us to plant for seeds. The first thing that went in there is garlic. More will follow as the winter progresses.
That's all for now. Follow our progress on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/Vegkoppha