Produce, Syrup and Livestock + Pizza!
Stoney Acres Farm
Friday, Aug. 15, 2014
Over fifty women gathered for this inspiring In Her Boots workshop at Kat Becker’s Stoney Acres Farm in Athens, Wisconsin, about thirty minutes west of Wausau. On this highly diversified operation, Kat took the group through a detailed tour of the certified commercial kitchen, the new pack-shed and renewable energy investments (a wood gasification and solar installment), hoophouses, field sites, and more. Strong emphasis was on the importance of cover crops for weed control. Additional topics covered included running a diversified value-added business, organic growing techniques and certification, soil health, CSA operations, integrating family life into the farm business and Stoney Acre’s latest venture: Farm-to-Table Pizza night for pizzas featuring the farm’s produce.
A big thank you to Kat Becker and her staff and family for hosting such an informative and inspiring day on their certified organic farm. And, thanks to Organic Valley/Organic Prairie for donating product for lunch.
Three key insights from the day include:
1) Keep diversified, but don’t spread yourself too thin. Every venture Kat took on reflected thorough planning and strategic thinking.
2) Take time to thoroughly research new ventures and ask questions. “Building a commercial kitchen doesn’t have to be as hard or expensive as folks often think, but you need to do your research first and build a strong working relationship with your local inspector,” advises Becker.
3) Balancing family, especially young children, and a farming business is an on-going journey. “I’m trying to still figure that one out,” Becker laughs. She does advise utilizing childcare when children are small so you can have focused time on the farm business. Becker creatively traded a “worker share” in her CSA for on-farm childcare hours.
Attendees harvested lots of other new insights from Kat:
• It’s great to hear from a seasoned farmer and get her advice like “if I did it again, I would” or “it’s not worth it to” or “XYZ is a great investment.
• I’m inspired and motivated to get a better handle on my farm finances.
• I came here with no farming knowledge outside of books. This event was my introduction and it’s invaluable to have people doing the work to learn from.
In Her Boots participant Anne Lupton shared her notes:
- If you’re doing a value-added product like pickles you can put the required labeling on the bottom of the jar. This lets the consumer see the beautiful product inside the jar. However, they don’t do a whole lot of value-added products as they feel there’s not a great ROI on it.
- If you’re trying to convince family members of the viability of an organic farm operation bring them along to the MOSES Organic Conference in February. It’s a wonderful demonstration of the magnitude of organic and sustainable agriculture in the U.S. today. This conference is attended by more women, young people, and families than any other agricultural event.
- By integrating pizza into their farm revenue mix they’ve demonstrated to the community they’re “kind of normal”. Pizza is about as mainstream American as you can get. (There will always be people in your farming community that see your organic operation as a bit weird; pizza helps soften that image.)
- They needed to acquire a catering license to publicly serve food to people. Do research with your State, County, and City to find out what’s required in your locale. Work with the Health Department before starting your project! Know the laws better than the inspectors.
- Put your best produce in your CSA boxes! The rest can go to farmers’ market. Your CSA members have made a vote of confidence in your farm by buying those shares — reward them with great produce. If your CSA members see better stuff at your farm market stand you may lose them as a subscriber.
- Make sure your insurance carriers — even Workman’s Comp — knows that you have volunteers and “worker’s share” people working on your farm. (A “worker’s share” is where someone exchanges 4 hours a week of on-farm work for a CSA share — which is technically a barter arrangement.)
Read more about Kat and Stoney Acres Farm in the July Organic Broadcaster.
Read more about Kat and get her recipe for winter squash sauce from this piece in Edible Madison.