Friday, July 29, 2011

Get creative in financing your business expansion

Funding your business is no easy task. Banks are tighter than ever on loans, so how can you expand your business if you don't have the cash on hand to do so or you can't get a loan? Get creative! East End Brewing Co. in Pittsburgh, PA has started selling voucher books to gain capital for moving the brewery to a new facility.

Scott Smith, owner of East End Brewing, developed a program called the "Good Beer Investors". For $1000, you can buy $1000 worth of counterfeit-protected brewery vouchers which can be redeemed for beer and merchandise. With a goal of 100 investors, Smith had 54 investors as of July 7th.

To read more, click here.

As an ag entrepreneur, how difficult has it been to get financing? Would you ever try financing your business expansion with a program like "Good Beer Investors"?

Viewing the Charms of Nature, City Style

Summertime is in full swing; a great time to view what is growing. I took a day to visit farms and friends in Philadelphia and am thrilled how they are thriving. There are many urban farms models; some are non-profits with a mission to educate and serve the hungry, others are more of a business model intending to provide a source of income for an entrepreneur, others are a combination. On this unbearably hot July day, I saw all three versions.

My first stop was The SHARE Food Program garden. SHARE is a nonprofit organization serving a regional network of community organizations engaged in food distribution, education, and advocacy. The gardens are on every possible piece of land around the massive warehouse located on Hunting Park Ave in Philadelphia. A nice surprise was to see a Penn State Extension’s High Tunnel right next to the TastyKake Factory. By the end of summer 2011 ten high tunnels will dot the city landscape helping to feed and educate a greener Philadelphia.

Penn State High Tunnel at Philly’s SHARE garden.

My next visit was to see our former intern who spent the 2007 season with us at Scarecrow Hill in Lancaster County. She told us she was planning to farm in Philadelphia, and by jove, she’s done it! The dreamy secret garden was an abandoned lot full of junk, including two ice-cream trucks when Amanda Staples and Matt McFarland purchased it in 2008. Now the ½ acre Germantown Kitchen Garden grows 30 crops which provides for an 8 family CSA and a farm stand which operates on Wednesdays afternoons at 215 E Penn St Philadelphia, PA 19144. A fun surprise was to see a former CSA shareholder of Scarecrow Hill stopping by the stand. Local has gotten a whole lot more local for this committed foodie.

Amanda at her farm stand, with lush urban farm in background.

My final stop of the day was at the Elkins Estate, Elkins Park, PA. This 42 acre oasis was rescued from demolition in 2009 by the Land Conservancy of Elkins Park Inc. Land, greenhouses and packing house are rented to Streamside Farm whose mission is to improve community access to healthy food and offering educational programming. The farm is run by Meei Ling Ng and her husband Larry Shaeffer. Their produce and beautiful flowers are sold at food co-ops and farmers markets in the Philadelphia area.

Philadelphia is really leading the way in urban farming. There are many more thriving urban farms to visit and buy from in the Philly region. To learn more, see links below:

I think you would be especially excited to see the Grumblethorpe, Teens 4 Good, and Schuylkill Center locations:

Written by Peggy Fogarty-Harnish

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Do consumers know where their produce is grown?

Over the past few months, I've been posting about research done at Penn State on mid-Atlantic consumers and their purchasing habits. One of the most interesting questions (by my own beliefs) was in regard to what produce is not grown in the mid-Atlantic.

Responses for participants who answered that they did purchase products from farmers’ markets were then compared to responses for participants who answered that they did NOT purchase from farmers' markets. Of the non-farmers' market shoppers, responses were compared pertaining to participants’ belief of what particular fruits and vegetables (bananas, lettuce, apples, lemons, tomatoes, mangoes, potatoes, grapes and avocados) are NOT grown in the mid-Atlantic region.

Figure 1 shows that more participants who shopped at farmers' markets were able to correctly identify which fruits and vegetables are NOT grown in the mid-Atlantic region and fewer of these participants incorrectly selected produce that IS grown in the mid-Atlantic region. For example, a greater percentage of participants who purchased from farmers’ markets (82%) correctly selected bananas as being NOT grown in the mid-Atlantic region compared to 74% of participants who reported not purchasing from farmers’ markets.

Read the full press release here.

Does this mean that people who shop at farmers' markets know what produce is grown in the mid-Atlantic because they see it at the farmers' market? This may be true, but approximately 20% of participants who shopped at farmers' markets indicated that fruits such as lemons, mangos, and avocados were grown in the mid-Atlantic region. It could be that they are attending farmers' markets that sell local and non-local items. This data may also mean that consumers simply don't know where their produce comes from. As an ag entrepreneur, this may be a great time to educate people as to what is fresh, local, and in season!

Friday, July 8, 2011

How can new and beginning farmers overcome overwhelming obstacles?

No one ever said farming was easy. Young and beginning farmers may face extra challenges too. These include high start up costs, availability of land, and cost of land, equipment, seed, livestock, feed, and fertilizer. Ben LaCross, 31, of Cedar, Michigan is a young farmer. He was interviewed by The Lempert Report on how he views these challenges. He states that, "The payout schedules for harvested crops can be spread out over the course of the following 12 months after harvest. That cash flow bottleneck makes it hard for anyone just to jump into farming."

Although these may seem like huge barriers, there are still opportunities for young and beginning farmer hopefuls to join the farming profession. Some young and beginning farmers are doing so by thinking of unique ways to solve these issues. Some examples:
-Working for a farm and gradually deferring salary for equity.
-Renting land and/or equipment from a retired farmer.
-Building a relationship with a farmer who is close to retirement and may be willing to sell you land at a fair price.
-Finding mentors to help you make difficult decisions and give advice.

If you are someone who has recently started farming, what barriers did you have to overcome to become a farmer? If you are someone who is a veteran farmer, what advice can you give to young and beginning farmers?

Horse Progress Days

The 18th Annual Horse Progress Days 2011 was held on July 1 & 2 in Kinzers, Lancaster County, PA, home of the highest concentration of horse drawn manufacturers and horse farmers in the world. For the first time, the event featured two full days of produce equipment demonstrations, and seminars about successfully growing and caring for produce. Penn State Educators played a vital role in the educational programming including Tim Elkner on “Diagnosing Plant Problems,” Steve Bogash on Use of Tissue Testing for Fertilizing,” and Jeff Graybill on “No Till Farming.”

The heart and soul of Horse Progress Days is the equipment demonstrations. Over the past several years the no-till movement has caught on within many of the plain communities. This is especially true of the Amish dairy and tobacco farmers. This trend has primarily seen growth in row crops such and corn and soybeans, but also alfalfa. Penn State Extension in Lancaster County was awarded a grant in 2007 to build a prototype no-till transplanter. The planter was designed and built by the Agronomy educator with input from several local Amish farmers. To date, three planters of this type have been constructed with approximately 300 acres of mostly tobacco, but also pumpkins, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower have been planted no-till. The original unit was on display and demonstrated at Horse progress day.

Horse Progress Days’ Mission Statement is “To encourage and promote the combination of animal power and the latest equipment innovations in an effort to support sustainable small scale farming and land stewardship. To show draft animal power is possible, practical and profitable.”

Agricultural and Penn State Extension Direct Marketing Specialists, Peggy Fogarty-Harnish and John Berry conducted two panels for folks interested in sustainable, local foods marketing as new opportunities arise for increasing farm profits. A Co-op Growers Panel on Friday afternoon featured three local cooperatives, Lancaster Vegetable Growers Cooperative, Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative and the newly formed Oasis at Bird-in-Hand all of which have provided new opportunities for produce growers in the county over the past few years. Saturday’s Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Grower’s Panel discussed ways for consumers to buy seasonal food directly from a farmer throughout the season by purchasing a weekly share. Experienced producers and managers shared their knowledge, discussed logistics and answered questions. Other Penn State displays included Farm Food Safety and Food Preservation.

In keeping with the theme of “Something for Everyone,” the event was one to bring the whole family. Children were especially happy to see the playground area and the petting zoo. Kay Moyer, Penn State Extension Farm Safety Specialist hosted a child safety area which was very busy with approximately 4,500 people visiting the hands-on activity stations. About 3,000 “I visited the Safety Area and Petting Zoo at Horse Progress Days” safety activity books were given to the children who attended. This twelve page culturally appropriate Anabaptist activity book was created to reinforce the education provided at the children safety area and included: machine safety, animal safety, Poison safety, and 911/emergency safety. The event was a great success with over 10,000 people attending each day. In 2012, the event will be held in Michigan.

Written by Peggy Fogarty-Harnish (