2013 Financial Permaculture Workshop

January 21-25, 2013 Miami Dade College Homestead Campus www.financialpermaculture.com

Foodshed Farming, pt 5 – Farm-to-LocalFOOD-Hub (“get your greens here!”)

The Food Hub, as a project, emerged out of necessity when we first began running farmers markets several years ago. Part of the geographic, sprawl-based challenge in South Florida is that producers rarely make time (as it requires lots of it) to come out to farmers’ markets. So we began by diligently scoping out producers and their practices and then aggregating all the produce weekly in what we called The Stand (we also took a strong stand on values), which was the centerpiece of our market. We noticed that several others who ran markets were doing the same.

 

This is where the idea of the food hub was born. We instinctively knew there was a need for a vehicle that would allow more small-scale producers to get their produce not just to our market, but to others and then why stop at markets? Buying clubs were importing all their organic produce and restaurants were dependent on Sysco. This was a service that everyone needed. Heck why not retail too…customers could get the choice that they did not get in their CSAs and still pick it up at a given location.

 

So the Food Hub project came about way before the Farm Enterprise did. However, it was a perfectly suited collaborative component that would connect the Farm with the community at large, especially because of its location. The fact that the market building afforded space and cold storage was all the more reason that the hub must be located there and that it could assist the entire Farm Enterprise to thrive was obvious.

 

When the FPC Hub Team stepped in, led by Diego Angarita, a food hub manager, finance expert Jonathan Cloud and Permaculture designer Jude Hobbs, their challenge became to adapt the project that had evolved to being an integral part of the larger Farm Enterprise. They immediately concentrated on operations and logistics as the key focal point for their design. The process yielded many insights including staffing concerns, vehicles, and how we would align the business of the Hub as to not conflict with the farms direct sales…it was tricky business. Once again, Permaculture design and the ecological approach to what was being designed amongst all the teams made it possible for each team to stretch and they did. In the end, each team, including the Hub team made stronger recommendations because they were responsive to the Farm’s needs and helped the Farm enhance its outreach plan rather than overlap or compete with it.

 

The Hub is one of the first of Earth Learning projects to spin-off into multiple related enterprises. One of our team leaders Charlie Wilson, took the Hub model and implanted a similar business component to her market and café in Key West. She has since purchased a truck and is bringing organic, mainly local, produce to the Keys. And our long time Hub manager, Debra Iglesias, is taking on the Hub as her business enterprise with our continued support.

 

Be sure to reserve your space to join us at the 2014 Local Food Enterprise Summit next month, we will be working together to design business expansion models using earth-friendly principles of permaculture for real, South Florida food businesses. Visit www.financialpermaculture.com for schedule, details and registration options.

Foodshed Farming, pt 4 – Market to Kitchen

The Commercial Kitchen & Café Team was led by Charlie Wilson and Dion Taylor, two very adept and successful local food business entrepreneurs. As they took all the pieces of two related potential ventures in to consideration, their team began a process of evaluating how best to position and operate each, so they would contribute to the optimal sustainability of The Farm Enterprise, especially given its serious location-related handicaps.

 verde farm market

The teams recommendations were to concentrate 80% of the Commercial Kitchen business on a line of products that we had market tested and knew would do well. We could begin catering or making pre-prepared meals for other businesses that did not have the capacity and this would absorb much of the unplanned farm and market excess. We would indeed open a Café, but on weekends only when the local “tourist” traffic was higher and consider finding funding to open the Café at a reduced price with one menu item daily to cater to the low income residents who lived nearby.

 

It was a brilliant strategy that came out of a well-designed group process that was responsive to the situation at hand and was leveraging the resources at our disposal. Many of these insights would not have seen the light of day without the Financial Permaculture Convergence. Even if as project managers or entrepreneurs we have time to reflect, we are too tied to business as usual or too caught up in doing things a certain way. The first recommendations from the team were: move the Kitchen, close the Café, a purely business-oriented way of thinking. It was the Permaculture way of thinking that allowed other recommendations to emerge and work within the ecology of businesses that were beginning to take hold in that place.

 

Although, Earth Learning is no longer at Verde Gardens, we are translating these recommendations and the approach as we set up the business for our Mobile Commercial Kitchen, which will operate in much the same way, but without being geographically challenged. Indeed, it will be responding to that very challenge in a creative way.

 

Join us for the 2014 Financial Permaculture Convergence – The Local Food Enterprise Summit on May 31-June 4 in Miami.  It’s going to be an amazing chance to learn together and put our shared experience into action forming business models for startup and expanding businesses.  Register today at www.financialpermaculture.com.

Foodshed Farming, pt 3 – Farm-to-market…

The Farm at Verde Gardens came with a beautiful market building that had a full commercial style kitchen with its own walk in cooler. We knew from the start that this would be a critical piece of our puzzle. Since our very first time running a farmers’ market stand where we took the risk of aggregating lots of local, sustainably-grown produce, we had come to realize the essential nature of being able to transform unwanted market produce into a product that would last much longer so we could have time to recover our investment in procuring it in the first place.

 verde farm kitchen

Our de facto business plan for the Kitchen was to process everything that came our way either as leftovers from market or as excess abundance from the farm. Although some signature items emerged, we were always reacting to the poor farming decisions of planting everything we could grow and not necessarily what would sell. So, we would flood the Market with all kinds of preserved items that were really tasty but not necessarily responsive to what the market could bare. To add further to the complication, we had difficulty getting a handle on what our true costs were, so we had no idea if we were really covering our costs by making these products to begin with.

We had plans and were working towards opening a café in the same location. A Café we knew had to work because the people who worked in the area needed more dining options especially for lunch and it was a great way of using much of the farm and market excess and leftovers. It is vital to mention that we were majorly challenged geographically, in that our farm and market were way off the beaten path and the only residents in of our surrounding neighborhood were very low-income folks, either formerly or currently homeless….

Watch for the next piece in our Foodshed Farming saga!

And be sure to visit www.financialpermaculture.com to register for the #2014FPC Local Food Enterprise Summit: A Financial Permaculture Convergence, May 31 – June 4 in Miami, FL.

Foodshed Farming, pt 2 – Putting our learning to work!

….By January of 2013, we had one and one half seasons of growing everything we could possibly grow (of perennial and annual vegetables and some fruit like bananas and papayas), but not selling much. As we entered the design stage of last year’s 2013 Financial Permaculture Convergence (FPC), we were open with our business plan, which was: if we grow it will sell. The process was an eye-opener, the Farm Design team led by Rafter Sass Ferguson and Eric Toensmeier, quickly developed analytical tools that showed our market niche would be mainly high-end and ethnic restaurants and other retail locations. And that we should stick to growing those crops which were highly valued. The design team developed a strategy for us to follow and a list of potential clients. They did many of the calculations for us on the capacity of the farm, so that we might right-size the operations in each of the farm’s components to make them profitable over time.

 verde farm project spiral

The most important savings projections that came out of this process were the collaborations we could make better use of between the Farm and the other related farm enterprises. This is where the Permaculture piece of it really showed through. The importance of our ecological design of all the business simultaneously became crystal clear. Indeed, there was an impromptu self-reorganization of design teams during the FPC, where each team sent ambassadors to the others. It was a very fruitful exchange and the results were that much richer for it.

With all this information and insights in hand, Earth Learning began planning over the summer for the fall season (that’s when we in the subtropics begin our annual veggies) and we incorporated all of these learnings into the planning process. Although we are not continuing to be involved with The Farm at Verde Gardens, we quickly applied the same recommendations to a new project that we had waiting in the wings: Perennial Harvest Farm Network, a network of rural, suburban and urban productive landscapes….

Stay tuned for the next piece in this series of blog posts detailing a little of the history that holds the upcoming 2014 Local Food Enterprise Summit: A Financial Permaculture Convergence in place.  And be sure to register if you plan to attend the #2014FPC May 31st – June 4th in Miami. Visit www.financialpermaculture.com for event and registration information.

 

Foodshed Farming – A bit of #SoFLA Local Food history

From Projects to Ventures: The Farm Enterprise Ecology

 the farm at verde

Part 1: The Farm at Verde Gardens

The first day I visited the parcels of ecologically degraded former air force base personnel housing covered with Brazilian Pepper and other aggressive invasives, I knew I wanted nothing to do with the Verde Gardens project. And yet, there was something intriguing about it.

Over time, and prior to accepting the challenge to mold a working farm out of that mess of inter-tangled brush, I began spending time there with friends. The hard edges softened and we found many a pleasurable spot within that non-native 22-acre “jungle.” Our first sign of domesticated life was a papaya volunteer and then others. We ate from that fruit and then we knew a farm would be possible. Later, before clearing what would be the food forest, we found a mature avocado with fruit. This could definitely be a farm.

The one thing we knew for certain, was that Permaculture was the only possible way to transform this overgrown non-native ecosystem into commercial farm. There were various reasons for this. One, we could not do it alone, we needed help from the same forces that helped shape this craziness we were looking at. Two, we had limited resources up front but not a whole lot for once we were up and running for inputs of any kind. And three, because we knew that in order to sustain it over time, and keep maintenance costs low; we would have to build in many diverse but tightly integrated elements and niches that provided their own needs (inputs in conventional farmer speak). So, we put together the craziest plan possible on the very last day it was due and prayed we would not get chosen. Of course we did and the rest is history, as they say.

Watch for Part 2: Learnings from the Farm at Verde Gardens

 

Space for the fast approaching 2014 Local Food Enterprise Summit: A Financial Permaculture Convergence is still available,

visit www.financialpermaculture.com for registration information.

So many solutions to #climate change – still time to make it happen – watch this video on Carbon Farming! (and register for #2014FPC!)

This year,  Spring brings a growing global awareness of climate change.

Check out this 60 min video

with Eric Toensmeier and Chelsea Green

providing some real, economically sound solutions in the form of permaculture carbon farming!

Why plant a forest of edible trees?

Be sure to visit

www.financialpermaculture.com

to reserve your tickets to our upcoming 5 day

Local Food Enterprise Summit: A Financial Permaculture Convergence

(#2014FPC) in Miami, FL on

May 31 – June 4!

Come learn & DO #financial #permaculture with Jono Neiger at the LiFE Summit (#2014FPC) 5/31-6/4

jojo neiger

Jono Neiger has twenty years experience in conservation, restoration, land stewardship, permaculture and landscape design. He synthesizes his diverse expertise to create productive and integrated landscapes. Working as collaborator, teacher, and guide, Jono empowers individuals, communities and organizations to understand and steward their land and landscape through design. He is principal at Regenerative Design Group, faculty at the Conway School of Landscape Design, board president of the Permaculture Institute of the Northeast (PINE), and stewards his homestead, Hickory Garden, as well as Brook’s Bend Farm in Massachusetts.

Jono has taught design, permaculture and land planning for 17 years in Oregon, Florida, Alabama, and Northeast U.S. in various formats including short courses, workshops, permaculture design courses, advanced permaculture design courses, undergraduate and graduate college classes. Jono is faculty at Conway School of Landscape Planning and Design, a graduate program in Conway, MA. He has taught 5 years of 3-week Permaculture Design Course at Sirius EcoVillage in Shutesbury, MA. He is founder and principal of Regenerative Design Group since 2008, an ecological design firm that has 6 designers on staff and works on dozens of projects in residential, campus, farm, and commercial design with a focus on productive and regenerative landscapes.

The Local Food Enterprise Summit: A Financial Permaculture Convergence will include keynote speakers and 4 design teams, each working together to develop permaculture based financial models for the expansion of 4 small agriculture based businesses in South Florida. This is an excellent opportunity to engage in experiential and collaborative learning on planning, financing and scaling up existing and startup entrepreneurial enterprises.

Register to reserve your space at www.financialpermaculture.com.