Chelsea Green Publishing

Chelsea Green Blog

The Business of Organic Farming: An Interview with Richard Wiswall

If you’re thinking of starting a new life on the land, or if you’re already a farmer with an established business (however small, however big), you’re probably looking for some business tips. Right?

From Grist.org:

With the economic downturn and increase in the desire for a relationship with our food, farming has become a popular lifestyle among young people opting out of the corporate world. And while these people are new to life on the land, others have made a life of it for generations. But either way, growing food is rife with politics and economic stresses. Look at the dairy farms in Vermont filing for bankruptcy, the family businesses going under in the midwest, and the monopoly of small farms by corporate agriculture! It sort of looks dismal out there. And while sure, it may be satisfying in the short term, can farming actually pay the bills? Yes! Contrary to popular belief, a good living can be made on an organic farm. What’s required is farming smarter, not harder. I talked to farmer Richard Wiswall, author of newly released The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook: A Complete Guide to Managing Finances, Crops, and Staff—and Making a Profit, about how he manages an organic farm, and what aspiring farmers can do to make some dough. Makenna Goodman: In your book The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook, you explore the ways organic farmers can not only make their vegetable production more efficient, but also better manage their employees and finances. How have you managed to do this on your own farm? Richard Wiswall: As a manager or owner of a farm, it is ultimately your responsibility to keep the farm in business. Time must be made for running a sustainable farm, economically as well as ecologically. Long range planning, employee management, and financial management don’t just happen on their own. An effort must be made by the farmer to manage these responsibilities. Just recognizing this duty is the first step to better management. I make time for employee management. I look at the week’s projects and daily tasks that need to be done and try to budget employee hours accordingly. I spend a bit of time mapping out the day, and develop contingency plans if something goes awry (never happens). I know roughly how long each task should take and share that information with employees. On their first day of work, employees are given a job description/personnel policy that outlines work on Cate Farm. Employees are paid by the hour, but the farm is paid by the piece (by each head of lettuce or pound of tomato). Production per hour is important for the farm to succeed. It is also stressed that no matter how small or insignificant a task may seem, it is still important to the overall success of the farm. Employment at Cate Farm is a team effort, and in that spirit, we pay our employees well. As for financial management, years of trial and error is an effective but expensive learning experience.  I now set aside one or two half-days a week to tackle desk work. (Otherwise it would happen at 10 o’clock at night). I have developed systems to make office work as efficient as possible to save time and money. I use a computer when appropriate, but I’m a big fan of a sharp pencil and pad of paper.
Read the whole interview here.
Related Articles:


Radical Ruminations of a Home Gardener

The editors here at Chelsea Green are constantly seeking out what’s new and important in the world of sustainable living. As part of an occasional blog series, our editors are sharing what they’ve been reading, researching, or just plain pondering. Below Senior Editor Fern Marshall Bradley daydreams about the coming growing season and reflects on some radical gardening ideas inspired by Maine farmer […] Read More

Not Level? No Problem. How to Build a Greenhouse on a Slope

Have you ever considered building a greenhouse on sloped terrain? It may not seem like the “perfect spot,” but as permaculture designer and farmer Shawn Jadrnicek points out, a sloped site for a greenhouse offers a bonus that a level site does not—the ability to use gravity to harvest rainwater.In his groundbreaking new book, The Bio-Integrated Farm, Jadrnicek offers in-depth information […] Read More

Ask the Experts: Submit Your Permaculture Questions Now

Attention all growers, food-lovers, and green-living enthusiasts, we are once again celebrating Permaculture Month by putting our pioneering permaculture authors to work for you. Chelsea Green is proud to publish and distribute some of the most recognized, and award-winning, names in permaculture, and we’re making several of them available to our readers to answer any and […] Read More

Hands-On Learning: School of The New American Farmstead

This summer, twelve of our authors (plus Chelsea Green’s own President and Publisher) will be leading hands-on intensive courses at Sterling College in Craftsbury, Vermont.These workshops, classes, and certifications will inspire you, equip you with marketable skills, and provide you with new perspectives on integrated, community-centered farming and food production.Engage your SensesThe hands-on courses will […] Read More

Q&A: Eric Toensmeier, author of The Carbon Farming Solution:

A Q&A with Eric Toensmeier, author of The Carbon Farming Solution: A Global Toolkit of Perennial Crops and Regenerative Agriculture Practices for Climate Change Mitigation and Food SecurityQ: “Carbon farming” is a term that isn’t yet widely recognized in the mainstream. And even among people who are familiar with the term, not everyone agrees on what […] Read More
Follow us
Get every new post delivered to your inbox
Join millions of other followers
Powered By WPFruits.com