Tricia Park claims that she and her family got into farming by accident. Accident or not, Tricia knew that when they started farming, they needed to get some business planning help. That’s why she joined HMI’s Beginning Women Farmers (BWF) Program in 2010. Since completing that program, Tricia has sold her 26-acre farm and purchased a 150-acre farm near Cazenovia, New York and begun making a tidy profit for Creekside Meadows Farm.
Tricia, her husband, Matt, and their son, Cameron, now raise grass-fed beef and pasture-raised chicken, turkey and pork on their new farm and are excited to be selling to an ever-increasing local market as a result of some key marketing efforts and word of mouth advertising. On top of those farming duties, Tricia is also a mentor for HMI’s Beginning Women Farmers program.
From Hobby to Business
When Tricia and Matt married, Matt had a 26-acre former dairy farm with a barn on it. They worked together to build an apartment in the barn as a place to live. Matt also convinced Tricia that it was time to get some animals. The first foray was with some beef cattle. When “George” went to the butcher’s, Tricia became aware of the difference of taste and began doing research on grass-finished beef.
From their beef foray they added poultry. She first began selling her eggs at 25 cents/dozen. It was only later when she did the math that she realized how much she was losing. These learnings have made her even more adamant in her mentoring to help others do the numbers and know what their cost of production is so they can pay themselves a fair wage when they sell their product.
Likewise, she had some production learning to do with her cattle business. After “George” went to the butcher, Tricia was looking for some other cattle. By happenstance, she met a woman who wanted to sell a herd of Scottish Highland cattle. Matt, in particular, was interested in the breed. They went to purchase a couple of the animals and ended up buying the whole herd.
Tricia began to realize that the “hobby” had turned into a business and she needed a better process for making decisions before the hobby got away from them. The farm needed to pay for itself. After raising some of the Highland cattle then adding in some Herefords, she realized how much longer it was taking the Highland to be ready to sell and realized it was time to get the right breed for the cattle production and profit she needed. At 18 months for a Hereford to finish versus 30 months for a Highland, the extra year just wasn’t worth it.
Financing an Upgrade
As the farm began to grow, the Parks realized they needed more land to increase farm production, so they decided to finish the renovations on the barn and use the proceeds to help finance the new farm. They had to shop around to find a farm that was right for them, but they found one nearby so they could keep their customer base. In July 2011, they bought their new farm.
Part of the motivation to continue to grow the farm was also due to the Parks’ son, Cameron, and his interest in the farm. Now a teenager he is an integral part of the farming enterprise bringing a great deal of enthusiasm and energy.
On their 26-acre farm the Parks practiced rotational grazing, moving the chickens and cattle and working to keep the grasses vegetative. After learning about planned grazing in HMI’s Beginning Women Farmer program and moving to their new farm, they realized they needed to really apply the tool of animal impact. “We got Certified Educator Phil Metzger out here to look at our land, and we found we had a lot of moss between the alfalfa plants,” says Tricia. “I wanted to get rid of that moss, so I began putting the meat chickens and turkeys in areas where there was a lot of moss and I’d start scratching the soil and show them the bugs I was turning up. All of sudden they go it, and they began scratching at the moss for their food.”
The focus on forage management has paid off. “We used to run out of grass around July,” Tricia says. “Now we’re grazing until Halloween. This was at the old farm. Now at the new farm we never stopped grazing all winter!!! We fed hay outside on the ground when we ran out of forage. It was pretty easy since we only overwintered 8 head of cattle (2 mom cows and rest young steers). The field we wintered them on hadn’t seen cows in at least 10 years! It had been a hay field for that long.
“We harvested hay in August 2011. When other farmers were taking off 2nd cutting, we were finally getting 1st cutting in. An overgrown, past bloom, stemmy mostly alfalfa hay! The field did regrow maybe 12-18 inches before winter. It wasn’t great winter grazing, but with supplemental hay they cows did just fine. We wanted them outside getting some hoof action on the field and manure applied without a tractor. This coming winter? More of the same. We’ll keep cows out winter grazing on some plannedstockpiled forage and supplemental hay. The more the cows can be out getting exercise, fertilizing the fields and not in the barn the better overall for their health and the farm bottom line.
Remembering her days of eggs for 25 cents/dozen, Tricia realized that just because you sell all your product, doesn’t mean you are successful farmer. After looking at the numbers, she realized they weren’t making any money. In HMI’s BWF Program, she learned what she needed to do. “The financial classes helped us figure out expenses and get a grip on what money was flowing out the door and how it was happening. By then the egg enterprise was out the door. We ditched it. It failed for everything…. Too much time, no profit, and we didn’t even like them anymore! We decided to concentrate on 4 main enterprises: Grassfed beef, pasture raised chicken, pork and turkey.”
One key area of focus was the meat chickens. With high feed costs, mortality, and labor the birds weren’t making them any money. Given the short window of production (usually 8 weeks), Tricia thought that she could focus on this enterprise and get it profitable. She realized that the 50 pound bag feed she was getting was not only expensive but also causing nutritional problems that were resulting in high mortality. She did the research on a good feed mix and approached her local cooperative with a clear sense of what she wanted and that she was willing to pay up front for a good price break. She negotiated the deal that worked for her and also worked with her customers on educating them on the costs and values of her meat birds. With all this work, she was able to exceed the profit she had planned for on this enterprise. That motivated her to look at other areas of the farm.
In the first year of participating in the program, Tricia found that using the testing questions helped her make more informed decisions, create $7000 more profit, and have more time to do the things she wanted. When she went to the bank manager to procure a loan for the new farm, she was able to show the jump in one year from $1,000 net to $10,000. “The bank manager didn’t even want to see our business plan,” says Tricia. “She could see we had a solid understanding of our financials. I even showed her my certificate from the Beginning Women Farmer program. They gave us our loan.”
The Parks currently sell direct from their farm as well as from the Cazenovia Winter Farmer’s Market. Business has continued to grow as word about their farm and products spreads. Tricia is also promoting the farm through flyers, farm website and discovered that their new farm is near a neighborhood association that surrounds a lake nearby with 500 members. Because of local press about their farm, the neighborhood association contacted her to see if she wanted to advertise her farm in their newsletter. More neighbors are also stopping by and buying farm products.
The near-term goal for the Parks is to make enough money farming that Matt can quit his off-farm job and farm full-time with Tricia and Cameron. The longer term goal is to make the farm successful enough that Cameron will be able to start his own enterprises and be the second generation farming on Creekside Meadows Farm.
HMI’s Beginning Women Farmer Program was funded by Grant#2009-49400-05967 from the USDA NIFA Beginning Farmer Rancher Development Program.