Kate and Jason Bogli moved back to Maple View Farm, the Bogli family farm, in 2003. This 50-acre, 3rd-generation farm founded in 1950 by Bill and Evelyn, is near suburban Hartford, Connecticut. Kate had previously worked in the fashion industry and had no farming background, but when Jason, an attorney, said he wanted to return to the family farm, she agreed to take on the role of farmer’s wife as well as new mother. When she heard about HMI’s Beginning Women Farmer program through HMI’s Connecticut collaborator, Northeast Organic Farming Association—Connecticut (NOFA-CT), she decided to join the 2010 class to improve the success of the farm.
When Kate and Jason met in college and got married, she had planned on living on the upper West Side, but fate took an abrupt turn. When Jason told her he wanted to move back to the farm, she said she’d be happy to be a farmer’s wife, but she didn’t want to wear boots every day. “Now I wear boots every day,” Kate confessed.
Growing the Business
Initially Jason’s father was farming the land when they moved back, so Jason and Kate took over the horse boarding and riding lessons. “I always wanted to be a teacher,” says Kate. “So the horse lessons were a natural fit for me.” As the Bogli family grew, Kate’s interest in good food also grew. That led to bringing in chickens, goats, and cows and selling those farm products. Eventually they also started making hay.
They were growing so much meat that they opened a farm store at the front of their farm. “We’re right on the main drag,” says Kate. “It’s totally self-serve so people pay for their grassfed beef, eggs, and pork and make their own change. We don’t have the additional labor costs for that. We even have a ‘Grab and Go’ bag that includes 4 recipes and all the beef you need to make them.”
The Boglis also sell Christmas trees to even out the cash flow. “January and February are the slow months,” says Kate. “We are working on evening out the cash flow. So we started a ‘Winter Barn Fun’ sessions where parents could sign up their children for at $15/session.” This two-hour session for children 6-11 years old includes grooming the horses, stall cleaning and feeding the animals. The Boglis also provide farm tours for schools (at $7/child) and boy scout or girl scout troops.
“We’ve had to figure out how to make money,” says Kate. “We both left high-income jobs and started these fledgling businesses. We initially had someone haying for us, but we found that haying paid back so we took that on ourselves. When our sickle bar mower died and Jason was spending so much time trying to fix it, we were about to buy another one and go into debt. With my new skills from Holistic Management, I was able to pause and use the testing questions to see if that was the right decision. It helped me do my homework and look at what the root cause of the problem was. I went through the tests one by one and realized I needed a machine that was simple enough for me to fix because my husband wasn’t around all the time. With a drum mower, I could do the work and it was cheaper and at 0% financing. When I had my case all figured out, I went to Jason and had the conversation explaining my reasoning. I won that case!”
Doing the Numbers
Initially financial planning was very difficult for Kate. She really had to look at what the different enterprises were and begin to separate out the numbers. “The financial planning sessions really helped with this. The instructors, mentors, and coordinator told us to just start with one enterprise and just do a little—anything to get started. So I started with the horse boarding enterprise. One boarder had a special deal with us. When I started doing the numbers, I realized I was paying him to keep his horse. I felt bad about asking for more money, but I did the numbers and knew it was crazy not to do something now that I understood what was going on. That knowledge then helped me do the numbers for the other enterprises. It even made it fun. Things have improved 1000%.”
Time management was another issue to deal with. “Paper forms make me want to cry,” says Kate. “I use Google calendars because it syncs with my IPhone. That way the field is my virtual office. The other day, my husband made the comment that he didn’t know where I spent my time. I showed him my color-coded calendar that showed all I was doing with our kids, the farm, etc. I also love that it’s easy to edit and move events.”
Kate readily admits that she has not done the level of grazing planning that she would like. “But the conversations about grazing planning have begun and it has allowed me and my husband to be on the same page about the grazing,” says Kate. “Usually we fix fence as we need to (when the animals are about to go into a paddock). Now we have an idea ahead of time of where we will be moving the animals and we can be pro-active about the fence repair which means there are less crises to deal with.”
When Kate learned about Holistic Management and began exploring who were the decision makers on the farm and what the farm process was about decision making, she found herself in some interesting conversations—important conversations. “Change is hard for anyone,” Kate says. “The holistic goal was super important in helping us with those conversations. We had talked before, but it was great to have a ‘go to place’ with our holistic goal. I’m married to an attorney, which means he’s really good at making his case. There were times I felt steam rolled, and I felt like I had no backbone. I just didn’t have the tools to make my case. My husband also told me he found the process helped us to make time for our family and to stay on the same page.”
Kate says the networking in the Beginning Women Farmer program has been really important. “It’s really cool to be with other women doing the same thing. I decided to get together with other Granby women farmers so we can use each other as resources. Now there are 18-20 of us meeting regularly.”
“What I learned from the program was that it’s okay to get started. Do anything. Bravo for you! It’s like a little baby walking. Try some things and don’t worry about failing. It made me want to come to class, and the whole class with all the women was an inspiration.”
HMI’s Beginning Women Farmer Program was funded by Grant#2009-49400-05967 from the USDA NIFA Beginning Farmer Rancher Development Program.