Peregrine Farm News Vol. 14 #18, 6/15/17

What’s been going on!

This is the next in a series about our farm transition process.

Why Jennie, why now?

By our mid 50’s the summers were wearing on us more and the aches and pains of 30 years of farming didn’t go away as fast as they used to.  Part of our success has been in the amazing group of young folks who have come to us wanting to learn to be farmers and then would move on but that means finding new faces every year or two and a continuous training program that takes a lot of time and energy.  Jennie came to us as one of those people.

In 2012, midway through her second year with us, we were talking about what her future plans were and she said she thought she might move on to another farm where she would be a co-manager.  Very nearly the same time our friends and longtime professional colleagues, Ben and Karen Barker, had closed their successful restaurant and headed into retirement.  They closed the restaurant for many reasons but one that struck me was they were not sure how much more energy they had to train new chefs.  I didn’t realize it but I was actually in the same place.

When Jennie said she might move on I said “but what if we don’t want to lose Jennie?”  She replied “well I can’t work for wages for ever.”  Fair enough so I countered with “well let’s talk then”.  We didn’t know Jennie well but she was smart, organized, calm and stable beyond her then 26 years.  She is a hard worker but had barely four years of farming experience yet really wanted to farm.  Unlike many of the people who had worked for us and then went on to start their own places, she had no clear way to get started- no family land, no capital resources just a strong inner desire.  It sounded a lot like us 30 years ago.

In June of that year we set the record for the number of 100 degree days in a row and then in July we had The Big Storm.  While we took those extreme events in stride it made us think even harder about how we would continue to manage such hurdles in the years to come.

The three of us started meeting every week to see what we could figure out and began to come up with a plan that would enable Jennie to farm and help us bridge the time span until 65 and then further into the future.  More yet to come…

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The great dividing line between peppers on fabric and those in the no-till

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 13 #31, 9/29/16

What’s been going on!

So I didn’t mean to leave every one hanging with last weeks newsletter like a “Who shot JR” ending, I thought it was just implied that there was more to come.  Part of the reason we have decided to talk openly about our succession process is that we know a number of farms struggling with the exact same issues and we don’t know anyone who has successfully passed on their operations to a non-family member.

Even farms with children or family members are having a difficult time figuring it out.  In 2014 when Betsy was in California for the first Gathering of the Agrarian Elders even those very successful farmers had no plans for transition, were just thinking about it or their kids did not want to take over such large operations.  We hope that by writing about our experience other older farmers or young farmers looking for some way to farm will get some ideas.

Big seasonal changes on the farm this week as the annual soil preparation for all of next year begins.  While we did get almost 3 inches of rain last night it is timely to make it easier to work the soil, by next week it will be perfect.  I spent the first big block of time on the new tractor yesterday doing the final mowing of spent crops and cover crops and it was a pleasure.  Still getting used to the new sight lines, sounds and turning radius but I will give it a thumbs up.

We also uncovered six of the eight Big Tops getting ready for winter, finished cleaning out the rest of the tomatoes and spread compost on next year’s tomato beds.  Slowly we lurch towards the first frost.

Pictures of the Week

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Looking out from the remains of this year’s tomatoes towards where next season’s will be

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Crazy Super Crest Celosia

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 13 #30, 9/22/16 the first day of fall

What’s been going on!

This is the next in a series about our farm transition

Why transition at all?

As first generation farmers we felt some responsibility that the farm we had built should continue on past us but Betsy and I had decided in our early 50’s that we were not going to pass the farm to anyone.   We have no kids so that was not a factor and while we had been fortunate to have many good folks work for us over the years who have gone on to start their own farms, we felt it would be too complicated to bring someone on as a partner, as Betsy says “It’s like getting married again”.

Ten years ago we were still indestructible and planned to just slowly wind down.  We would reduce the amount we planted to where the two of us could handle it alone and just go to Farmers’ Market for part of the year.  We would become old characters at market.

The reality is most farmers have to sell their farms to retire but, probably because we didn’t have children, we have saved enough to be able to slow down or eventually even stop working if we are cautious.  Even with careful budgeting we still have to work some until 65 and Medicare kicks in and 66 and full Social Security.  We want to and financially it is best if we can stay in the house we built with our hands on this beautiful piece of ground for as long as possible but we knew that wouldn’t be entirely easy.

We had watched both sets of parents grow old, as well as our 90 year old neighbors and saw the difficulties of doing that alone in the country.  Sure we’re tough now but who will cut up the trees that come down in a storm when we are 80?  Who will take care of this place and how will we get to the grocery store and doctor’s appointments when we are near 90?  We also saw other farmer friends of ours (some younger) have to slow down or quit because of bad backs or hearts or some other reason.  The writing on the wall was becoming clearer.

Picture of the Week

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Some really nice celery and fennel sizing up for Thanksgiving

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Peregrine Farm News, Vol. 13 #22, 7/13/16

What’s been going on!

Betsy says that I need to bring home a good bottle of Champagne tomorrow after I deliver.  We are generally not celebrators of things, you know birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and the like but this occasion seems worth marking.  Tomorrow will be Betsy’s and Peregrine Farm’s last delivery of wholesale flowers.

For 29 years, since they opened their doors, Betsy has grown flowers and made bouquets and growers bunches for Weaver Street Market.  In the early years we were the entire floral department and would deliver from late April up into the fall.  We also delivered to three Whole Food stores and various florists but gave them up years ago as we began to concentrate more of our efforts on the Farmers’ Market.  That was a lot of bouquet making for sure.

As part of our transition plan for the farm we are reducing Betsy’s workload and schedule.  That means no wholesale flowers and only growing flowers for the market.  Betsy has harvested every flower that has ever come off the farm for 31 years; that is a lot of wear and tear and time.  We think she deserves a break and someone else to pick some of those flowers.

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She is not quite done picking flowers yet though, Celosia and Lisianthus

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 13 #19, 6/23/16

What’s been going on!

Farm transition, a very popular subject these days in the farm community as many farmers are getting older (average age is 59) and are trying to figure out what they are going to do with their businesses and properties and themselves as they get even older.  It is a complicated process that has many moving parts and every farm business is different in some way or another.

It is a long process too.  You don’t pass on, close or sell any business quickly, especially one where you live and have nurtured your whole life.  It takes time to put all the pieces in place as there is estate planning, financial planning, tax planning, and all manner of legal details to work through.  The more people involved, the slower it goes but as we are finding sometimes going slow is best as it reveals things that were not apparent at first.

Astute readers of the newsletter have maybe pieced this together between the lines and certainly we have spoken with many of you over the last few years at market or conferences about our transition plans but this is really the first official, in print, announcement about what we refer to as “The Jennie Project”.  Let me first say that all is fine with us and the farm, we are just being proactive about managing the last third of our life before it starts to manage us.

Over the coming months and years we will discuss our thoughts and process and how it is all going but rest assured that Betsy and I are not going anywhere.  We do plan to slow down some and let Jennie take over more and more of the business and work responsibilities in the next five years or so.  After 35 years it’s time for a change.

Part of the process is happening this week as the surveyor is here marking off our house and acreage, separate from the rest of the farm, so that we can stay here as long as we want but still be owners of the farm too.  It is exciting, interesting, scary, maddening, and rewarding all at the same time!

Picture of the Week

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It is definitely yellow flower season

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