by Enrico Villamaino
In order for a farm to succeed, more than just farming acumen is needed. An ample understanding of agriculture is essential, but even the most knowledgeable farmer would find it difficult to prosper without a fundamental understanding of business practices.
Emily Eder, co-owner and operator of Great Song Farm in Red Hook, NY, knows this only too well. “We’re farmers, not business people,” she said.
Enter the Hudson Valley AgriBusiness Development Corporation. The HVADC is currently facilitating its third Farm and Food Funding Accelerator program. The FFFA “is an intensive mentoring and training program for Hudson Valley farmers and food entrepreneurs seeking to scale their business, gain access to capital and build sales.”
In an eight month period, program participants benefit from one-on-one mentoring sessions, group forums and networking events to best prepare how to talk to prospective investors and explore new potential market opportunities.
For Eder and her partner Maggie Thomas, both natives of California, this can be an invaluable service. “At Sarah Lawrence College, I majored in environmental studies. And I worked as a farming apprentice in Santa Cruz, which is where I met Maggie,” Eder said. With that background, Eder felt she had the tools to successfully raise the crops she wanted, but she also recognized that there were things they would need assistance with when they took ownership of the nine-year-old Great Song Farm last year.
“We operate with very tight margins, and we welcome advice on how best to do that… When it comes to things like how to manage financial records, expand our customer base and maximize profits, the [FFFA] program can be very helpful,” she said. Great Song was one of nine participants representing eight counties in the Hudson Valley admitted into the program in October.
Operating on approximately 80 acres, and actively growing crops on about an acre and a half, Great Song has an active CSA program. The program was started when Great Song first opened in 2011 and has 90 members. The program works on a free choice point system. Full subscribers get 10 points per week, half subscribers get five points per week (and can opt to let the points accrue and use 10 points every other week). CSA members then trade in points for certain offerings, which can range from one to three points. “About 65 of our members have full shares,” Eder explained. “The rest have half shares.”
The CSA offerings include tomatoes, kale, lettuce, beans, peas, herbs, carrots, peppers and eggplant. There are also U-pick options for cherry tomatoes and flowers. Members pick up their produce on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
Since taking the reins at Great Song, Eder and Thomas have already made great strides in expanding the business. “Starting this year, we now sell our produce directly to five restaurants both in the immediate area and in Woodstock, about 30 miles west of us,” Eder said.
These are the very endeavors at Great Song that participation in the FFFA can help improve. According to Eder, “We would love to grow the membership in our CSA program, we would love to have at least 75 full share subscribers. And increasing the number of restaurants we directly sell to is definitely a goal. Right now, we got into the restaurants we did because we knew someone there. I worked at one of them for two years.”
Eder hopes that participation in the FFFA program will assist them in creating relationships with new restaurants. “It’s just Maggie and me – we don’t have any staff working here – so the accelerator program can be a very valuable resource for farms like ours,” she said.