Barr Farms is a seventh generation family farm, run by Adam Barr and Rae Strobel. They produce eggs, pastured chicken, pastured pork, grass-fed beef, along with 40 types of certified organic vegetables, including some heirloom varieties. They do not spray chemicals, and manage the pasture in a way that increases fertility through moving animals. Their markets include a 30 member veggie CSA, a meat CSA, sales at 2 farmers markets, and sales to area restaurants.
Adam Barr: Adam grew up in Lexington, but spent weekends and summers on the family farm. After graduating from Case Western Reserve University with a dual degree in Biomedical Engineering and Spanish Literature, he lived abroad for a few years working as an intern at the State Department in Argentina, and in environmental nonprofits. Adam first became interested in sustainable agriculture after reading Wendell Berry while living in South America. Adam moved back to the US and spent a couple of years apprenticing and working on other small, family farms. This experience helped Adam decide to continue farming his family’s land, to preserve the heritage of the farm, and contribute to developing a local food infrastructure in Kentucky. He is involved with Community Farm Alliance, and serves on the board of Sustainable Agriculture Louisville. He is passionate about developing ways for young people to get on land and begin farming.
Rae Strobel: Rae grew up in Louisville, and graduated from the University of Kentucky with a degree in English and a minor in French. After college, she spent time living in the mountains of New Mexico, and in Portland, OR, where she first became aware of our country’s industrial food system, and the need to know where our food comes from. She apprenticed on a farm in southern Kentucky before traveling around the world for a year, where she worked on farms, did pilgrimage, and connected with people in the countries where she traveled. She helps on the farm with eggs, planting, cultivating, mulching, harvesting, canning, and whatever else needs doing. She is passionate about building community, leading women’s circles, and combining spirituality with eco-justice and eco-feminism.
Adam’s goal was short and sweet, and something we can all relate to:
- “To work less and make more money; to work smarter, not harder.”
- To increase efficiency and profitability. Adam describes his prior method as “farming based on beliefs,” but this approach he says, “is not as relevant as actually showing through hard numbers what is working and what is not.”
With the help of two knowledgable consultants, Adam set out to develop an organizational infrastructure to record his accounts.
Adam speaks of “building out your toolbox,” an essential part of the business, which he uses to analyze and inform his decisions about the farm.
In his toolbox:
- a daily calendar/timesheet – Here he records his hours for the day and a note about how many hours he spent on a particular job. This allows him to determine if he is spending too much time on an aspect of his farm that is not giving him a good return on his investment. He doesn’t worry about categorizing any information that day, as he is often too tired, but if the information is recorded he can find a separate day to devote to recording the information in a more detailed spreadsheet.
- an accordion file folder to catch all receipts – He keeps all his receipts in the folder and writes what enterprise each receipt will go towards. This receipt log will allow him to determine roughly how much money he is spending on a particular aspect of his farm.
- his computer, iPhone
- daily journal – Here Adam keeps record of what goes into his weekly CSA boxes and a note about the approximate retail value. This allows him to see whether or not he is charging enough for his CSA program.
- an inventory sheet – He keeps this on the back of his trailer where he loads produce for the farmers market and his wholesale customers. This sheet records inventory as it goes in and weight as the vegetables come out. This record keeping allows him to record his sales by crop, which will later inform his crop plan for the next year.
In addition to the two consultants Adam worked with for this grant, he cites two other resources that have helped him increase efficiency and profitability:
- The Organic Farmers Business Handbook by Robert Wiswall has been an extremely useful resource for him. The author “lived it, created useful systems, and wrote about it”.
- AgSquared, an online interactive farm planning tool. It was useful to him when planning his crops, though he didn’t use it all season due to time constraints. If one can devote the evening to recording all the data, the program will do most of the analysis for you, such as integrating all the data you enter into a crop enterprise budget.
Through detailed record keeping, Adam has moved beyond the “farming based on beliefs” model, to making decisions based on actual data.
- “farmers have to make data driven decisions like other business to ensure they are able to survive as an independent small business.” Adam says it makes decision-making much easier if you base those decisions on hard numbers. For example, realizing you are spending an inordinate amount of time on a crop or enterprise that is actually loosing you money. Only through record keeping (tracking the expenses related to a particular enterprise, the amount of time invested in it, and the profit gained from each enterprise or crop) will you be able to see which enterprises are most profitable, and which crops or enterprises are draining your resources.
- “extremely beneficial to have an experienced consultant critically analyze your farm.” Adam found that having knowledgable people come in with a fresh perspective and a critical eye allowed him to see things about his farm that he may not have otherwise seen. He found this extremely useful, so much so that he would invest in this sort of service in the future.
- “data keeping is vitally important for determining which crops/enterprises are actually profitable for your farm.” Adam is beginning to share his findings with other farmers, and encourages them to keep data. For example, he did not realize how much he was making on his kale crop until he began recording his profits by crop type. By keeping data on his Broilers, Adam learned the mortality of the chickens spiked during a certain time of year, around the Summer Solstice. He realized his birds were getting overheated in the house, and just by decreasing their numbers, he was able to cut his mortality rate.
- ”learn the most bountiful seasons for your farm enterprises and plan markets accordingly.” For Adam, Spring and Fall are the most bountiful times of year. During these times, Adam expands his wholesale markets. In the heat of Summer, he focuses mostly on his CSA.
- Lastly, Adam wants farmers to know its okay to need help. Farmers are highly skilled in their craft, but can benefit greatly from keeping detailed records and utilizing resources in the community to increase profitability and efficiency – or as Adam says “To work smarter, not harder.”