• Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
permaculture forums growies critters building homesteading energy monies kitchen purity ungarbage community wilderness fiber arts art permaculture artisans regional education skip experiences global resources cider press projects digital market permies.com private forums all forums
this forum made possible by our volunteer staff, including ...
master stewards:
  • Nicole Alderman
  • r ranson
  • Anne Miller
  • Pearl Sutton
  • Mike Haasl
stewards:
  • paul wheaton
  • Joylynn Hardesty
  • Dave Burton
master gardeners:
  • jordan barton
  • Greg Martin
  • Steve Thorn
gardeners:
  • Carla Burke
  • Jay Angler
  • Kate Downham

How old is too old to begin?

 
Posts: 5
3
  • Likes 9
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
 I'm a retired medical secretary and 65 years old.   I have the opportunity to obtain a 100 ft high tunnel through a grant but would have to sign a five year contract to sell food that I grow.
Why I'm worried about doing this is for the last two months my husband just had a total knee,  I've taken care of  150 chickens , broiler and layers, our house, etc.  Butchered last weekend and will again this weekend.  Our 36 foot tunnel is a mess. It's become a food forest!  As has the small kitchen garden.
We need the income stream the "new business" would create .   I have some gardening experience, more than a beginner, about 30 years worth of dabbling in growing food for ourselves.  We have always have started seeds in the basement with very good success.  I've taken master gardener classes, classes at MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR, read many books. We have a pretty big library of homesteading books. We own 13 acres. We have bees and make maple syrup. I sell eggs to the neighborhood.  In the past we've have had large gardens in the area where the new high tunnel would go.
 My worry is about not keeping up.   This is much bigger than I've done on my own.  I think what's bothering me is the commitment of a business that can fail for many different reasons.  I'm not a spring chicken. My husband has many health problems and has been disabled for 26 years. I would have to hire people.  
Should I do this?
 
master pollinator
Posts: 1563
Location: southern Illinois.
313
composting toilet food preservation homestead
  • Likes 6
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Of course the commitment is the issue.  First, this, on the surface, is a business decision that only you can make.   But you already know that.  To be sure, you and your husband are getting older.  You level of functioning will decrease, to some degree, anytime passed. I saw my 70th birthday, and I am not where I was 5 years ago.  

The key seems to be the terms of this grant. Is the high tunnel yours to keep after 5 years?  It appears that it is. GOOD.

Is there a commitment as to how much food you must sell in 5 years?  If there is not, then go for it.

If there is a commitment as to how much food you must produce, then this goes back to being a business decision.
 
Posts: 63
Location: SE Indiana
52
  • Likes 11
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Sounds like your situation may have some similarities to my own. My initial feeling without knowing much details is absolutely not! Being contractually bound to much of anything is a bad idea in my opinion.

Maybe you could expand on your current egg business or renovate your existing high tunnel to produce spring transplants. We do quite a lot of that with a single unheated 10 x 15 high tunnel and cold frames. I focus on easy things, nothing fancy or expensive to produce. Tomatoes, marigolds, easy things that people like. We also sell a lot of seed sprouted trees such as maple and perennials such as hardy hibiscus, iris, peony and so on. Once you have established patches they are free and easy to produce.

I would never try to sell vegetables, tremendous work to produce something that has to sell within days at most or spoil. Everything we sell can just be stuck back in the holding beds and sold the next week, or the next year. We don't make a lot of money by any means but enough to help and we're not committed or indebted to anyone to do it.

 
pollinator
Posts: 2066
Location: 4b
484
dog forest garden trees bee building
  • Likes 4
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
No one can ever make a decision like this for anyone else.  You are the only one that can decide.  If you aren't sure what you want to do, read some of the advice you get.  If it is what you want to hear, then you know that is what you want to do.
 
pollinator
Posts: 743
Location: Porter, Indiana
71
trees
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I've sold produce at a farmers market in the past. It was a lot of fun, and it offset some of my costs. That being said, a new agriculture venture is probably one of the last things I'd do if I "need[ed] the income stream."
 
gardener
Posts: 785
Location: Piedmont 7a
279
hugelkultur trees woodworking
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Agree with the other points raised, and would add that a key consideration is what happens if you don’t sell food for five years. Any contractual liability?  Do they just take back the greenhouse?  Do you have to repay them for it?

Sounds like you have all the skills needed and are well experienced with growies; in your shoes, I might look at it as a great way to stay active and engaged into my 70’s, and thus a very good opportunity doing things I want to do anyway.

I would just be very careful to make sure I understood the consequences of having to terminate the arrangement sooner than 5 years due to health or other issues.
 
gardener
Posts: 2979
Location: Pacific Wet Coast
1086
duck books chicken cooking food preservation ungarbage
  • Likes 4
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Artie Scott wrote:

I would just be very careful to make sure I understood the consequences of having to terminate the arrangement sooner than 5 years due to health or other issues.

I agree - homesteading is a great way to stay "young" and fit, but my very fit father died at 66 in less than a week from esophageal cancer. That said, a car accident can take even less time. Farming's not the easiest or most lucrative way to make money if there are middle men involved, so "loans" or "commitments" can easily compound the problem. Market gardening also removes huge amounts of important nutrients from your land.

A wide variety of "U-pick" tree or bush crops and a stable direct-sale customer base might involve less liability and more profit? Chickens and ducks for eggs and meat are great at cleaning up under such crops, off-setting their feed costs.
 
Posts: 111
Location: Idaho
48
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
There is already some great advice here and I agree with it. My husband and I ran our own small business for several years and the one thing we agreed on was that hiring people was not going to happen. If you need to go that route, keep in mind that the idea is to reduce your workload, not add to it. Managing people, wages, taxes, liability insurance, workers compensation, etc. is far more work that people realize. There has to be a LOT of extra work to be done before jumping into the realm of managing people because you'll find that you're doing only that, and not the other things on your list.

Our philosophy is to make what we have as solid and profitable as possible. Stretching yourself too thin and being stressed out is bad for your health and overall well-being.
 
master pollinator
Posts: 385
Location: Vermont, USA
76
hugelkultur dog forest garden fungi foraging books chicken cooking medical herbs homestead
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I have no experience in selling what I grow.  <--- immediate disclaimer

Last week, when I harvested my garlic, I vowed that if I were ever to grow food for money, garlic would be part of it.  So. Freaking. Easy!

In the past, I have looked into planting saffron crocus.  The University of Vermont has done a study about whether it can be a profitable crop here in Zone 5.

I've read that microgreens can be profitable easily, even in the basement!  I have discovered ground cherries, a relative of tomatillos that cost a FORTUNE at the coop (health food store) but grow like weeds and self-seed here.  I harvest them literally out of my lawn.

Are you required to sell the products that the grant-maker wants, like providing certain foods to a specific market?  Or can you grow what makes sense for you?

I get it, though.  I'm 67.  My joints and muscles won't put up with much more gardening than I'm already doing.  Working in accommodations (there's a thread discussing aging homesteaders and we've talked about higher raised beds, a goal of mine).  Did you want a high tunnel anyway?

I think this deserves some research - essentially a business plan.  Do you have an existing market as part of the grant, or do you have to find buyers too?  Check prices.  Make estimates of how much you can grow, choosing the crops for profitability.  Add  a percentage for failed crops.  Do you have enough water if there's a drought?

Choose a non-labor-intensive method (lasagna/wood chip/other) and estimate the cost needed for labor for the initial setup, planting, and harvest.  This requires some hard work with a calculator and spreadsheets, I fear.

Best of luck.  I wish you and your husband well!
 
pollinator
Posts: 151
7
  • Likes 8
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I am the same age.  We recently stopped farming for money after 15 years in upstate NY.  We originally bought the farm which wasn't much of anything for cash.  For 15 years we poured all the money that came out of the farm back into it.  My wife worked off farm until she got cancer 5 years ago.  We ran the gamut from CSA's, farmers markets and restaurant sales.  We specialized in mixed greens, herbs, and micro greens.  We stopped in November of last year.  Just couldn't do it anymore.  We were able to sell the farm and moved to Down East Maine.  Started over here with a great big lawn and tore it up and now only grow for ourselves and give aways to our neighbors.  Make do on my SS.  Expenses are cut to the bone.  My wife gets SS in a couple of months.  This has only been going on for 4 months but I feel whole better than we were growing 15K heads of lettuce a year.  Everything we learned we put into effect but on a smaller scale and it is enjoyable.  The farm systems that "worked" back in NY were tough.  Mennonites with 10 kids selling at auctions, or building CSA's.  The CSA's that worked required financial input from families and a lot sweat from families.  And even then times can be really tough.  The most we grossed in a year was 21K and we were working our tails off.  The bigger CSA can gross around 70K but there is not a lot of money for salaries.  We are both happier than we have been in a while.  Good luck with whatever you end up doing and I would be happy to answer an questions if you have them.
 
pollinator
Posts: 1148
Location: Nevada, Mo 64772
92
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I have heard that you have to pay income tax on the value of the greenhouse. May not be true?
 
steward
Posts: 4114
Location: West Tennessee
1606
cattle cat purity fungi trees books chicken food preservation cooking building homestead
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Vickie Shaw wrote:   I have the opportunity to obtain a 100 ft high tunnel through a grant but would have to sign a five year contract to sell food that I grow.



Are their stipulations in the fine print that make you nervous? If this is a USDA/FSA cost-share program, they tend to be very forgiving, and what I mean is if you were to only make $500 one year and $300 the next year, varying each year for the five years in this greenhouse, you have proven an effort, sold goods, made money, and met the requirements. If there is some clause in the grant contract that states you must sell $5000 worth of produce annually that is grown in the greenhouse (making up numbers here for conversations sake), then I myself would never agree to such a commitment and have that looming over me. Sometimes life throws curveballs and if, for example, you suffered an injury or illness that prevented you from using the greenhouse for a year, would this disqualify you from the grant? I think grant programs can be really good and provide a much needed boost for farmers and market gardeners when they are written fairly.
 
pollinator
Posts: 211
Location: WV
40
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
It sounds to me like you are already having some doubts.  Make sure you know the conditions of the grant before you make any commitments.

Your life can change in an instant. At one point I was twenty-seven, happily married and between the two of us, had a good income. My husband died eleven days after being diagnosed with stomach cancer, 2/3 of the income was gone and I had all the bills and a brand new mortgage to worry about.  At 65, I'm not sure how easy it would be to get life insurance, especially if your husband is already disabled, but I'd check into it before I made a five-year commitment.

You also stated that your 36' tunnel and garden are a mess at the moment.  Will you be able to maintain a 100' tunnel as well?  Will you be able to hire sufficient help?  In my experience of being a manager, one employee out of every ten hires proved to be a worthy employee; let's not talk about the other nine.  What will happen if said help doesn't show up and you end up losing part of your plants because of that?  

I had hoped to start a market garden next year but decided to push my plans back for at least a year due to some back issues and the fact that I'll be schooling my daughter this fall.  That's not to say that I won't be preparing beds and growing, but that I'm not going to try to do more than I can handle right now. In fact I've made myself a promise that if at any point I become too overwhelmed, I'll cut back.  If you are tied to a five-year agreement you may not be able to do that.

Basically you need to set down, imagine just about every scenario that might happen in this venture and determine how you will handle it.  

I wish you luck in whatever you decide.
 
Posts: 102
Location: Dry mountains Eastern WA
20
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I’m *63.  Ive worked my whole life.  I garden all day long but the thought of taking on what you are thinking of would more than daunting.  There just comes a point when you have to consider quality of life and time.
 
Posts: 826
Location: In the woods, West Coast USA
112
  • Likes 6
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Just trying to be realistic, here, and share some of my experience.



Vickie, the most important thing in selling anything, not to mention vegetables, is:

1.  Who your customers will be.  

It doesn't matter how beautiful and perfect your vegetables are if people won't buy them because of what they are looking for might not be what you think it is.  What cultures do they come from so what are they likely to want to buy?  How much of a gardening community do you live in, so is a big percentage of people already gardeners growing their own basics, who wouldn't buy everyday produce?

2.  Will they only buy organic food and are you willing to go through the process of becoming certified?  It's an expensive process, bookkeeping and unannounced inspections of those books, very detail recordkeeping.

3.  What are the requirements of the local farmers' market?  They probably already have people selling all the basics, and what they want are not more of the same kind of food, but something different.   They may not even accept people who just have the regular things, regardless of how big and beautiful they may be.  Will you have to go to different farmers' markets because each one is only one day?  All that work for one day a week selling?  Do the math, how many heads of lettuce and pounds of tomatoes makes that profitable?  How many hours of just driving back and forth, will you have to add to that workload, when you know you should be transplanting, picking, keeping the birds off things, stopping the deer/foxes/ravens/rabbits from raiding things.  How many miles/gas/brakes/tires, etc., are you funding by selling vegetables?

4.  What kind of winters do you have, and what are the months that the farmers' market operates?  Vegetables we grew to sell had to be started in January, under expensive grow lights in expensive greenhouses, but we didn't get any money until the end of May, beginning of June, so that's 5-6 months of work (300 tomato plants, 1/2 acre of pumpkin/squash, 80-foot greenhouse with beans, cukes, cabbages, etc.) with no income, and you get to charge $1 a head for lettuce?  Not much a pound for tomatoes, which probably won't be ready before July anyway.  Even our over-wintering tomato plants don't have tomatoes earlier than the transplants.

5.   Watering heavily two days before, and the morning of picking, then picking the evening before in the dark when it's cold, making sure everything is packed up the night before and in the truck, because you have to leave in the dark hours of the AM to get to the farmers' market very early, and leave often 45-mins to an hour to set up (canopy, tables, chairs, scales, bags, labels, recipes, etc.) and look as appealing as possible so you'll stand out from the other sellers.  Or you could get up at 3:00 AM and start picking, but a lot of things need to be in water for a few hours to hold their firm leafy shape because they aren't in water on the tables, and the tables at some point will have sun on them.  Nobody buys wilted vegetables.

6.  It always surprised me that the majority of people where we are do not eat a lot of vegetables.  They give it lip service, and they buy eggs and honey and tomatoes.  I gave up growing anything unusual, even if I promoted it with recipes, because people just wouldn't try new things.  A few will, but they weren't enough to fund the operation.

7.  Mother Nature is a cruel co-worker.  She doesn't care how hard you work, she will throw rough winters, rodents, sunless overcast days, droughts, leaf diseases inside greenhouses,  birds inside greenhouses, at you without a second glance.   You will be driving with everything you've worked for in the rain, sometimes freezing cold especially in the spring and fall times (October short days have chilly nights, and working at a farmers' market goes until late that day because when you get back you have all that unpacking, refrigerating, sorting, organizing to do still.  You will be sitting at a table in the out-of-doors wind/rain/heat/cold, and when the conditions are not really great not many people go to the farmers' market.  You'll need a safe and reliable vehicle that will get you where you are going on time and without any stress of whether it will make it or not, or use a lot of gas doing it.

It takes at least 5 years to establish a clientele who will be loyal to you, and even then if there's lots of competition they may not spend as much money with you.   People move often enough so some of those customers will disappear, some will just not want to face the kind of weather you will have to face each week and not show up.  So you'll be 70 when things start to level out a little bit.  Your husband will be how old, and will be further down the road of disability?  

We stopped because we actually had a couple episodes of vandalism, where it had never happened before, and hasn't happened since.  These days everything is internet, selfies, social media saying good things and bad things.  Having a thick skin to deal with that, spend time trying to calm away a nasty posting, bad press is important.  You should have a website with your locations of the markets you sell at and when, so you'll need to update it weekly as many days before you go to the market so people can plan to be there.

We had the honey stolen, and some dicey strangers show up while we sat there with lots of cash in our pockets.   I was tired of the relentless deadlines.   Vegetables weren't nice things to grow and cook anymore, they were a commodity that needed to be perfect, big, impressive, fancy....

It all looks very cozy and sweet while walking along as a customer in a farmers' market, but being a grower/seller is a very demanding job all year 'round.    When I was 35 it was an exciting adventure.   It wasn't my only job and it took at lot to get me down.  By the time I got to 60 I had had enough of that kind of unknown each week.  I'm in good physical shape, so that wasn't even an issue, but it will eventually become an issue.  Will things be ready on exactly Wednesday when the market is, or will everything really be better Friday when there's nowhere to sell?   It was so disappointing to have some beautiful new veggies come ripe exactly on time to display beautifully, but it rained and very few people showed up to buy the stuff.

But, if all of this seems like an adventure, then it's worth a try  :-)


 
Posts: 2
1
  • Likes 6
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Newbie here. I’m 65 myself I would think fixing your old tunnel would be a better move. Increase chicken sales  alive or eggs. I’m not saying your not qualified I’m looking at cost and health.
 
Vickie Shaw
Posts: 5
3
  • Likes 4
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Update:   no contract on high tunnel.   It's ours .  We were approved for the high tunnel and most equipment needed for it. $7000.  I have to come up with delivery, and labor, boards surrounding the tunnel and money for the neighbor that will level the land a little.  And doors. About $3000.
We can grow anything we want in it.
We must have water going to it and soil samples done for three years. This was done through the department of conservation.  I
We have one year to do this or we can opt out.    We can work it for our selves and family,and neighbors.  This is important because of the political climate in this country. Prepping for our "village" .   We could raise chickens in it after 3 years.  I've become the neighborhood chicken broker by accident lately.   Everyone in the neighborhood is raising chickens now and butchering at our place because of our very cool equipment and shelter.  
We might make a few dollars selling vegetables and eggs at markets, we don't need much more income, ,without it we would survive but it would be a little tougher. More like on grid homesteading.  
If we died sooner instead of later , it would add to our tiny farm when  our kids sell the place.  I'll have them list it here !   So , we'll probably put it up.  
My husband and I really liked all of your replies and they were most helpful.  We dug much deeper into the situation and the agent came to the house several more times because of your help.  I appreciate the honesty.  Thank you.  
 
Jay Angler
gardener
Posts: 2979
Location: Pacific Wet Coast
1086
duck books chicken cooking food preservation ungarbage
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Wow, Vickie! It sounds like it's going to be an adventure and that no matter what happens, you'll come through.

I'm also glad that you found this discussion helpful. On permies, we consider our threads "useful information" for whomever might drop by with a question or idea. Because of that, I'd *really* appreciate it if you occasionally would post pictures and updates as your adventure continues. It sounds as if you're transforming your community with chickens - I'd love to see pictures of your processing set-up! Mine's about as primitive as it gets.
 
The glass is neither half full or half empty. It is too big. But this tiny ad is just right:
Rocket Mass Heater Plans - now free for a while
https://permies.com/goodies/7/rmhplans
reply
    Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic