Generating Income In A Small Diversified Vegetable Farm

In Edible-Alpha® podcast #57, Tera speaks with Abby and David Bachhuber from Lovefood Farm, a small, profitable, diversified organic vegetable farm in the Madison, WI area. Before starting their own farm, Abby had previous experience in the small family farm industry including her work at the Dairy Business Innovation Center and David worked as a project manager for 12 years at a neuroscience and psychology research lab: the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. A professional project manager, David got the “bug” for farming around the time the couple met. After growing things in every square foot of conceivable space in their yard, and absorbing the lessons that come with hands-on growing, they decided to pursue farming as a profession and build it into a profitable business.

Abby and David started farming one acre of rented land with a two-wheel BCS tractor and sold their vegetables through a small CSA, a farmers market and a farmstand outside their home. David worked with The Center for Healthy Minds to reduce his hours in the summer so that he could farm part-time while still keeping his University position, though he worked 100 hours a week to keep up with everything before switching to farming full time. As lifelong learners committed to the success of their new farm, they participated in workshops at the Angelic Organics Learning Center (including a “loving brutality” in helping them assess the viability of their business), mentorship with the late Chris Blanchard and education through MOSES’s mentor program.

David switched to farming full time after their second year of operation. Abby had residual grant income coming in from past grants she had written which the farm has now replaced as a source of income. She has since gotten another full-time job with benefits to support the family though plans to join the farm in the future at the right time. After they could no longer rent their original one acre, they farmed at the Farley Center’s incubator program for two and half years. Finally, they bought their own 30 acres of farmland (with 5 acres currently in production) with the financial support of David’s mother and a land contract agreement. Their farm is the former site of the City of Stoughton’s compost operation, essentially a “black slate”, which allowed them to certify their crops as organic from the very beginning.

They are now working on adding essential infrastructure, like hoop houses and a pack shed, with plans to build a greenhouse. Their current mix of distribution includes 3 farmers markets, 4 grocery stores, 100 family CSA members and between 5 and 20 restaurants in a given week, with a farmer friend providing distribution to local restaurants. Over the summer, Lovefood Farm scaled up to 8 part-time employees in response to David’s mentor’s recommendation to hire as a means to prevent their own personal burnout during the busy season. In the future, David and Abby expect to reap the benefits of their most recent round of perennial herbs, expand to medicinal herbs (both dried and fresh) and increase their restaurant distribution.

In the podcast, Lovefood and Tera also reflect on the challenges faced by farmers due to climate change and the entrepreneurial problem solving needed to survive variability in current weather patterns and the marketplace. Abby commented that they are constantly revisiting their “yes” to farming to evaluate if it makes sense to continue. They plan to grow their farm and its sales in the coming years to further support their family.

Note: This podcast was recorded in the late Summer of 2019.