Ask These Key Questions Before You Start Growing

When you're establishing a growing endeavor of any size, it's important to ask a handful of key questions to determine your goals, needs and path forward.

by Zach Loeks
PHOTO: encierro/AdobeStock

These design testing questions can help growers sort out the important factors in decision-making around their scale, and they can help determine equipment needs for growing farm business and projects. 

Understanding your guild enterprise production is critical for farm planning, and it is never too late to start! This template can be used to help brainstorm your guild enterprise production by asking key questions and providing space for equipment guild selection in a balanced manner. 

 A guild enterprise production is a blend of three enterprises

  • that share equipment
  • that use outputs (waste) from one enterprise as inputs (like fertility) for another
  • where labor is balanced throughout different seasons (such as avoiding a bottleneck). 

These questions are all ones that should be answered very early in your design and planning process to clarify key areas of understanding for your farm and your enterprises. 

Read more: Garden for success using an index guild.

Are you suburban, urban or rural?

Example: Suburban, just within city limits, zoned rural residential.

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Why? This context helps you understand your customer base and marketing strategies, as well as the potential for expansion and the bylaw surrounding your development. 

Are you extensive or intensive?

Example: Intensive, often three or five rows per bed, 12-inch footpaths, two to three successions per bed per season.

Why? This puts your design goals within the very critical parameter of how you will manage your crops (intensively or extensively). Intensive management is tight rows, many successions of plantings, smaller acreage managed by bringing in inputs (compost) more often than growing them in-situ (green manure). Defining if you are intensive or extensive sets you up for many clear decisions about tools, equipment, types of crops and management.

What are your actual production acres?

Example: 5 acres, 1.75 arable, .25 for buildings and 3 in woodlot.

Why? This is critical to define because the size of your property is less important than the actual land you manage. This is very important in helping make budgets for equipment scale and labour needs. Don’t be distracted by your larger unmanaged acreage nor feel the need to manage it unprofitably!

What are your intended actual production acres?

Example: 4.75 acres will be used actively for production; no other land is going to be rented or used.

Why? This is about planning your scaling-up process so you set intentions for how you will grow instead of just growing to fill your available acreage.

What is your intended guild of enterprises?

Example: Backyard garden/sugar bush/market garden

Read more: Guild enterprise production is about doing more with less.

Are these enterprises similar or dissimilar?

Example: Dissimilar; I will need to invest in more types of equipment, skill-building, etc.

Why? Enterprises can be similar (summer vegetables, fall root cellar crops and organic garlic) or dissimilar (honey, vegetables and pastured meats). By defining this you can plan for the very real increased cost and knowledge needed to set up a dissimilar guild enterprise production, while also understanding these tend to be more resilient in the face of socio-economic and environmental change. Understand your pros and cons of enterprise companionships.

Are enterprises DIY or professional?

Example: Mixed; this model will both provide profit and enhance well-being and resilience for me and my community.

Why? Because you may grow for yourself or as a business, and this must be defined. Either way you should be profitable! And some enterprises can be a business and other for your homestead.

Example: Transplanting trays from the new greenhouse to the fields

What is your scale-up timeline for different enterprises?

Example: First garden, then sugar bush, then market garden over three to four years.

Why? Because you should clarify where you focus your budgeting and planning in the first years of your farming or homesteading. Then you determine where you will subsequently focus investment of time, energy and money.

Will you mechanize most operations as you scale-up? Why?

Example: Yes, because I have a shortage of consistent labor and workers’ time will be focused on harvest and other tasks that cannot be tractor-mechanized easily. Hand tools will complement the basic garden guild at start-up and will continue to be used. Implements will replace some key functions later—like opting for a compost spreader and utility cart instead of a wheelbarrow and extra hands for compost jobs and hauling.

Why? When you define your weak links and set goals for your need for mechanization you can make good budget decisions.

These questions help set the stage for your enterprises and allow you to think critically about your context, where you are going and how you will get there.   

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