Q&A With Ivy Creek Family Farm

For these farmers, the business of farming is a continual learning process.

Ivy Creek Family Farm sits nestled on the north fork of the Ivy River in Barnardsville, N.C., just 25 minutes north of Asheville. Paul and Anna Littman, with their two young children in tow, own and operate the farm, folding their love of good food with their deep connection to the surrounding community. Using good sense, smart marketing and the modern tools available to farmers today, the Littmans have formed a thriving business. Here are their secrets to that success.

What does Ivy Creek Family Farm grow, and what are your sustainable practices?

We grow vegetables, mushrooms (shiitake, year-round), fruits and flowers using the sustainable practices of crop rotation, cover cropping, composting and other organic methods to produce high quality, seasonal produce.

What marketing techniques do you use most often and most successfully?

We sell our produce both directly to customers (at two tailgate markets and through our CSA) and to wholesale (to restaurants and distributors). The marketing techniques we employ are different for each sales venue, but universally the best way to increase demand for your food as a farmer is to grow great food! Over the past 10 years we’ve developed a reputation for quality produce, and that’s the primary reason chefs and individuals seek us out. Our website has been important to us, as well as a great display system at our markets, with a big, professionally printed sign that features our farm logo and name. We operate a farm stand. Social media has been important for getting the word out about what we’re selling there and for building our hyper-local customer base.

What has surprised you about the process of marketing your farm and its products?

A lot of the most successful marketing strategies are free. Farming has a very small profit margin. Farming does not follow the rules of most businesses for that reason and others—farms are impacted by the weather, pests and disease, to name a few. For this reason, sustainable farms have to be very smart and intentional about where they put their marketing dollars. To supplement what we can do with our marketing budget, we depend on our partners to help us market our crops and our farm. For example, we love working with restaurants that put “Ivy Creek” on their menu when they’re sourcing from us. We depend on the managers of our tailgate markets to send out emails to shoppers, produce monthly newsletters and stay current with social media posts. It’s our job to get them great content and deliver great a product.

What are your tips for new or small farms that looking to become more profitable while staying sustainable?

  1. Read The Lean Farm: How to Minimize Waste, Increase Efficiency, and Maximize Value and Profits with Less Work by Ben Hartman. Farm smarter, not harder. Simplify, simplify, simplify. Spend the winter creating systems that are easy for anyone to follow.
  2. Ask fellow farmers how they do things. We’ve been farming for 10 years and have at least one or two questions for our fellow farmers every time we go to market. We didn’t learn farming from our parents and aunts and uncles and grandparents or even our neighbors, so it’s even more important that we support one another, small farmer to small farmer.
  3. Take breaks. Know that if you work an 18-hour day today, you’re just borrowing from tomorrow and your ability to work efficiently then. Think of your time not in days (24 hours) but in weeks. That gives you more flexibility and helps to be sure you can do everything you want to.
  4. Be kind to yourself and know that farming is a continual learning process. We never stop learning, which means we always make mistakes! And that’s OK. We feel disappointment in life when we have unrealistic expectations. So be intentional about forming realistic expectations of yourself, your crew and your family.
  5. Don’t neglect the business part of farming. Know how much you grow, how much you harvest, how much you spend and how much you make. Use that information to do yearly and strategic planning.

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