WNC CRAFT – October 4, 2015 – Full Sun Farm – “Small Farm Equipment”
Our last tour of the 2015 CRAFT season was appropriately held at one of our founding farm members – Full Sun Farm. Vanessa Campbell and Alex Brown have been farming in Sandy Mush community in Leicester for 15 years now growing annual & perennial fruits, vegetables, and cut flowers. In those 15 years Vanessa and Alex have expanded and adapted their tools, equipment, and production scale as they learned and grew as a farm and as farmers. For this CRAFT tour they walked us through their “equipment timeline” and decision-making process.
Vanessa purchased and began working their land in 2000, after leasing land in WNC since 1997. Initially, she sold wholesale produce to now defunct Carolina Organic Growers, a co-op aggregator and distributor. In 2001, Alex joined her on the farm and they started a CSA (possibly the 1st one in Asheville!) with 23 shares, helped start the Wednesday French Broad Co-op tailgate market, and switched away from wholesale altogether. These new market outlets greatly changed how they did things finance and production wise. Since then they have seen 10-15% increase in sales every year showing there is more demand despite growing competition, and only added 3 acres to their rotation over the 15 years.
A farm is constantly evolving, and there is never enough time to get all the work done. For Vanessa and Alex they have tried to strategically add pieces to their farm equipment that will save them time and/or labor. When Vanessa started she bought a Massey Ferguson tractor, disc, and plow. Then, they added a roto-tiller, bush hog, potato plow, and Jaderloon Greenhouse to cover the basics of mowing, discing, tilling, and covered growing space. The wheel hoe and seeder were crucial handtools as well. Once Alex was on board he brought his rotary spader, and together they purchased a 2nd Massey Ferguson tractor with a front end loader.
While, all of this equipment certainly changed their production and systems, Vanessa pointed out that switching from overhead irritation with aluminum pipes to a new irrigation pump and drip tape was key to helping them expand. With the overhead irrigation they had to move pipes all over the farm to move the water where they needed which required a lot of planning, time, and labor. The switch changed what and how much they could farm. Another game changer was a drag setter often used for transplanting tobacco. Mechanical transplanting upped their ability to get plants in the ground, saving time and labor. And, that was it for a long time says, Alex.
Their next round of equipment purchase came with an Allis-Chalmers Model G cultivating tractor, water wheel transplanter, and a Delta quick hitch system to refine their production systems. The Allis G has belly mounted cultivators so you can see what you’re cultivating as you drive, unlike traditional tractors where all the implements are behind you. The water wheel transplanter is certainly an upgrade from the drag setter. The Delta Hitch although seemingly expensive, at $250/implement, has saved them a lot of time and is safer for interns as they learn to use tractors for the first time.
Most recently they’ve added a Checchi e Magli potato digger to replace the potato plow, a flail mower, drag harrow and a Kubota tractor with a hydraulic lift. They aren’t using the Kubota as they envisioned they would, and are still figuring out how to work it into the farm.
Words of Farm Equipment Wisdom from Alex and Vanessa:
- You’ll be better off taking time to think through and set up your systems in a way to last you for the long term. Do research ahead so you know what you want to buy next when it fails something fails so you’re not scrambling in emergency and make a hasty decision.
- Consider what you need now and in future, try to get what you need not necessarily just what you can afford. Alex explained that they didn’t get a tractor with a front end loader at first because they thought they couldn’t afford it, but looking back they wish they’d taken out a small loan to cover it instead of struggling without one for several years.
- It’s a good idea to have redundant systems if possible. Have something to fall back in if things go wrong. For instance, they had a problem with their new irrigation pump. Alex pulled out the old one and was able to put different parts together make it work.
- Try and keep your credit in good shape. It helps with pricey items,
- Don’t be afraid of financing equipment. It’s important to consider and do strategically to get the tools you need to do job you need to do.
- A well made machine is going to last you 10-20 years – possibly your farming life time. With that perspective what may be a big payment up front could turn out costing only $250/year.
- Pay attention to equipment sizes. Make sure your wheel widths are the same so that implements can be used interchangeable.
- Never buy anything that you haven’t seen in action, and preferably used on your own farm. Make sure it works with your land and soil. Different machines work differently in different soils and scenarios.
- You’re probably never going to buy something and have it work the first time you use it. It can take awhile to figure out how it is in your system make it work best for you. Be patient with the learning curve.
- Know your skills and improve upon them, or know who can do it for you; welding, engine repair, etc. It can be more costly to struggle along time and labor wise than to pay someone who already knows how to do it to get it done.
- Most small farms need 34-45 hp tractor to accomplish most thing. Not usually necessary to go above that to larger tractors unless hay is a major enterprise for you.
- You can have hydraulics put on a tractor if you need them for certain implements
- Consider all your resources before purchasing a piece of equipment. Can you get parts for it (that brand) close? Where to get it serviced?
The rain held off for us all day for yet another great and inspiring WNC CRAFT farm tour and potluck. It really was a celebration of the year and transition into the fall. Thank you to Vanessa and Alex and their farm crew for hosting us and sharing their honest experiences.
Thanks once again to all our CRAFT member farms and tour hosts. CRAFT would not be as impact without your commitment and willingness to share and cultivate the next generation of organic farmers. Your dedication is inspiring! THANK YOU!
Now is the time to join CRAFT for 2016! WNC CRAFT is a year-round farmer training collaborative that offers farmers, farm workers and aspiring farmers networking and learning opportunities. For more information or to join,click here. Or contact Cameron Farlow, Organic Growers School Farmer Programs Coordinator at 828.338.9465 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Author: Cameron Farlow
Cameron Farlow is the Executive Director of Organic Growers School. Hailing from Greensboro, NC with dairy farming in her blood, she has now made her home in Western NC. After earning her undergraduate degrees from UNC-Chapel Hill, Cameron dove headfirst into the realm of sustainable agriculture and local food systems, and later completed her Master’s Degree in Appalachian Studies and Sustainable Development from Appalachian State University. She also brings experience in the realms of farmland preservation, food security, farm to university, and land access for farmers. She came on board with OGS in April 2012. In addition to her work with OGS, Cameron is a dancer, baker and avid adventurer.