Making the Move from Hobby Aquaponics to Commercial Farmer
Profound Microfarms, Lucas, TX June 27, 2017
By Donna Crabtree
There are several critical factors when moving from a hobby to commercial farm, that have nothing to do with aquaponics.
Jeffery Bednar, of Profound Microfarms in Lucas, Texas discusses his best lessons in becoming a commercial aquaponic farmer that he’s learned over the last 3 years. From a indoor, micro countertop system running on 6 goldfish to over 10,000sqft of greenhouse space filled with recirculating aquaponics and decoupled aquaponics amended with nutrients. Jeff believes that critical factors of success do not have to do with the system or equipment itself.
Sure, knowledge is important, a lack of knowledge in IPM (Integrated Pest Management), environmental controls, and standard operating procedures, can all devastate your farm. However, you can overcome faulty crops and mistakes. What you can’t overcome is having a weak foundation, short term thinking and poor understanding of the economics, that will lead to sure failure every time.
Building your Brand:
“Are you on social media?” That’s the first question Mr. Bednar asks when someone wants to know more about the farm. Most of the time the answer is yes, then he then goes onto explain that his farm posts photos, details of farm events, volunteer work days and what markets they serve. It’s a direct line of communication to your customers, they are asking you to advertise to them. They care about what’s going on at your farm.
Jeff suggests posting nearly daily, posting about wins and losses, anything you see around your farm that you think is cool is something that others will think is cool as well. Build your brand.
Facebook and Instagram are the two most critical social media places to post. That’s where you’ll find a local audience and be able to “boost” posts to a core audience when you have product for sale.
Know your customer, know what they are looking for and how you can best serve those needs, not your needs. Jeff never tries to sell to a chef if he hasn’t eaten at the restaurant or done research on the menu. Many of the best chefs are seeking attention, they want to be known for sourcing the menu locally, for supporting farmers, for seasonal menus and creativity. How does your product help them reach those goals? Growing amazing leafy greens is great but understanding and servicing the needs of the chef is paramount.
Have integrity with everyone from small farm to table operation, a local CSA or Co-op, to big time 5-star chef. If your system has a failure and you can’t meet your commitments, be upfront and honest as soon as you can. Try reaching out to other growers in your community or nearby to fulfill your orders, it’s better than the chef finding a new supplier and risking not calling you back. Plus, it shows you are a problem solver and committed to delivering every time, without fail.
Managing Volunteers and Employees
Don’t try to do it all yourself. Jeff started accepting people’s offers to come volunteer on the farm about 2 years ago. Working day after day with people that are so passionate about food, sustainability and the future of agriculture that they are willing to come give their time for free is more fulfilling then he could ever had imagined. Without the volunteers the farm could sometimes become a burden not a joy or become overwhelming. Volunteers transition very nicely into employees, they are not in it for the money but because they are inspired. They’ll work harder and really represent your farm in a way that you are committed to before and after they get hired.
Expect the unexpected:
When scaling up there will be lots of unexpected costs, some of the costs that Profound Microfarms were caught off guard with were; cold storage (walk-in cooler), insurance costs for the used greenhouse structures being 10x estimates, cost of reefer truck for delivery, and estimating extra labor for farm help.
Know your vision:
Profound Microfarms is passionate about fresh and local produce, sustainable agricultural practices and making a difference in the health of thier local community.
What got you into growing with Aquaponics? Where do you see your farm in 5 years? Being able to share your passion, vision and enthusiasm with others will enroll them in helping you build your farm and supporting you every step of the way.
Jeff knew that he wanted to make an impact on his local community so the first thing, well before building a commercial scale farm, was to surround himself with like-minded people. Jeff attended the Aquaponics Assoication Confrence in Austin in 2016 and made a ton of industry relationships that he calls on regularly. He signed up to become a Master Gardener, got his Permaculture Certification and started attending lots of local Meetup.com groups about aquaponics, gardening, and eating healthy. He found groups of local people trying to start co-ops and chefs hosting farm to table dinners. These resources have been invaluable to Profound’s rapid growth and lead to many of the first sales.
How to reach the Bednar’s or Profound Microfarms or to learn more about their project to impact new urban farmers;
or direct at firstname.lastname@example.org