Question of the Week

Permalink How do I determine whether I'm ready to scale up my operation?

Answer: Local foods purchasing has moved beyond farmers markets to mainstream grocery stores. As consumers become more interested in purchasing local foods, chain grocery stores from Walmart to Safeway tout their support of local farmers. At the same time, many established farmers want to move out of time-consuming farmers markets into wholesale markets.

A University of Wisconsin study pointed out that with the interest in local foods, "local food systems have the potential to borrow some of the economic and logistical efficiencies of the industrial food system while retaining social and environmental priorities."

It is important to plan for the expansion of your farm. Every time you increase the scale of your operation, you will experience growing pains. Planning for improvements and growth within your operation can help alleviate these. Questions you might ask when you consider increasing your production:

• Do you have the ability to move more product through your washing and packing facility?
• Do you have enough space in your cooler, delivery truck, etc.?
• How many more people will you have to hire, and do you have the management skills to handle a larger crew?
• Do you have a good farm administration system? As your farm increases in size, this will likely become more complex, including more taxes and stricter insurance requirements.

When economic prosperity is measured in economic growth, it is hard to question the expansion your farm. However, before considering expanding your farm, it is important to ask yourself why you want to do it. What are your farm and lifestyle goals? Is it going to significantly affect your quality of life—for better or for worse?

Consider revisiting your goals. If you have not developed goals for your farm or written your goals down, see the ATTRA publication Evaluating a Farming Enterprise for help.

The question of whether to scale up is not an easy one to answer, and doing so requires a lot of thoughtful consideration and assessment of your specific situation. The ATTRA publication Scaling Up Your Vegetable Farm for Regional Markets can help you decide if you are ready to expand your operations to serve wholesale markets or produce more for direct markets. It describes how organization and planning can help a producer meet the challenges involved in scaling up. This publication addresses important considerations such as land, labor, food safety, marketing, and insurance.

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