Seed the Mind, Harvest Ideas
Getting By - Earning Extra Income - Making a Living - Starting a Farmstead - Thriving With Sustainable Growing
- Homesteading - Organic - All Natural - Permaculture - Self Sufficiency -
The challenge is immense: Organize 200 people into a team to operate a successful project.
It can be done. The existence of civilization is testiment to that fact.
A great many projects can be done with 200 people and a small investment. Please be patient as you proceed with this lengthy discussion. There are a lot of ideas here, with one idea often leading to the next. The notion started with the idea of sharing a lawn mower, then an assortment of tools. This led to a need for a property, someone to keep an eye on the place, and finally a property with a farm and everyone pitching in.
I've got a lawn mower, my brother has a lawn mower, all our neighbors have lawn mowers. We each spent an average of $300 on the things and they sit in the shed most of the time. If all these people organized and pooled their resources they could easily purchase several lawn mowers-push and riding, plus weed wackers, hedge trimmers, wheelbarrels, gas cans and a shed for storing all this equipment.
In addition to the mowers, everyone has an extension ladder, a tool box of hand tools, a generator, tools for the car, tools for working on the house. If anyone needs something, perhaps a large pot to handle a spaghetti dinner with friends, they have to go out and buy it, only to keep it on a shelf most of the time.
More people, more tools. Lots of redundancy.
My figures suggest that around $20-40k would buy just about every tool and piece of equipment a household could ever use. For those who can't cough up that sort of dough all at once, tools and equipment are picked up over time as the need becomes desperate. Experience shows that in many cases, people simply go without.
Let's add some "What-Ifs" and put together a thought experiment.
What if, rather than everyone buying tools and equipment seperately, they instead purchased these items collectively. For a fraction of the price, the same tools and equipment could be purchased. For the same money, an extensive array of tools can be accumulated. In my $40k list, if these tools were shared by a large group, the price per person drops to very affordable levels. Rather than 1 guy spending $40k over the course of many years (not attainable by the average wage earner), 10 people would only need to come up with $4000 each. At 100 people the price drops to $400 each. In several thought experiments I've come up with 200 people being a useful population size for an organized group. For 200 people to come up with $40k, the price is $200 each. That's an amount a lot of folks can come up with immediately. We have gained the advantage of time in addition to savings. Rather than wait for several years to accumulate tools, the group can gather everything in a week.
Such a cooperative effort will have some requirements. The first being a place to store the items. A garage, a shed, a house, or some other structure to keep the items out of the weather and secure when not in use. Next, tracking will be necessary: Where is the extension ladder? When is it coming back? Can I use it Tuesday? Having an individual perform maintenance on the tools, sign them out, keep track of what's where would be a full time job. With 200 people using the tools and equipment, even casually, there would be steady traffic at the site and plenty of work to do. There will be phones to answer, perhaps a website to keep updated, blades to sharpen, air filters to replace, an electric bill, payroll, some banking. The project becomes a going concern.
If the people owned all the items seperately, they would incur expenses such as oil changes, new spark plugs, and keeping the shop light on late at night. Economy of scale offsets these expenses to some degree, but brings in the new expenses of location and labor. It may be possible for someone with the room to volunteer the use of a shed out back. The group can agree that everyone volunteer a day once every couple of months to cover the manpower demand. To cover costs, everyone chip in a few bucks each month.
The logical extension of this line of thinking is to set up this enterprise as a business. To start the business, the 200 people, now investors, contribute capital to purchase a share of ownership. Put together some documentation laying out rules and regulations. Elect a Board of Directors to handle affairs. The Board hires a full time manager. The manager handles daily operations. The customers are easy to find-the shareholders become customers. There will need to be a monthly fee to cover expenses. Each customer pays $25/month. 200 customers would generate $5000/month. If this little business makes a profit, the shareholders get a piece of that. This monthly charge enables the group to hire staff, replace old equipment, upgrade, pay for parts, and bring in new tools and equipment.
The location can be leased. It can be purchased outright. A warehouse is practical. A residential home would work. Bearing in mind what else is possible I find a home with a few acres of land offers remarkable advantage. In the long run, owning the property makes better sense than paying rent forever. There are homes out there which can be had for a fair price. The place need not be a palace, but it should have some features such as locking doors and windows, perhaps a fence. The monthly fee of $25 each would afford a fence, perhaps a garage over time. Having a home solves certain logistical issues such as a bathroom, shelter for storms, an office, a meeting room for members, the board of directors, and whatever committees need to be organized. Financing can be found but may require less orthodox methods. Searching for property that is owner financed rather than bank financed offers a means of gaining property with a small downpayment. A distressed property can be snapped into shape with 200 people involved. We have a place, come on down for a few hours, put those tools to work.
Looking at the figures, there is an initial investment to put things in place and a monthly fee to keep the operation going.
Tools and Equipment 40k (high end of the estimate)
Split between 200 people, $265 each.
Pretty darn reasonable for a vast selection of tools and equipment, plus a house and land to serve as a home base for the group.
Monthly Expenses (Caveat: This uses my location as a reference to come up with some of these figures)
insurance 500 (workers comp, liability, property)
water/sewer 100 (zero if well and septic)
property taxes 100
IN 5000 (200 people x $25/month)
The net goes towards maintenance, parts, new items, and whatever else the people decide is in their interest to pursue.
There is considerable leeway in these figures. I've bought a few houses over the years. I paid $5000 down on my current home, with around $500 more for closing costs. The mortgage is $500/month for 7 years. This place has a well and septic. This equates to no utility bills. My property taxes are substantially lower than the figure listed above.
Shopping around may find better deals on property insurance, liability insurance, and workers compensation insurance. If the property is paid for outright, it will cost more initially, but knocks out the monthly mortgage payment.
Add a 'What If'
What if the property had a garage or other outside storage and the home could be used as housing for the manager of the site. Does the group rent to him? Does the group offer a lower salary but include housing and utilities? It sure would be handy to have someone on site all night.
How far does the group go at the onset? Being 200 people will be spread out over a town, a truck would surely be handy to haul some of that equipment. A dependable pickup truck is a convenience that is hard to beat. It's the backbone of America and would be an essential piece of equipment in this sort of operation. We need a workhorse. No more stuffing that Christmas tree into the back of a sedan. The value of being able to borrow a truck is a return on investment all by itself. A used truck in decent shape will run anywhere from $10k to $30k. A new truck with a price tag of $40k would add $200 each to the cost of starting up the project. Using the figures above, the total is beginning to approach $500 each. About the cost of a used riding mower.
A cargo trailer would be essential to load and unload a riding mower, lumber, building materials, furniture, and haul a load of debris to the landfill. A sturdy cargo trailer with a capacity of a couple of tons can be had for $1500-$4000. Not a bad price for the advantage offered. It is up to the group to determine what column this expense would fall under: initial investment as with the truck, included in the first tools purchased, or picked up later with the monthly surplus.
This lays out the core of the operation. We have a vast selection of tools and equipment in good shape, the means to move them around, a place to keep them, and someone responsible for keeping things lined up. We have documentation to keep things legal, agreements and procedures to remove disputes and enforce accountability, insurance to cover our asses, the means to continue the operation and enhance it continually.
We also have a huge amount of potential.
The project is set up as a business in order to ensure accountability, reduce personal liability, secure the property, and equitably share ownership and responsibility. A Limited Liability Corporation, LLC, is well suited for this plan. Even if the group never made a dime in outside sales, everyone involved has gained access to a far wider selection of tools and equipment than they probably could have afforded on their own after many years of accumulation. The first customers are the 200 people who started the whole thing. They will have signed an annual membership agreement giving them the use of the equipment in exchange for $25/month. There would also be fees based on the particular item used. Motorized equipment will come back fully fueled or the user will be charged for fuel. Users would be responsible for equipment with consumable parts, say a shop vac filter or trimmer line. To promote sales, opening membership to the general public is a matter of paperwork and staffing. Some items could be rented as needed. Scaffolding or a pressure washer, for example, could be rented to a non-owner customer at a certain rate per day. If it is not being used by someone in the group, put it to work. The basic bills are already covered. These additional sales would provide an income to return to the shareholders or further develop new and existing projects. It may be possible to lower or eliminate the monthly fee for the members and fully recover that initial investment. How far this can go is virtually unlimited.
Let's further define the purpose of the group to better explore it's potential.
1 We want to make some money
2 We want to save some money
3 We want to get more value for the dollar we are already spending
1 We want to make some money
In order to start this project we each have to come out of pocket for the inital investment, plus cough up another $25 every month. It would be advantageous to recover that investment as well as generate a residual income stream. Rather than debate the ethics of money and greed, we'll use money as the incentive which drives the project. If we can do all the things in this plan and make money, then we have realized the purpose of organizing ourselves.
2 We want to save money
Cooperation, sharing and efficient use of resources serves this end. Optionally, everyone can skip the plan and keep pouring their money into the toilet.
3 We want to get more value for the dollar we are already spending
Everyone in the group is already spending money on tools and equipment. Rather than spend it individually, we use those dollars collectively. We gain access to more items of better quality in a shorter time period. With a place to store the items, a means of delivery, and a staff to maintain them we gain dependability and durability.
The project does not need to be based exclusively on tools and equipment. I started with the tool library because they are expensive, durable, and sit on a shelf much of the time making them an ideal item to share. Whatever we are already spending money on offers an opportunity for the group. If the people are spending enough money regularly on pizza, opening a pizza shop would be possible. Food is an ideal sector of spending to explore. It can be produced locally with simple tools, in great abundnace, and is consumed by everyone involved every day.
Bear in mind the organization is not simply 200 people but 200 families: Adults, kids, singles, couples, and every demographic from new born to retirees. According to Loweryourspending.com the average grocery bill for a family of 4 is $965/month. NBC11News offers a range of $146-289/week. A ballpark figure of around $50/week per person is not unreasonable. Nationally, the average family is comprised of 3 people. Total spending on groceries and supplies in a week: $30000. Total per year: $1.5M. Surely there is room here for improvement in savings, quality and value.
Each member of the group is paying $25/month. This is less than 4% of the $1.5M total spending on food and supplies. A small amount of savings, less than $6/week per family, is all that is needed to offset the expense.
For a lot of people, payday is Friday. A common routine on a Friday will find someone in the family pick up that check, run to the bank to make a deposit, run to the supermarket to pick up groceries. I've seen this practice going on with coworkers and friends all my life. Money is tight for a lot of people. There is not much to invest in a deep pantry. Groceries are packaged in volumes to last about a week. People pick up a weeks worth of groceries, paying top dollar for small volumes. Come Friday, the cupboard is bare. Every week sees the same pattern. Each cycle takes time and costs money in fuel to get to the bank and store. This is inefficient. We can all get more for our grocery dollar if we work together.
Take sugar for instance. A 5 pound bag at Walmart is $2.62. A 50 pound sack at Sam's Club is $18.38. This large sack could be repacked into smaller containers to provide the same product people are already buying for a better price. If the price is the same, that 50 pound sack is effectively resold at $26.20 for a profit of $7.82. 200 families buying 5 pounds of sugar all at once demands 1000 pounds of sugar. 20 sacks of sugar would generate a profit of $156.40. We still need to go get it and repack it. We've already got the truck and trailer in place. A drive from my area to the nearest Sam's Club is around 75 miles making a round trip of 150 miles. At 15 miles per gallon, 10 gallons of fuel would be consumed at a cost of $35-40. We also needs bags to contain the portioned sugar. Pick these up for a few bucks at Sam's while we are there. An accurate scale can be had for a couple hundred bucks and can be used for many projects and products besides weighing up sugar. Put the cost of the scale in the bookkeepers column under Tools. A sugar run can offer $100 in profits to work with.
Since we want to make money as well as save money, perhaps there is a point in between the supermarket price and the warehouse store price which immediately saves people on their grocery bill and also offers a small profit for the company. A price of $2.37 for a 5 pound bag of sugar saves each buyer 25¢, pays for the travel expenses, pays for the bags, and leaves around $50 in the company till.
With the price less than the supermarket, the sugar becomes a viable product for sale to the general public. There are 200 people with a vested interest in moving as much product as possible. Their job is to tell their parents, cousin, brother, coworker, neighbor, the guy who fixes their car, their buddies, and people they meet on the street. It will take time to build sales volume and the money is not available to invest in inventory. A simple solution is for buyers to order ahead and pay when they order. If it's not paid for, we don't pick up the products. With the equipment available, a truck and cargo trailer, there is a capacity of a couple of tons of cargo which can be picked up with each trip. In the above example, sugar fills about a fourth of the capacity and has paid for the transportation cost.
We'll be looking for more items which can offer savings to the customers as well as a small amount of profit for the company. There are hundreds of them. Sugar, coffee, flour, toilet paper, paper towels, salt, cleaning products, soap and hygiene products, HBAs, pet food, light bulbs, breads, meats, cheeses, herbs and spices, batteries, plastic wrap, aluminum foil, air fresheners, grains, cereals, canned goods, snacks, dairy products, fresh produce, diapers, tea, soda, drinks, desserts, lunch items, soups and stews, sauces, jams and jellies, peanut butter, rice, school and office supplies, trash bags...anything that is consumed regularly, available in volume at a better price, and can be brought to the home base offers potential for customers to save a little and the company to make a little.
There is not money in the company account to buy a fraction of a weeks worth of groceries for 200 families. To make a project such as this work, the goods will need to be ordered and paid for ahead of time. The lead time need only be a few days. This allows orders to be totalled, a shopping list to be assembled, and planning the logistics of pickup, receiving, processing and picking up orders. Ordering and payment can be done easily with a website, it's done all the time.
There is labor involved. 3 hours of driving, another hour in the store, time for refueling, more time to unload, plus the time to portion and pack the sugar. Paying for this labor eats into that $100. The group can have that money if they are willing to work for it. In addition to the start up capital and the monthly fee of $25, we also need time. Depending on what projects are going on, a contribution of a few hours a month to a few hours per week would be needed. It's your business, you probably ought to pitch in. This is not full time work. I'm talking 5 hours/month from each shareholder. Doing the math, 5 hours per month, 200 people, 1000 hours per month, 12 months per year works out to 12000 hours per year. Full time work at 40 hours per week total 2080 hours per year. This small contribution of time is equivalent to 6 full time employees.
I can get good quality ham for $1.50/pound, sometimes less. Add a meat slicer, portion scale, some bags, some trained labor and the result is a much better ham sandwich than offered by supermarkets at $3.69 for 12 ounces. As with the sugar, our ability to purchase in volume and add our own labor results in lower prices. Sugar would be a low markup item. Cold cuts would offer a higher markup for the company while still saving the end user a considerable amount. Ham, turkey, salami, bologna, pastrami, corned beef, roast beef...there is plenty of variety to work with.
A project such as this begins to involve food processing. It will be necessary for the people involved to have an understanding of safe food handling practices. With 200 families involved there's a good chance of finding people already experienced in food handling.
Steaks and meats are a high markup item in a supermarket. They can also be a high loss item with product sitting in a display cooler going unsold. Cutting, trimming, slicing steaks involves more skill and experience than slicing cold cuts and cheese. This project may need to wait until the proper skills are found or developed with someone in the group. Beef ribeye, tenderloin, New York strip, top sirloin, pork loin, and pork shoulder are easy to cut. They'll need to be wrapped, individually weighed and priced accordingly. Cold storage is required before and after processing. Meat for 200 families can bring a considerable demand for cold storage space. The issue here is loss resulting from unsold cuts. A whole ribeye can produce 12-15 steaks. Sales would need to be real close to the number produced.
The volume of meats for 200 families can be considerable. Just 3 pounds of beef steaks per family per month amounts to 600 pounds per month. Generating $1/pound for the company is possible while saving the consumer that much or more. Several times this volume is entirely likely. As a means of eliminating the $25/month fee required for operations, this single project can go a long way.
Government regulations are pretty intense when it comes to milk. Most states have price controls. What you pay in a supermarket is very close to what you pay in a convenience store. It may not be possible to cut down the price of milk, but it may be possible to offer milk for sale to the group. The profit would go to the company. If the company makes a profit, it would be dispersed to the shareholders...which is the group. In the end, we can save money but have to wait until dividends are paid to realize that savings.
Looking at the volume for 200 families, the numbers become impressive in a hurry. The figures I've seen suggest the company would profit 25-40¢/gallon. 200 gallons per week at 25¢ would bring in $2600/year. As with the meats, cold storage is essential. To handle the volume, a walk in cooler would be required, but could serve several projects including, but not limited to meats, cold cuts, cheese, eggs and milk. The physical handling is a matter of wheeling in a stack of crates. A reach in door would be advantageous. There is no immediate savings for the buyer, but rather than buy from a supermarket, buy from your own company.
Bread is the staff of life. Producing bread takes a little practice, but the results can be well worth the time. Equipment is simple and inexpensive, even with considerable volume. Because this project needs a small investment compared to the sales potential it would be high on the list to begin early. The ingredients are cheap. The biggest expense is the energy required for baking, usually gas or electric. It would not be impossible to use alternative energy.
A decent loaf of bread has an ingredient cost of perhaps 50¢. Better prices can be found in better sources and higher volume. Those ingredients could also be sold to the members as well as the general public. Perhaps milling our own flour is a direction to pursue. Purchased directly from the farmer, whole wheat can be had for 6-10¢ per pound in sufficient quantity. A ton of wheat will make a couple thousand loaves of bread. At an average of 2 loaves per family per week, using 10 tons of wheat in a year may be the demand required.
Looking at the numbers: 200 families, 2 loaves of bread per week, 25¢ per loaf in profit for the group with plenty of leeway for good prices suggests another couple thousand per year for the company. White, wheat, multigrain, all sorts of breads are possible, made fresh every day according to what people want.
This project brings up an important advantage of the organized group.
The skills involved are easy to learn and offer a lifetime of benefits. There are no sharp knives. The risk of a burn exists, but is mitigated with practice. Breadmaking is an ideal project for the young people in the group. With families involved, and each family contributing time, incorporating projects which can be performed by the young people offers skills which can later translate to employment opportunities. It's hard finding a job with no skills. Getting the young people involved and exposed to all the different projects offers life experience, job and leadership skills. Looking at the project through the lens of an after school program where the kids can get involved, the initial investment and monthly fee becomes inconsequential.
How far can the food operation go is anyone's guess. Find the right ingredients at the right price, the only limit is imagination. At the time of this writing it is apple picking season. The autumn supply of apples is at the peak of freshness. With a stove and some equipment, these can be turned into applesauce, apple butter, apple pie, apple jelly, apple schnitz, apple danish, apple crisp, and candy apples. The harvest season of locally grown, all natural and organic produce offers a bounty of ingredients. Soups, stews, sauces, spreads, jams, jellies, pasta, roasts, baked goods, canned goods, pies and cakes, muffins and tarts, and all of it produced on site without chemical preservatives using the help of the people in the group. The project becomes more than a simple business. It becomes a center for learning, sharing, and making friends.
Looking at the number of people involved, the amount of investment capital required, the skills of the people, their needs and wants, and the capacity to serve as the foundation for an innumerable list of projects, bringing people together to start a farm tops the list. Form, function, community, productivity, learning, involvement of everyone in the family, savings, income, value. This brings it all together. Every part of what has been discussed can be a part of this project, plus a wide assortment of other projects that all serve to bring harmony to the business, the general public, and the people involved.
How Much Land
The size of the parcel would need to be determined by what the group wants to do. Orchards demands considerably more space than growing vegetables. Livestock can take very large tracts indeed. Keeping in mind the ability of the group to take on more at a future date, the issue of land size becomes one of what is needed to get a farm off to a good start. A vast amount of production can come from as little as 5 acres. 10 would be better, but let's not so far ahead that we bite off more than we can chew. Eventually we'll want space for crops, livestock, composting, parking, storage sheds, processing structures, and events.
The initial project, be it a tool library, a bakery, or a food store, requires a location. Land is out there with structures and systems in place. The real estate market these last few years has been dismal, with massive job losses and a struggling economy land prices have come down, foreclosures are appalling and many owners are desperate to liquidate properties. The group needs a place to do its thing. That place is out there. Regardless of the initial project, a site will be needed. If that site has a few acres of land, staring a farm is actually quite inexpensive when using organic, permaculture, and natural growing methods.
Funding the operation will depend on the price of the property. Even split 200 ways there are areas where the price of even a few acres is daunting. As the price per share rises, the number of people able to get involved drops rapidly. $500 per share is affordable, particularly around tax refund season. At $1000 per share, the load begins to interfere with the need for people to improve their situation with tuition, vehicles, home improvements, and pursuing their individual dreams. Looking at the arithmetic, $500 per share would total $200k. In the metropolitan areas, acquiring the property at this price may not be affordable. For much of the nation, this amount would be more than enough for several acres and would include a structure and core systems: electric, water, septic.
Land with a home offers tremendous advantage. First off, a well and septic does not need to go in so we don't have to wait for permits and environmental studies. There would be a usable bathroom. We can plug in a coffee machine without the need for a generator, fuel, fuel cans, and extension cords. Think of your own house with a few acres. There is a place to get out of the hot sun. There is a hose-set up a sink and there is a place for handwashing. There will be much to do to get the place set up for our needs, and we have an army to make it happen.
Scavenging, Scrounging, Repurposing
The whole idea here is to make money, save money, and get more value for the dollar we are already spending. Running out to lay down the cash to buy brand new equipment is not necessarily the direction to follow. In attics, basements, garages, sheds and backyards everywhere are tools, furniture, equipment, and items large and small that can be of benefit. Hand tools, pots, an old shovel, an unsightly but functional desk, scrap lumber and concrete blocks, or the leftover remnants from a bedroom renovation can all find new life. Outfitting offices in the house with old shelves is easily possible, as is setting up a functional kitchen and break room. For the farm operation, all sorts of things can be handy. A section of wire fence will support a row of beans. Old windows can be had just by going to get them...there's the greenhouse. Anything that will hold dirt will serve as a plant pot. Got a section of garden hose with a leak? We can fix that for a buck or two.
Put a couple hundred people to work looking for whatever can be had for free that has some use and the volume and variety of stuff can be astounding. If it does not exist on the property already, a storage structure will be one of the first priorities needed just to keep things out of the weather. There will be so much stuff of such diversity that not all of it will be useful. Holding a monster yard sale not only clears away some of the surplus but also offers an immediate source of cash that will help fill other needs.
There will be items that can be borrowed by the group. A tiller is rather pricey to buy, and perhaps too valuable to donate. Borrowing it is another story. Someone with a truck cargo trailer or cargo trailer may be more than happy to do the driving, just cover the gas. Much like the tool sharing plan discussed earlier, there are tools and equipment which are available to use without making a large investment of hundreds or thousands of dollars. The networking aspect can offset a considerable amount of investment. Getting a farm started can be much less expensive than a spreadsheet suggests. We need a plan, some money to get things going, a place to do it, a small amount each month to pay the bills. A great deal of the things we need to do what we want to do will fall into place. We put in the money, we will be able to get it back by working together.
Snack shop and Store
With a farm, there is a constant reason for people to come out to pitch in. At the start there is an endless list of things to do, decisions to make, projects to kickstart. Bring the whole family, make it an event. Lots of people coming and going always brings the need for supplies. This one needs gloves, someone forgot thier hat, everyone needs mosquito repellent, I could surely use a cup of coffee, donuts will disappear as fast as they go on the table.
It is assumed there will be a functioning home on the property. Bedrooms would serve well for company offices and storage of supplies. The living and dining areas would serve the group set up as a store for all those incidental items people need and use every day. We don't need to soak people with the price, but a slight markup will make this project self-supporting. Grab a cup of coffee, toss a quarter in the can to pay for coffee, filters, sugar, creamer, and stir sticks. Soda should pay for the cost of running a fridge. Donuts, muffins and bagels...we should be able to make them in the kitchen, toss a quarter in the can. If we are baking our own bread, this is the place to pick it up. Some folks will stick around for a few hours and could use something more substantial than a donut. It would be possible to create light meals.
Hungry people eat. A bunch of people eat a lot. Rather than make a McDonalds run, let's redirect that spending to ourselves. A #1 Value Meal is going to cost 5 or 6 bucks. We can do better than that, offer better food, and put some extra cash into the company. We need to use that money that is already being spent. As the project gets going, a regular pattern of people would be expected. Evening and weekends would see more people than weekday mornings and afternoons. If some of the group will be around for a few hours, putting together a quick meal is easy. It would help to have a menu plan at the ready, spaghetti and sauce with some sausage and garlic bread males a fine feast. We can stay ahead of the game with some items in the freezer ready to go. Hamburgers on the grill makes for easy cleanup. Add some buns, toppings, condiments and a bag of chips. Knowing 12 people will be around and they'll want a meal in 2 hours offers ample time to run to the store, pick up what is needed, bring it back. Some ingredients may be growing and available right outside the door.
It is a simple matter of planning to offer a meal and get the word out via a website. The options here are dining in and carry out. Inside the house would offer limited seating. It may be possible to erect a tent or more permanent structure to serve many more people. Take out is limited by the capacity of the equipment. If you'd like to enjoy a lasagna dinner with a salad and fresh garlic bread, we can do that. Set up a menu, establish prices, get a customer count a couple days in advance and schedule the help. Dinner will be ready at 6PM. Dining in presents an opportunity for the group to share fellowship and make friends. I see this as a key aspect of promoting cooperation. We don't need to make a fortune. If we broke even the gain will be seen in performance with people working together. The fact is it's cheaper than going to a steak house and better than the Olive Garden. The group makes a buck, the diners save several and the young people putting in a few hours each month gain experience that can get them a job when they go off to college.
Thinking bigger, it may be possible to serve a large group of people. Our members, their families, their friends, and the general public can all be our guests once in a while. With a farm groing fresh vegetables for salads and ingredients, steaks being cut on site, fresh bread from the oven, dressing and whipped butter from the deli, and pie with fruit fresh off the trees out back we have the makings for a Harvest Festival. Of course the general public would pay full price so invite everyone you know, RSVP by Tuesday.
A formal event such as the Harvest Festival serves several purposes, the least of which is promotion of the farm and our products. For the families involved, it would be a special event on the scale of a holiday. Suits and ties for the guys, pretty dresses for the ladies and fresh flowers from the field. Take a carriage ride around the farm or nearby town. This is a chance to bring out everyone's best. A Spring Soiree, Summer Jamboree, Autumn Harvest Festival and Winter Carnival covers the seasons.
Less formal events are possible. These can bring people to the farm during regular days of operation. It will take a committee to handle planning, setting up and getting the word out. A noteworthy event would be an arts and craft fair. With 200 people involved, it's a sure bet that some of them have some talent or skill. Painting, sculpture, woodwork, leatherwork, glass work, blacksmithy are examples of a long list of possibilities. Booths can be set up for the general public. There is opportunity for folks to market their wares and for people to gain exposure to the farm. An occasional flea market may be seen as appropriate. Surely the farm products would make an excellent showing at these events. The little town north of me has an open air market every month with hundreds of people turning out.
So far all these projects can be done without a farm. More than anything else they depend on the space to do it. We've got several acres of land and a whole lot of help.
Mark some plots, set up some stakes. The space can be rented for gardening. All by itself, if enough of these plots could be rented, the income has the potential to remove the need for the $25/month fee. Space that is not rented we put into production ourselves.
Vegetables, berries, melons, pumpkins, potaoes, beans, cukes and peppers. In most growing zones the list will be extensive. The farther south, the longer the growing season. Where I live in northern Florida, there are crops which can be raised thoughout the year. There are tactics which can extend the growing season, starting them early in the spring and maintaining them later into the fall. From a business point of view this is called maximizing productivity. The impact for the group is a wider selection of crops and greater volume of marketable products. The income from the crops comes from the people involved. We are already spending it. Rather than spend it at the big box supermarket, we spend it at our own business. There is much discussion and some grand claims regarding just how much production can be realized on a few acres. I've addressed this in another article. Suffice it to say, a few acres of vegetables has the potential to eliminate the monthly fee very easily, and provide a reasonable rate of return on the initial investment. A few percent is not what I consider a reasonable rate. I believe each shareholder could easily realize $1-2k per year from a few acres with only a few hours of effort each month per person, and much of that effort will be the kids doing the work. A couple of grand is enough to give folks a nice boost. It starts to compete as part time employment. Add in all the other features and benefits, this little project can grow to make a positive difference in people lives.
There is room for livestock. Chickens are easy to take care of. Keeping a small flock takes up little space. They can be fed with scraps people bring in, waste from the crops, and foraging for themselves in compost. While land area may be limited at the start, there may be sufficient egg production to service the needs of the kitchen as an ingredient. Should we have the space, raising hogs would be something to look into. Ham, pork, and our own bacon would be added to the farm repertoire. Getting into large beasts such as beef and dairy cows will require a leap forward into more land. This need not be connected to the farmstead. Cows pretty much take care of themselves. The prospect of grass fed, all natural, chemical-free beef and rBGH free milk available at very low cost is a strong motivator to get the farm into a high state of performance in order that we can expand.
Big land, lots of waiting, and then a huge abundance every year for many years. Getting into this sort of project means a future for the farm and for our children. As the orchard develops there is still much that can be done with the land by stacking functions. Crops can be grown between the trees, livestock can forage, chickens and turkeys can free range.
The farm becomes a center of activity. With much to do and see, the ability to purchase our groceries and supplies from ourselves rather than some big corporation, events and fairs, moving to the next level is a natural flow.
We can hang out with friends, talk, share tools, enjoy a meal, partake in hospitality and network among our peers. Adding features will offer further advantages for individuals and for the group as a whole. A Community Center is the logical evolution. As the original house is outgrown, it is foreseeable that we will need more space. Space for dining, events, and training. Meeting rooms for leaders and committees to make plans. Offices to keep organized and conduct our affairs. A large scale commercial kitchen with walk in coolers and freezers, ovens, sinks, equipment storage racks, and dry storage allows for handling and processing of all that goodness coming out of the fields. A store for our incidentals, bread, baked goods, deli items, value added goods, meats, fresh produce, home made cheeses and more items that have not even been thought up yet. A proper break room for the crew with comfortable chairs, air conditioning, personal lockers, perhaps some showers to clean up after a great day of giving it what you got, with hot water heated by the sun so we don't have to pay for it.
There can be class rooms built. A kitchen class is a given. As the population of the group changes, it would help to train staff. Folks with special knowledge, great ideas, and the willingness to do so can use the space to teach other things they know. A canning class comes to mind as being particularly valuable. The students learn a skill they can take home with them. While they are at it, there is a field of beans ready to pick and take home with them as well, for just $2 per pound. The artisans and crafters in the group may enjoy teaching their skills. For the general public, these rooms can be rented.
In this day and age technology places vast information resources at your fingertips. Print is not dead yet. Books and periodicals still have their place. Building a library with donated books is not just practical, it offers a world of knowledge and entertainment. Setting up a book swap costs nothing. A computer center as part of the library is viable. Wifi would probably be desired by a majority of the gorup. Used computers are becoming cheap, often to the point of free if you come get it.
Outside would see development of workshops. Surely an auto shop would be useful. We spend our hard earned money on oil changes a few times a year. If 200 people are spending $30 every 3 months for an oil change, as a group there is $6000 every 3 months which may be recaptured. There would be the cost of oil and filters. If we did not do the job ourselves, we'd have payroll to consider. Rather than put our hard earned money into the pockets of the shareholders at Jiffylube, we would gain that revenue to expand our own projects. We've already got the location. We've got the tools. We've got someone on staff. All that is left is ordering oil filters and scheduling the work. It takes about a half hour to change the oil in a car. In an 8 hour day, 16 cars can be scheduled. Call it 15 cars and give the guy a lunch break. For 200 cars, about 14 days moves everyone through. Spread this out over 3 months, it is a part time job for someone. The required skills are not heavily involved. Finding someone who can do the work and is willing to pick up a part time income is as simple as looking to the members of the group. Who are we going to hire? Ourselves, our kids, our families, people we know and trust. Purpose #1, we want to make some money, is fulfilled. In the meantime, we create opportunity for ourselves.
If it be the case that a project such as oil changes is not in the interest of the group, it may be in the interest of the group to rent out garage space every week to one or more of the members willing to take on the project independently. A reason we may not wish to take on such a project is waste disposal. Used oil filters and motor oil are an environmental concern. Both can be reused. Filters are recycled, motor oil can be used in many ways, even if its only to heat the workshop. If we take on the project, that free fuel saves us money. Purpose #2, we want to save money, is fulfilled. Collect the filters until we have sufficient volume, sell the filters to the recycle center, make some money.
Don't forget about all those tools. They can be had for cheap and offer the ability to repair our things and maintain the homebase. Surely we can find scrap lumber to build trellises, benches, planters, and shelves for the library. Add someone with skill, this can be yet another teaching and learning center. Add some room for people to engage in their own projects.
The arts and craft fair could be developed into a lasting project. Setting up some small cottages offers a place to market a fantastically diverse array of goods. a bookstore, a snack shop, an art shop, a sculpture shop. Here's a consignment shop, there a 2nd hand shop. That guy over here has leather hats and saddles. Next month it's a young lady with skirts and accessories. Christmas time has Santa in his North Pole cottage.
The success of the group can be far more than we think possible at the start. Marketing our wares is only a sample of what can be done. It may be there are people in the group who want to replace their job or find work. We've got the equipment, the tools, the people. Someone creative may find a way to use the equipment to get started in their own business. Right off I'm saying yard cleaning/raking/mowing looks to be easy to put together. Skills are simple, equipment is readily available, and as an added benefit, the leaves and lawn clippings can be brought back to the farm to be used making compost, saving the entrepreneur dump fees. Extra help is a phone call away. Customer sales calls begin with the 200 owners. We would not be forced into supporting such an endeavor. While we can surely help the business get started, dedicated equipment would need to be purchased. If this aspiring business owner wants to branch out to, say, tree cutting, we probably have equipment to help out. A mower dies suddenly, we probably have one available. Now we act as a safety net to get small business through unexpected troubles.
Carpentry, cleaning, home improvement, landscaping are all potential avenues which can be explored by individuals. There would be a ready pool of labor available to enter the scene in the event larger jobs are contracted. This could be a paying gig or done with a Time Share project. Lots of these small businesses will produce or come across surplus materials which can be put to use on the farm or down at the orchard.
Recycling has its place. In this state, there is no deposit on aluminum cans. They are discarded. If everyone saved their cans rather than toss them, we gain a resource. We've already paid for the cans. The numbers suggest than if 200 families saved a 12 pack of cans each week, around 125000 cans can be accumulated over the course of a year. At 33 cans per pound, and 70¢/pound at the recycle center, $2500/year is possible. This is enough to pay the property tax. I think a better use for this would be to fund a scholarship. This is a project for the kids t0o young to work a job but old enough to pitch in.
Each door we open leads to more doors.
Getting a community enterprise started is a challenge. Recruitment at the onset is difficult when not many people have the money to spare to invest in some foolish notion. We need to look at each project, what it costs to implement, what is the gain. A better term for what we are trying to do is bootstrapping. Projects with a small investment and high return are implemented first. Projects with a high startup cost and marginal returns are last in line. Regardless of what projects are undertaken, its a sure bet that the group needs a home base to get started: land, structure, systems, and some tools to work with.
How far this can go is up to the imagination.
The Greenhorn's Guidebook: Cooperative Farming: Frameworks for Farming Together
What is a Cooperative? From UC Small Farm Program
The Edward M Rozzell House would be well suited for this project.