Those of you who have followed Babe + Sage since the early years have probably come to expect the announcement of some major changes every January. Each winter, the veggies and markets slow down, and Chelsea and I have some time to sit by the fire and take stock of the past year.
We've learned a lot and changed a lot since we started the farm 5 years ago in 2011. We began with only 20 Farm Share members, a leaky roof, and a small 5' x 12' greenhouse attached to our house. We've now got 60 members, a super comfy house, a 100 foot greenhouse and 2 hoophouses! Over the past four years we have been through countless building projects large and small, started a farmers market, hosted hundreds of folks for farm dinners, cleared acres of brush and field, sold tons (literally) of veggies every year, sold thousands of loaves of bread, gotten married, hosted two other weddings, had a baby, hosted dozens of volunteers, and employed 15 people. We were 23 and 24 years old when we moved to the farm, just a couple of young kids with a dream. Now, we are approaching 30 with a toddler and feel relatively established in our lives and community. We now dream about raising our family on this beautiful farm and in this amazing community of friends and farmers and good food lovers that has grown up around our lives.
Which brings us to the new year. As our lives change, the farm must change, too. The realities of having a child have really taught us that we need to find a way for the farm to work for us rather than the other way around. For us, that means leaning up our systems on the farm, targeting crops and enterprises that can provide us with a living wage, and focusing on what we consider essential to who we are as people and farmers. We started farming for mostly idealistic reasons: to be our own boss, to connect with nature and place, to have good food to eat, to provide our community with a product we can truly believe in, because we loved the work. In short, because we wanted to create a business that was environmentally and socially sustainable. But to keep farming for the long haul, we have slowly learned we must focus on financial sustainability as well. Because growing great food, preserving the land, and creating community don't mean much if we're out of business or burnt out. In order to achieve these goals, we will be making some big changes in 2016.
THINGS THAT ARE GOING:
First, we will no longer be baking bread every week after March 2016. This will probably come as more of a shock to our farmers market customers who've never been a part of the Farm Share, since half our market table is normally filled with bread. After several years of tweaking our system, the economics simply don't work out unless we bake (and sell) twice as much bread each time we fire the oven as we currently sell (bread sales account for ~15-20% of our income but 30-40% of our labor costs each year). Additionally, our outdoor brick oven needs some major repairs that we simply cannot justify investing in at the moment. We still plan to use the oven for pizza dinners and bake bread for special occasions, but it will not be an everyday part of Babe + Sage in 2016.
Second, we will sadly no longer be regularly attending the Mulberry Market in Macon after March 2016. We will continue attending the Green Market in Milledgeville every 1st and 3rd Saturdays, and Chelsea will continue managing that market. We really love our market regulars, our fellow vendors, the market staff, and the park. We have gotten to know many of our regular customers so well over the past four years, and this was a really tough decision for us to make. We love the personal interaction with customers, the immediate gratification of hearing what customers like and don't like, and talking shop with our farmer friends every week. As we try to make the farm fit our current needs, though, we are not able to make the Mulberry Market fit for us at this time. As the business has grown, we need to spend more valuable daylight hours mid-week on the farm managing the farm. We hope our loyal market customers will consider joining us in other ways this year and understand why we have made this decision. We also hope our fellow farmers, market managers, volunteers, and other market supporters will understand why we have made this decision and continue their vital work in building a truly great local farmers market in Macon.
THINGS THAT ARE COMING:
We will be hosting one large Farm Dinner this year, so go ahead and put it on your calendar! Our Farm Feast will take place June 11th and tickets are $35 per person, limit 100 guests. The feast will take place in the pecan orchard, weather permitting, and feature a four course seasonal menu from the farm. The entree will be seasonal wood-fired brick oven pizzas, and there may just be some bread available for sale that day, too. Click here to learn more and buy your tickets now! We will still be hosting some parties, potlucks, and other small get-togethers for Farm Share members and friends, but this will be our only Farm Dinner for the year.
We will be focusing most of our time, energy, and resources on what drew us into farming to begin with: Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA). We call ours a Farm Share. Our first taste of local agriculture came from our CSA subscription in college and our first farming jobs were at a CSA farm. Our first year at Babe + Sage was funded in large part by our Farm Share members, many of whom paid for a full year before we even purchased a single seed. Many of our Farm Share members have been members for two, three, or four years and become friends. We are farming because of those folks, the ones who believe in what we're doing and have made a commitment to us. So this year, we're making a commitment to them by making the Farm Share our focus. Here's how.
We will be working hard to increase our membership to 85-100 members. This is a number that feels sustainable for us while still allowing us to give our members personal attention. As many of you know, we now use an online market that allows members to customize their share each week. We were beta-testing this software for some friends, and now most of the kinks have been worked out. We feel like the customization and ease of use with this system open the Farm Share up to many people who may have been reluctant in the past. To learn more and sign up, click here.
We will also be offering home deliveries in the Carrington Woods neighborhood in Milledgeville. For a $3.00 fee per delivery, members who live within our delivery zone can have their share delivered directly to their door. If everything goes well with this limited area this year, we plan to expand home delivery into more neighborhoods in Macon and Milledgeville next year. We will also be adding two new pick-up locations in Milledgeville, as we are always on the verge of outgrowing the space Blackbird Coffee has so graciously offered as a pick-up location for three years now. In addition to Blackbird, members can now pick up their share on the Georgia College campus at the ENGAGE House (N. Clarke St) and north of town at Pure Chiropractic (Log Cabin Rd).
We will also be focusing on making the Farm Share a better overall experience. Each week, we will include a full-color customized recipe card for that week's share. We will also continue to include cooking tips, meal planning tips, and simpler recipes in our weekly emails. We will be extending the season and quantity on some popular crops, such as salad mix, carrots, broccoli, and cherry tomatoes. We will also be focusing on "snack veggies" that can be eaten raw or thrown in a lunchbox. We will also be adding some new optional meal kits (like the Roast Pack and Stir-Fry Pack)this season.
We hope you will join our Farm Share in this new season!
We are very excited to see what 2016 has in store for Babe + Sage!
We will miss having fresh baked bread every week just as much as you, and we will miss seeing our Mulberry Market customers and fellow vendors tremendously. But, we are excited to see what doors will open up with these changes. We are excited to see the farm grow up with us and provide a living for our family for the long haul. We are also excited to see what we can really accomplish and grow by focusing all our effort on our core business. We hope you'll join us for the journey. Do you still want to support Babe + Sage? Then join the Farm Share! We really think you'll like it. If you think your kids are too picky, don't worry - you can customize your share each week. No reason to miss out just because of a picky eater! Aren't sure that you can eat all the veggies each week? Find a friend to split with! Many members who split a share end up getting their own share once they start eating more tasty veggies every week.
All the info for this year's Farm Share is up on the website, but let us know if you have any questions!
You can also go ahead and purchase tickets for the Farm Feast! Mark your calendars for June 11th, you do not want to miss out on this event!
One more final word: a big thank you to all our longtime Farm Share members. You are the reason we are farming, and you are the reason we feel confident enough to make these big changes. Thank you for believing in us season after season!
People often ask what we do in winter. While some farmers (mostly those up north) can make 12 months of income in the 6 warm months, pack it in in November, and sit by the woodstove with seed catalogs all winter, we don't have that luxury in our climate and market here in middle Georgia. We still go to the farmers market (although much slower paced than mid-June) through the winter, and we have a small Winter Farm Share (only 20 members instead of our usual 60-80). On top of that admittedly slower harvest schedule, we also have a lot of work to do in the greenhouse and fields to prepare for spring. Those carrots in your first April Farm Share? They got seeded on New Years Day. Those extra early tomatoes from the hoophouse? The seedlings got started a week later.
In addition to a slowed-down harvest schedule and a sped-up planting schedule, we also try to have our year planned out by mid-January. We already know what seedlings we will start in the greenhouse next November, which fields need to be tilled when, and (hopefully) what our cashflow will look like for the year and how much we expect to spend on gasoline each month. Farmers with more down time in the winter have more time to do all this planning. Between the rush of the holidays and the start of our Winter Farm Share, we usually find one busy, sometimes stressful week or two to get it all done around New Years.
But probably the most important work of winter happens in between all that. Here's a photo of Tripp from a Saturday afternoon in January (keep reading below).
Chelsea took the photo of him looking mischievously back at us in the greenhouse as he chased our cat, Olive, toward the house. It's moments like these that winter on the farm is really about for me. It's having some time to move at a slightly slower pace. It's having some time without employees living here and without the crunch of our normal delivery schedule. It's having some time to work alongside my wife at a leisurely pace, while our 1 and a half year old with enough energy to fill these 400 acres runs around chasing the cat or throwing potting soil or munching on a carrot from the hoophouse. It's coming in to a bowl of soup that's been simmering on the stove for a few hours or taking an extra long walk and being able to see clear through the woods without any leaves. Winter is the time for us to remember why we are farming, why we chose this life, and why we chose this place.
Bobby + Chelsea
We grow tasty veggies, bake bread, host farm events, manage a farmers market, raise an energetic little munchkin, cook, restore this farm property, read books, and try to bring more good food and good things to middle Georgia!