From Farm Development to Biodynamic Compost, Farmer D Finds Success in Sustaining Agriculture
October 28, 2011 | Melinda Clark
‘Farmer D’ is a man, a brand, a consulting business, a retailer and a successful entrepreneurial venture – to name just a few attributes. Farmer D Organics is dedicated to making sustainable farming just that – environmentally, socially and economically sustainable.
Farmer D, the man, is actually named Daron Joffe, and he seems to have done it all when it comes to agriculture, from running organic farms across the country to implementing a ‘farm to table’ experience at Richard Branson’s exclusive spa in New Jersey. Farmer D Organics, the business, based in Atlanta, Ga., is similarly diverse. At the Slow Money National Gathering held two weeks ago in San Francisco, Joffe outlined the five pillars of Farmer D: consulting services; wholesale products; retail and web; specialty gardens and; media and licensing for the Farmer D brand.
The business makes its money from the retail, wholesale and consulting services. It sells a variety of farming aids, online and in its retail store in Atlanta. Farmer D is known for its signature products: a biodynamic compost – made from the organic spoils from Whole Foods Market, and then sold back to the retailer – and cedar raised beds and planters.
In his talk, Joffe stated that the company expects to gross approximately $1 million for 2011 – $750,000 from retail, $150,000 from consulting services and $100,000 from wholesale. The company’s financial success is kind of a big deal in the agriculture sector where it can be a struggle just to break even. Joffe aims to demonstrate that farming and earning a substantial living don’t have to – and shouldn’t be – mutually exclusive. Joffe explains,
All of us who want to be successful in our farming careers are always looking to find better, more efficient ways to grow good food and be able to make it work economically…It’s a really hard way to make a living; it’s not for everybody. You’ve got to love the work. For people who want to get into farming, there are major obstacles to entry. … I’ve been frustrated that I can’t make a good living on a small farm and I’ve been driven to find ways for farmers to be fairly compensated for their work. For communities to truly invest in agriculture in a way that supports jobs.
People have this stigma, it’s like you’re not allowed to make money. It’s very much the artist mentality. I think we have to break that paradigm and value food and farmers in a different way than we have. If you look at chefs, they’re very celebrated and are able to do very well for themselves, and are raised up as these artists and craftsmen. I think farmers need to be celebrated in the same way that chefs have been, and compensated in the same way also…I think we take for granted the cornucopia of cheap food and we forget that there’s a person behind it.
Sustaining Sustainable Ag
Farmer D works to make farming more financially viable by creating stable farming jobs and building agriculture into the framework of communities. The company achieves this through its consulting services. Joffe works with different groups – schools, churches, juvenile detention centers – to create gardens that will provide fresh, organic food for their patrons. It’s community supported agriculture in the truest sense of the phrase.
“When there’s a farm that’s built in a community, it’s going to the heart of what a CSA tries to do… It’s a symbiotic relationship between the community and the farm,” says Joffe. “When a farm is in a community, it’s easier to engage the members in the farm and its activities. They don’t have to leave their home…what happens then is the farm being so close to the end user creates all kinds of opportunities, whether it’s a CSA pickup or an event – it’s much easier to get the community to come to the farm. There’s a shared sense of pride and ownership that’s important to making sure these farms are sustainable over the long term.”
Plus, the value of the farm extends beyond that of the produce it provides – it offers people a place to socialize, meet their neighbors and develop a sense of community, while also learning about where their food comes from. Joffe says that this integration of farming into people’s lives is ultimately what will help sustain sustainable agriculture.
It’s essentially a win-win-win situation. Farmers get to do what they love and make an equitable living; consumers get fresh food and a sense of community; and developers have a unique draw to their land, one that will eventually pay for itself. Joffe says that while it sometimes takes some convincing, a lot of developers eventually see the intrinsic value.
“It’s not cheap to build a farm – it’s a commitment,” says Joffe. “What I try to do is express to them, look if you’re going to put in a pool or a tennis court or a golf course, it’s an amenity that’s going to cost you a little bit of money. In this case, it’s a better investment – you’re feeding people, it will generate money…What is more valuable than having organic food grown in your neighborhood? You’re talking about feeding people and educating kids and giving families time to spend in an environment that’s wholesome.”
Keeping Farmers Farming
Along with encouraging consumers to appreciate the work that goes into farming, these projects benefit farmers in a more tangible way: stable jobs. When Joffe works with developers on these projects, he interviews and hires a team, usually a farm manager and a few laborers, to run the farm – creating about five jobs per project. Jobs that don’t depend on weather conditions and crop yields.
Joffe explains that to him, if a developer is taking farm and forest land and turning it into homes, it makes sense that the developer should be required to put some of the revenue from the sale of the homes and homeowners’ fees back into the land. So that’s how the projects run.
“The land is donated to the farm by the developer. The revenues of sales from property and homeowners’ fees support the farm that feeds them… and that balances taking away farmland for development.”
Leading by Example
Joffe hopes that others will be inspired by Farmer D’s success and want to follow his model.
“I’d love to see us be able to help create a really successful model that can be scalable and replicable so that we have a viable business model. So that somebody who wants to get into this can come to us and say, ‘Give me the formula, give me the model so I can set up a Farmer D in my community.’ We’ll say, ‘Go grow more gardens and make more farms. Ultimately, the goal is to see more farms and more gardens pop up and be sustainable.”