Not terribly bad

I mentioned last year that I was going to be tracking the garden’s harvests closely. We spend more on the garden than on any other one thing around the house except maybe the pool… it’s a constant black hole that sucks in seeds, fertilizer, manure, chicken feed, etc. So in an attempt to salvage my spiraling ego, I’ve been spreadsheeting like mad. I want to see whether the garden will sink us into pauperdom, or eventually pay its own way.

I want to be clear: we are not in debt. This is all money we earned and spent free and clear; I’ve kept track of expenditures only to see if some day we might earn it all back with the fruits of my labors.

The concept is that I weigh the veggies, count eggs, etc. religiously, and reference the Maine Organic Farmer’s Price reports in order to know what my produce would go for at a farmer’s market.

It’s not entirely accurate, of course. For one thing, I don’t do it seasonally. Tomatoes cost more in April than they do in August, but I pick just one average price and stick with it. For another, my veggies are not certified organic, which means if I did sell them at a farmer’s market I couldn’t sell them at these prices. Finally – many of these veggies are immediately turned into value-added products: ketchup, jam, pickles, etc. If I tracked them as jars of pickles instead of pounds of raw cucumbers, I could get out of “debt” way more quickly. But somehow that seems… dishonest? Or at least beside the point.

So far it looks like we are on track to someday… maybe? get out of hock to ourselves.

This spreadsheet is pages long and wide so obviously I captured only the pertinent bits here.

The good news: Our garden has produced over $1000 worth of veggies and fruits for us, and the year is only half over. If you count all the firewood that we split (that we now don’t have to buy), that number jumps to $2075.

The bad news: We’re still $2478 in the red. Now, of the total $4,554 we’ve spent on the garden/chickens/bees in the last two years, $2628 was “debt” carried over from 2010 (mostly clearing the land). So if I were counting the debt year by year instead of cumulatively, we’d be (just barely) in the black right now.*

But when I have my “breaking even” party, I want it to be for real. So I’m carrying over all the debt for every year and I’m keeping track of every scrap until we get this earth to pay for itself.

*Though if you ignore the firewood (which is a one-time land-clearing deal), we’ve spent $1926 this year to produce $1000 worth of veggies. NOT a good trend! Unless you consider that $400 of that is deer fencing, a one-time expense, as were the two $150 beehives … then the ratio of $1000 earned/$1200 spent looks more surmountable. I’m sure by the end of the year we will have produced way more than that, especially with the tomatoes about to come in.

8 Responses to “Not terribly bad”

  1. Diane Says:

    $4500. Wow. I don’t think we’ve spent that much on our gardens our entire lives — and we’ve gardened a long time. LOL I keep meaning to track our produce and its worth every year but I’ve just not yet been able to force myself to do that. Maybe next year, after things are more settled, garden-wise. In the meantime, I have to be content watching other folks’ tracking. 😉

  2. diana Says:

    I know Diane, it’s pretty shocking! I keep looking back to see if there was a mistake. It includes $2000 for the land clearing and $400 for deer fence posts, $300 for 2 beehives, at least $200 for chicken fencing, and $350 for our perennials – orchards & raspberry patch. I think the main issue is that we have to pay $150 each time we need compost delivered – and that’s only for 3 cubic yards. One of the reasons I’m expanding the garden only a little bit at a time, because the soil is so poor it really does have to have 6″ of topsoil/compost mix dumped on top of it (I can only do about 3-5 beds at a time with that). As for the rest, it’s just dribs and drabs. A single bag of organic chicken feed costs $26, so buying two plus a big bag of organic fertilizer sets me back $100!

  3. Lauren Says:

    your spreadsheet is AWESOME, and once you’ve filled it in for a year, given your writing abilities, the results would make for MULTIPLE freelance articles! i can see many common and environmental outlets…TIME, local living magazines, Mother Earth News, even the Washington Post all being interested! It’s the data many are curious about but unwilling to invest the time to produce. Can that money be counted in your accounting? :) (privately, after publication of articles, of course…) go you!

  4. diana Says:

    Oh my, I hadn’t thought about that. Josh keeps telling me I’m going to write a book… somehow that seems more doable than marketing multiple articles to important media! Yikes! Maybe I’ll just ask Courtenay to come do a documentary. :)

  5. Anonymous Says:

    Diana –
    Maybe I’m looking at this all wrong, but shouldn’t you be considering what it would cost you to buy the food products if you didn’t have the farm? I don’t think it’s at all improper to count it as jars of pickles instead of raw cucumbers. Yes, you make pickles out of raw cucumbers, but when you go to the store to buy pickles, they don’t sell them to you at the price of raw cucumbers, they sell them to you at the price of canned pickles, so why track them in your spreadsheet as raw cucumbers? Track them by what the savings really are to see if your garden/farm is paying for itself. It seems to me that you need to track it by what it would cost you if you didn’t have the garden/farm if you want an accurate picture. I sincerely believe that tracking the products by your use of them is the more accurate way to see if the farm is paying for itself. Am I way out in left field here?

    Do a test for one year so you can see a full 4-season impact of the garden’s value by tracking what you eat that you have prepared fresh/canned/frozen from your garden/farm. On a weekly basis, list everything you prepare that came from Summersweet, then the next time you go to the grocery store, jot down the price of everything you would have had to buy in order to serve the same meals you had the previous week. Those prices will fluctuate considerably as the year wears on. At the end of the year, tally up what it WOULD have cost you to feed your family if you didn’t have the farm. I think you’ll see that the farm is paying for itself a whole lot faster than you are giving it credit for…. especially if you wind up making a lot of your own baby food as time goes on.

  6. diana Says:

    You know, that’s a really really good point. I’ve gone back and forth on this issue over time… on the one hand I want to track what the farm really produces and when, and it is convenient to price it out at the same time. Obviously I I couldn’t count both 2 pounds raw cucumbers AND six jars of pickles later. Maybe I need a second, similar spreadsheet that includes prices of canned goods… or like you say, track what I eat and what that would have cost. Which would serve the additional purpose of highlighting when I’m having to buy veg from the store (ie when the garden is deficient and I need to change my planting schedule).

  7. Heidi Says:

    Marvin brought up the same point as “Anonymous”. So why don’t you (maybe over Winter when you can’t go outside and need a project to keep from getting cabin fever, make yourself crazy doing that second spreadsheet). Then at least you will have an idea of the comparison costs of your raw vs processed food grown and eaten.

  8. diana Says:

    Well I figured out that I could make an adjunct spreadsheet where I could list all my canned foods that I’ve prepared this year, minus the “cost” of the raw ingredients. I should be left with a total that can be added into my raw produce spreadsheet to boost my total. That way I can still see what’s producing when, and how much, and whether the raw ingredients ever do pay for the farm by themselves…. but I can also see the value of the higher-input foods and how much money we’ve really saved.

    It does seem silly, for instance, to count the pounds of chicken I’ve raised, minus the cost of all their feed and the chicken tractor, but then not count all the numerous quarts of stock that I make from their bones.

    Now I just need to make a trip to whole foods to fill out the “price” part of my spreadsheet. 😉

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