Mark & Christa – Jericho Settlers Farm: EP3 | Show Notes
Christa Alexander: I am Christa Alexander with Jericho Settlers Farm, and we’re located in Jericho, Vermont.
Mark Fasching: Mark Fasching. 10 years ago, I would say Vermont’s year-round certified organic CSA farm. Today, I would say a profitable organic vegetable farm in the state of Vermont.
Andy Chamberlin: I’m your host, Andy Chamberlain, and I take you behind the scenes with growers who share their strategy for achieving the triple bottom line of sustainability. These interviews unravel how they’re building their business to balance success across people, profits, and our planet. Today’s episode comes to you from Jericho, Vermont, where we visit with Mark and Christa of Jericho Settler’s Farm. Today’s conversation is laid back from a visit on their back porch, chatting on a warm August evening here in Vermont. We learn how they grow their farm from selling at their local farmer’s market to producing good food year round, wholesaling storage crops into Vermont’s food system. They share the reasons why they stopped raising livestock and double down on veg, as well as reflect on what advice they’d give themselves starting out and how that answer would be different for new farmers in today’s age of agriculture. Mark and Christa both share the struggle of managing a business and how they’ve structured that to work together with raising a family. So sit back and relax because this is The Farmer’s Share. You put emphasis on profitable. Was that what’s different from the beginning?
Mark Fasching: Well, so maybe I think that’s what our banner said on our farmer’s market sign. Still was a mouthful, but now I go back to a profitable organic vegetable farm in the state of Vermont.
Andy Chamberlin: Have you dropped the year round part of that at all?
Mark Fasching: No, we’re still year round. Yep.
Andy Chamberlin: So your motto changed or your-
Mark Fasching: Well, that’s my take.
Andy Chamberlin: Your take.
Mark Fasching: I don’t know what Christa’s take would be, but that’s mine.
Christa Alexander: Well, yeah, no, I agree. Organic year round vegetables, I mean, that’s what we do. And we used to be a lot more diversified, so we used to market ourselves that way because we used to do a bunch of livestock as well, but now we’re streamlined just down to veggies.
Andy Chamberlin: I want to jump into one of my ending questions. What’s the 10-year outlook of the farm look like to you?
Christa Alexander: Well, that’s a million dollar question. So I think we’ve grown to a point that’s working really well for us. So we see ourselves continuing in pretty much the same scale and business model that we’re in now and sort of production level that we’re in now, and looking towards a way within, not in 10 years, but probably at 10 years to start scaling back and transition away from farming, or at least make it more of a part of our lives versus the majority of our lives. And we have some ideas on how to do that, but we haven’t really got through the details yet. But yeah, I think that’s the next step for us is to start planning that transition away from farming sometime the next 10 to 15 years.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah.
Mark Fasching: Yeah, so Christa’s a lot younger than I am, so in 10 years, she’ll still be farming, but in 10 years I will be retired.
Christa Alexander: Oh, he’s taking early retirement then.
Andy Chamberlin: That’s the beauty of marrying a young, lovely bride.
Christa Alexander: Sure. Yeah. We do about 25 to 30 acres of field production every year, and we have about almost two acres undercover in hoop houses and greenhouses. And our main crops are root crops like carrots, beets, potatoes, both summer and winter seasons, and then salad greens, which we pretty much do year round and the summer warm season crops that come out of the hoop houses like tomatoes, cucumbers. We also do zucchini, peppers, some other warm loving crops in hoop houses during the summer. So we’ve really streamlined down to those three categories, roots, greens, and… What do you call them? Like the summer fruits, the hot loving crops. And we do a little bit more diversity beyond that just to keep our CSA and farm stand offerings diverse, but we don’t do those other things outside of those three areas, we don’t do other crops in really large volumes. And we’ve moved away from all the livestock production that we used to do.
We used to raise beef, pork, lamb, chicken and eggs. And in the time that we were fading away from that, other farms near us were really growing and expanding in those areas and fine tuning their systems and so we decided to transition away from those more for our quality of life and farm management perspective. We enjoyed doing that work, but we really had to make some changes in terms of how we managed the farm so that our lives were more manageable.
And because these other opportunities were nearby with other farms doing great jobs with that type of production, we decided to utilize them in supplying those products for our CSA and farm stand. And we no longer produce our wholesale any meats or eggs, but we do partner with other farms to bring in products like that for our customers because people do like the variety of offerings that we can give them, even if it’s not all produced right on our farm. And yeah, the hoop house production is something we focused on pretty early on, getting into year round production. We’ve been at that over 15 years and every year learning more and fine tuning those systems more so they’re really productive, and that’s a big part of our market scope and our market success.
Mark Fasching: Yeah, I mean, in the beginning we did everything, throw spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks, and we ended up with just spaghetti. We left the meatball behind and just doing the vegetables at this point, which is great. I mean, we had a lot of balls up in the air doing many farmer’s markets, the CSA farm stand at the farm wholesale and dropped the farmer’s market, which was a great transition out of that, just mainly so we could spend more time with the kids and as a family. And we took quite a bit of a hit on income there, but we made it up pretty quickly, very ramping up the wholesale end of things. And then that really just kind of took off and really didn’t miss that income coming in from the farmer’s market. Certainly didn’t miss all the schlepping of heavy root crops during the winter farmer’s market.
Bringing it all in, bringing a lot of it back that didn’t sell. I certainly don’t miss those days, but when you’re young and starting out, that’s a great way to market your farm. And so that was a necessary process of getting to where we are today. And I think mainly we just kind of keep pairing away at the things that either we don’t like to grow or not profitable growing and just hanging onto those, the low hanging fruit that we’re good at doing either.
So we mechanized a lot. We mechanized for our root crops, we mechanized for our salad greens. Obviously, the hoop house crops are not necessarily mechanized, but we can get a good price for those crops in those tunnels. And they’re filled up year round, obviously in the summer months with the hot house crops. And then we flip them over to salad greens and through the wintertime and we’re cutting out of there all winter long. And so there’s always something in those houses, and we’ve kind of really just fallen back on those field crops like Christa was saying, the salad greens, which are mechanized for harvest, the root crops, which are mechanized for harvest. And that’s kind of the key for us is getting efficient and mechanized in certain processes, so that increases your profitability.
Andy Chamberlin: How long have you guys been farming?
Christa Alexander: 20 something years.
Mark Fasching: With Jericho Settlers Farm. Going way back, I mean, I grew up on a small 10 acre family, sustainable… Not sustainable, I hate that word. A self-sufficient farm. So we basically grew our own vegetables. I grew up milking a cow. We had a family cow on the farm, a Guernsey-Jersey cross named Cookie. And my dad taught me how to milk that cow when I was about 10 years old. And he sat down and showed me how to do it, and of course, the milk pan that’s between his legs is just frothing with milk. And I sat down on the stool and he says, “Now it’s your turn.” And I’m squeezing, squeezing and squeezing and nothing’s coming out. So it took me a while to get good at that. But we used to put up hay with pitchforks. We had a big garden, we had some steers, we had pigs, we had chickens.
That was my introduction to farming, and to be honest with you, I hated it. I didn’t want to do it. The day after I graduated from high school, I headed out of there and didn’t want to those things. And did for many years, got into biology, fish and wildlife biology, and that’s how Christa and I met out west because that’s where I’m from. I grew up in Washington State, and then we came back here where Christa grew up, in Jericho. She’s a Jericho native and came back here in December of ’98 and settled down and started growing a little garden here and some chickens and some pigs and some sheeps. So it kind of replayed itself here in Vermont. And then we just kind of took it from there and did the local Jericho farmer’s market, and then started up a little CSA in the wintertime.
Our first CSA was a winter CSA, I think. I don’t know how many families we had, we had like 10 families join that first year, very small. And then we followed it with a summer CSA and then we left our full-time jobs. We had full-time jobs in Vermont doing other things with benefits and all that stuff. And we decided to jump in. I think Christa just got in 2006, a year after ASA was born, and I joined a year later, and obviously we’re nowhere near the size we are now. When we started that in ’06, ’07, we were just a little rinky-dink… I don’t know, half acre, acre garden at your folks’ place.
Christa Alexander: We had a road teller and lots of hand tools. No employees.
Mark Fasching: Yep. Well us.
Christa Alexander: Yeah. We employed ourselves.
Mark Fasching: Oh, we didn’t get paid anything back then. I still haven’t seen a check from those days.
Andy Chamberlin: That brings up an interesting point. So you’ve been doing this farm for over 20 years, have scaled it dramatically, and a lot of beginning farmers listen to this show. So what was the turning point when you decided, “Okay, I can go full-time or we can go full-time?” Was there a number you had to hit or… how many CSA members did you have at that time or?
Christa Alexander: Gosh.
Mark Fasching: Don’t do what we did. Well, we still had our jobs when we started doing the farming end of things. We did it part-time. I mean, the farming’s…
Christa Alexander: Yeah. But when we-
Mark Fasching: Jericho Settlers Farm was a part-time while we still held full-time jobs.
Andy Chamberlin: For sure.
Mark Fasching: And then we did that for a couple of years maybe, and then we jumped in full-time.
Christa Alexander: Yeah, so from 2002 to 2007, at least one of us was working off the farm. But then from 2000 and somewhere in 2007, you left your other job, and from there on, the farm was supporting us. So how did we decide or what… I think well, so at that same time, we had taken a business planning class. We had written a business plan, and we had gotten some mentoring through the farm viability program from another farmer in business planning and sort of farm growth development like figuring out next steps. And we had a plan in terms of our CSA and other markets of what we needed to do to be able to leave our other jobs. And we were fortunate in the timing. Well, a couple of things that helped us is that this was the beginning, or not the very beginning, but the first decade of the local food movement and the market was expanding rapidly.
And so there was no problem finding a place to sell what we could grow. And we live in Chiton County right near Burlington, so we’re near a major population hub for Vermont of course. And so there were a lot of interested consumers who were getting more interested every year. And so that helped us enormously. And there weren’t as many farms of our sort of type and size as there are now. Not to say there were any. There were definitely some very large vegetable growers and a lot of other small and medium farms starting up, but not as many as there are now. So there was a lot of room in the marketplace. And then we had access to land. We had access to land that my parents owned and were willing to let us use and so we didn’t have a mortgage to pay off from the get-go in order to use that land.
And so that helped us get started immensely. And then we also had my parents there, so we’re raising small children, starting a business, and my parents were there to help us on the childcare end of things. And so our kids could be with us, and yet we didn’t have to have them tied to our hip 24/7. They helped us out immensely. And we didn’t have to pay for childcare. Not to say, I mean, we paid for food, I guess, but certainly not the real value of if we had paid to have our kids in childcare somewhere.
Andy Chamberlin: Other familial support.
Christa Alexander: Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. So we had some help in that community and family support. And having grown up here and my folks having lived here since the sixties, we had sort of a lot of social capital in a way. We know a lot of people in town, and we had known people here for decades. And so when we started really marketing and trying to move our product, the first thing we did beyond once we were ready to expand our CSA is we sent a letter. This was back before people didn’t send mail. We sent out a flyer to 80 of our friends and acquaintances and said-
Mark Fasching: Basically your mom’s list of all the people she knew. Of course you knew a bunch of people too, but-
Andy Chamberlin: The family address book.
Mark Fasching: Exactly.
Christa Alexander: Yeah. So we basically said, “Hey, this is a new venture we’re doing,” and at that time we were starting to raise meat chickens, and we said, “We’re raising all these birds and we’re selling them up front. If you put down a deposit now, we’ll sell you a portion of our production and at end of summer when we’re ready to process.” And then we just sold them all that way. We just pre-sold them through all our friends and family and acquaintances and that, we sold several hundred birds that way, and we just grew from there. And then we started doing the farmer’s market in Jericho, and we had a little table out by the side of the road, so very, very small, but lots of interest. And we had friends who found out we were raising pigs, and they’re like, “Hey, can you grow a pig for us,” and, “Oh, you’re raising sheep. Hey, can we go in on a sheep?”
So it was just this word of mouth was happening of like, “Oh, they’re raising local meats,” and there weren’t that many farms doing a lot of local meat at that time. There were a few key players out there established, but not the diversity that we have now in Vermont, which is awesome. But to get started at that time, anyone who was growing a pasture based meat, there weren’t that many options and people were excited about it. And so that part was easy. The marketing was easy, and I think we just had to decide at some point, the biggest, hardest jump was getting, letting go of the benefits and the retirement package and those real sure things and trying to start this business that we didn’t really know if it would fly or not.
And so at some point, we just had to make that leap. I think it was okay in that we knew that if it didn’t work out, we hadn’t gone out and bought a farm, so if it didn’t work out, we could go back to other jobs and my parents’ fields would just grow back up into grass and it wouldn’t be the end of the world. And we didn’t invest in major equipment or anything for a long time. I mean, I think if we redid it, maybe that would be the thing we would change would have been to actually mechanize a little sooner. We were schlepping stuff for seems like forever, just not as much tractor work and a lot of hand work. And when we did finally start capitalizing and mechanizing in certain production methods, that was the game changer. And I was like, “Wow, we should have done this years ago,” but-
Mark Fasching: You can’t afford it in the beginning.
Christa Alexander: And also just mentally we weren’t sure like, “Is this where we want to go?” So you don’t want to put down all that money until you know.
Mark Fasching: Yeah, I think our golden parachute was our folks and having them there at the farm just down the road from where we live and having them to look after the kids when we’re out doing chores. Kids would come out, well they set the time, but later on when our daughter was born too. But having the kids out there too whenever we needed, but then when they were tired and grandma would take them and watch and that allow us to do a bunch of things, but basically not having to throw down a bunch of money for a piece of property far away from any support.
We didn’t have to go through with that. So that I think was a huge stepping stone to where we’re at today. And we still get that support from her folks. Just this past winter when we couldn’t find any local help on the farm, it was just basically Christa and I and her mom and the kids on the weekends doing washing route, getting stuff out the door, running the CSA, doing the wholesale, doing the deliveries. And that was a rough winter, but just being able to do that and come through that alive, coming out of that winter alive was really only possible because of that familial support.
Andy Chamberlin: In peak season, what’s an ideal number of employees do you have on?
Mark Fasching: Reality or ideal meaning like…
Andy Chamberlin: Both. How many of you have and how many would be a smooth operating your goal?
Christa Alexander: Well, right now we’re really only down one position. So we have six full-time and two part-time, well including ourself, eight full-time and two part-time. And we could use one more full-time to make it a little smoother, a little easier on us. Normally we don’t put in full weekends when we’re fully staffed, but we’re putting in a lot of weekend time right now because we’re not fully staffed. But the other thing is, as every farmer knows, the workforce is very seasonal.
And so you have your kids returning to school end of August and people just deciding that they’re over farming and they want to do something else now, and they’ve tried it and they’re ready to do something else, which I get it. You’re young. You try things out, you move on. And so we always expect some attrition in the late summer, early fall, and we’ve tried to structure our production to deal with that and be ready for that. And we always rehire new folks in the fall to fill those gaps. But there is that aspect of it. So I think, yeah, so if you had asked me that question four years ago, I would’ve said 12 to 14, but we’re now down to eight to 10.
Andy Chamberlin: That’s a big difference.
Christa Alexander: Yeah. And that’s because we’ve gotten rid of livestock, we’ve dropped some crops, we’ve streamlined the crops we are doing, we’ve mechanized a lot on all ends from seeding to harvest to wash and pack, and with considerable investment in equipment. But it’s paid off because labor is our biggest cost. And anywhere we can save on the labor, ultimately, if there’s a piece of machinery that can, or equipment or a different setup or whatever that can do that, you have to price it out. But typically it’s worth it.
I mean, obviously there’s some machines that aren’t worth it or aren’t scaled right or whatever, but we’ve been able to find the ones that work well in our systems. And what Mark was saying in the hoop houses, nothing’s mechanized. It’s not completely true. The same system that we use in for greens production in the field, all the seeding and all the harvesting, it’s the same exact equipment that we use in the hoop houses. So we don’t have to have a different system to harvest and seed and harvest our hoop house greens. It’s the same equipment that we use in the field in the summertime.
Mark Fasching: Yeah, I’m thinking more like cucumber, tomato.
Christa Alexander: Yeah, that’s all handpicked here.
Mark Fasching: That’s all handpicked, which is fine. You get good money for that crap, so it can be handpicked.
Christa Alexander: Pretty hard not to handpick tomatoes unless you’re processing or harvesting them green, I guess.
Mark Fasching: Yeah. So the big change for us on the labor front was probably six years ago when we decided to go with H2A program, and we started out with four professional farmers from Jamaica, and I remember they came in, we got them in late because we didn’t have the housing until I think late July or August, and I think they came in mid-August and they stayed until early December, which is that’s the tail end of your season. But obviously we do a lot of root crops and I remember when they were here the first week, we had them weeding a bunch of carrots and beets that just really needed some weeding. And within the space of that week, they had cleaned that crop up and I was just totally amazed at how quick and how well they did that job. And then we got to thinking, “Wow, boy, when we bring him back in the spring, this could be a game changer,” and it was and it still is.
And that was a big turning point for us and not have to chase down new employees every spring and retrain them and show them what to do and not to do and then lose them again in the fall and you got to start over again. And that gets to be old after a while. And then when you finally get your team, it certainly could be a local team that sticks around for a long time too. But in case it was our Jamaican friends through the H2A program that kept coming back and they’ve been with us six years now I think, and they hit the ground running. They know what to do.
Andy Chamberlin: Same crew of four?
Mark Fasching: Yes, same crew of four. And you almost don’t need to tell them what to do. They know the drill and that is amazing. And stuff gets done that they worked six days out of seven, and that first year was like, “Wow, that six day stuff’s we’re not getting behind. We’re starting to catch up or we’re starting to get ahead.” And that was a huge eyeopener and it still is. And I think that was a large factor in our profitability is when we went to H2A program and obviously with the other factors too, mechanizing and such, but that was a big piece of it, big piece of the puzzle.
Andy Chamberlin: That’s still only half your crew. Have you found a good way of getting the other four or five locals?
Christa Alexander: I don’t know if that there’s one good way, but one-
Mark Fasching: If you know any other ways.
Andy Chamberlin: What strategies have you tried?
Christa Alexander: Yeah. Yeah. I think one thing we’ve done is we’ve structured some of the positions so that they’re full-time year round, so that can help folks who are looking for more than just a seasonal job be able to stay with us and be able to pay more over time for positions like that. We’ve also structured our workloads so that we can utilize folks who are only available May to August, use them in the time if they’re in school or whatever, have some of our workload makes sense for people who are only available for that period of time and not get frustrated by it when they have to leave in August because we know what’s coming and that…
So I don’t know that we’ve figured out a way to like any magic bullet, but it’s more like how we’ve restructured our business to deal with the work pool that’s available and it doesn’t always work. There’s always gaps here and there at times, but that’s I think more shifting our expectations and our needs versus trying to pull teeth to get folks that either aren’t there or aren’t interested in that type of position or whatever it might be.
Mark Fasching: Well, we went through a point maybe before the H2A workers came on about six years ago. We were pretty, like you said, 12 to 14 employees. We had managers that managed certain sections of the farm and we had meetings with the managers and we stepped away a little bit maybe during that process. But ultimately, that didn’t really work very well. And-
Christa Alexander: Yeah, part of that was our scale. We were at a point where we either had to scale up so that we could offer better pay and benefits and have more production to support that, or we had to scale down and we were still really diversified at that time. We had all the livestock, so that’s why we were trying to develop positions where people could take over certain aspects of the management of the farm without Mark and I going crazy trying to manage everything, and we took-
PART 1 OF 4 ENDS [00:28:04]
Christa Alexander: Busy trying to manage everything and to become profitable in that model, we either were going to have to increase our scale or we needed to decrease our scale and cut out that middle management need. And ultimately that’s what we decided to do. And for multiple reasons, not just for that, but we were at a point where we had to make a change in our lives in terms of our workload and just our quality of life and just managing more people. Even though the managers were managing people, we were managing the managers and managing some other people. And I found, for me personally, it wasn’t what I enjoyed the most. I loved working with people, but I didn’t like managing all those people, and it’s just not who I was in terms of my work style. And I was like, I want to produce food. I don’t want to manage people, but it’s all, it’s part of running a business. And so trying to find that balance of what works.
Mark Fasching: Well, you still manage people.
Christa Alexander: I do. I do. But fewer of them.
Andy Chamberlin: You said you cut out the middle management. When you started, you sold meat birds to your friends and family. As you got started, call that the entry drug, that and then-
Mark Fasching: Chicken crack.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah. You were working on that business plan because you made the decision, okay, we want to do this farming thing. What did you envision the farm would look like from the beginning?
Christa Alexander: Oh, gosh.
Mark Fasching: I don’t know. I mean, it could have been anything. Obviously when you’re young, you try everything, which is great.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah. You were throwing the spaghetti.
Mark Fasching: Yeah, throwing the spaghetti on the wall. We kept the spaghetti and let go of the meatballs. But early on, I think within a few years of actually starting Jericho Seller’s Farm, there was a program through NOFA Vermont that had a couple of professional farmers that met with us to come up with a… I don’t know, make us maybe re-tweaking the business plan that you and your mom put together.
Christa Alexander: You’re talking about when we worked with Richard? Yeah.
Mark Fasching: Yeah.
Christa Alexander: So through the Farm viability program, through NOFA. We worked with Richard was well, and yeah, and that’s where we kind of put together our first plan.
Andy Chamberlin: But were your visions from the beginning to do a diversified CSA year round? That was kind of your vision?
Christa Alexander: Yeah, really early on I was attracted to the year round growing. It was just fascinating to me biologically what these plants could or couldn’t do, and just trying to figure out those systems. It was just an interesting challenge scientifically and philosophically. I was like, we should be able to feed ourselves more than just June, July and August. I mean-
Mark Fasching: They did in the old days.
Christa Alexander: Yeah. I was like, everyone, this is Kate. This is possible. We just got to figure out the way to do it and without having to heat a bunch of greenhouses, we should be able to do this with minimal inputs. And so that was sort of the intriguing part of it. And then of course, the markets were wide open in the winter. It was like nobody was growing. I mean, not nobody, but very few people were growing local, fresh produce. There was storage crops out there, but there wasn’t a lot of greens and things happening and that’s the different story today, of course, a lot of great winter producers out there really helped grow and advance that area of production.
But I think it was a desire to be able to grow, to feed ourselves year round, feed our community year round. And for me, from the get go, graduated from college, it could have done anything. Theoretically. I could have chosen any job and I did do other work before farming. But I think for me, it’s such meaningful work and it’s such a necessary work for the community, for beyond our community that, it’s hard work, but I love it. I stayed with it because it’s meaningful, even if it is hard and physically it’s rewarding too. It’s like you’re on the move every day and don’t… I can’t sit all day long. And I’ve had that office job and I’ve had even jobs that were a combination of office and outdoor work, and even then I was like, I can’t do this. I got to get out of this office. So just minimal bookwork just to get it done.
Mark Fasching: Yeah. The human body’s meant to be up and around and moving on a daily basis in my opinion, and not sitting in front of a computer screen clacking away every day. And obviously some of our economy requires that, and I’m thankful that people do that, but I just do not know how they do it. I mean, I’m sure they have plenty of physical issues because of that, but yeah, I think we’re meant to be moving around on a daily basis. So I’m certainly thankful even prior to farming, doing fish and wildlife work, definitely moving around a lot. But the beauty of what we do in farming as a farmer, physical every day, but using your brain to problem solve things. When it comes down to it, you’re growing stuff and moving stuff and problem solving and fixing things. And it’s so true. You have to be an electrician and a carpenter, a plumber, a physicist, got to know so many different things.
But I mean, obviously we’re fortunate in Vermont that we have a lot of great resources, UVM Extension being one of them and other farmers. And that’s the beauty of where we’re at in this great state is that we can call on a lot of different folks to help us through a problem or go visit a farm and see how they’re doing something mean in the very beginning. Back to advice for young farmers, the first thing I would say is put up hoop house and then every year after, keep putting up hoop houses because you can grow a lot of great things in them, but just go out and visit farms and network and it’s amazing how much you learn. And we did that. Went to multiple conferences and workshops through NOFA and just picked everybody’s brain because we didn’t start…
When we started this farm, it’s not like we started another farm and decided, oh yeah, I can do this myself. Well, I’m going to go start my own farm. We started our farm from the get-go. We didn’t work on other farms, but we visited a bunch of farms and we had questions about things. We’d call somebody up, we’d go visit them, and that’s how we learned. And we still do that. I call people up all the time or I go run over and see what new piece of equipment they have or how do they cultivate this crop or I’m always learning something.
Andy Chamberlin: How did you approach that early on? I mean, you’re getting started and how did you, I guess, come up with courage to reach out to a potential competitor doing a similar thing? How are you doing this?
Christa Alexander: Yeah, you’ve never been shy about asking that. I mean…
Mark Fasching: No. I mean, life’s too short. You got to grab the bull by the horns. You’re not going to get a second chance at this. So if you want to do something, it doesn’t have to be fire. Whatever you want to do in life, you got to go after it and do it and just be curious and ask tons of questions-
Christa Alexander: The worst that can happen is, they’ll say no,
Mark Fasching: And then you go find somebody else that says yes.
Andy Chamberlin: Fair enough.
Mark Fasching: Yeah, find another farmer that says yes, or find another business person that says yes and just keep learning.
Christa Alexander: But that is one of the unique things I think about. I don’t know if it’s just Vermont or New England, but people are so supportive and open. The network is amazing amongst our peers and the Vermont Vegetable and Berry Growers Association and all the conferences we have and the lists serve there. I mean, it’s just this network of people who are trying to all get better at what we do. And very rarely have I ever heard anyone say, oh, I’m not going to tell you that it’s a trade secret or my market secret, or whatever. And I’m sure people hold some information close to the chest, which is understandable, but never have I had anyone say, oh, I’m not going to tell you how I grow that crop. I’m not going to…
Mark Fasching: Well, the thing today with anyone who wants to start a farm today, the breadth of information that’s available today is immense. I mean, when we started in 2002, I don’t think there was a YouTube there.
Andy Chamberlin: That’s true. There’s a lot less books.
Mark Fasching: I don’t think there were podcasts. I mean, all the things that you do, Andy, through UVM Extension, the podcast, the YouTube channel. I mean, I eat that stuff up and I look at everything. I’m looking at YouTube videos on European cultivation systems for ideas, a lot of Instagram pages for other farmers, how they’re doing things. It’s just… If you’re a young farmer today, the information that’s available at your fingertips is pretty amazing.
Christa Alexander: Yeah, I think when you mentioned Instagram reminds me, I think Instagram, we use it more for networking than we do for marketing. I mean, we hardly use it at all. We’re really bad about it. But we look at it more for looking at what other farmers are doing. And everyone who’s younger than me says, oh, you really should be marketing more through that. And I’m like, yeah, I know, but…
Mark Fasching: You don’t need to.
Christa Alexander: But right now I don’t need to.
Andy Chamberlin: The local grocery stores aren’t following your account to see what you have either.
Mark Fasching: Right? Exactly.
Christa Alexander: Yeah. So yeah, we learn a lot from our peers through that.
Mark Fasching: Yeah, so those of you out there don’t follow our Instagram feed because you’re not going to get much, but if you want to call us up and chat with us or come visit the farm and see what we’re doing, we’d be glad to show you because people did that for us, and we’re happy to pass that information on to the next group of folks.
Andy Chamberlin: That’s always appreciative and appreciated. For sure. You’re neighbors of mine for those who don’t know. So I’ve always kind of kept… We’ll say an eye on what’s going around going on around the bend. So when I heard that you guys were dropping the livestock, I was blown away. I’m like, oh my goodness-
Mark Fasching: They’re going to go under.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah, that’s a huge part of their business. What are they doing, dropping that? And then it wasn’t too long after when I realized like, oh no, you’re just refining your business and focusing down and doing the vegetables.
Mark Fasching: Doubling down. Exactly. Yep.
Andy Chamberlin: Oh.
Mark Fasching: Yep. Putting more of our focus’s… The eye of sorrow. We’re focusing on the vegetables.
Christa Alexander: But without the evil component. But yeah.
Mark Fasching: Well, evil or no evil, we’re doubling down on the veggies.
Andy Chamberlin: What animals do you miss the most?
Christa Alexander: The pigs.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah.
Christa Alexander: They’re the most charismatic and they’re smart and they’re just interesting. That’s just from a personal perspective, that’s what I miss the most.
Mark Fasching: Well, I’ll tell you the thing that I don’t miss is the call in the middle of the night that your pigs are out or your sheep are out. I don’t miss those calls at all. No, I think one of the best things we ever did was transition away from livestock, and that allowed us more time, obviously as a family to do things, which is key in this crazy world of farming. But also we were profitable back then. But I think once we dropped those things, then we became more profitable
Christa Alexander: And we just had to make some decisions because like I said, we either had to… Our management… Mark and I were managing all aspects of the farm, and we were trying this scale of having other managers within the farm so that we didn’t have to manage everything as much. But working those numbers, like the scale, we had to increase the scale a lot more. And the business started to get bigger overall than I wanted to manage because we still had to manage the whole thing in some way. And I’m sure someone else could have made that model work, but it just personally wasn’t what I was looking for. It wasn’t the size of business I wanted to do, and I didn’t feel like I was in the things that I was supposed to be managing. I was stretched thin enough. I didn’t feel like I was doing a great job at any one of them.
I was doing an okay job at all of them, but not a great job. And I was like, if I could really do this the way I know I should, the way that if I had the time and the brain capacity and whatever to do this and still spend time with my family, then I’d be happy. And we just weren’t at the right scale for what we were trying to do. So we had to make decisions.
And I think I miss interacting with the animals. I miss some of the synergy that happened on the farm in terms of some of the energy cycling, your compost feeds your pigs, your chickens produce manure that you can compost to feed your vegetable. There were these cycles that made sense, the pasture management of certain animals together or of cycling back into vegetables after grazing. There were things that from a farm perspective, overall, from a ecological sort of sustainable perspective that make a lot of sense and can be very successful at multiple scales. But it wasn’t what we wanted to do. And with the land base that we had, we had to make some decisions.
Mark Fasching: Yeah, it’s more profitable to buy in your chicken litter compost, in my opinion, to spread it to the fields than it is to raise a bunch of animals and then pull out all that compost out of the chicken house.
Andy Chamberlin: Well, you didn’t just drop a certain market segment, but you dropped the management that went with it. You dropped all the other chores that went with it. There’s a lot-
Mark Fasching: You dropped the grain bill, you dropped all the equipment that had to go for doing fencing and egg boxes and all that stuff.
Christa Alexander: And from a food safety perspective, we had all these protocols in place to separate our livestock and our vegetable production and all our cleaning and our tools and our clothing. Everything had to be separated from a food safety perspective. So that simplified so much of our operations to not have livestock on the same property.
Mark Fasching: When you had to go down and do chicken chores to collect eggs, which is across the road from the wash pack house and the other hoop houses that are growing vegetables, you basically had to suit up like you were going into a nuclear facility, hazmat, because there’s dust in the air from the chickens, and you’re handling eggs that have manure on them, and then you’re bringing them up and you’re washing them. And it was just a whole nother perspective of farming that losing that aspect freed us up in so many different ways to concentrate on other aspects of the vegetable side of farming and allowed us to really think more about mechanizing and grow on certain crops that we love to grow and grow well. And once we started seeing what that felt like, what kind of profitability that started to bring in, that was a great feedback loop.
Andy Chamberlin: You’re not only freed up other areas financially, but you freed up a lot of time. And that was a big goal, that pivoting-
Christa Alexander: And we didn’t lose that aspect of our market because we have such great nearby farms doing a good job with those products and producing those products in a way that we were supportive of that. A lot of grass fed and grass-based models, which what we wanted to source for meats and eggs. So because they’re doing a great job, it allowed us to keep bringing in quality product for our customers and keep that diversification in our product line for our customers, what they were used to without having to grow all those products ourselves.
Andy Chamberlin: Just helped out those neighbor friend relationships I’m sure as well.
Christa Alexander: Yeah, I mean-
Andy Chamberlin: Helped to build that network.
Mark Fasching: Those neighboring farms are successful and-
Christa Alexander: Been great to see them grow.
Mark Fasching: That’s all part of the agricultural economy. It’s great to have those local livestock based farms that we can buy their product and resell at our farm stand and our offer through our CSA.
Andy Chamberlin: What would you say fulfills you in this career?
Christa Alexander: Well, it’s really meaningful work. Producing food for people to eat, it’s sort of an essential need that we all have. And being able to produce food that has a lighter impact on the world as a whole than some of the other systems that are out there for food production is important to me. I mean, I come from a biology and ecology background and environmental studies was also a major focus area as I was going through my college years and learning about some of the models of food protection, I was like, this does not make any sense.
I was like, what is going on? And I was naive and young back then and didn’t have any idea of where those thoughts would lead me. But knowing that they’re… And not to say that the way we farm is perfect in any means, there’s always trade offs, but being able to come up with models and systems that are lighter on the environment and the word sustainable that everyone hates or loves, but also important to the community, the social network of the community and being able to be a resource for the community and not a liability for the community.
You think about some of these huge confinement livestock operations, and who the heck would want to live in the area where there’s just manure overflowing into streams or whatever the problem may be in any given extreme weather event that happens and blows up on livestock, a confinement operation or whatever, and just the lives of the animal. So it’s just like there’s got to be a better way to do this. And so it’s just really important to me to work on better models, better systems that we can do and other farms can do in the future and try to figure this all out. How do we build a food system that can feed enough people in a way that we don’t destroy our communities and our natural world in the process?
Mark Fasching: Oh, what fulfills me in this career? Well, I guess being up and around every day there’s a new problem to solve every day, you’re using your brain, you’re physical, I get excited every year, mainly when there’s a new piece of equipment that I can bring into play and push the farm forward towards more profitability, time saving efforts and equipment. That’s a big thing. Getting streamlined, getting efficient, not handling things as much. I mean, in the very beginning when we harvested roots, it’s basically get out there with the under cutter bar and everybody out in the field and yanking roots on the ground, twisting the tops off, throwing them into a bag, throwing a bag onto a truck, taking the truck up to the farm, throwing the bag onto a pallet, pushing the pallet into the cooler. It’s time to wash. Okay, let’s pull the pallet out. Let’s grab the bag, undo the bag, throw it into the barrel washer.
We don’t have to do that anymore. It’s mechanized from seating with a precision cedar mechanical cultivation with the tractors and cultivation equipment, little bit of hand weeding for a root crop, and then off to the root harvester. That is a one or two person job to pull out a ton of roots in a bin, and the bin gets loaded up into a truck or a trailer up to the home farm. Hydraulics is a wonderful invention. Hydraulics and pistons offload that, stack it in the cooler with a forklift come time to wash, use the forklift, unstack it, put it into the bin dumper, bin dumper to soak tank, soak tank to barrel washer, barrel washer to rinse conveyor rinse conveyor to sorting table, bag it up, and then it’s out the door over the next week or month. And that process excites me and always trying to find ways to reduce the steps that we have to take through that whole process.
Increasing your throughput in one area, can craze, bottlenecks in others. And so that part is like, okay, now we have a bottleneck. How do we work our way out of a bottleneck? How do we streamline it? How do we get more efficient? That’s the stuff that I’m always thinking about. And we’re not completely there, but every year I think we get a little bit better either through changing things up or moving a piece of equipment around or adding another piece of equipment, although we’re kind of running out of room in that barn, but trying to make that work as well. So we know when you have an end product with your label on it, with your farm’s name on it and all the people behind it that made it happen is a great feeling. To see that product in the store, on the shelf with your label on it, or in a restaurant on a menu with your name on it, is a great feeling. And I guess all of that put together is what makes me get up in the morning.
Christa Alexander: You can see who’s in charge of the root production.
Mark Fasching: I enjoy that part. That’s why we… I think partly… I mean, if you enjoy a certain aspect of what you do, I think you do it well. We don’t grow sweet corn, right? Your grandpa grows amazing sweet corn. He probably loves growing sweet corn. I hate growing sweet corn. We tried it and it’s all right, but it’s like, I’d rather be doing something. I’d rather be doing a different crap.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah, we’ve got that system down.
Mark Fasching: Yeah, so I’m fine with that.
Christa Alexander: The other aspect of what’s fulfilling, someone asked me today what’s my most favorite thing I’ve ever grown vegetable or whatever? And I was like, well, there’s not one thing, not one vegetable that’s my favorite, but what’s my favorite is the first of those vegetables each season. So the first cucumber or the first cherry tomato when they’re ready and ripe and you’ve got a crop growing that looks awesome and that first harvest happens and you eat some of the best tasting vegetables. It’s like that’s what is exciting because there’s all these other things happen before you get to that point. And when you get to that point, it’s like this little reward.
Andy Chamberlin: Victory.
Christa Alexander: Yeah.
Mark Fasching: I think the most important crop that we’ve grown are our kids. Really, when I think about it’s not all these things that we do, we take pride in, but really ultimately it comes back to them. And the challenge for us and a lot of farmers is carving out time to spend with your family. And that’s ultimately when you’re in your deathbed, you’re not going to be thinking about all the time you spend on the tractor or managing people. It’s really going to be, how much time did I get to spend with my kids? And that’s the big challenge for us ever since we had them, still is a challenge.
Andy Chamberlin: You started this farm at the same time you started growing kids. How has their involvement been? Are they involved with the farm a lot? Are they interested in it at all, or?
Christa Alexander: I don’t think as a long-term career path, but they have worked on the farm since they were old enough to do something, and it’s always been a paid job for them. And so it’s been a great way for them to learn what a work ethic is and how to manage money. And they’ve been able to open themselves, little IRAs to get started. I wish my folks had said, Hey, start an IRA when I was 15, honestly, but even though they’re still like, well, why do I want to invest it? I want to use it. I was like, well, little of both. But I think at times it is a burden because it’s like, oh, we’re going to do this. Oh wait, I got to go finish this thing at the farm before I can go do that or what. And that’s what Mark and I have tried to be better about is like, okay, reprioritize, let the thing on the farm go and go do whatever it is that you’ve planned to do with your kid.
And that’s hard when you’re running your own business. If everyone’s gone home for the day, no one else is going to fix that emergency or whatever, you have to take care of it. And so sometimes it does pull us away in ways that we wish it didn’t, and the kids feel that too, but I think they’ve learned a lot. They from a young age, helped out at farmer’s markets and in the CSA, and so they have all these interactions with customers and just talking about themselves, talking about products.
They have no problem standing up in front of people and saying, Hey, X, Y, and Z, whether it’s farming or something else, they’re just social and outgoing because maybe it’s just part of who they are from the get-go. But they also just had that exposure early on to dealing with all different types of customers and people. And I think they may not tell us this now, but in the future, I think they’ll tell us how much they appreciate the food when they have to go away and grow or eat or buy their own somewhere else and just be in a different food system than in what comes through our kitchen right now.
But the other big part for them I think was growing up with their grandparents on the farm, and you probably can attest this.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah, I can relate.
Christa Alexander: Yeah, it’s just great to have multiple generations working together. And even if you’re not all working for the same ends, it’s just having those interactions on a regular basis is great for all of us, not just the kids.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah. Do you have any tricks or mantras that helps you separate and be like, okay, this needs to just the farm, because there’s always something to do on the farm? How do you help yourself draw that line and be like, okay, I need to go home now?
PART 2 OF 4 ENDS [00:56:04]
Andy Chamberlin: Help yourself draw that line and be like, okay, I need to go home now.
Mark Fasching: Yeah, you have to be able to shut it off. And that’s hard. We both work hard. That’s maybe partly how we grew up. But yeah, I’m always thinking about work. Probably shouldn’t be, but I’m always thinking about work during the growing season. In the wintertime I start thinking about other things, start thinking about doing stuff in the wood shop and doing things with my kids more in the wintertime because they have more time in theory. But in the growing season, it’s tough. I think the greatest things that we’ve done is taken family trips elsewhere, like the Yellowstone or Grand Canyon, skiing, mountain biking trips. Our kids will remember those, forever. I certainly remember them. Those are great. I wish we could do more of those. It’s hard to carve time out for those, but when you do, it’s like, you come back and go, “Why don’t we do more of that? That’s a great idea.” And yeah, it’s hard to shut yourself off from what you’re doing because it’s your business, it’s your livelihood and…
Christa Alexander: It’s that, but it’s also that, you know you can do a better job. You always know, I should do this, I can do a better job. And so you just always are thinking of the things you need to do, the ways you can make things better. And you just want to have that success. You want to make those things happen. And so at some point, you just have to say to yourself, it’s okay to let that thing go. It’s okay if that thing doesn’t get done or doesn’t get done as well as I had hoped it would. Let’s just do the bare minimum and get out of here. And I think we’ve gotten better at that.
But it’s definitely, I have to keep telling myself, just don’t do that. Just go. That’ll still be there tomorrow. You can take care of that tomorrow. And if it’s not, if whatever it was died or whatever, then so be it. But I think as business, and this isn’t probably isn’t true just about farming, as business owners, you have so many different pieces that you’re trying to keep moving, it’s hard to let some of them go and know that it can affect a lot of other things.
Andy Chamberlin: And it’s not just the business. It’s something you’re really passionate about. I took a bunch of vacation time last week and I was reflecting on this weekend because ahead of vacation you’re like, “Oh, I’m going to do X, Y, Z, A, B, and C. Get it all done.” And so there’s house projects we wanted to work on whatnot. And what did I spend my weekend doing? Riding in the tractor?
Mark Fasching: Yep. Haying.
Andy Chamberlin: Haying. We had a bunch of hay to do and I had, oh, maybe this is an opportunity, I can take a day and we’ll go pull the canoe out of the barn that’s sat in there for the last five years, 10 years probably because no one’s ever taken the time to go canoeing. I’m like, ah, we’ve got a couple bikes in the barn. Maybe we should go test those out on the rail trail or something. And we just didn’t make time for it. But I think back it’s like, well, not only did I not make time to do those other things, but I did what I wanted to do and that was what I did when I was in my teens doing hay, helping grandpa on the farm. That’s just what I want to do. So it’s like, “Well, I guess follow your passions there too.” So it’s not just your business relies on staying in the farm, but it’s where your heart’s at. So it’s hard to pull away from something you don’t like, but also spending time with family is a balance.
Mark Fasching: Exactly.
Andy Chamberlin: Mark, you mentioned several times you like to be outside, physically active. Are there things that you do to promote a healthy lifestyle, besides farming? Do you do exercises or follow certain diets or stretches or visit your chiropractor every other week?
Mark Fasching: No. I don’t do any of that. I try to get out and mountain bike with the kids and the family. That’s a goal every year. It doesn’t always happen, but hiking, mountain biking on the weekends, but I didn’t grow up skiing. I grew up in the desert, so skiing’s foreign to me. How I ever ended up marrying a world-class skier, I have no idea. But Christa skis with the kids in the wintertime and I try to get in the wood shop and make chairs. That’s my thing I like to do. Work with wood in the wintertime and make some furniture, which is not really I guess, all that physical, but you’re doing something, you’re using your brain in a different way. Although last winter, none of that happened because we just didn’t have the staff to do the work that needed to be done on the farm.
So it was work, work, work all last winter. So hopefully that’ll change somewhat this year. But yeah, when I’m not farming, mow lawn, riding bikes, hiking, hanging out with the kids. We try to get up to Christa’s folks, have a camp up on Shadow Lake. We try to get over there every once in a while and canoe and fish and relax, read some books. That’s always nice to do that. Obviously, still thinking about farming, making a list of things. Well, maybe I should change this up. So still thinking about it, but more in a relaxed way, I guess.
Christa Alexander: I think one of the things Mark was really good about early on in our farming business development was thinking about our bodies and the impact farming has on our bodies and promoted pretty early on, we need to get as much as we can on wheels. We need to stop lifting stuff. We need to build things so that we can move stuff on pallets and with pallet jacks and stop moving 40 pound crates everywhere basically. And his ideas and his motivation to make that happen really impacted how we developed mostly our wash pack facilities and such in the future as we started to build those out as we increased our production. So even though you may not do yoga or whatever, he’s always thinking about his body and the rest of the crew too. And how can we do this better and safer and take care of our bodies so that we’re not breaking our pieces apart by the time we’re 70, 60 or…
Mark Fasching: Yeah, my motto’s always been to young farmers is think an old person. When you’re starting out farming as a 20 or 30 year old, think like an old person because when you’re 50 and 60, you’re not schlepping around 50 pound bags anymore. So move to something really quick that eases your workload on your body. Concrete and wheels are your friends and you got to take care of yourself because you know…
Christa Alexander: You only got one.
Mark Fasching: Yeah, in this profession you can get hurt really quick and pretty badly, so you just need to be smart about that.
Andy Chamberlin: Do you have a certain way of approaching purchasing new equipment as far as….
Mark Fasching: That’s a question for Christa, right?
Andy Chamberlin: Thinking about it’s ROI and justifying this 20, 30, $50,000 expense.
Mark Fasching: Christa would hope that I would think that way, but I don’t. So I was born with a impediment as a young child. I was born with a magnet in my head, so I’m attracted to metal and I’m always looking for something. I don’t know. I think it’s partly because I remember when my dad first sat me down to milk a cow by hand. That was fun and all once I mastered it, but it was like, “Oh my god, this is getting nuts. I got incredible forearms and a great handshake now, but I want to move on to something else.” And he got at a farm auction, surge compressor milking system where you hook up suction cups to the cow and you go off and do other chores and then the milking’s getting done via that process.
And I think that set the kernel in my head about improving systems and looking for equipment that made it easier because I always think of that all the time no matter what it is on the farm, whether it’s out in the field or in the wash pack house. And I’m always looking for that information, like I said, visiting farms, talking to other farmers, all the information that’s on the internet and just various sources of used equipment dealers that are out there, trying things out. And that’s where we’ve got a hodgepodge, just pieces of equipment out there, the carrot harvester that we’ve upgraded. We have a new carrot harvester that works amazingly well. It’s allowed me to work in less than ideal conditions in the field. We had a two-inch rainstorm event here last week and the following day went out in harvested carrots through some less than trying conditions. Pretty muddy stuff. And that new harvester worked like a champ. And then the next day, I did harvest at night with the lights on it and that went well…
Christa Alexander: So now you can harvest 24/7.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah, yeah.
Mark Fasching: So now I’m in [inaudible].
Andy Chamberlin: Why’d you do that? Just because you could.
Mark Fasching: Yeah, just so I could try it. Yeah. Just so I could say, “Yeah, no, I can harvest that at night now.” I don’t need to go home for a couple of days until the harvest is all done. But maybe that’s part of that thinking that I have was growing up on a self-sufficient little homestead. And my dad was a very sharp guy. He was a very good mechanic, metal guy, fabricator, welder. None of that of course passed on to me. But seeing him build stuff out of scratch. And I think maybe that rubbed off me in some way. I’m not the greatest mechanic. I go to the university of YouTube to figure some stuff out or call up some people, but I’m just always intrigued about there’s got to be an easier way, a better way to do something.
I know it’s out there, I may not know about it yet, but let’s figure out how to do it. And if something just takes too long to do, it drives me nuts. I’m always thinking about how can we cut this time in half or even 10%? And when you start doing that and you start adding up all those time savings, that increases your profitability on the other end. If it’s taking you less time to get a product out to sale, you’re starting to make some money. And that’s the feedback loop for me.
Andy Chamberlin: Do you do those pencil calculations or do you just-
Mark Fasching: I don’t.
Andy Chamberlin: You just know there’s got to be a better way.
Mark Fasching: Christa says, “Well, we need to sit down and do the crunch the numbers.” No, no, no. I know it’s going to work.
Christa Alexander: He says, “I’m going to buy this and this is what it costs.” And I say, “I’ll get back to you.” And I ask him a series of questions and do the cost benefit analysis and calculate, will it give us a return within five years. And if it does, then I say, “Okay.”
Andy Chamberlin: Okay. Those are the thresholds I was looking for.
Christa Alexander: Yeah.
Mark Fasching: Yeah. I don’t do any of that. I just have a gut feeling that it’s going to work.
Christa Alexander: So he finds what he wants, takes an opportunity. No, there’s been a few we’ve botched.
Mark Fasching: But I have to run it through the boss and once she gives me the okay, we move forward.
Andy Chamberlin: Not yet, sir, but keep thinking. Yeah.
Mark Fasching: Yeah. So, obviously that’s a good relationship that we have. My joke has always been, my foot is on the gas pedal, Christa’s is on the brake to moderate things, which isn’t entirely true, but I’ve come around to the point of, yeah, it makes sense to step back and try not to do as much so we can spend time as a family doing other things, which is important in life. So I think we’re very fortunate as a married couple in this business that we’re still married and still in business and doing great and we’re happy and we have a great life. It’s a hard life. It’s a taxing life, but it’s very rewarding. We’re growing food. People need to eat food to live. That’s what I think about all the time. All the farmers are giving life to. No one’s eating a pill to survive. They got to eat food to survive, and we’re growing that food. So that’s a great feeling.
Andy Chamberlin: You had mentioned how you’ve been business partners as well as life partners for a number of years. Do you have any tips on how to navigate that? That can be quite challenging at times to work with who you live with?
Christa Alexander: Sure. Yeah. Well, I think some of the best things that we have going for us is that we each have different strengths and we recognize those and give each other space to work within those realms, where our interests are and where our strengths are, well personally, but mostly, in terms of the business. So there’s certain things that Mark is drawn to and does really well and there’s certain things I’m drawn to and do well, and just giving each other the room to make decisions, move forward, get things done in those areas without having to consult on everything. We certainly do consult on the important things, the business direction, the major investments, things like that. But we don’t micromanage each other basically within the day-to-day work. And we appreciate what each other does for the farm because there’s a lot of things Mark does that I would never want to do and never be good at doing, or it would take me a long time to learn those skills. And I’m really happy that he does them. And does them well.
Mark Fasching: Vice versa.
Christa Alexander: Yeah. Then we also have our weaknesses and we recognize those and tolerate those, not always well, but we try to have patience with each other. I think we’ve both had to learn that a lot in the years of just taking… With any relationship, take a deep breath and think about what you’re really trying to achieve in the big picture. And don’t worry about the small stuff when things go wrong or whatever. Try to fix it for the next time so you have better communication or a better system in place to catch each other’s mistakes. Certainly hasn’t all been perfect. We all have our ups and downs and I think early on when we were really trying to grow the business and we were raising children and physically, we were just exhausted. And it is hard to maintain a healthy relationship when you’re just personally exhausted. And we knew we had to change that.
We were like, “This isn’t healthy for ourselves, this isn’t healthy for each other.” We got to figure that’s farm out in a way that we can actually have some space for ourselves and each other at the end of the day and not be totally a wreck. And so just recognizing that, just not keep bulldozing ahead, I don’t know. I think we also just enjoy each other’s company. We enjoy hard work. We both enjoy doing that physical part of the work. Before we were farming, we worked in fish and wildlife management together and we were out in the woods doing surveys and working through all kinds of weather, all kinds of terrain, really hard physical work. And we loved that too. And so I think early on, we recognized that we both enjoyed the adventure and the physical aspect of that kind of work or jobs like that and knew that we could support each other and rely on each other in that type of work.
Mark Fasching: Yeah. I think the key is really for me, marrying somebody that’s smart, beautiful, and athletic and younger than I am. Yeah, Christa does so much on this farm, way more than I do. I do a part obviously, but she does all aspects that I couldn’t even wrap my head around her or even if I could wrap my head around it, couldn’t do it very well. And management is a big one. And she’ll say she doesn’t like to manage people, but she does a good job at it probably because she has to, because I’m terrible at managing people, which is, it’s good to identify what you’re not good at and maybe not do it or maybe you try to improve upon it. But yeah, building a business in and of itself is stressful and a difficult thing to do. But to do that with someone that you’re in a life partnership with, married to is times a hundred to that level. And yeah, we went through a lot of… We’re still working probably too much. But yeah, it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon and we just keep plugging away.
I think what helps over the long run is less stress in your life. And I think when you become more profitable, that helps with that level of stress, you’ve got maybe different avenues to take if you’ve got some profitability to ease that stress. My firm belief has always been, no matter what you want to do in life, you can be as successful as you want to be, as much as you put into it. If you just really live and breathe whatever you want to get into and build for a business, you can be successful at it. It’s going to take a lot of work. And it’s doesn’t happen overnight, but when it does, it’s a great feeling. And when you can share that with somebody else, that’s even better. And that’s really what keeps me going.
For a while there, when it got to be very stressful, I was thinking, man, you want to be great. I’d love to just work as a janitor at the local high school, go in at six, get out at two or three, be done with a day instead of working crazy hours every day. My joke is every day is a Monday when you’re a farmer, but it’s not so bad if you enjoy what you’re doing. But there’s times when it’s not enjoyable. And when we got rid of all the excess stuff that we didn’t feel like we needed to do, the livestock, the poultry, and just doubled down on the vegetable side of things, that’s when it became less stressful for me. And I started to enjoy it more. And I think we became more profitable by going that direction.
So again, yeah, it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. And I think we’re at the point now where we are in the business of this farm, is we’re in a good place. I feel like we figured it out where we need to be, what we need to concentrate on. And we’re on that nice little plateau where we’re coasting and it feels good. That can always change. Obviously the pandemic was a big factor, but I think for us and a lot of local farmers, that was on the positive side of monetary, was a definite positive factor. A lot of work, but a positive monetary factor, which allowed us to put more money back into the farm and become more efficient. And so that’s paying dividends as well.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah, we weren’t sure about that when it first started.
Mark Fasching: Yeah, I was telling a recent farmer, I says, “Boy, if that pandemic thing came around every four or five years, that’d be great.” Kick starts, more cash into the pockets there.
Christa Alexander: Well, it really depended. Some farms suffered horribly, and it really depended on your market structure and basically in, I think… But along those lines here was the federal government helping businesses survive, putting out a certain amount of funds to different sectors of the economy that were suffering because of the pandemic. And I was like, “How cool would it be if there was some program where just small and medium-sized businesses had this boost at year five or whatever.” It’s like you get to year five, you show you’re…
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah, you prove you’re getting into it.
Christa Alexander: Yeah, you’re serious about your business, you’re going for it. Year five, you get this little influx of capital, no strings attached, make your business happen. If we spent a few billion dollars on that every five years or whatever, it’s like we could make our local economies and communities so much stronger and not be relying on these huge corporations for a lot of the things that we do rely on them for, to some positive, some negative. But it’s like, how cool would that be to just make the more local economies stronger through what would be a very small input from a federal level?
Mark Fasching: We have that. We’re fortunate that we have that in the state of Vermont locally through various grant programs, the state of Vermont’s working lands grant program. There’s various other different funds that we’ve participated in that has given us some seed money towards projects or equipment that’s certainly helped our farm in a positive manner. The NRCS hoop house program where you can-
Christa Alexander: Through equip.
Mark Fasching: Through equip, yeah, you can get a, pretty much pays for your structure to put up a hoop house. That’s always a great thing. So yeah, and there’s many hands that have helped us along the way that has a positive long term effect on our business. And that still goes on today. We still apply for grants to help us out when it makes sense. So yeah, we’re fortunate I think in the state of Vermont that stuff is available. But federally, when the pandemic hit and we and many other farmers got an influx of cash through the federal program, it’s like, “Oh my god, now I know what these commodity farmers feel like in the Midwest who get this money all the time.” Comes around every-
Christa Alexander: Talking about some of the subsidy programs.
Mark Fasching: Yeah, it comes around every once in a blue moon for these small farmers, but we’ll take it when we can get it.
Andy Chamberlin: Now, this next one, it’s two separate questions. You can answer whichever one you want first. I’m looking to know when was the time that you felt both really successful farming and a time that you felt really challenged by farming?
Christa Alexander: I answered this a little bit before. So there’s big successes and then there’s small successes. So those small successes I feel are, like I said, at the beginning of a crop, and you pick the first cucumbers and the crop looks awesome, there’s no disease in there yet. And it’s like, you haven’t done the hard work yet maybe, or not all of it anyway, but you’re like, “Yeah, this crop looks awesome and it’s starting to produce and it tastes great and I’m really excited about it.” It’s those little things every day or once a week or whatever, whenever they happen, you’re just like, “Okay, this is awesome.” And then in the bigger picture, when I think back to where we started and where we are today, I feel successful. I feel like, wow, we’ve really created something with a lot of people’s help.
We’ve really created something of worth and every year, there’s things that we struggled with, two or three years before that have now become routine and now work well. And when I think back on those things, I’m like, “Okay, we’re actually moving forward.” Because there are those days when you don’t feel successful and you feel really challenged and you’re like, “Why the heck am I doing this?” And it’s hard sometimes to see the big picture when you’re dealing with those day-to-day fires and emergencies or failures. I think the biggest challenges or where I feel have felt really challenged is actually… Well, there’s a couple of them. But one of the biggest ones is learning how to run a business. I had no background in that, and that just seemed daunting to me. I loved animals, I loved plants. I knew at least I was starting point with that, right?
I still had plenty to learn, but I was like, “Okay, I know how to grow a few things, but how do I run a business?” It was just foreign to me. I hadn’t gone to school for any of it. My family didn’t run their own business, I’d never had any exposure to any of that. And it just somehow seemed scary to me early on and I was like, “But hey, I can figure this out and together we’ll figure out what this business is going to at least start like.” But it was really challenging definitely just early on to… I always I guess second guess every decision, should we go this direction? Should we go that direction? Should we invest in that thing or not? Even if you had some numbers to work with, which you don’t have very many when you’re starting, you don’t know your yield production or your pricing structure. You have to seek all that out and take your best guess and go see to the pants for a while. And that’s a little scary to get. So that’s where some of the challenges were early on.
I would say now, the challenges are dealing with extreme weather events. I can feel very much like a failure when something just goes underwater or whatever, even though it’s nothing you could have done about it, but you’re just like, “Oh, that’s gone.” And just trying to learn how to buffer ourselves better for that. And then the other challenge is the work life balance. It’s a constant challenge. That’s been from day one and one we, I think are a lot better at than when we started, but can always need to improve on. I feel that challenge all the time.
PART 3 OF 4 ENDS [01:24:04]
Christa Alexander: I feel that challenge all the time.
Mark Fasching: I feel that we’re successful now because we’re still in business. We’re still producing a great quality product year round as far as roots and greens, that still stock the shelves and still on the restaurant menus and still on the farm stand year round. So that’s a great feeling.
I felt like things really turned the corner for us when we, beating on the drum here again, but brought in the H2A workers and we doubled down on veg production only, got rid of the extraneous stuff that were just pulling us into too many different directions, the livestock and the poultry. And that just allowed us to refocus and get really good at what we’re doing today.
Andy Chamberlin: What caused that pivot? Was there was a breaking point when you’re like, “Oh my gosh, something needs to change?”
Mark Fasching: Well, on the H2A side, I’d been advocating for that for years, but the sticker was housing and kind of always is for people who want entry into that program. You have to have housing for your workers. And we didn’t have that. At a point it finally came that we could have some housing on a piece of land that we rented and then we took that opportunity and ran with it. Once we got those workers here, it just was a huge eye-opener. Because I remember one day, maybe a year before, late in the evening, like middle of summer, maybe eight o’clock at night, sun’s about ready to go down, I’m out there hand weeding a bed of cilantro and some local farmers were doing, just driving around visiting some other farms and they’d visited a bigger farm nearby and they saw some farmer out in the field. So they stopped in and they started walking down the road and I said, “Who the hell is this coming down? Someone I got a deal with.”
Andy Chamberlin: Who’s trespassing?
Mark Fasching: Yeah, who’s trespassing? “Get the hell off of my land.” Then I saw who it was and I knew who they were, very successful Vermont farmer. We got to chatting and I said, “Yeah, I’d rather not be out here right now. I wish we had some H2A workers,” whatever. That was always on my mind. When we did get them, it validated what I always thought. It was like, this could be huge for our business and it was and it still is. And not to take anything away from local folks because they’ve been huge since day one. Local help has been huge and still is for our business. But having that workforce that you can count on every year, the same group every year, and once they know your systems, that’s a radical change on the positive side, was huge for our business and that took a lot of weight off of me. I don’t know if it took any weight off of Christa, but on the management side. She still has to manage those folks. And I do to a certain extent, but more her than me. But I could see what it could do for us. That was huge.
And I think that for me was really, those two things were the turning point, focusing solely on veg and having that local agriculture or that H2A agricultural workforce that came back every year and once they learned your systems and knew what to do, it made it so much easier and less stressful on us.
Andy Chamberlin: What advice would you give either your beginning farmer self or somebody who’s getting into agriculture now?
Christa Alexander: That’s a hard one because it’s a different playing field than when we got into it. So I don’t know. What are the advice I might have given myself maybe isn’t the advice I’d give myself now if I was starting a farm. But I think some of the things we’ve talked about, try different things but try to figure out pretty quickly what you really like and can do well and can be profitable at. And don’t forget the profitable part. It’s important because that’s going to be, and everyone says, “Oh a farmer, you shouldn’t talk about money.” And it’s like, “No, it’s a business.” You got to talk about money. You got to live just like everyone else. You should be able to go on vacation and invest in retirement and send your kids to college. Why shouldn’t a farmer be able to do that?
So understanding as soon as you can, you really observe it in your business to try to figure out where to put your efforts and your investments and make those investments as soon as you can. Anything that’s going to save you on labor, that’s going to help you with a quality product, save your body, thinking about those things. Work efficiencies, work safety, high quality production, market, resiliency, I would say. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket even though that might seem more efficient. It’s also riskier.
Do those cost benefit analyses. Don’t just buy the piece of metal because you have a magnet in your head. Run the numbers. It’s not that hard to do. And if you aren’t sure what the numbers are, talk to people who can help you and get the numbers for your farm as soon as you can. So we collect a ton of data on our farm and it has helped us make decisions about work efficiency, crop selection. We know what we produce from every hoop house, every crop, every piece of the field. We know what’s coming out of those fields. We know what it took for us to put that product into the field, to get it out of the field, to get it washed. We don’t track every piece of data for every crop every year, but we’ve looked at the big players, the crops we grow a lot of, or the crops that are particularly challenging for us. And we collect data on all the inputs, all the labor, and we figure out whether it’s profitable for us or not.
If it’s not, we either drop it or if it’s so crucial, like say for our market, “Oh have to have that product because everyone loves it.” We figure out a way that it can fit in with the rest of the product. So it’s not costing us a lot of money because sometimes like sweet corn is one that people always say, “That’s the draw. Everyone comes to the farm stand for the sweet corn and then they buy all the other stuff.” But if we can’t produce sweet corn profitably, we’re going to find someone like you who can and buy that in versus try to produce it ourselves. Or just acknowledge that we’re going to lose some money on sweet corn because we’re not that good at producing it, but we’re going to make it up in these other areas. And so capturing that data for your farm as soon as you can after a few growing seasons, you should have a baseline to work with and start making decisions based on it.
Mark Fasching: Well, not much to add to that, what you said there, but I’ll try. I guess back to, it’s a marathon, it’s not a sprint. You’re going to get out of it what you put into it and everybody’s situation is different. We have had and still have many advantages that were afforded to us, still afforded to us, in using family land, rent-free for many years until we were able to buy the farm from Christa’s folks, having her folks there to watch the kids. If we didn’t have that to start with, I don’t know if we would be still farming.
That is and has been a huge aspect to our business, our wellbeing and ultimately our profitability today, is not having to go out on a limb to secure a loan and have the stress of that hanging over your head in the beginning when you’re just trying to figure out what you want to do. And I guess the flip side of that is you don’t necessarily need to own land to farm. You can rent it. You don’t need to own it. As long as you’ve got good soil, proximity to water and markets, you’re going in the right direction. But we have had some serious advantages from the get go and that’s been a help to us.
And then the other aspect of that is starting a family. If you’re thinking about starting a family, then farming on top of that is tough. You really have to do some soul searching there. If you don’t have the support of other people to help you with your kids, that can lead to a lot of stress. And yeah, there’s so many aspects of it. I guess it goes with any business, not just farming, but ultimately farming is a business. I think a lot of people forget about it. They think that is a nostalgic feel of farming, like now. It’s a beautiful evening, the sun’s dappling on the trees. We’re on the back porch of a old Vermont farmhouse. Life is good. We’re sipping a beer.
Andy Chamberlin: It’s pretty idyllic right now.
Mark Fasching: Yeah, we’re in the great state of Vermont. It’s not too hot and humid. But yeah, farming is a lot of work. Day in and day out, it’s a slog. You almost think of it as a marathon on top of an iron-man on top of those spartan races that those people would do. They just go out for a day and do these crazy runs through the mountains and stuff. It’s like, well you’re only doing that one day. Farming is doing that every day and you to have to get back up and do it again the next day. So perseverance and yeah, you got to be a special breed of person, I think, to farm.
I guess the second piece of advice I’d give to a young vegetable farmer is put up a hoop house and then put one up every year after. Because you can grow some great crops in those and be pretty profitable with little input.
Christa Alexander: Yeah, I would second that. I think we actually really changed our growing calendar with the hoop houses. There was such less urgency to get into the field early. Once we had enough hoop houses to do some of the early production for the markets that we had, it was like, okay, we’re not going to try to push the window and get the greens out there in April and transplant all these things and put remay over them early. It was like, okay, no, we’ll just grow that in the hoop house. And it’s such an assurance to have that weather protection basically. Obviously they have their risk too. High winds and snow load and there’s all those other aspects you have to manage. But those are the exceptions. The norm is that you get high quality crops really consistently and they pay for themselves within one or two seasons depending on what you’re growing in them and how often. But they’re one of the best investments you can make in our climate.
Andy Chamberlin: What are you excited about in your next year of farming life?
Christa Alexander: Figuring out how to retire.
Mark Fasching: Yeah, you always got to be thinking about that.
Andy Chamberlin: That’s the next chapter.
Mark Fasching: I guess the young folks don’t think about that. That’s the other thing that young folks should be thinking about or advice to young farmers is think like an old person from day one because you don’t want to be schlepping heavy stuff or pushing and pulling heavy stuff. You got to think smart about your body, but also thinking about what does life look like after farming? I guess those are other great pieces of advice for young farmers.
Christa Alexander: Well I think we, Mark mentioned earlier, we’ve grown the business to a point where it’s financially successful and our systems are solid. So we’re in this fine tuning phase and always looking for a little bit more to make the systems work a little better or make the product a little better or expand the market a little bit. But we’re not growing leaps and bounds anymore.
We’ve made a lot of investment. We’re trying to maximize those investments, making sure we’re using our capital investments to their maximum as much as possible. And that’s really where we focus. When we think about, what should we grow? How much? It’s like, okay, well how much can we fit in the cooler? How much can we run through the wash line? How many people do we need to do that? And it’s not like, “Oh, I really like growing this crop. Let’s just try it.” We might do that just for fun and not make it part of the business just to experiment because-
Mark Fasching: Yeah, I found a couple of fig trees in the back of the hoop house recently.
Christa Alexander: Yeah. So things like that. I put a few fig trees in the hoop house and they’re not any part of the commercial operation and they’re probably in the way, but I wanted to try it. So you still got to have fun and do what you love. And maybe I won’t love fig trees. I don’t know. But I don’t know, ’cause I’ve never grown them before, so I’m trying them out.
But I think we’re getting a lot closer to that life balance that we’ve been looking for and starting to think about other things that we like to do and want to do in our free time and having more of that free time. So in the next few years, for me, that’s my goal is keep the systems running smoothly, but carve out that time for myself and my family and even more… We’ve made improvements in that, but we should do more and just keep growing great food for the community.
Mark Fasching: I’m really excited about the new root harvester that we have. That thing’s pretty amazing and I’m hoping that we can get our fall root crop in record time and not have to worry about snows and cold weather. So that part is very exciting to me, but it’s also got me thinking on the other end, getting back to bottlenecks is like, we’ve got room for improvement in our wash line and we’ve got some pieces that we need to still put into place to make that more efficient. So that’s what’s on my mindset for the next year is getting to that point where we got the seeding, the cultivating, the harvesting part down, and the wash line part down as well too, but there’s some room for improvement to streamline that and speed it up a little bit better. And again, that all comes back to what’s on the top of my list, profitability. It’s like if you’re doing stuff in half the time or 10% of the time, less time and you’re selling it for a good price, you’re making more profit.
So yeah, ultimately that’s what it comes down to. But yeah, again, back to what Christa was saying, more family time. That’s really the uppermost thing I think in our minds because our kids keep growing. They’re going to be out of the house before we know it. And then when they’re out of the house and we realize, “Oh, now we got time, let’s go do this, let’s do that. Oh wait, the kids are gone.” You got to do that while your kids are still around. So that’s always a constant challenge and we need to work better at that because we tend to be workaholics, but our kids work with us too. We had them working this winter helping us out in the wash pack. So it’s always great to work with them.
Andy Chamberlin: Generally speaking, have you got it down to where your evenings and weekends are free?
Christa Alexander: Depends on the time of year.
Mark Fasching: Well, we do invoices twice a week, so…
Christa Alexander: Those are our evenings.
Mark Fasching: Monday evenings and Thursday evenings, Christa and I are sitting down, sometimes the kids help, going through the invoices for making invoices for the following day for deliveries. And so oftentimes we’re up till, I don’t know what, 11 o’clock the other night and either one of us is dozing off and we get to snap each other back into reality to finish the invoices.
Andy Chamberlin: Not done yet.
Mark Fasching: And then sometimes we just can’t do it and we have to get up early to finish it. And then, yeah, weekends, I don’t know, we’re probably a little bit better. Again, back to we’re just doing veg now. We’re not doing all these other crazy livestock and poultry stuff. So in theory we have more weekends available that we can do stuff around the house, which is great. We try to do a lot of that. Don’t always do that, but we’re getting better at it, I think.
Christa Alexander: Yeah, I would say yeah. We work half weekends, I would say most of the time. And then evenings we’re getting a lot better. Well, you’re not as good as I am, but I can get home by six o’clock most nights.
Mark Fasching: She’s a better cook than I am. So I hang out in the field a little bit later, so I make sure-
Christa Alexander: He waits.
Mark Fasching: … that meal, that great meal is done.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah, you’ll start, come back for that 30 minute text. Okay. Coming soon.
Christa Alexander: But I would say, yeah, we’re getting better, but it’s still something we work on. But in the winter, most winters we have a fair amount more time. That’s the beauty of having your own business too, is you can be flexible. So I say, “Oh yeah, I try to be home by 6:00.” But sometimes I’m home for two hours in the middle of the day. I can escape and do something with the kids or read a book.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah. There is some flexibility.
Christa Alexander: Yeah. So even if we start early, it’s not like we’re 6:00 to 6:00 every day.
Mark Fasching: Yeah, it’s tough in the summertime during growing season when the bulk of your product and income is growing during the summer. For me the big focus is greens and roots and so weekly seeding of greens, getting beds fertilized and prepped and seeded and weed-free. And then the ongoing cultivation for root crops to keep them clean for harvest. And so there’s these big blips during the summertime where I’m super focused on, I got to be there, the flame weeding’s got to get done tomorrow morning or late in the evening. Things are going to pop. I got to get in there and flame weed these beds of carrots and beets. Otherwise, I’m going to be staring in the face of a ton of weeds. It’s going to cost us money. So I get hyper-focused during those times. But once the crop is up and cultivated a few times and hand weeded and looking clean, then I can start to relax a little bit.
Christa Alexander: Yeah, we’re about there now.
Mark Fasching: Yeah, so we’re-
Christa Alexander: We’re going on vacation next week actually.
Mark Fasching: That’s why we scheduled this podcast with you.
Andy Chamberlin: That’s right. It’s taken a few times.
Christa Alexander: The summer crops are good. The winter roots are weeded. So we can do a podcast but. We’re taking a five day vacation next week. So we try to do one thing in the summer every year. During the pandemic we didn’t travel, but we try to go somewhere for a few days in the summer. And then we’ve tried to also do a February break when the kids are on break from school and before the pandemic we were managing to do that pretty successfully. But we haven’t traveled much since 2020. But small trips, sometimes just weekends here or there. It’s not a 9:00 to 5:00 job, but we’re getting closer.
Mark Fasching: It’s a 5:00 to 9:00 job.
Christa Alexander: Yeah. 5:00 to 9:00.
Mark Fasching: Yeah. It’s great to get away in the summertime for five to seven days, take that mental break away from the farm and obviously we can only do that because we’ve got a great crew. I think that’s the case for every farm that’s out there. If you’re fortunate to get away in the middle of the summer, that means you’ve got a great crew behind you and we’re super thankful for them to be able to do that, to keep the ball rolling.
But on that same token, we try to get out to the ocean because that’s not something we get to see all the time. So we usually head up over to Andre’s farm here in Pond Farm in New Hampshire and hang out with them for a little bit and run over to the ocean. So we still do a little bit of farming, but-
Christa Alexander: He hasn’t put us to work yet.
Mark Fasching: Yeah. The kids hate it when we’re talking farming all the time. It’s like, “You guys are always going to visit these farmers and talk about stuff.”
Andy Chamberlin: Vacation or visit other farmers. I see, it’s a roadshow.
Mark Fasching: Exactly. But we enjoy that. Obviously, we enjoy hanging out with other farmers and talking shop and seeing what they’re doing. I’m always asking, “What are you doing new this year? What’s a great piece of equipment that you’re using?” I learned a lot from your podcast, Andy, when you had that one with Andre and your YouTube channels showing all the equipment that he has and uses, and that got me thinking about a new piece of equipment.
Andy Chamberlin: Oh, I’m sorry.
Mark Fasching: Which has worked great.
Christa Alexander: Apologize [inaudible]
Mark Fasching: But yeah, it’s just great to see other people and different environments and you really need to get away, even if it’s a short period of time. I always enjoy just going up to the Northeast Kingdom for a weekend, just for a couple days. That seems to me like to be a great little break. It’s only for a couple of days, but I feel rejuvenated when I get back.
Andy Chamberlin: Puts your mind in a different spot.
Mark Fasching: Exactly. And it’s a different pace of life up there, a little quieter and not the big rat race of Chittenden County.
Andy Chamberlin: Well, you guys have shared a lot for your business and personally. Is there anything that you’ve thought about you would talk about or that you want to share to either beginning farmers or farmers like you who are listening, who are just looking for ways that can turn the dial?
Mark Fasching: Try everything. Be curious. Fail, because when you fail, you learn things. Hopefully, you learn things when you fail. Be excited about something and pursue that as much as you can. I think that’s where your success will come from is when you’re really excited about something, you put a lot more effort into it. And I think that’s when you start seeing success. And something I always say to my kids is, “Don’t be afraid of work. Work will get you somewhere.” Yeah, I guess that’s the advice I could give.
Christa Alexander: Well, my self mottoes are keep it simple and don’t sweat the small stuff. So I had to learn those because you can get wrapped up in the small stuff and probably doesn’t make a difference in the big picture.
Andy Chamberlin: That’s a good mantra. Well, you said you don’t share a ton on social media, but if people want to reach out and ask some technical questions because-
Mark Fasching: We’ll give you Christa’s cell number.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah, we just scratched the surface. Two acres of greenhouses and we talked on and on about automation and tractoring and scaling up and all that, but we didn’t talk about any of that at all. So if people have questions about that, how can they get a hold of you?
Mark Fasching: Well, we do have a Facebook page, which we don’t keep up.
Christa Alexander: And Instagram.
Mark Fasching: And an Instagram page. I think we maybe post two to three times a year to our Instagram page, which also, since they’re owned by the same company, links to Facebook and yeah.
Christa Alexander: Just email us.
Mark Fasching: We have a website, believe it or not. Our contact information is on the website, our email, our phone number’s on there. Our personal cell phones are not on there, but talk to Andy. Andy knows our numbers. He can get you to our cell numbers.
Christa Alexander: Yeah, jerichosettlersfarm.com.
Mark Fasching: Yeah. Today we gave a tour to the produce folks at City Market South End in Burlington that we sell to. A great group of folks came out, about eight or so folks from the produce department. Christa gave them a tour at the home farm, at the hoop houses and the wash facility there. And then they came down to our farm in Richmond and I gave them a tour of what we’re growing down there and the equipment that we use to grow it all. They had a great time and we give workshops to local farmers, young farmers, or call us asking questions about this and that. We’re happy to answer those questions because that’s how we started. We asked lots of questions, visited a lot of farms. I think we need to all share that information to keep growing great food for people.
Andy Chamberlin: Well, thanks for coming on the show and sharing all that you did.
Mark Fasching: It’s an honor to be on your show, Andy. It’s a great podcast and all the other stuff that you guys do at UVM Extension, keep it up.
Andy Chamberlin: Thanks.
Christa Alexander: Thanks, Andy.
Andy Chamberlin: This podcast is supported by the Vermont Vegetable and Berry Growers Association and the Ag Engineering Program of the University of Vermont Extension. If you want to see photos, videos, or any relevant notes from this episode or others, check out the website, thefarmersshare.com, T-H-E-F-A-R-M-E-R-S-S-H-A-R-E .com. Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel and follow us on Instagram so you don’t miss any content. Thanks for listening.
PART 4 OF 4 ENDS [01:51:20]