Posted by: A Part of the Solution | March 11, 2010

My Off-Farm Job

It is a truth universally acknowledged that farming in modern America requires one to have an off-farm job in order to make ends meet.  I never bother arguing with conventional wisdom, for fear  prolonged exposure to such ideas may be catching and stunt my creative capacity. I have a track record as an appallingly successful business person to maintain.

No, not the kind making lots of cash. Money’s not interesting to me–except as a means of keeping score. Instead, I find quirky, beyond mainstream endeavors and make them grow like the gardens in Findhorn, Scotland. And with my background education in tech theatre and astrology, my unvarying  outcomes get right on the nerves and up the noses of people who ‘know’ better.

Out of college, I worked part-time in a calligraphy studio. One third of the annual gross was outstanding in past-due invoices when I started. Some of those invoices were three or more years old. It took me fourteen months altogether. I collected all but twelve dollars. And most of those monies were from government agencies.

By then I’d become the office manager and installed a computer to track invoices and accounts. I added another computer to do automated ‘calligraphy’. Within the year, the computer business represented eighteen percent of the annual gross and had captured low-ball business which we would otherwise have turned away. When I left the firm, the bosses needed two and a half people to cover the duties I’d handled.

At the food co-op in Takoma Park, I started as a part-time, night stocker. When I became the grocery buyer (eleven months from my hire date), I handled forty-two percent of the store’s $2M volume. I sat on the committee formed to expand the co-op into a building bigger than the breadbox in which we worked. And after we’d been at the new site for ten months, I became the interim general manager.

We’d hired a management team for the expansion that was incompetent–verging on the criminally so. The new co-op lost a thousand dollars every day it was in business, despite increasing it’s volume of sales by more than 230%. I stepped up, grew sales a further 17%, and reversed the negative cash flow in fewer than ninety days.

When I left the co-op, I joined a friend’s small, vegan catering concern. Go ahead and snicker. I needed the job to be my primary income stream. So I quadrupled her business in two and a half years by putting up a website and moving her into a legal, commercial kitchen. And I pitched the marketing so that we captured substantial vegetarian business as well as cooking for the strict vegans.

Since I still don’t drive, I’ve decided my ‘off-farm’ job will be the bed and breakfast I’m opening the first weekend of May here in my new home. Yes, luxury spending is down in the recession. Yes, vacationing on a farm sounds funny to some. But I will create and build on a green and eco-sensitive market, providing high-end comfort and outstanding, locavore, any-spectrum food. Can you doubt my success? I don’t.


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