Spring – Time to Start the Seeds of Business Planning!

The Vermont Farm Viability Program can help you improve profitability, production management, marketing capacity, and increase overall satisfaction with your business. 

Elmore Roots Nursery is a surprising place – around every corner, it seems, something edible is hidden in a tree or on a bush. David Fried, the founder and owner of Elmore Roots, cultivates familiar plants such as blueberries, hazelnuts, and pears, and uncommon ones like white currants and hardy kiwis.  He gives Vermonters hope that we can grow exciting fruit for ourselves, in our own backyards. The motto of the nursery is, “If it grows in Elmore, it will grow where you are.”

Elmore Roots is one of a small handful of certified organic nurseries in New England. It has been in business for more than thirty years, cultivating and developing fruit trees and berry plants that will thrive in the northern Vermont climate.  In 2009, Fried turned to the Vermont Farm Viability Program (VFVP), a business planning and technical assistance program for farmers, to increase profitability while undergoing major infrastructure improvements and to improve wages and benefits for his employees.

He was paired with business planning advisors Richard Wiswall and Wendy Sue Harper of NOFA-Vermont.  NOFA-Vermont works primarily with organic, transitioning-to-organic, or ecologically managed farms, on business planning through the Vermont Farm Viability Program.  More than 80 farms have completed Vermont Farm Viability Program business plans with NOFA’s team of advisors.  NOFA also offers specialized assistance in marketing, dairy and livestock production, commercial vegetable growing, and gardening.

The Vermont Farm Viability Program (VFVP) enrolls farmers to complete comprehensive business plans with talented farm business planning advisors.  In addition to NOFA-Vermont, VFVP also matches farmers with advisors at the Intervale Center, UVM Extension, Land For Good, and with private consultants.  Farmers work for 6-12 months to develop a business plan that includes management and production analyses, goals and objectives, up-to-date financials, and budgets for upcoming years; the following year is spent bringing in technical assistance and revising the business plan.

Richard Wiswall, a farmer and business planning advisor with NOFA, explains that Farm Viability provides farmers with “an outside set of eyes for a new perspective on your business… your business planning advisor can be an advocate for getting work done while still focusing on the big picture.”   Over 97% of farmers surveyed who completed the program in 2011 report that their financial analysis skills and business planning skills have improved significantly since enrolling in the program.  Satisfaction with their overall ability to manage their business rose from an average of 31% before the program to 88% afterwards!

Despite being a hectic season for many farmers, spring can be an ideal time to think about improving your business through better management, increasing efficiency and looking strategically at your operations. Though it may be hard to imagine taking on extra work at this time of year, Wiswall suggests that tracking daily tasks,  “such as how long it takes to spread 10 acres of manure or seed ten beds of carrots…can give you the kind of data you need to have in order to improve your business efficiency.”

David Fried has continued to use the services of the Vermont Farm Viability Program since completing his business plan, applying for funding from the program to improve his irrigation system, a top priority for the business and crew.  Fried says that VFVP was “there for me, helping to steer this overwhelmingly large boat.  The new knowledge helped me become flexible and able to make needed changes which helped employee morale as well as the bottom line of the farm.”

According to Wiswall, the age and complexity of Elmore Roots shows that at any stage of business, start-up to mature, there is room to fine-tune to meet financial and overall business goals.

The program enrolls farms on a quarterly basis; the next application deadlines are May 31 and August 31.  Please call Liz Gleason, Program Assistant, at 828-3370 for more information and eligibility requirements.

** Applications are also available on our website at www.vhcb.org/viability.html **

The Vermont Farm Viability Program is a program of the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board (VHCB). After a $75 enrollment fee, services are provided without charge. Funding for the program comes from VHCB, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, USDA Rural Development, and private foundation funds. To read more or to download an application, see the website, www.vhcb.org/viability.html or contact Liz Gleason, Program Assistant, at 828-3370 or liz@vhcb.org.


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