By Jamie Pacheco, BTLT Programs Manager
2021 wrapped up the 10th year of growing at the Tom Settlemire Community Garden (TSCG)! We had 83 garden plots rented this season, with well over 100 gardeners in our community. We started the season off rough, with the rain-gods holding back. This is challenging because gardeners needed to visit the garden frequently to keep the soil moist enabling seedlings to take root and seeds to germinate. The remainder of the season was met with regular rain, making this season overall significantly easier as plot holders didn’t have to visit daily (or more!) to keep their crops irrigated.
Pests are a perennial (pun intended) problem at TSCG. We are an organic garden, so we do not allow the use of harmful chemicals common to many pesticides as they can also harm humans and do serious ecological damage. Crop rotation, one of the best organic pest management methods, is impractical to implement at TSCG with so many individual plot holders. Crop rotation involves rotating crop families through growing spaces (beds or fields) to disrupt the lifecycle of plant-specific pests. However, with each potholder having 10’ x 16’ plots (or smaller) to grow all of their crops, soil rotation can’t be effectively implemented. This means that pests can always find the foods of their choice, and proliferate. Some crops are nearly impossible to grow at the garden, such as potatoes. We also saw an unusually strong chipmunk (aka chippie) force at the garden this season. The chippies are especially frustrating as they like to take a bite out of this plant, another of that plant, oh, and then every tomato, melon, or squash in your bed. Chippie eradication methods were put in place in attempt to combat the damage. Unfortunately, the chippies were victorious in their efforts.
The Common Good Garden (CGG), with stalwart leadership by Dev Culver, volunteer extraordinaire, had an excellent year. The CGG crew is made up of around ~30 volunteers, with a dedicated and delightful group of 10 regulars. These are the folks that make the magic happen! The CGG was expanded significantly in 2020, to around 11,000sq ft. To support this effort, the irrigated water system was expanded to these new beds. We are currently working on a winter hardy water pump to support early and late season growing, as well as winter hoop house growing. Melons, various squashes, broccoli, kale, spinach, tomatoes, radishes, onions, carrots, beans, and peaches made up the bounty of 3,177 lbs donated to Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program and Wabanaki food security efforts.
The Taking Root Plant Sale this year broke records, with ~$13,000 raised! The leadership team of Claudia Labella Adams, Mary Fox, Prentis Weiss, Ellen Maling, and Kim Bolshaw have made strategic decisions that have allowed the plant sale to be more successful every year. This was the first year we hosted the sale at the Topsham Fairgrounds, and while we learned a few things the hard way, we also saw a much improved sale flow. The perennial team, has expanded their growing space significantly the last few years resulting in nearly 700 plants grown right at TSCG for the 2021. As we wrapped up the 2021 plant season, we had ~1,000 plants in the holding and propagation beds slated for the 2022 sale. It’s going to be a good one!
This year we were also able to put in some infrastructure to support playing and connecting in the garden. The Brunswick Rotary and Coastal Rotary designed, funded, and built a pergola, play structure, and picnic table for TSCG. Now, children have a place to play while their caretakers are gardening, and all visitors, gardeners, and volunteers have a place to sit and rest while escaping the summer sun.
By Jamie Pacheco, BTLT Programs Manager
At the end of the 2020 season Dev Culver, Common Good Garden volunteer leader, pulled soil samples from the majority of the beds used for growing in the Common Good Garden. Soil tests indicated that the 4 plots with the most use have extremely low levels of nitrogen, mid range micronutrient levels, and mid range organic matter levels. The new section of the Common Good Garden has more available nitrogen, and to some degree more organic matter, however these plots also had mid range amounts of most other nutrients.
This year, Culver, and the rest of the volunteer crew who farm the Common Good Garden at TSCG, cover cropped one of the 8 beds that are used for growing food for Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program. Cover cropping is an important tool for adding nitrogen back into the soil, breaking plant and soil disease cycles, and building soil hummus. Oats were used, which will winter kill, allowing us to plant the bed in the 2022 growing season. The 2021 soil tests should show more organic matter and higher nitrogen levels going into the 2022 season.
Delaney Bullock, Bowdoin College student, ran a soil fertility growing trail in one of the beds of the Common Good Garden at the Tom Settlemire Community Garden. Bullock’s project was part of an independent study, and was overseen by the Merrymeeting Food Council who partnered with BTLT to gain access to growing space for Bullock. The growing trial compared crop growth grown alongside seaweed and green crab emulsions. Click here to read more about the trial! This section of the garden should show higher levels of organic matter and trace minerals in the 2021 soil test. Ocean products are a great source of trace minerals because they are abundant in ocean ecosystems.
We highly recommend that plot holders test their soil and modify the soil management practices based on the findings of their soil tests.
By Darius Salko of Senza Scarpe Farm, Brunswick, ME
We have all heard about what has been going on with the global supply chain, shipping times and labor shortages. Unsurprisingly these things impact feed costs, leading to significant increases over the last two years. This led Danielle and I to take another look at our egg operation to try and find out the true costs.
Since I’m a big fan of transparency I’m going to tell you all what we found out.
- The cheapest way we can raise laying hens is to purchase them from a large hatchery at 5-6 months old when they are just about ready to lay. This places the labor and feed costs upon the pullet supplier up to that point.
- We raise Comets (a cross between Rhode Island Reds and White Leghorns) because they have the highest potential egg laying numbers.
- The egg yield per bird stays high for roughly two years, then decreases significantly. However, the hens continue to eat the same amount of feed despite producing significantly fewer eggs.
- Chickens will eat between 1/4lb-1/2lb of a complete feed ration per day.
Danielle and I have been wanting to switch to an organic feed for quite some time, but have been hesitating due to the impact it will have on our egg price. We have a loyal following of customers who know us for our $5/dozen price and deep orange yolk color (from marigold extract in the feed) and we don’t want to lose them. Two years ago $5/doz was an OK price for eggs from hens fed a standard feed. With increasing feed prices, we are at the point where a price increase is necessary, so we decided that this year we would switch to organic. Since we have to raise prices, we might as well get something good out of it!
And now begins our truly deep dive in the numbers behind an egg laying operation.
This section could be entitled “Lessons on Why Not to Farm” but we are going to call it “The Profit of an Egg Laying Operation Over 2 Years”.
We previously fed out Poulin egg layer pellets and have made the switch to Green Mountain Organic Egg Layer pellets which are currently $27.10 per 50lb bag.
Inputs for 2 Years:
|Input||Cost||Number (wks, bales, days, etc)||Total|
|Birds||$ 9.00||100||$ 900.00|
|Feed Bags||$ 27.10||548||$ 14,850.80|
|Scratch Feed (bag/wk)||$ 26.00||53||$ 1,378.00|
|Bedding (2 bales/wk)||$ 6.00||210||$ 1,260.00|
|Oyster Shells Bags||$ 17.00||4||$ 68.00|
|Nest Box Straw (bales for )||$ 10.00||52||$ 520.00|
|Egg Cartons + Stickers||$ 0.70||4,084||$ 2,858.80|
|Daily Labor||$ 6.00||730||$ 4,380.00|
|Biweekly Labor||$ 12.00||52||$ 624.00|
|Electricity||$ 0.20||730||$ 146.00|
|Odds & Ends||$ 50.00||2||$ 100.00|
|Total Cost||$ 27,085.60|
This table presents a neat and tidy picture of the input costs to make it easier to follow, but calculating these inputs is far more complicated, for example feed costs are done by multiplying the expected feed intake per bird per day by the number of birds, then multiply that by the number days in two years, and then dividing by the pounds of feed in a bag to get the number of bags. Then you multiply the number of bags by the price, then you have the price for feed for two years. Electricity was a tough number to calculate so we left it very low, but it includes things like multiple lights during winter and shoulder seasons, and heated water bases etc.. Odds and Ends includes things like equipment replacement, bulbs, diatomaceous earth, and any health treatments, etc, etc…
Outputs: the amazing egg machines!
Best case scenario, Comets have been known to lay 6 eggs per week. Unfortunately, this is not for a full 2 year stretch and my thoughts are that it is not in Maine winters either. To calculate the outputs we chose 5 eggs per week (which still may be high but we will be keeping track of these lady’s over the years). When we buy the birds they are not yet laying, so we removed 3 weeks from the beginning of our count. They will also go through a soft molt or two before the end of 2 years when they will not lay eggs while they build back their feathers, so we took another 2 weeks off the count. We didn’t know what to do about the time when the hens will lay pullet eggs (smaller than normal eggs), so we just counted them as regular eggs for the purposes of this budget but will most likely discount them until the eggs size up to large.
That’s 5 eggs X 100 birds X 98 weeks = 49,000 eggs over 2 years (WAY TO GO LADIES!). 49,000 eggs / 12 per carton = 4,084 dozen
Now, The Grand Finale:
Cost inputs over 2 years = $27,085.60 (did you think it was going to be so high? We didn’t) divided by the number of dozens we will have to sell 4,084 dozen eggs = $6.63 per dozen just to cover our inputs.
I bet you’re asking yourself what about Overhead? What about Profit? What if each chicken eats more than 3/8# of feed in the winter?!
Well, here’s the deal… We do keep farm insurance that we have to pay for and there are a bunch of other factors that we haven’t put in the budget like pest management, chicken mortality, inevitable feed price increases, egg delivery time/gas, and the time it took me to write this magnum opus on chicken budgeting, etc. But we also do have the bird at the end of the two years. The story with that: We have found that butchering and selling stew hens is basically a wash: The amount of money paid for a stew hen is just about enough to cover the butcher fee, gas and time to bring to harvest, and freezer cost, etc. We could sell them to other chicken keepers that don’t care about production, but that is for sure a crap-shoot as the price is low and buying is sporadic at best, and you are keeping hens alive that aren’t laying well so you are losing money every day they don’t go in the freezer. If we can, we will choose to slaughter them for stew-hens (because I’m pretty sure the soup they make is an unrecognized SUPERFOOD. Move over kale).
So what’s the answer????? How much do we sell the eggs for given all that we now know?
$7 / Dozen my loyal readers….
If the birds can manage to lay every bit of the 4,084 dozen, that will give us some wiggle room for price increases and mortality, etc. (the stuff mentioned above) and a little bit to cover some of the farm overhead. If input costs and egg yield stay the same (which is unlikely) we are looking at $7/dz x 4,084 dozens = $28,588 in gross profit, but now we have to subtract the input costs, $28,588 – $27,085.60 = $1,502.40 of net profit. This is realized after 2yrs of successful work. After these 2 years we will have a roughly 5% net profit margin, which we still haven’t subtracted overhead costs from…
If that day truly comes, and I am sitting here in the fall of 2023 with $1,502.40 of your gracious money burning a hole in my pocket…. I know what I’m going to do:
I’m going to use $900 to pay for 100 new birds (think they will cost the same?), then take Danielle, the kids and my mom to Maine Beer Co. or Flight Deck and buy 4 pizza’s, 2 salads and a few beers. Then, I’ll put the remainder in the kids’ college funds. So, in conclusion:
To those that won’t be able to buy from us anymore (or as frequently)… it’s OK, we have to make decisions like that too! We appreciate your past business and any business we do get in the future, whether it be on eggs or something else.
For those that can make the jump with us to $7/dz we appreciate you too! And you should know that it’s not just keeping small farming and local economies afloat. It’s also helping keep pesticides out of the soils for healthier food and water systems.
The Green Mountain Feed people put it pretty well on their feed bag:
“We are proud to be a part of the organic production movement. Any system that helps to eliminate the use of herbicides, pesticides, and artificial hormones from the food chain is good for us and our children. By purchasing this product, you are helping to support a system of agriculture that helps preserve our soil and water supplies”.
Editor’s Note: In this instance the editors are a couple of the folks at BTLT. Some of us get Senza Scarpe’s weekly sales email. They are almost always entertaining, and sometimes extremely educational. This is one of those. After reading it we asked Darius and Danielle if they would allow to use their sales email as a blog post. Food producers are amazing individuals (or families) and we want everyone to understand just how much they do for all of us. So, thank you Danielle, Darius, Mama Salko, Po, Geo and every one of you farmers and food producers who are feeding our community!
Second Note: For those of you who read the original email from Darius and are thinking, “wait, it was different last time and Darius is funnier than this”, we asked to make some edits and then checked them with Darius and Danielle.
When you give today, you will help:
- establish a level, half-mile accessible trail with a stone dust surface
- make Woodward Point safe and accessible to more people
- expand local outdoor opportunities for people of all abilities
If you haven’t yet joined us as a member, we encourage you to do so. If you are already a member but haven’t yet renewed your membership this fiscal year, we encourage you to do so. And if you find yourself in a position to increase your donation or make an additional gift to us this year, we could use your help now, more than ever.
Though this entire year has been a time of gratitude, we’re entering the season where giving thanks becomes even more prevalent. With the Farmers’ Market season coming to an end and the Tom Settlemire Community Garden (TSCG) closing up for the winter, it is high time we thank our incredible Agricultural Programs Coordinator Julia St. Clair for all of her hard work!
Julia started with us in May, quickly plunging into our busiest time of year for agricultural programs. She hit the ground running with confidence, kindness, and determination. She brought with her a wealth of knowledge from her experiences on organic, permaculture, and commercial farms and community gardens across New England and abroad. Julia’s photography and community outreach skills shined brightly though her masterful work with social media – her weekly highlights of vendors and products enticed folks to attend the Market each week and her real-time stories on Saturdays show-cased just how vibrant, musical, and fun the Market truly is. Her engagement ideas of running an Instagram giveaway and photo frame were both big successes! Julia also initiated a kids table at the Farmers’ Market, for kiddos of all ages to join in the celebration of local food.
Though this was a particularly challenging year with a surprise move of the Farmers’ Market back to Crystal Spring Farm and the implementation of a new water system at TSCG, Julia not only masterfully handled the logistical tasks at hand, but made many friends along the way. The annual end-of-market survey that we send out to vendors had overwhelmingly positive responses!
Here’s what some market vendors had to say about Julia:
“Julia’s good humor and attention to detail have been appreciated as we continue to navigate the complexities of the pandemic amid changes to the market location and ongoing customer safety concerns. Julia has reminded us all why we love Farmers’ Market and what continues to make BTLT’s Market so special.”
“We love her enthusiasm, sense of humor, and the great energy she brings to the Market.”
“Julia has done a fantastic job of maintaining order and being approachable, friendly and responsive to both vendors and customers. I’ve really appreciated having her join the BTLT staff and her thoughtfulness in communication with vendors.”
“Excellent, friendly, intelligent, clear management. Julia is outstanding in that role!”
Julia, we thank you for all your hard work these past few months! Your contributions, perseverance, passion, and communication were much appreciated and we look forward to another great season in 2022.
By Angela Twitchell, BTLT Executive Director
Just before the last Saturday Farmers’ Market of the season, we learned that Karen Marston, of Bowdoin Baking Company, had tragically passed away. Karen had been an integral part of our farmers’ market family since the very beginning, more than 20 years. Her generosity, care for others, and heart-warming smile made her the de facto matriarch of our market community. She brought joy to the market by sharing cookies with children, market volunteers, and parking staff. She was incredibly generous, always ready to donate to worthy causes, and was known for her thoughtful gifts. With her passing, there will be a big hole in the heart of our market.
Karen will be deeply missed by many, including myself, an enduring “fan of Karen.” When I first joined the Board of the Land Trust in 2000, the market was a new undertaking with only a handful of vendors. I spent many early Saturday mornings volunteering at the market and Karen was one of the first vendors I got to know well. She treated me (and my children) like family and was always ready with a smile, a hug, a delicious treat, and good conversation. My kids grew up spending Saturday mornings at the market and always wanted to visit “the cookie lady” as their first stop.
Since Karen’s passing, we have heard many poignant stories shared by others about the multitude of ways she contributed to the community and brought joy to people’s lives. It has been moving to hear these stories and share our own and to truly celebrate Karen’s life.
Our hearts go out to Karen’s husband Mike, her family & friends, her dog Jambalaya, and everyone who had the pleasure of knowing her.
Karen’s family has said there will be a celebration of life ceremony in the spring – we will share details as we learn more. She will be dearly missed and fondly remembered.