In my previous blog I mentioned briefly the many hats that a farmer must wear. I imagine this is true for many people who run small businesses but farming is where my experience is. Building, mechanics, electrics, plumbing, earthworks, animal husbandry, biology, chemistry, IT… the list goes on.
Farming requires at least a small amount of aptitude across many skills and I had experience in almost none of them prior to becoming a farmer. One such area of expertise in which I have no training is finance. Depending on how you get your kicks, running a budget may not thrill you like the thought of growing beets or milking a cow but there’s a certain beauty in a good spreadsheet.
While I am decent at math, I am far from being a bookkeeper but in spite of this, I have somehow found myself (not without support) in the treasurers seat of our burgeoning co-op. And guess what – it’s budget time baby!
The end of the financial year marks the first year that our co-op has been trading as a legal co-operative. We made the decision last year that all sales made by our farmer members would go ‘through’ the co-op. Ie. the co-operative is actually trading on our behalf.
All members pay a flat rate membership fee and then some members pay an additional fee. The co-op then charges a levy on all sales. This may sound simple (as I am skipping over the finer details) but Katie and I spent a good 6 hours the other day working it all out and building a budget to rule all budgets.
We (the farmers) try to share expenses as much as possible by passing them on to the co-op, which then uses it’s income from fees and levies to pay them. One of those expenses is employing people to run a market stall or deliver produce. These employees are usually us, meaning that we are able to pay ourselves an award wage for at least some of the work we do. Very cool.
Combined with CSA and other solidarity economies and direct sales models that our farmers take part in, this is all part of our work towards a better food system. The movement depends on viable farm businesses that thrive and co-operate. This is only the very beginning of our diverse co-operative model and there is plenty of potential. For example, the co-op could provide a ‘safety net’ fund for our farmers if they found themselves in a crisis.
We talk a lot here about regenerating soils and building resilient food systems. We talk about strengthening community and ‘growing the growers’. We (and you!) are part of a food movement that fights climate change and biodiversity loss and a key part of this fight is changing the face of our political economy.
For a deep dive into political economy and the food system, I recommend this book. For a lighter read. try Farming Democracy (available in our online shop). It includes an insight into the economics of small-scale farming within the broader context and story of the farm. It is written by a diverse range of farmers from across Australia and it raises money for AFSA and the food sovereignty movement.