Update, January 27: The Hoxie Gorge Farm Kickstarter is FUNDED! Congratulations Aubrey & Scott!! The campaign is running for 8 more days if you’d still like to contribute. Can’t wait to see how Hoxie Gorge grows in 2015.
There are many new farmers across the country that have all of the ambition and energy in the world but lack the capital to access land and make the investments they need to start a farm. Aubrey Schatz and Scott Hoffman, two young farmers in New York, have been given the opportunity to start a partner operation on an existing grass-fed sheep dairy in Marathon, NY. I personally know Aubrey from my early years of Outstanding in the Field, based in Santa Cruz, CA. In short, we lived on a tour bus together for 6 months, and friendships like that last forever. After working with Outstanding in the Field, Aubrey was as an intern at Four Season Farm in Maine, then returned to the Bay Area to start a small backyard farming operation in Oakland. I was pretty excited to hear about her latest venture: Hoxie Gorge Farm.
Maryrose Livingston and Donn Hewes of Northland Sheep Dairy already have land, draft horses, work mules and much of the equipment and infrastructure Aubrey and Scott need to start their small, diversified farm. But they need additional capital to purchase some animals and equipment that goes beyond the means of their personal savings, which they estimate to cost about $10,000:
- 2 bred dairy cows ($2500)
- 100 laying pullets ($900)
- equipment for raw milk bottling & storage ($1200)
- vegetable, grain and bean seed ($1300)
- vegetable cleaning and storage infrastructure ($1550)
- land rental ($700)
- hay and grain for dairy cows, pigs, goats, and broiler and layer chickens (until they start producing their own in year 2!) ($1850)
Aubrey and Scott decided to start a Kickstarter campaign to raise that capital. We asked them a few questions about their decision to use Kickstarter, what they think is making their campaign successful and what their backup plan is if it doesn’t work out. See their Kickstarter video below and pledge Hoxie Gorge Farm here.
Note: at the time of publication Aubrey and Scott have $8,335 of the $10,000 funding they need with 12 days left in the campaign. You can help them reach their goal!
LETumEAT: How did you decide on doing a crowdfunding campaign? Did you consider any platforms other than Kickstarter?
Aubrey & Scott: We are two of many young farmers with passion and experience but lacking capital. Crowdfunding a farming operation seemed like the most straightforward way to make our ideas a reality. Many older farmers, whose opinion we respect, have said over and over that going into debt was the wrong way to go- that our eyes would be bigger than our stomachs, that we would buy too much too quickly and not be able to recover, ever. There are not many farming operations, especially in the sustainable, holistic, environmentally-minded, draft-powered, animal welfare approved category that can turn a big profit quickly. In this particular subset of agriculture (diversified small farming) the going advice is to grow slowly and to be patient. So a loan of any type was a Plan B situation. But we knew we needed some seed capital to even start small; thus, Kickstarter. We actually also looked at Barnraiser, but Kickstarter seemed to have a larger following that went beyond just the sustainable farming world… We would be all for supporting a farming-specific crowd funding platform, but we also wanted to put our effort where it would reach the most potential backers and have the highest chance of success.
Another reason we thought Kickstarter was the most straightforward option was because of the ability to make a personal appeal to people with money who have reasons other than potential return on monetary investment to contribute to our campaign. “Hello, we are young farmers who want to produce food for our community in a way that doesn’t fuck anyone over at any point in the food chain, but we don’t have any money. Is there any chance you have some money and would like to help us do that?” probably isn’t something to which any bank would respond positively. But (so far) 90 randos from the Internet have seen that and said yes, which is amazing! It also confirms that what we’re doing is (at least in the eyes of 90 Internet randos), okay. Or maybe they just liked that we had organic yarn as a reward. Who knows?
LETumEAT: How did you make your video? Did someone with experience help you with it? What tools did you need?
Aubrey & Scott: We filmed it with an iPhone. We wanted to tell the story in the simplest, most effective way with the least words, but it wasn’t as easy as we thought it would be. It took us a while to get it to not sound like an 11th grade world history presentation. Aubrey’s sister is a creative writing professor and helped us get the words to a clearer point, and her brother-in-law introduced us to ScreenFlow (a little more intuitive than iMovie) and helped us with video editing. The thing is three minutes long and took us two weeks of fiddling to get to where we thought we could share it with our families without being embarrassed.
LETumEAT: How are you marketing your campaign? Have you achieved any reach outside of your personal networks? How?
Aubrey & Scott: Despite wanting to just email our families and friends and talk to people personally about the campaign, we knew it would take much more than that. We knew the inevitable was necessary: Social networking. This is neither of our strengths but we just had to swallow our pride and say, over and over again, “Hey everyone, we’re still asking for money…” Aubrey rejoined Facebook. Enough said. But so far it has proven successful. After the first week or so, people neither of us knew started contributing, which we suppose is the power of crowdfunding. We’ve also been sending out updates about our campaign as it’s progressed. It keeps those who have already pledged updated and involved in what we are doing and “rooting” for us to succeed.
LETumEAT: What aspects of your Kickstarter campaign do you think have made it successful? Is there any advice you would offer to new farmers considering a crowdfunding campaign?
Aubrey & Scott: So far, our experience with Kickstarter has been positive. We are pretty pleased with how our video turned out in the end, which seems to be a key element to a successful campaign. We’ll see how things turn out but we think being honest and clear about what your campaign is, where the money is going, the risks involved, and keeping things concise and simple has helped us out. And maybe not taking ourselves too seriously. We want to farm, not make Kickstarter campaigns for a living.
LETumEAT: Do you have a backup plan in place if your Kickstarter doesn’t get funded? How would your first year or farming look different?
Aubrey & Scott: If the Kickstarter doesn’t work (which is totally possible) there are some 0% interest loans we could have access to through Kiva Zip, if we did some homework. This of course would be against advice, however at this point the ball on our farm is already rolling. If we didn’t put any money in it, we’d just be homesteading, which isn’t why we’re farmers. We do hope it works.
LETumEAT: Would you recommend other new farmers use Kickstarter for their farming ventures?
Aubrey & Scott: Sure! Go for it- there’s no harm in trying. If it doesn’t work, you made (hopefully) a useful video, connected on some level with interested/like minded folks, and only wasted 30 or so days of obsessively checking your phone for new pledges and bugging long lost friends via Facebook about your campaign. Doesn’t sound too bad- right? And, if it works, then AWESOME!