Clover Valley Farms

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Clover Valley Farms is a small-scale integrated farm near Duluth, Minnesota. Jeff Hall and Cindy Hale raise poultry, hogs, apples, and herbs. They started selling products in 2007 and have grown into a combination of direct sales and wholesale.

This case study describes how Cindy and Jeff started working toward their farming dreams in 1999, how they have gradually added enterprises, and how they integrate farming with their off-farm jobs and their overall lifestyle.

There are details on training and networking, business planning and goal setting, production methods, on-farm research, poultry processing, cider pressing, yields and profitability, marketing models, and business management. Jeff and Cindy’s emphasis on integration (such as the passive solar greenhouse that helps heat their home while giving life to their herbs) is highlighted throughout the case study.

Interviews and photos for this case study were obtained primarily in 2010. Some follow-up notes from 2011 are included, but as with all case studies in the Profiles in Sustainable Agriculture project, this case study necessarily represents a snapshot in time. Like many farmers, Cindy and Jeff’s approach is continually evolving.

Buff Orpington hen from Clover Valley Farms

Yellow Apples on Clover Valley Farms apple tree

Clover Valley Farms Hogs

Farmer’s Perspective: Lessons Learned

Jeff & Cindy’s Top Ten Pieces of Advice for Start-up, Small-Scale Diversified Farm

  1. Work on farms of different scales, crops and animals, management systems, soil types, and marketing outlets.

  2. Seek and cultivate relationships with mentors early and ongoing; never stop.

  3. Start small and increase business gradually. Learning how to have continuous product throughout the season, and managing multiple kinds of products, is a genuine challenge.

  4. Involve your customers, have field days, and ask for feedback! Your customers can help you make important decisions that reflect directly to your bottom line.

  5. Know the regulations related to your product(s)!

  6. Support yourself off-farm for the first 4-5 years in order to reinvest all farming profits back into the business, save for future capital purchases, and avoid all debt other than a farm mortgage.

  7. Join farmer-based agricultural organizations and engage in farmer-to-farmer learning opportunities such as tours, field days, conferences, and workshops.

  8. Develop a farm financial and management planning system that works for your operation and the people involved; review and revise annually, and get professional help (i.e., consultants, accountants) when you are out of your element.

  9. Explore and take advantage of traditional farm programs, loans, on-farm research grants, and small business resources through the USDA, FSA, state agricultural departments, university extension services, and community colleges.

  10. No matter what, take at least one day or half day off each week to do something fun that reminds you why you wanted to farm in the first place. Have bonfires and roast marshmallows whenever you can, especially with friends.

MISA EcoSmith