Faces of New Farmers Series Daniel Hoﬀmann’s Desire to Create Transformation Through Farming
By: Kelsey Rideout
Faces of New Farmers is a series of case studies featuring stories from new farmers at FarmStart’s McVean Incubator Farm. Dealing with all that comes with starting new organic farming enterprises, this series highlights the challenges and successes that McVean farmers have experienced, while profiling their dynamic histories and impassioned advice. The series includes:
“It’s the intention of the farm to be a therapeutic and educational resource to the community, where people can come and feel empowered, and reconnect with themselves and others and nature.” ago, Daniel combined his passions for community development with organic farming and established a dynamic business called ‘The Cutting Veg.’
Daniel Hoﬀmann, The Cutting Veg
INTRODUCTION With a background in social work, Daniel Hoﬀmann recognizes the therapeutic value that is found in farming. “I’ve worked with people with disabilities, adults with mental illness. I’ve worked with kids and youth…The farm acts as the social worker in a sense. It’s the intention of the farm to be a therapeutic and educational resource to the community, where people can come and feel empowered, and reconnect with themselves and others and nature.” By linking to FarmStart and McVean Incubator Farm five years
LAND AND OPERATION Daniel’s approach to farming is holistic. In order to cultivate personal, social, environmental and economic health through organic agriculture, The Cutting Veg has several areas of programming. Primarily, the business focuses on organic produce cultivation at McVean Incubator Farm. On four acres of land, Daniel and his team of staﬀ, interns and volunteers grow a wide range of vegetables. These include: onions, potatoes, beets, turnips, radishes, salad greens, kale, chard, spinach, peas, beans, Bok Choy, summer squash, winter squash, eggplants, tomatoes, cucumbers,
Bob Baloch – The Fresh Veggies Margaret Zondo and Rodney Garnes – Southern Horizons Daniel Hoﬀmann – The Cutting Veg Hanna Jacobs and Eric Rosenkrantz – Matchbox Garden & Seed Co. Luis Canora – Canora Honey Farm
Missing a profile? Please visit www.farmstart.ca for the complete series.
Faces of New Farmers: Daniel Hoﬀmann, 2010
“We support individuals and groups or organizations to take their relationship with food to the next level.” and some herbs like basil and parsley. Another stream of programming is The Cutting Veg’s Global Garlic Project. Daniel has nearly 20 diﬀerent varieties of garlic from about 12 diﬀerent regions around the world. Some of these places include: Korea, Tibet, Russia, Ukraine and Salt Spring Island in British Columbia. Through diligently building up seed stock over the past five years, The Cutting Veg harvested approximately 20,000 garlic bulbs by the end of the 2010 farming season. Daniel anticipates 32,000 bulbs will be harvested in the summer of 2011. Daniel enjoys educating others about organic farming practices and has developed an internship program. The part-time internship runs from the beginning of May until the end of October and requires two days of farm labour per week. In exchange, interns gain knowledge and lots of delicious veggies. Daniel also hires two full-time and part-time employees to help operate the farm. With his passion for community development, Daniel provides education outside of the farm to individuals, groups and organizations in the ‘food coaching’ component of The Cutting Veg. “We support individuals and groups or organizations to take their relationship with food to the next level. Specifically, we do something called garden and compost project consulting, so people who want to start up a garden or compost project at their homes, or at their organizations, or wherever…we’ll support them with that process. We don’t do it for them, but we can help facilitate the process so they can gain the skills.” The Cutting Veg oﬀers additional workshops including: Planting an Organic Veggie Garden, Preserving a Harvest: Canning, Feezing, Drying and Storing, and Biz Savvy for Farmers. Daniel also oﬀers counseling for individuals who are looking for one on one support to help better all areas of their wellness. BUSINESS AND MARKETING Daniel markets and sells his produce through a Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) program. He describes the CSA as foundational to operating The Cutting Veg. In four diﬀerent locations in the GTA, members pick up fresh veggies throughout the farming season. The income Daniel receives from the CSA is paid up front, with a minimum share starting at $576 dollars. Each CSA is partnered with a community organization. These partnerships help better educate the public about organic agriculture and assist The Cutting Veg in gaining popularity.
“So for each of [the CSA’s], there’s a community partner I partner with to outreach to the community. So for example, on the Tuesday Temple Sinai has a Social Action Committee so I work with them to outreach to the community. We organize talks and postering and internet-based stuﬀ. So it’s not just me; I’ve got a committee for each CSA. I have a group of people working on it with me to outreach to the communities.” A quick way to market products is by turning to the internet. Daniel created an online newsletter called ‘FarmTalk’ that provides regular updates and information to about 1,000 individuals who have so far subscribed to it. Daniel also looks to other organizations to help get the word out on the web. “There’s other kinds of food-based organizations that have their own newsletters in Toronto, so I try and get as many as those people and those organizations to outreach for me on their newsletters.” Daniel acknowledges the financial struggle that most new farmers are forced to confront. He believes that in order to cover costs and remain monetarily afloat, it’s important to sell produce in bulk. “Well I think typically, people struggle because think about how much energy it takes to grow a bunch of carrots, you have to prepare the seed, prepare the soil, fertilize the soil, prepare your raised bed, weed the bed, thin the bed, and then weed it again, harvest it, and clean it and then you go take a bunch of carrots and sell them for $2.99. When you focus on these three dollar sales, which a lot of farmers do, it gets you nowhere fast. Three dollars just doesn’t add up…So I don’t focus on three and five dollar sales. I focus on $500 dollar sales.”
Faces of New Farmers: Daniel Hoﬀmann, 2010
“I would say do less better. Try not to take on too much space too quickly or take on too many customers too quickly. Grow slowly rather than trying to get there quickly.” The garlic sold through The Global Garlic Project is purchased at a minimum required cost. “That’s another one where we do bulk orders. Minimum order is 20 bulbs and three dollars per bulb so minimum order is $60 dollars.” FINDING EQUILIBRIUM An integral part of Daniel’s operation focuses on the needs and wellbeing of others, so it can be diﬃcult at times for him to find his own personal balance. “It’s a priority for me and it’s not one I’m feeling very successful with. My professional life takes up a huge amount of my time and it takes away from the balance. My stress level’s often high. My wellness isn’t always at its best.” In order to gain a stronger sense of stability, Daniel has devised a plan to enable The Cutting Veg to continue operating with less of his direct involvement in the future. “Right now I hold up a lot of the responsibility, and I’m trying to kind of share that more…I have this plan, this vision as I said to make [The Cutting Veg] less and less reliant on me and more and more reliant on staﬀ and interns and volunteers. So I’m moving in the right direction.”
ADVICE THAT FLOWERS GROWTH Daniel points to the need for new farmers to establish concrete goals and become fully aware of their own personal visions. Depending on what farmers are looking for, their workloads will inevitably vary. “First of all, people need to identify what their goals are and what they’re trying to achieve. Is it a lifestyle they’re going for? Is it community building? Is it a successful thriving business? People need to clarify for themselves what they’re wanting out of this. If you’re just going for just a little extra money… it’s a really diﬀerent approach then if you’re trying to have a thriving, financiallyrewarding business.” If new farmers are looking for the latter, a thriving farming business, then Daniel suggests paying close attention to three particular skills. “To have a thriving business you need people skills, you need growing skills, you need business savvy and then you need to be working on all these diﬀerent sets of skills if you want to have a successful business.” Once new farmers have identified their goals and have begun working on their skills, Daniel encourages new farmers to pace themselves, and work on developing their farms step by step. “I would say do less better. Try not to take on too much space too quickly or take on too many customers too quickly. Grow slowly rather than trying to get there quickly.” A FUTURE FULL OF IMPACT Daniel plans to keep The Cutting Veg operating at the McVean Incubator Farm well into the future. He appreciates the farm’s unique structure and values the community found on its premises.
Daniel recognizes all the work that is needed to operate a farm and has spent the last several years devoting his life to building the Cutting Veg. But he also emphasizes the need for farmers to be able to spend time with their families and develop a life outside of the farm. “I think there is a phase in life when it’s appropriate for your professional life to take up a big part of your life. The key is to not let it last forever.”
“It’s a gift to have the support of FarmStart. They were the ones that secured the land in the first place, and that was a great gift. They provide an on-site mentor and support system [and] provide machinery…The opportunity to observe other farmers and learn from them is great.” As for other future plans, Daniel hopes to continue positively impacting all aspects of life through farming. “I want to cultivate personal, social, environmental and economic health. On a personal level for me and everyone who engages with the farm, I want it to enrich their lives and lead to a balanced, healthy life. On a social level, again, I want to promote social
Faces of New Farmers: Daniel Hoﬀmann, 2010
“I want to cultivate personal, social, environmental and economic health. On a personal level for me and everyone who engages with the farm, I want it to enrich their lives and lead to a balanced, healthy life.”
wellbeing in the community. Environmentally…[I want to] be a model of sustainable practices. Economically, I want to have financial abundance for me and my staﬀ and for my interns, [I want] their food budget to be reduced. For the land itself, I want it to keep increasing its fertility by caring for the soil.” With whatever changes come in the journey ahead, Daniel will be sure to carry one of his most cherished aspects of farming with him: his passion for empowering others. “I really feel like we’re changing people’s lives, and we’re growing people. For the internship program for sure, the CSA members, the volunteers, everyone who engages with the farm I think for the most part is impacted really positively. So knowing and being a part of the process where people can grow and be empowered, that’s one of my favourite parts for sure.”
For more information, contact: FarmStart PO Box 1875, Station Main Guelph, ON N1H 7A1 519-836-7046 www.farmstart.ca
What is FarmStart? The objective of FarmStart is to support and encourage a new generation of farmers to develop locally based, ecologically sound and economically viable agricultural enterprises. There are many challenges in agriculture today but there are also many exciting opportunities. By thinking about agriculture in new and innovative ways we can meet the challenges head on with a variety of solutions that promote a sustainable, healthy and regional food supply.
What is McVean Incubator Farm? Our McVean incubator farm facility in Brampton is the first of its kind in Canada. It provides a working, vibrant example of near urban agriculture: a place where new farmers from around the world can thrive, grow delicious food and contribute to the health of their communities. Located in the developing north end of Brampton, Ontario, the McVean Farm is leased to FarmStart by Toronto and Region Conservation (TRCA). FarmStart is bringing new life to this farm by providing new local farmers with access to land, equipment, and infrastructure as well as support during the first years of their farm business-start up.
To learn more please visit www.farmstart.ca or call 519.836.7046 The McVean Farm is a refreshing island of diverse, ecological food production surrounded by suburban development. This year, 19 new farmers are digging in with 11 diﬀerent farm enterprises on-site. These farmers, from all over the world, are growing over a hundred kinds of diﬀerent vegetables, which are fresh picked and often sold directly to their consumers through farmers markets, restaurants and through farm you-pick.
Faces of New Farmers: Daniel Hoﬀmann, 2010