Hiring a farm worker

Head over to the blog at Cully Neighborhood Farm if you’re interested in working with me and the rest of our great crew at at little urban farm on Mondays and Thursdays. This is appropriate for anyone interested in the work, no experience or completely overqualified – I’ve been lucky to work with a ton of great folks over the years of all levels – mostly you just need to be a good person, with good communication and ability to get things done. Job starts pretty much immediately on hire.

Group Coaching Session

Friday morning I’m hosting another virtual group coaching session for growers who want to talk more about planning and record keeping on the farm. If you’ve already filled out the interest form on my website at some point you should have received an email link this afternoon. If you haven’t signed up yet, you can find the link and sliding scale pricing at slowhandfarm.com/consulting

Group Coaching Session

Friday morning I’m hosting another virtual group coaching session for growers who want to talk more about planning and record keeping on the farm. If you’ve already filled out the interest form on my website at some point you should have received an email link this afternoon. If you haven’t signed up yet, you can find the link and sliding scale pricing at slowhandfarm.com/consulting

2021 Numbers

Every year I post my summary of the past year’s farming financials. 2021 was a rough one, and we were down on the number that matters the most to me, net dollars generated per labor hour. For the last five or six seasons (I’m too lazy to look back at this exact moment) I’ve been farming at Cully Neighborhood Farm and we’ve been trending upward, but with some variation. I’m hoping 2021 was an anomaly.

Here are the basics:

Total Labor Hours: 2265

Farm Gross: $43,083

Non-Labor Expenses: $9,203

Net Dollars per Labor Hour: $14.96

If you follow links back to previous years (here’s the link to 2020) you’ll notice that our gross was actually up by a decent amount, yay! Our non-labor expenses were also up, not by much, but a little. The big difference was that our total labor hours were up, a lot!

That difference in labor hours has a good side – it means we employed people for more hours than in past years. Unfortunately, all that extra labor didn’t translate into enough extra income to make up for the number of hours we added.

The way last year went, none of this was a surprise. I track this monthly, so I knew it was happening at the moment and I was making adjustments as best as I could. Unfortunately for us a number of things all went wrong during the year, some more significant than others, but they also all added up to more labor.

Here are some of the factors that led to higher overall hours. One was that I had folks start working earlier in the year than usual, hoping that would pay off in getting the farm and everyone working in shape and saving us hours later in the season. Unfortunately that coincided with employee turnover – for a positive reason, but still necessitating time hiring and training. At the same time we had a major off farm injury for another employee – not positive at all, but fine in the end. The combination of those two events, which happened close together, made it very difficult to plan labor needs using a completely new crew, and I over compensated a bit which added a bunch of hours early in the year. We never completely recovered from that, cost wise, but we did have a good year, crew wise. I also started spending longer hours at the farm, and that didn’t help as my hours are also accounted for in there, and I probably wasn’t as productive at the end of long days as I would have been with shorter days.

A hard to quantify change to the farm last year was moving all of our propagation of vegetable starts from our original greenhouse just down the street, to a smaller one in my backyard. The biggest change there was probably just in the learning curve that any new system entails, and time spend trying to recreate all the little details of our old system.

The other thing that we dealt with, which took extra time more than anything, were numerous escalating vandalism events through the season. Again, none of that on its own would have made a significant dent, but all together it really added up.

2022 is probably going to be another interesting season. I’ve changed up a number of the fundamentals on the farm – field layout, CSA seasons, and plans for a new wash/pack area layout. I’ll keep track of all of this and I’ll report back here on the results early next year.

Workshop Updates

A quick note here just to say that I added a few upcoming workshops to the list. They’re coming up soon and have limited capacity so if you’re in Missouri don’t wait to check out the details.

The blog’s been silent for a while, but I’m going to try to change that this year – we’ll see what happens there. I’m a little more consistent with my Instagram, and that usually feeds my Facebook, too, but I’d like to get back to the blog more often so I’ve set that as a goal. The most consistent posting I do is during the harvest season over at cullyneighborhoodfarm.com so you can check that out if you’re looking for what’s happening in the fields.

2020 Numbers

In December, once all of the labor, income and expenses were pretty well set for the year, I ran my annual calculation for net dollars generated per labor hour. I have done this for most years I’ve been at Cully Neighborhood Farm, and I started doing it back when I first started Slow Hand Farm as a way to compare year to year in a way that somewhat independent of growth and changes to marketing and growing methods, gives me an idea of how well I did financially for the number of hours worked.

You can follow the crumbs back through the years by following this link. For 2020 here are the basic numbers:

Total Labor Hours: 1987

Farm Gross: $41,000

Non-labor expenses: $8070

Net Dollars per Labor Hour = $16.57

This is slightly higher than last year, which I’m happy to see. It was a very different year to say the least. I’ll attribute the slight increase largely to returning crew members and some excellent day labor contributions at key times of the year. It wasn’t our best year, but considering all of the added expenses and stresses between Covid and the extended hazardous smoke conditions I’m happy we did as well as we did.  

One thing that I’ve heard some other experienced farmers say, and that I feel like I’m seeing as well, is that when we’re a little over our labor budget early in the season it’s actually probably a good thing, setting us up for better yields and less weeding labor later. That was the case this year. 

I’ve written a more detailed article in Growing For Market that should be out soon on why I think the Net Dollars per Labor Hour is a good metric to track and that should be out soon. 

How to Grow Radicchio workshop

Way back in January I had the incredible privilege of visiting a number of farmers and seed company folks in northern Italy, and specifically looking at radicchio and other chicory growing there. I was going to do a workshop for local market farmers here in the Portland area in early April on what I learned there but that didn’t exactly work out due to the current pandemic. I’ve decided to move the workshop to mid-May and online. Check out the flyer here if you’re interested and want to sign up. It’s free thanks to a generous donation from my friend Eric Pond at Greenleaf Farm Management and as most of these crops are best seeded starting in June and July we should still be early enough with the information to make it useful this year!

2019 Numbers

I’ve always been public with the numbers for my farm ventures. You can go back to my report from last year with this link here , and that post links to years prior. I’ve been glad to see more folks, especially folks who are teaching and consulting starting to be more public with numbers, although the most common number I see is total gross income, or gross per something – acres, or square feet, or some other measure.

I’ve always understood gross income to be a poor metric for understanding the success of a farm when it’s not given in relation to expenses and other factors. For the past few years I’ve been gaining more and more insight into measures of health and success for businesses in general, and farms in particular. My partner went and got her MBA after many years of farming, specifically to work on this topic, and I’ve probably been the biggest beneficiary of her degree at this point – absorbing a lot of what she learned through many, many conversations on the topic, and even co-writing the chapter “Manage It” in the new book, “Whole Farm Management ” from Storey Publishing, which was put together by the Oregon State University Center for Small Farms and Community Food Systems .

I’m still convinced that the best all-around metric for comparing how my farm did from year to year – and for that matter, comparing it to other farms of any scale – is to use the dollars per hour generated after non-labor expenses, or maybe it should be called the net dollars per labor hour.

I calculate this number using three numbers: total gross income, total labor hours, total non-labor expenses.

Total gross income is the easiest and clearest number for me to calculate. It’s simply all of the cash income the farm generates during the year. The only thing that’s not included that might be significant in some way are non-cash benefits. These would be things like the extra food produced that all of us who work on the farm take home each week, or little thank yous like the chocolate bars one of our CSA members brings us regularly, or the flower bouquets another makes us.

Total labor hours is also relatively easy as all of the employees on the farm are paid hourly and I track my own labor hours as if I was paid hourly. In some sense I actually do pay myself at an hourly rate, although as the owner I also take home any additional profits. For farmers who are resistant to tracking their hours, or just don’t do it, you’d have to take a really good guess and based on tracking my own hours I’d guess that many folks are vastly overestimating the number of hours they actually work on the farm (I try to use labor laws as my guide for what an hour of my work is, even though as a business owner I’m not bound by employee labor law and I can work as many hours as I like, whenever I like). For the total hours I’m adding up everything that everyone worked with direct benefit to the farm regardless of their skill level or payrate.

Total non-labor expenses are the trickiest of the three numbers to be consistent with. I immediately take out any payroll expenses as those are labor expenses. For large equipment or infrastructure purchases I’ll try to reasonably estimate their useful life and do a straight-line depreciation (there are more accurate ways to do this, but I think straight-line is close enough considering how many of these I have). Some expenses are a little questionable as to whether they are really necessary, or maybe as to whether they should be in the labor category. An expense that I question including sometimes is a tool or piece of infrastructure that isn’t one that is absolutely necessary for production, but that simply makes our work nicer in some ways. For example if I were to buy a sound system for the barn so that folks could enjoy music while they work I’m not sure I’d include it (not a purchase that I’ve made, but a good example I think). I also bought a nice seeder we didn’t need but that I wanted to try last year. It was relatively expensive and I wasn’t sure I should include it, another example. Any expenses for employee benefits, like end of the year celebration dinners, or even buying the crew their own personal harvest tools are always a bit fuzzy for me as well – are they labor expenses or non-labor expenses? Generally these are small enough that I don’t worry too much about which category I put them in as they won’t ultimately make a big difference in the final number.

This year the total gross of the farm was $41,226
The total labor hours were 2088
The total non-labor expenses were $7,064

This brings the net dollars per labor hour to about $16.36

This is lower than in 2019 but it’s actually not as much lower as I feared it might be. I’ve also talked to a number of long time, very successful farmers over the years that have told me that over decades they see a lot of ups and downs from year to year. Here are the factors I think contributed to the lower number this year: weather, a completely new crew, and pest pressure. 

The weather wasn’t actually too bad this season. It was a colder start to the year and a rather abrupt end to summer, so those worked against us in some ways. Slower growth in the spring and early summer meant the crops were less competitive with weeds which increased our labor needs there and might have increased our harvest labor a bit in some of the roots – smaller roots take longer to harvest. The abrupt end to summer had mixed results for costs. In some ways it is actually a short-term benefit in our situation. CSA members pay up front and absorb some of the shortfalls when crops yield less than we hope or fail all together – there can be a labor savings when we don’t harvest. In other ways it makes us have to scrape a little harder to give full shares every week and that increases the labor costs for what we are harvesting. As an example, we were uncharacteristically short on kale and collards in the fall and really had to spend a lot of time sorting through damaged leaves to get decent bunches – that cost us. 

That sorting through the kale might have been partly due to weather but it was actually mostly due to pest pressure. Pests also cost us a lot of extra labor dealing with holes in drip lines this year – it was the worst year for chewing on irrigation lines I’ve ever seen by far! Pests also took out our initial planting of corn and winter squash which had cascading effects, resulting in a lot of extra labor weeding and very low yields without much harvest labor savings.

Last year we had a couple of folks on the crew who were new to the farm, but there were three of us in the core crew that had at least three seasons on the farm, and two of the “new” crew members had worked with us a little in the past. It turns out it makes a big difference when the crew is experienced and knows what to expect. It takes a lot less time to explain what tasks need to be done, and it takes the crew a lot less time to make transitions from one task to another. It’s also a big difference if only one or two people are new and they have multiple other folks to take cues from. In 2019 I was the only one who knew any of Cully Neighborhood Farm’s specific systems. The crew this year was a great group of folks (and I hope they come back to work with me again), but even though they all had some farm experience in other places, none had worked on this farm and so things just took longer. You can see that reflected in the total labor hour numbers between 2018 and 2019.

Even with the drop in net-dollars per hour generated I’m pretty happy with what we were able to do in 2019. I’m especially happy that the number comes in above $15/hour (the target for minimum wage in Portland over the next few years), although probably not enough above $15/hour to cover the “loaded” hourly rate. The loaded rate has to cover the business’s payroll taxes as well as the hourly rate. In addition, it doesn’t leave much room for anyone to make much over minimum wage.

Championing Chicory

A couple of months ago I created an Indiegogo campaign for a project that Lane Selman, Shawn Linehan and I are doing. The crowd funding campaign through Indiegogo was my first direct insight into that platform and it was an interesting experiment in some ways – definitely successful in a lot of ways, but also possibly the wrong platform for the amount of time we had to commit to promoting the campaign. Now that the campaign has expired we’re still getting inquiries for how people can help support our work so I’m reposting most of the information from the campaign below. Donations can still be made through the PayPal link at the bottom of my pages here, with the same “thank yous” we gave on the Indiegogo campaign. Or, if you prefer to mail a check just send me an email and I’ll get you an invoice with the mailing address.

Please help support a small expedition of Pacific Northwest farmers and farm educators headed to northern Italy in January to learn more about both production methods and culinary uses for this quintessentially Italian crop, and to bring back that information for growers, cooks and eaters.

The Expedition is being organized and led by Italian farmer Myrtha Zierock of Foradori Winery and Farm in Mezzolombardo, Italy, and Lane Selman of the Culinary Breeding Network in Portland, Oregon. We will visit production farms, seed companies and radicchio breeders throughout the Veneto region for five days. The expedition will culminate in a public event and radicchio celebration called Giàz (meaning ‘ice’ in the Trentino dialect) at Foradori.

Outcomes will include articles, photographs, video and presentations for the public, all focused on increasing understanding of radicchio production and culinary usage. Information will be shared at the third annual Sagra di Radicchio event in Seattle, WA in 2020 which we hope to expand into a multi-day conference this coming year.

Sponsorship will help cover travel expenses and the development of educational materials for the primary documentarians on the trip: Lane Selman of The Culinary Breeding Network, Josh Volk of Slow Hand Farm Consulting, and Shawn Linehan of Shawn Linehan Photography.

Background – Radicchio is a cool season vegetable that originated and is still widely grown in the Veneto region of northeastern Italy, a climate of annual mean temperatures, and latitude very similar to those of the Pacific Northwest. It is a promising winter crop as it overwinters in the field and holds well in storage, providing a locally grown alternative to lettuce shipped from warmer regions during the colder months. Numerous farmers in Oregon and Washington are interested in growing radicchio, but have production questions on variety selection, seeding and transplanting timing, cultivation, harvest, forcing techniques and storage. Little of this detailed information is available in the US and the best way to acquire details by directly visiting the farmers growing these crops in Italy. An initial visit to radicchio seed breeders in 2014 was an invaluable introduction to many basics practices that were not commonly known in the US and this second trip will build on that information by visiting more growers in the region and documenting their practices.

According to growers in the northwest and northeastern US, radicchio demand has increased exponentially over the past decade and recent years. Local Roots Farm in Duvall, WA has reported a 900% increase over the last decade and a doubling in sales in the past year alone. Radicchio sales currently account for 12% of their total annual sales to restaurants, and they expect that growth to continue. Hayshaker Farm in Walla Walla, WA have seen sales increase 250% from 2017 to 2018 and they also see demand continuing to grow.

On the East coast, Kitchen Garden Farm in western Massachusetts has doubled sales in the last year with $30,000 in radicchio sales for 2018 making the crop a significant part of the farm income, not just something novel and fun. Since 2017, Kitchen Garden Farm has been primarily selling vegetables through distributors, and directly to stores and restaurants, in NYC, Boston, and Providence. More than 60% of their 2018 radicchio was sold to NYC through Natoora and Myers Produce.

In the US, the California-grown, round, red Chioggia type is the most commonly found radicchio on grocery store shelves. Pacific Northwest growers are producing a much wider variety of radicchio types including Treviso Precoce, Treviso Tardivo, Castelfranco, Lusia, Verona, Rose, Puntarelle, Grumolo and more. Each has a unique appearance, flavor, texture and culinary purpose. And each have their own set of growing methods which we hope to learn more about during the “Radicchio Expedition in Veneto, Italy 2020”.


The Culinary Breeding Network is an initiative created by Lane Selman with a mission to break down the walls between breeders and eaters to improve agricultural and culinary quality. Read more about the Network at www.culinarybreedingnetwork.com.


Shawn Linehan has been photographing small-scale farmers and seed breeders since 2008 and has photographed at all CBN’s Variety Showcases. Traveling twice to Japan with Stacey Givens of The Side Yard Farm & Kitchen sparked a desire to photograph more farming and seed breeding on an international level. Your support would help her to reach that goal and help document this important cultural and informational exchange that will benefit our community. See more photos at www.shawnlinehan.com


Josh is vegetable farmer
and the author of the book “Compact Farms: 15 Proven Plans for Market Farms on 5 Acres or Less” from Storey Publishing. He has been a Slow Food member for more than 20 years, and is also involved with the Slow Tools movement which seeks to further Slow Food production through appropriate technology development and sharing. He currently farms
in Portland, Oregon at Cully Neighborhood Farm. You can learn more at www.slowhandfarm.com

Where will you find the information that gets collected?
Articles, photographs, video and presentations for the public, all focused on increasing understanding of radicchio production and culinary usage will be published widely in journals and through the participants websites and social media. All information will also be shared at the third annual Sagra di Radicchio event in Seattle, WA in 2020 which we hope to expand into a multi-day conference this coming year.

How can you help spread the word?
Please share this campaign and the resulting photos and write ups widely through social media and other food and farming networks! We love radicchio and all chicories and think they deserve wider appreciation for their ecological, culinary, and cultural contributions.

Why do you keep mixing the terms chicory and radicchio?
Radicchio is a plant in the Chicorium genus, and is probably the best recognized example of that genus in the US and is just one of the cultivated crops in that genus that we’ll be researching. We’re loosely using the term “chicory” to signify cultivated crops of that genus and “radicchio” sneaks in there sometimes for greater general recognition.

Donation Thank Yous
(Shipping is only good for US, outside of the US might be possible but check with us first)

Donate $5 and get your choice of a pdf with our notes from the trip on cultivating chicories, or a pdf of culinary preparations.

Donate $20 and we’ll set you up with the above pdfs as well as stickers and buttons

Donate $50 and you’ll get everything above, and a copy of the beautiful Giáz event poster (check out the website for the event at giàz.com and the poster image on instagram here)

Donate $100 for a signed copy of Compact Farms and Culinary Breeding Network stickers

Donate $250 and we’ll send you an 8×10″ photo by Shawn Linehan, an event poster and we’ll give 3 shout outs on Instagram to let you world know how great you are!

Donate $500 and we’ll get you an 8×10″ photo, 3 instagram shoutouts, and we’ll come to your house to do a multimedia presentation on the trip (in the Portland area – we can travel, but those expenses aren’t included…)

Donate $1000 and you basically get everything, and we’ll do the multimedia presentation at your business (same travel as above)

Really these are all just suggestions – if you want to donate but would like some different combo for a thank you (or nothing at all) just let us know and we might be able to make it happen.

Upcoming Talk

Beautiful day on the farm yesterday and the leeks and fields were looking fine. That single wheel farm cart in the photo is a workhorse on the farm, super easy to load, unload and move large loads in tight spaces with it (if you pay attention to how it’s balanced).

I’m going to be speaking about customizing tools for efficiency (which is the same thing as ergonomics) at the Small Farm Tech Expo in Santa Rosa, California, in early December. Spread the word, I’m looking forward to sharing what I’ve learned and hearing what other folks are doing while I’m down there.

On that note, I’ll be working in the Bay Area (based out of SF/Marin) for the week leading up to that, hoping to visit a few farms I’ve been admiring from afar, and maybe even a few I don’t know about yet.