Farm Stacking: Matching Farmers With Similar Operations on Land
A new initiative may soon provide an online means of connecting land-starved farmers with the ground they need as well as other necessities.
By Nancy Dorman-Hickson | Photos By Jack McKinnon
One of the biggest hurdles facing farmers, especially those just starting out, is the availability and cost of land. One potential solution proposed by a group of Californians—which includes husband-and-wife teams Kevin and ShaeLynn Watt, and Wendy Millet and Rob Trice—is an online-based initiative called FarmStacker.
FarmStacker, like other similar initiatives in the U.S., will match complementary farm operations, such as the ones with which the Watts and Millet are involved. However, the California-based foursome will do much of their matchmaking online, which is why, somewhat jokingly, the site’s founders have called it “eFarmony.” Yet they have a serious desire to bring together more farmers, as is happening at the 1,800-acre TomKat Ranch, where Millet is operations director, and where the Watts operate Early Bird Ranch, raising chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, rabbits and pigs.
TomKat provides the land and Early Bird’s fowl provide fertilization and help eliminate insects for TomKat’s cattle. “At its very core, our two operations enhance each other,” says Kevin of the “stacked farming” concept. “It’s a really cool symbiosis where we gain access to land and they get fertilized ground.”
Thinking beyond their own operations, one of the challenges the group discussed “was how we can ramp up supply of locally grown meat to meet growing demand, and, in particular, have more young farmers farming and ranching,” says Trice, a venture capitalist, who works with the group on financial matters. “Wendy and Kevin looked at each other, smiled and said, ‘We have an idea.’ Which was basically to replicate what TomKat and Early Bird are already doing.”
From that came the idea for FarmStacker, which will match farmers in the U.S. by asking for those looking for land and those looking for farmers to provide basic information online. Canada and other countries may be brought on board later.
“Without any advertising, we’ve received e-mails of interest from 148 aspiring farmers and 39 landowners across the country,” Kevin says. The Watts, Millet and Trice are now testing contract financing between farmers and those with locally grown food demand, such as restaurateurs and distributors.
The most crucial problems aspiring farmers have are finding land and capital, says Kevin. “That’s why we initially focused on those two problems. The next real issue is burnout. We’ve had friends who have had successful, profitable businesses, but they were working themselves to the bone. In the end, they didn’t see a way to transition out of those 12- to 14-hour days at pay below minimum wage.
“How can we produce on those long farming days and be compensated fairly for it by the marketplace?” he continues. “We hope in the future to create a network of farmers that can help educate each other on best practices—including business practices.”