First Research Interview: Muddy Fingers Farm

Our first interview was with Matthew Glenn, owner of Muddy Fingers Farm. We spoke with him in the front yard of his farm in Hector, NY.  More information on the farm can be found at http://muddyfingersfarm.blogspot.com/

How did you start Muddy Fingers?

My wife and I knew we wanted a farm but we didn’t have any land. We got our start on her uncle’s land outside of Horseheads, New York, which got us up into this area. That was a good way to get started; there was lots of land that we had access to, equipment that we could use. Then we bought this place and we built slowly and bought things as we needed them.

Could you talk a little bit about some of the infrastructure you have, and the primary purposes that those buildings serve?

After our first year we got our greenhouse, because we knew we needed that to start off with. It’s sole purpose is for transplants, although we do plant in the ground once all of the transplants are out.

We also have the barn, which we got fixed up, because it was pretty much falling down when we bought the place. It’s in good shape now and we can store all of our field equipment there like row covers, insect netting, and hoops. We also use it for curing onions in the late summer and our goats live there in the winter.

What we call our “green barn” is our greenhouse that we use for a wash area, cold storage, and tractor storage.

We also have our tool shed which has all of our hand tools, our hand seeder, and all of our planting trays.

We also have a number of Howard Hoover high tunnels.

“WE DEVELOPED A SYSTEM THAT WORKS FOR OUR FARM”

On time-tracking and efficiency:

We developed a system that works for our farm. We wanted to look at how much time we were spending on individual crops to figure out where we needed to improve our efficiency. So what we did was each have a little notebook where we write down for each crop approximately how much time we spent on that crop. We also had a notebook at the harvest station and we would record each crop it as it got washed. So we tracked our time spent on each crop and the amounts that we were harvesting, so at the end of the year we could tally everything up. We tallied the labor from both notebooks, along with the income for every crop, and reduced it down to dollars per minute for each crop.

So what did you find?

The average for us a few years ago showed that a lot of the crops were in a $1-2/minute range. The ones in the $0.50/minute range we worked on. For example, beans are very difficult when you’re hunched on your knees harvesting; carrots, you only harvest once, opposed to tomatoes which you harvest all the time. So we figured out ways to make those crops more efficient, but the real losers that we knew were losers we got rid of.

“I WOULD HOPE THAT MORE SMALL FARMS GET INTO WHOLESALE. THAT WOULD BE A SIGN OF SUCCESS AND GROWTH.”

So what kind of changes did you make?

Well, almost all of our beans are pole beans now. There is up-front labor installing trellises but then you aren’t hunched over harvesting. We ended up growing smaller cabbages which we could plant at closer spacing. We found that valuable because we are a two person farm. Technology would be useful to help us keep track of our different crops.

What do you think the future of small farming looks like?

I would hope that more farms get into wholesale. That would be a sign of success and growth. Farms could be serving their region rather than just their farmers market.


 

photos by Sasson Rafailov

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