With the advent of fall, operations at the Mount Allison farm are winding down. The farm is preparing to look over its books and determine whether they have successfully managed its 2014 budget of $25,000. At this point the consequences of another deficit, comparable to that of the 2011 and 2012 seasons, remains unknown.
Following a full year of non-operation, the farm was reopened in the spring of 2014. The farm had been shut down in 2012, after running a deficit of approximately $11,000 for two consecutive years.
A grant of $10,552 from the MASU’s Green Investment Fund made the farm’s revival possible.
“We created a budget based on the previous two years,” said Erin Porter, the farm’s manager. “Our budget came out to be a deficit of $10,552, so we gave [MASU] that number and they gave us the full amount […] ultimately that is what made it possible.”
The farm’s operators suspect that a limited market may have contributed to the previous losses.
“The farm started off as an enterprise underneath the dining hall,” said Michelle Strain, Director of Administration Services. “The idea was we would grow vegetables to sell back to Jennings […] in this case the revenue fell short.”
The farm expanded its potential markets this season, while continuing to supply bulk vegetables to Jennings. It began to sell produce at their retail price in Sackville’s Saturday market, while promoting vegetable baskets for students and faculty every Tuesday.
“Its just hard for our little farm to sustain itself selling at wholesale prices, which is why we were looking for other avenues of revenue,” Porter said, “but at the same time […] whenever I have left over vegetables I don’t have to worry about storing them or throwing them out […] it all just goes to Jennings.”
The farm’s primary expense is labour. The hours spent harvesting, storing and selling produce are crucial. Porter, the farm’s lone full-time employee, relies on volunteers for harvesting the farms varied produce.
They must be strategic about where and how their produce is sold. Produce sold at the market makes more profit than sold to Jennings, but it’s more labour intensive, and sales are not guaranteed.
“Honestly, what I think works the best is the vegetable boxes […] it maximizes my time and the amount of money that can be generated so its […] a win-win,” Porter said.
The farm helps Jennings to meet its 40 percent local food commitment, while providing two students with summer employment. There is also a potential for the integration of academics.
“There are so many projects that can be done out there, research based or directed study based,” Strain said, “the sky’s the limit.”
The farm consists of 24 acres, 22 and a half of which are currently unused. It sits on the highest point in Sackville with a view of the marshes and the Bay of Fundy below.
“I think it is important for people to know what their food looks like, where it comes from and how its grown,” Porter said, “it is important for students to have access to locally grown vegetables.”