The HVADC Cultivator
HVADC Client Spotlight: MX Morningstar Farm
Max Morningstar has been farming since he was nineteen, when his enthusiasm for excellent food and love of the outdoors led him to enroll in the farmer training program at the Farm School—a Massachusetts-based private school for kids interested in land stewardship and farming.
Shortly after his teenage foray into farming, he co-managed a farm and then soon became the founding farm manager of Siena Farms in Sudbury, MA, where he oversaw the growth of a 10-acre start-up into a 60-acre established business. Morningstar’s goal was to improve the farm’s stewardship of its land base. In 2014, he moved to Copake, in Columbia County, to start MX Morningstar Farm with his entire crew. They leased their land from the Copake Agricultural Center, which had purchased 125-acres in the town center in 2013 to ensure that it would remain affordable to farmers and in agricultural production in perpetuity.
Morningstar says he is deeply committed to developing “creative and elegant” systems for efficient production that enhance the farm ecosystem holistically, and build good life quality for farmers as well. To that end, MX Morningstar farm is currently USDA National Organic Program certified by Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY). MX Morningstar Farm’s customer base extends throughout Eastern New York, Western Connecticut, and the Berkshires through farmers’ markets, restaurant, and wholesale customers.
When MX Morningstar Farm was introduced to HVADC’s Incubator Without Walls program, it was growing a diverse array of vegetable crops on 62 acres of Blasdell channery loam. However after an extremely challenging season in 2015, the team knew it was time to revisit the farm’s diverse marketing and production plans to find a way to streamline and hone their systems and marketing. “Essentially rewrite the entire business plan to transition to a wholesale-based system with fewer crops and reduced labor costs,” Morningstar explained.
HVADC consultant Brian Zweig, principal of Business Opportunities Management Counseling in Rennselaer county, began working with Max Morningstar in late 2015, which ultimately lead to a cooperative effort between HVADC and Berkshire Ag Ventures (BAV) to provide assistance to the farm to streamline their operations.
“[Zweig] was instrumental in helping us delve into the more detailed aspects of transitioning our system,” said Morningstar. “He challenged us to prove that this was the right way to build profitability and expand, asking tougher questions than we had asked ourselves and highlighting the nuanced changes we would need to make to pull it off.”
Morningstar said that though they were actively managing cash flow and more long-term financial management, they were finding difficulty in using the limited data they had to produce realistic projections. “We had to track our crop production and look at product gaps and make assumptions about what sales would look like if we were operating more efficiently, and really dig into what sales expansions we could expect to both existing and new customers.”
“MX Morningstar had been growing a wide variety of vegetables on their rented property in Copake for a couple of years and were looking to implement a new business model that would streamline their operations,” said Zweig. “This involved growing a more limited variety and focusing on root crops that could be stored and sold during the winter months to improve cash flow.” Zweig worked with Morningstar and his team to develop and track cash flow as they implemented this plan. Despite challenges associated with weather and other setbacks that are typical in agriculture, Morningstar successfully implemented their plan and has been able to grow the business.
Morningstar has since relocated his operation to a new farm in Claverack, where he has created some in-house structural changes as well. “Though capital and workload has been challenging, we feel that we finally have the infrastructure and soils we need to grow our business for the long haul,” he said. The crew has two “ambitious” projects for growth in the crosshairs; completing the build out and marketing of a new on-site farm store, and also reclaiming decades-old, neglected orchard land. “Bringing the abandoned land back into production will allow us to expand our crop production and the farm store should both improve our cash flow and profitability, but both are intensive, expensive and complicated. We are up for the challenge.”
“This past year, Morningstar had an opportunity to relocate the farm to a property in Claverack. This property was on a well-traveled road and it also featured storage buildings that could be used for storing Morningstar’s harvest, as well as produce from other farms in the area,” said Zweig. “Again, help was provided to analyze revenues, expenses and cash flow projections for the move. Financing was also provided by BAV to assist with relocation and investment in the new farm. So far things are off to a good start and they are hoping for a bountiful harvest of crops this summer and fall, as well as strong direct to consumer sales at their new roadside farmstead.”
For more information on MX Morningstar Farm, please visit their Hudson Valley Bounty listing at http://hudsonvalleybounty.com/mx-morningstar-farm.
Learn more about HVADC’s Incubator Without Wall services at https://www.hvadc.org/iww
Photo/Logo Source: MX Morningstar Farm