Sunday, January 6, 2013

Natures harmony post-mortem

A full days production of cheese being pierced by Tim Young
Tim and Liz Young have deleted their personal facebook pages, removed their podcasts and deleted the blog from the internet.  They've also removed most of the content of their farms facebook page, reducing it to a few pictures of cheese production, and apparently have stopped producing anything for sale other than cheese, although they did manage to sell about 400lbs of pork a month or so ago.

Their cheese production is roughly 60lbs per week, which, at typical wholesale numbers,means that the gross revenue from their farm is less than $2k a month.

With respect to their operation, unlike honestmeat and thunderinghooves, who I wrote postmortems about,  in my opinion these guys have never made a profit on their farm.   They have spent the better part of a million dollars on their venture and at this point getting 10 to 12 gallons of milk a day on over 100 acres of land and a custom built house and swimming pool just isn't any sort of viable business.   It's a nice house, and a nice idea, but its just not a business.  A giant hobby, maybe.  

With a million dollars you could build a pretty viable farm related business, but that's not the direction they chose. 

I've been looking for something interesting to write about them, but I just can't figure out anything that is worth saying that hasn't been said in the reviews of their book on amazonIf I wrote a book that got the sort of reviews theirs did, I'd delete my facebook page, too.   Take a look at the "most helpful" reviews and you'll get a feel for what I'm talking about.   If you see one that you think is helpful, make sure to vote on it.

Tim and Liz have taken themselves out of the public eye, and I'll respect  that.   Most folks who farm have an off-farm job, and Tim probably does at this point, too.

Best of luck in your new venture, Tim and Liz, whatever it is.  Hope that it is profitable and achieves your goals. 


Hostetter said...

Hey, take it easy, you guys out there in Washington have so many options. It's just hard to make it in Georgia on 100 acres. We normally get lots of rain, were in zone 8 so have lots of things to choose to grow but if we could just grow marijuana our worries would be over. And their farm would probably be saved.

Honestmeat said...

Bruce- I am not sure how you get detailed numbers on operations that you don't run. Isn't it time to stop beating a dead horse and let these other farmers be? Why make assumptions about an operation that you don't have the real financial details on? Doesn't that actually make you look foolish or perhaps like an obsessive stalker? What if you are wrong? What if Tim/Liz sell their cheese for more than your assumed "typical wholesale prices"? Why not focus instead on why your farm isn't profitable with 2,300 pigs a year (something I can't really understand)? You are searching for new enterprises such as marijuana and dairy, so an outsider could assume that your current operation is not cutting it for you financially. Maybe you could turn your attention to that instead of bullying other farmers? Just an idea....

Bruce King said...

Honestmeat - my production numbers for natures harmony are off of their facebook page. Tim has said that his milk production from his 12 cows is 1.25 gallons per day, and that his cheese wheels weigh 11-13pounds each. He gets enough milk per day to make one wheel of cheese, and that's it. He could get 10 gallons of milk per day from a single cow, fed and milked adequately.

To get the retail price of the their cheese you need only call their retailers, who cheerfully list it out. Even if he sold his cheese for $30 a pound and received 100% of that revenue it wouldn't come close to paying back the million dollar investment.

He has talked at length about making a profitable farm in the past; offered classes on it ("natures harmony farm school", wrote a book about it ("the farm-dreams guide to profitable homesteading") and has talked many times about how to run a profitable farm on his podcast. If you promote yourself as an expert in a subject, I'd expect you to have some experience in it.

I'm all for people making a living off of farming. This is closer to that old joke:

"How do you make a small fortune farming?"

"Start with a large one"

Rich said...

The good reviews of their book are what baffle me, I don't see how anyone could read their book about how they neglected their livestock in some crazy attempt to breed better animals and still have a positive view of them or their farm.

And, I don't understand why Honestmeat is so quick to defend them (unless it has something to do with her book?). If Nature's Harmony isn't all that they portrayed themselves to be, are the other farms profiled in Honestmeat's book also less than they claim to be?

All I know is that I would hate to be trying to direct market products from my farm in the same locale that Tim/Liz did. Thanks to them and their stupid book, everybody in that area is probably going to think that every other farm operates the same as Tim/Liz did.

Maybe that's why they deleted everything online, to distance themselves from their reputation when they were in harmony with nature.

After all, nobody wants to buy over-priced cheese from an "award-winning" bonehead of a cheese maker that killed hundreds of livestock through ignorance, stupidity, and arrogance.

Bruce King said...

A lot of the early comments and reviews. Notice that the vast majority of the 5 star reviews are single-reviews by new accounts.
Tim was himself writing reviews, or getting friends/family to write reviews. He later edited his "reviews", but for a while there most of the comments were Tim astroturfing.

Here's what Tim's said about the animal deaths:

"The book wasn't written to be a "how-to" book. The book was written as a memoir of how we came to the land and what we experienced once we arrived. I do appreciate you (and others) saying that we were "not humane", but that doesn't make you right. Your opinion of humane simply differs from ours. Our aim was to restore health to all animals, something we have clearly accomplished now after six years. However, it took sacrificing many weaker animals in the beginning. Nature does the same thing; sorting out the weak so the stronger survive and breed.

Thanks for reading the book." - Tim Young, 11-8-2012

Rich -- I'm with you. I wouldn't promote Tim young's model in any way.

Bruce King said...

I don't think that natures harmony was featured in Honestmeats book, although I'm pretty sure that Rebecca visited natures harmony and stayed there a few days.

Why didn't you use natures harmony in the book, Rebecca?

Anonymous said...

I have noticed a lot of people into sustainable farming don't really get the sheer volume needed to be profitable enough to repay infrastructure costs. You can market garden and come up with enough to pay yourself a modest salary, but you really have to step it up on value-added products to make the big annual sales figures.

There is a farm in honestmeat's new book that is doing at least 3 million in sales off cheese production from 280 goats, but they positioned themselves uniquely ("only commercial goat dairy in America") and use family members as the bulk of their laborers. They also farm in Montana, where large tracts of grazing land are quite cheap to graze a low input animal like a goat. And they started with 90 goats, so they were already starting with a commercial-level dairy herd, not going up from a small homestead of 3 or 4 handmilked goats.

That type of farm, though, isn't making money selling 'farm consultations', as is pretty common among the operations no longer in business. They are making money selling value-added farm products and using a low-input animal to do so.

At 3 million in sales, they might not be 'profitable' in terms of having paid off their infrastructure, but they are on their way. And they needed a mattress of cash to start with, not a 'farm incubator' giveaway or a kickstarter campaign.

I appreciate these posts from Bruce, as they have helped me understand and analyze data from various types of farms to see if they are doing the kind of business needed to make a return on infrastructure *and* pay themselves a salary. Without someone applying some critical assessment to the numbers, I'd still be in the dark about just how much money you need to make in sales to come out clear farming.

Bill Gauch said...

Given the sudden, extreme actions, I would guess they have some significant personal and/or financial issues. The only other possibility is that they just got bored, but usually that results in a venture languishing rather that an abrupt end. One aspect of your profitability perspective that I would refute... The house, pool, etc. are not part of the farm. In fact, I would say that the only part of the property that I would count as "farm" costs would be the land and outbuildings specifically used for farming. $2k a month would probably cover those costs just barely. That still isn't profitable, but not nearly a major failure.

Bruce King said...

That's a fair point, Bill. If you take out the house and pool you reduce their costs by about $300k, but that still leaves more than a half-million on the table.

Most farmers would not consider their farm to be "profitable" if it didn't return enough to pay the rent on their house.

Bruce King said...

Prior to the farming venture tim did a podcast about his marketing efforts/business, and he deleted that when he left that business, too. Tim has no history because he takes pains to remove it all.

What's interesting about that is that he claims to like transparency -- but you aren't very transparent if your history is only the last paragraph you wrote.

Bruce King said...

Hostetter: You have a very dry sense of humor

Powdery Top said...

Alright - let's continue in the defrocking. IF honestmeat is infact the failed farmer from CA then let's talk about her and her book. Farmed, made bad decisions, failed, wrote an inspirational book for others to follow in her footsteps? WTF?! Farming is rife with failures because it's hard and swims upstream against nature at times... and it's also the most saturated marketplace with how-to books written by failures.
The absolute best (now expunged) NHF podcast was the one where they interviewed the purveyor of Honest Meat Farm (dramatically title death of a farm I believe)... boy do I wish we had a copy of that classic on 8 track. Poor Rebecca lamented "It was a problem with the land", "it was a problem with the feed", "it was a problem with the theft", "it was a problem with the customers". Love how honestmeat took ownership of the failure and never considered that maybe not owning land in an over saturated market and forcing the issue with organic which drove inputs off the charts MIGHT have done some with the failure. Nahh - it was the customers and the bad land. THAT'S some HONESTmeat folks :)
Anyone can write a book these days - clearly.
P.S. - Yes Bruce, the honestmeat-mobile national tour did swing the ole RV into Tim's joint for a bit. And that is a GREAT question - why wouldn't NHF have been featured in the book?

Hostetter said...

I was going to take a cheese making class at Natures Harmony but I don't think their doing that anymore... Their Elberton Blue is some good stuff.

Bruce King said...

Powdery: you're pretty blunt, but I have to agree with you. Owning a problem is the best way to overcome it, and there was quite a bit of blame for external stuff when the farm shut down.

But credit where credit is due: honestmeat was an honest to god business with customers and a history of production. They did multiple years of the same crops and overcame the various issues as they ran across them. NHF has a 6 month experience with each crop, and then they give away or sell what didn't die, with no regard to cost or loss. It was never a moneymaking venture, in my opinion.

Bruce King said...

Hostetter: someone posted that they should be offering classes on canning pot roast.

I honestly don't know what they're doing. They're talking about shipping cheese in the spring, but their production is so low that it doesn't make any sense to me. It seems like having a dozen cows and a milking parlor and a tractor/rake/baler and 80 acres to produce 10lbs of cheese a day is an awful lot of overhead.

Whatever it is, I'm sure we'll hear about it, though.

Anonymous said...

To be fair to honestmeat, her book is about other farms, not really hers. You can get information about (some of) the farms in her book because she posted about visiting them on her blog.

It appears from the farms she's mentioned on her blog that she picked profitable, thriving operations to write about, but I'll have to scare up a copy to confirm that impression.