No.2 Time to diversify ..........
Updated: Aug 5, 2020
Where do I start....... a growing young family of our own, two families to support on the farm, agricultural support reducing, no control over market prices, the B word and the wrong work life balance. A couple of years ago when my husband became a partner in the farm business I felt it was the right time for me to start looking into different diversification opportunities for the farm to help ensure it remains viable for our children (the next generation). All the expenses that come with three children, clothes, school, clubs, holidays (rare but yes we have had some) cars, university, weddings, first homes, where are we going to find the money for all of this?!
I spent hours and hours googling, researching different farm diversification options online, talking to friends, attending diversification meetings and one to ones organised by Farming Connect and visiting the Farm Business Innovation and Diversification show at the NEC, Birmingham a couple of times for inspiration. The Business Barn 101 ideas - a must read. It started with glamping - a clear, inflatable bubble for a tent, 180 degree views on the top of our hill looking over the Radnor Valley, a 5* eco glamping couples experience, what is not to love about that?? So I met with a diversification consultant from Landsker, he shared my enthusiasm for the idea but when I met with the planning consultant he couldn't find a suitable location on the farm :( . He tried to persuade me that a different form of glamping would work but I only wanted to do something that was truly unique. That was the end of that idea.
Pullet rearing - rearing chicks from 1 day old to 16 weeks before they go to a free range laying unit. A lesser commitment than a laying hen unit and collecting eggs without fail everyday, less capital expenditure, something I could do whilst the children are young and it could work around school timetable. Give me the freedom to be at home and help my husband on the farm when needed and not have to miss school performances, sports day, special assembly's etc because "I'm working". Perhaps this was the one? Planning consultant was fairly confident it would be accepted but it turned out to be too great an investment at the wrong time. That was the end of that idea.
Ok, let's not get down about this, it's not you, you just haven't found the right idea yet, I kept telling myself. Keep looking for that niche idea. Let's try making our own ice cream, why not after all everyone loves ice cream and coffee and there's a great mark up! We're situated on the busy A44 between Rhayader and Hereford with hundreds of cars passing daily on their commutes and thousands passing during the holiday seasons - especially the summer time. I had it all planned a converted double decker bus was going to be the ice cream parlour with seating inside and out. Somewhere safe for the children to play and the all important toilet facilities, as you cant find a loo for love nor money it seems now a days. Not an ice cream parlour for miles - brilliant I thought. We visited the Food Centre Wales to find out about all of the support they can offer food and drink businesses and found out that it was all possible - we could make ice cream. That was until we met with a food diversification expert through Cywain. I explained my idea, he asked why we wanted to do it I explained the reasons above and he just said but you would have to work from 8am until 10pm during all of the holiday season for this to work and it would only be you at the start. Even worst work life balance than I have now. That was the end of that!
Starting to give up hope now. Feeling alone and tired of finding out my ideas are not suitable I go back to the drawing board again. Ok so the ice cream parlour is a good idea but the manning of it is the problem. So I kept looking and it turns out you can get a vending machine for pretty much anything these days. I visited the Farm Business Innovation and Diversification show again, not looking at glamping this time but vending machines. Thanks to my very good friend who drove me there, introduced me to her contacts who specialised in planning and then got dragged around by me most of the day looking at vending machine after vending machine - one even produced us a bowl of fries, with salt and sauce in 30 second. Yes you heard me 30 second fries that tasted amazing, incredible.
So by now I'm thinking un-man farm shop. There are soooooo many products which we already produce on the farm and could produce on the farm for sale direct to the passing public. I met a guy whose grandfather had started a farm shop selling a few farm products with an honesty box and now they have a purpose built shop with self serving vending machines which text you when they are empty. Brilliant I love this idea. More and more hours spent googling, finding second hand vending machines, ambient and chilled, was it possible to get a custom made frozen one? A glorified garden shed to put the vending machine in. Shabby sheek style furniture to decorate it, CCTV to keep it secure and 4G so I could get texts when stock needed replenish and we could take contactless payment and I even thought I had the perfect location for it. But all of a sudden the cost of setting up started getting greater and greater and we didn't even know if people would stop at a farm shop, we needed to test the water, start small. That was the end of that idea.
Back to the drawing board and a bit of luck at last. During the Women in Agriculture week in 2019, an event organised by Farming Connect I went on a bus tour around Powys stopping at businesses who had already diversified to hear their stories and this is where the seed was sown, but I didn't really realise it at the time. We stopped at Matthews Pick Your Own Aberbran Fawr Farm, near Brecon. They have traditionally grown pick your own fruit but the year before they had grown pumpkins for the first time. Once I heard this I wasn't interested in the strawberries, pumpkins, how did they grow these? I was intrigued. And then as fate would have it I sat by a lady from Pencoed Fach Organic Farm. We got talking, they have a farm shop and do pick your own pumpkins. She was so lovely and happy to share her experience with me. Little did I know at that time in June 12 months on we would have pumpkin plants in the ground. As time passed the idea grew on me more and more. A seasonal event which would fit in with the farming calendar, low investment to give it a go and we would have loads of free marketing if we get some banners up by the main road in the summer time as all the cars pass for their summer holidays and to attend the world class Royal Welsh Show. We could see if people would stop and visit our farm. After a lot of research and a visit to Pencoed Fach Organic Farm for their pick your own event the idea of Powells Pumpkin Patch was starting to become a possibility.