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Economic Valuation of S&S Homestead Farm

S&S Homestead Farm (established in 1970) integrates animals and plant crops and operates to provide healthful, fresh food to the farm family, apprentices and interns, and to the community. All produce sold off the farm is sold directly to customers through a CSA (vegetables, fruit, meat, eggs, bread, cheese) or by custom contract (meat). All labor is provided by the farm family, with assistance from the 2-4 trainees who, in exchange for room and board and instruction in biodynamic farming practices, join the farm for up to two years. The farm adheres to an ethic of ecological sustainability and self-sufficiency, which goals are reflected in the diversity of plants and animals on the farm.

The Farm Enterprise
The farm enterprise comprises vegetables, fruit, beef, pork, lamb, milk and aged raw-milk cheddar, and eggs, as well producing fertility inputs, electric energy, water and wood products for its own use. Inputs grown on the farm begin with green forage, hay, grain, vegetables and fruit fed to animals, whose manure in turn supplies fertility for pasture, hay, vegetable and grain production. The farm provides for most of the food needs of the farm family, apprentices and interns, and much of the summer and fall harvest is preserved via fermentation, drying, canning, freezing, or other value-adding processing for a continual supply of meat, vegetables, and fruit throughout the year. (See Farm Production, which shows what S&S Homestead Farm produced for on-farm use, CSA and farm-gate sales in 2016.) This helps keep the cost of purchased foods (coffee, salt, etc.) to a minimum and is a primary motivation for keeping the farm system diversified and integrated.

Economic History of the Farm
S&S Homestead Farm has been economically solvent from its inception, partly because the farm has never operated with any debt. To avoid accruing debt, the owners purchased the land and developed farm infrastructure by investing portions of their salaries from off-farm jobs before moving to the farm full-time in 1994. Until 2017, Elizabeth continued to hold a part-time position at Lopez Island High School. For a log of farm investments since 1970, see “Farm Investments: Land, Infrastructure, Tools, 1970-2017,” and for the current value of the farm, see “Balance Sheet 2016.”

Economic Performance of the Farm
The farm owners do not pay themselves a salary or withdraw any farm profit; instead, net gains are returned to the farm to build infrastructure and the intern and apprenticeship program. A large portion of the food, feed, fertility, livestock replacements, utilities, wood products and housing produced on the farm is consumed by the farm itself, amounting to 76% of total returns. (for details see “a graphic representation of these values”). From 2004-9, educational services, including intern- and apprenticeships, workshops, off-farm lectures and public school courses (for example, a full-semester course in agricultural science taught at Lopez High School) were offered free of charge. Since then Elizabeth has received compensation for teaching the high school class in ecological food production on the farm as part of her teaching contract with the Lopez Island School District, while Henning has continued to donate his time in teaching the class together with Elizabeth. College (and occasionally high school) students, who earn academic credit through curriculum-based internship contracts with their home institutions, pay for room and board on the farm, but do not pay tuition. Apprentices and interns receive housing, seasonal food, and a small stipend.

Interns and apprentices provide a considerable number of manual hours of labor to the farm, although their efficiency varies, depending on experience, skill, and personal motivation. Trainees make important contributions to farm infrastructure development, maintenance, and food production for on-farm consumption. Their applied on-farm research also increases the farm knowledge base substantially.

Measuring Non-market Values
Academic discourse regarding the economic valuation of products derived from ecological systems recognizes the need to include goods and services that have measurable value but are not sold on the open market. In undertaking an economic analysis of S&S Homestead Farm, the question of how to measure the true value of farm outputs comes up constantly. The owners subscribe to the statement made by small-scale farmers convening at the recent World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, that small holder farming has in the past and continues to “provide food, employment, healing, and spiritual inspiration, [and is] a central basis for social education and skills development over generations.” What economic value do we place on human and animal health, a beautiful landscape, clean water and air, biodiversity, community food security, and human shelter, all of which are produced by the farm, but are not sold in the market place? What is it worth that a farm sustains itself without overtaxing the ecological systems upon which we all depend? To read more about the biodynamic perspective on how to assess farm performance in the context of associative economics, see “The Economics of the Small-Scale, Self-Sufficient Farm” (Stella Natura, 2013), and for the annual farm budget, written from the perspective of associative economics, see “Year-End Budget Report 2016.”