SelfInformed

September 2014


Growing Success

Thursday, September 25, 2014



David Mostue, President of Dunbar Farms, based in Medford, Oregon and has been a NASE member since 2013. He joined the NASE during a Research and Development phase of the business and has taken advantage of numerous NASE benefits. Dunbar Farms began as a peach farm and after four generations with the family farm, now serves as the brand for the farms produce, bread, grains, flour, dry beans, polenta, flowers and much more.

What inspired you to enter the field you are in?

The inspiration was both personal and philosophical. On a personal level our farm was a nearly 100 year old family farm just beginning to have our wine grapes made and bottled into our own estate wine. A hundred years of resources were sitting about the farm in various states of use, disuse and disrepair. My grandfather, Dunbar Carpenter, had been running the farm since the 50s and was slowing with age. My father, who had helped my grandfather transition the farm from pears to hay and had helped to develop the wine business, had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. The farm needed someone who could continue the development and I was in an ideal place in life to plug in.

On a bigger, philosophical level I was finishing college and was figuring out how to balance a career with a life of meaningful work. College had taught me that the food and energy systems of the modern world had many issues that were going to develop over the coming years. The farm’s state at the time offered an opportunity to explore these issues and the solution with a vision and business structure that I could define. If it worked I could continue down the path of farming and if it didn’t I felt at the time that I would’ve acquired resources, experience and a skill set that could be taken elsewhere.

When did you begin farming and why?

I came back and started farming full time in the spring of 2007 after graduating from college. I grew up around the farm but didn’t participate heavily nor was expected to. Before deciding to return to the farm I had spent a couple of summers building barns and helping with tasks on the farm while working other summer jobs.

At the time of returning to the farm I was trying to figure out how to blend a wide ranging set of interests fostered during college and was disappointed with the expectation of specialization asked of most career paths. Farming requires a blend of skill sets ranging from biology and chemistry to marketing and business administration not to mention construction, fabrication and mechanics. The skill set has proven itself to be engrossing and captivating with unlimited experimentation, discovery and invention allowed.

There is also the importance of the work. Our food system has migrated to the extreme of maximizing the cost effectiveness of production. While impressive in its own right it ignores the other factors in food, namely nutrition, soil and farm health and energy efficiency. It has also placed itself poorly for the food economy of the future which is one of greater decentralization.

Take me through a week at the farm, how often are you in the fields, in the office, on the road selling etc.

I have organized the business so as to maximize my time in the fields and in the shop doing real, tangible work. Office work is done first thing, every day for an hour or two and then the rest of the day is usually directed towards farming. Virtually all sales are done online, save a smattering of phone sales, which allows for as much uninterrupted time to get work done as possible. Over the course of a farming year I try to spend at least 50% of my time building and developing new systems and infrastructure or acquiring, repairing and implementing new tools on the farm. All of the development is focused upon putting well maintained, user-friendly and efficient tools and systems into the hands of our employees.

What challenges have you faced in your business? How have you overcome them?

The first challenge was figuring out how to grow food efficiently, consistently and cost effectively, which was a combination of acquiring tools and learning the art of farming. Now the biggest challenge is continuing to do that while also moving relatively large amounts of low value product efficiently, consistently and cost effectively to our own markets.

How do you market your business?

We currently market our business online and via word of mouth. We operate an online sales and farming newsletter email weekly in the summer months and biweekly through the winter that goes out to 1,000 subscribers. Subscribers order online and then come to the farm to pick up their orders. This is coupled with wine tastings, music, tours and other events. We are in the last steps of working with the city to open the Tasting Room for regular hours, public tastings. At this point we can’t publicly market via standard print advertising or signs on the road.

We also operate a wine club. Folks sign up to receive either 6 or 12 bottles of our wine each year.

How many employees do you currently have? Are you planning to expand the staff?

We have two full-time employees over the course of the farming season, a part-time bookkeeper and a part-time employee to help with harvest days, wine pourings and retail sales days. In the winter we drop to one part-time employee to help with continued sales and my time goes to the big, overarching infrastructure projects as well as repairing tools and equipment. We don’t plan for any new staff in the next year but as the Farm Stand/Tasting Room develops and our crop production expands we expect new field and order fulfillment staff.

What does Dunbar Farms look like in a few years?

Where to begin? Dunbar Farms overarching goal is to cultivate fewer markets and supply them with more products. This incentivizes diversification and learning to produce the full gamut of food. We have focused to date on learning to farm and acquiring the tools needed to produce the entire realm of raw farm products including produce, grains, wine grapes, fruit, grass hay and feed grain. Now that most of those systems are in place we can begin to play with processing and translating those raw products into saleable products. For instance, grains and grass hay can get turned into chicken, beef, lamb or pork, which can then be smoked or cured or sold as a myriad of different cuts. Grass hay and grain can also yield many types of milk which can then be translated into cheese, yogurt, etc. Grains can be milled and baked in many different ways or turned into distilled spirits or beer so the possibilities are virtually endless. We have barely started into the realm of processing yet we already have the barn and storage systems to move
in that direction. It will be an exciting next few years of exploration and development at Dunbar Farms.

What’s the best thing about being self-employed?

Self-direction. Small business is self-directed because it is first and foremost about being creative. Without the infrastructure and resources of a large business, it is about being agile and adaptive and layering the work and responsibilities of your employees to achieve efficiency while also providing diverse work tasks and a greater understanding of the business operation. At the most basic level self-employment can be
a lot more fun than big business.

Which NASE member benefit is most important to you?

The growth grant has been a big boon to us. It has filled in a gap in our farm equipment quiver that allows for much greater production and efficiency. The business tax form tutorials have also proven useful in navigating the IRS quagmire.

Tell me more about what the growth grant will go towards and how it will help.

The growth grant is going towards a larger combine that has all of attachments needed to harvest dry corn, popcorn, dry beans, wheat as well as virtually any other seed crop that we decide to grow. Though outdated by today’s commodity standards the new combine is more efficient than we need given our price point in the market. Any money left over will go towards seed drying capacity and other seed handling and processing equipment in the barn.

What’s the most important piece of advice you would give to someone starting their own business?

Find your passion and balance it with diligence and calculation. Small business is one part inspiration and one part practical prioritization. There is never a shortage of things to do and so one needs to prioritize and chip away.

 

Learn more about David Mostue, Dunbar Farms and other Self Employed businesses in the NASE Small Business Locator directory. You can add your own company to the NASE Small Business Locator in up to three categories at no charge – it is a free benefit to NASE members.

1 Comment

  1. 1 Coralie 01 Oct
    Articles like this are an example of quick, helpful answers.

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