AgBiz Cast

Episode 2: Quarter Acre Farm, Big Dreams

August 30, 2021 AgBiz Masters Season 1 Episode 2
AgBiz Cast
Episode 2: Quarter Acre Farm, Big Dreams
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AgBiz Cast
Episode 2: Quarter Acre Farm, Big Dreams
Aug 30, 2021 Season 1 Episode 2
AgBiz Masters

In this week's podcast episode, hear from crop farmer Andrea Davis-Cetina about her stories from farming in California to Maryland. The owner and operator of Quarter Acre Farm shares her journey of coming from no agriculture background to now growing and selling organic vegetables. 

Show Notes Transcript

In this week's podcast episode, hear from crop farmer Andrea Davis-Cetina about her stories from farming in California to Maryland. The owner and operator of Quarter Acre Farm shares her journey of coming from no agriculture background to now growing and selling organic vegetables. 

Iris Peters :

Welcome to the AgBiz Cast, where we share inspiring stories of young, beginning, and small farmers. Listen to hear from our AgBiz Masters graduates about their farming operations and advice for those looking to start their own business.

Iris Peters :

My name is Iris Peters. And with me today is Andrea Davis Cetina. She's a crop farmer and founder of Quarter Acre Farm in Eastern, Maryland. Andrea, thank you for joining me today.

Andrea Davis Cetina :

Thank you for having me.

Iris Peters :

Yes. Thank you so much. We'll go ahead and get started with the questions. So first question Andrea, for you, would you mind telling us about your operation, just some of the history and how you got started?

Andrea Davis Cetina :

Sure. So I started Quarter Acre Farm in 2008 out in California in Sonoma, and I had the farm out there for 10 years. And then I moved back to Maryland in 2018 and restarted Quarter Acre Farm in a leased field in Tillman, actually in 2019. So I have a half an acre in production and I grow certified organic, mixed vegetables out in the field, and then a huge variety of organic seedlings in the greenhouse that I sell directly to consumers.

Iris Peters :

That's awesome. Thank you. So why do you enjoy farming or operating an agriculture business and what inspires you to stay in that business?

Andrea Davis Cetina :

It's a good question. Because I feel like I've been doing it for so long now that sometimes you do have to check in like, and why am I doing this? I got into agriculture when I was in college and working on a farm at Hampshire college where I went to school and for me it just really clicked. It all made sense. It was this creative outlet where you grew things you could eat. And I love the science of it. And I loved being able to work alongside nature. The plant survival is not solely dependent on me, which I really appreciate.

Andrea Davis Cetina :

And so that is something that I just really enjoy doing. It just became my passion about 20 years ago. And I just immersed myself in agriculture because I did not grow up on a farm or in a farming family. So I consider myself a first-generation farmer. One of the reasons that I continue to farm is because I'm an optimist and I see the possibilities of how I could continue to improve my craft of growing vegetables and also improve my business year after year. I think it's really common for farmers to be like, well, there's always next year.

Iris Peters :

Definitely. So you mentioned that you did not come from a family farming background. So was that a challenge at all in starting your business? Or if not, what was the biggest challenge?

Andrea Davis Cetina :

I do think initially I thought it was a really big negative, like a really big challenge because I didn't have family land. I didn't have kind of that tradition. I always kind of have to at least initially, like explain to my family what I'm doing, why in the summer I don't take vacation, because I'm really busy in the summer. But the more that I have talked with fellow farmers that come from farming families, it also allows me that like, I'm kind of blazing my own trail. I'm just like, this is how I'm going to do this. Or maybe I'm going to try this. But initially starting the farm, the challenge and it continues to be a challenge is land access. So when I started the farm in 2008, I started it because another farmer. Basically I was working for other people and doing kind of private gardens and estates for people and local businesses.

Andrea Davis Cetina :

And I was complaining about not being fully in control to another farmer. And they said, well, I got a quarter acre of land here that I'm not going to use this season. You can lease it from me and farm it. And so it was like, okay, sure. I'll start the farm. But over the years, I've had to find land when either like moving across country, but even in California, I had to move the farm a couple of times because of land issues. So I think that that is the biggest challenge, is the land access and not coming from a farming family.

Iris Peters :

Definitely. Thank you. So in your time in the farm business, what has been your favorite memory over the years?

Andrea Davis Cetina :

I don't know if I have a particular favorite memory. Because I think each season there's something that's like, yes, that worked out really well. I would say in recent years, I mean last year with the beginning of the pandemic, it was like for everybody, so stressful and frustrating because you kind of had to re-envision your whole business. And so we don't farm in the winter because that is when I take a vacation. So our farming season, market season starts in April and last year with the pandemic, everything started here in Maryland, starting to close down like mid-March. And so it was a scramble of like three weeks to be like, okay, how are we going to go to market? How are we going to set up our booth? We never accept credit cards before. And that was something that we added because of safety measures.

Andrea Davis Cetina :

And then we also added an online store so that we could do contact-less pickup. They could order their stuff, they could pay for it. And then they just pick it up and there's no touching or anything like that. And so that was kind of this real stretch and perhaps not something that I would've done at least not last year in kind of the scheme of the business, but it was so successful. And it was such a great move that it's something that we continued throughout the whole season and we still do now. Before coming on with you, I just got a big order from a customer that's going to pick it up tomorrow and she's already paid. And it's kind of like the silver lining of last year was like, okay, this was a big move, but its really paid off. And its actually made the business easier in some ways.

Andrea Davis Cetina :

And I would say so far this year, it's kind of mid-season. I'm still not in the thick of it yet, but I've just started harvesting cherry tomatoes last week. And just seeing how healthy the plants are and having good quality tomatoes to pick is also like, yes, okay. Everything worked out. Everything's going good. So.

Iris Peters :

Yeah, no, it's really inspiring to hear like, even with everything that happened with the pandemic, how businesses were able to adapt or even expand. Yeah. So it's nice to hear some of the positives that came out of that. So moving on with like the future of your farm business, what do you envision going forward?

Andrea Davis Cetina :

So the future of the farm, what we're hoping to do is to buy farmland to expand. We're looking to buy at least 10 tillable acres, but initially just expand the farm to three acres in production. And be able to be at that size so that we can bring on employees. At the half an acre production size, it's not big enough that I can pay an employee. I do pay myself, but that's kind of as much as that property is yielding. So the plan in the future, I mean, we're actively looking for farmland. We have been since right before the pandemic happened. So we do intend to stay on the Eastern shore, in the same kind of community that we're in, but we're looking at kind of the three county area around us to find farmland.

Iris Peters :

Nice. Yeah, I know it's definitely a hot market right now with land, so.

Andrea Davis Cetina :

It is.

Iris Peters :

Hopefully. [crosstalk 00:09:41].

Andrea Davis Cetina :

It is. And so I'm trying not get too overwhelmed by it. Because right before the pandemic, we had kind of finally narrowed in with the help of taking the AgBiz Masters course and then also I had been active in future harvest, beginning farmer training program and kind of all of those. My husband and I had really kind of honed in on what the property that we wanted to have. What does this property need to have or be zoned for, all these kinds of detailed things that we had really kind of narrowed it down. Okay. Now we know what we're looking for. And then the pandemic happened. And so there's been places that had checked a lot of the boxes that we want and we have put offers on them, but we also know our budget.

Andrea Davis Cetina :

And so our offers have not been accepted and they sold for more than our offers are. And at first I was really bummed about it, but then I was like, but we wouldn't be able to pay that mortgage. I don't believe that that's what that property is really worth. This is a little bit of, it's a hot market and a little bit of a housing bubble that's happening and it's affecting farmland too. And so I'm trying to look at least 10 years down the line in that the property that we do eventually buy that we'll be able to afford to pay for it based on what we know that the business can bring in.

Iris Peters :

Yeah, definitely. That would be tough. So you did mention that you're an AgBiz Masters graduate. So in your own words, what does AgBiz Masters teach young and beginning farmers like yourself?

Andrea Davis Cetina :

So what I tell my friends when I recommend that they take the course is that it is a financial literacy course for farmers. And for most farmers that I know they either got into pursuing a farm business, kind of because they really liked growing vegetables or raising animals. They didn't necessarily get into it by coming through a business school background. And so just like myself, I was so enamored with agriculture when I got to college that I was just focused on how do I grow a tomato? And like, how do I deal with this seasonal workload and all this kind of stuff. I couldn't tell you what assets or liabilities meant then.

Andrea Davis Cetina :

And so for me, it was really over the years of being self-taught into business things. And basically for many years, just when I got to file my taxes. So I'm going to have to figure this out. And when I heard about AgBiz Masters, I was interested in it because I was like, some of this stuff I already know, but I really just want to start like basic. So making sure that all of, kind of the business fundamentals that I think I know some of them and I definitely don't know all of them, that I can go over that and kind of see the different definitions and have that kind of curriculum that I definitely didn't have before and definitely need it to continue to be a successful business owner.

Iris Peters :

Definitely. So how did AgBiz Masters help you improve your operation? And then what changes did you see in your operation after completing the program?

Andrea Davis Cetina :

I think the way that AgBiz Masters helped me improve my operation was just a little bit of a change of perspective when I'm looking at my profit and loss sheet. I knew how to make a P&L because I use that to do my taxes and stuff, but I didn't understand, like is this good? Is this amount of net profit good? Or is that not good? Because as a small farm operation, I'm not dealing with millions of dollars. So seems like such a little amount with certain things. And so it was really great with AgBiz to see when you look at things kind of at a percentage basis. And so it's kind of, gave me a different perspective on how to look at my financial documents that I was already making.

Andrea Davis Cetina :

And then also kind of encouraged me to make more of the financial documents and stuff. And I think as far as any changes I made, it would probably just be in the way that I look at the different documents that I'm doing. I use QuickBooks. So there's a lot of reports that you can draw, but I wasn't really utilizing them because I didn't understand what they were or how they were different from one another. And then the other thing that I appreciate from the AgBiz Masters course is that it gave me a better perspective of what loan officers are looking at. Because I never really knew what they would see as a good candidate to loan money for or not.

Iris Peters :

Yeah. Very good point. So my last question for you here today, before we wrap up is what piece of advice do you have for young or beginning farmers that are looking to start their own business?

Andrea Davis Cetina :

I have a lot of pieces of advice. I would say that if I could go back and tell myself something when I first wanted to start the farm, I would probably say, do you want to be a farmer or do you want to be a business owner? And that those are really two different things. You can be both, but you have to, if you're running your own business, you have to be a business owner for some parts of the day. And that means learning how to do accounting, and bookkeeping, and cashflow projections and all those things, which even if you're not going to be the main person doing those all the time, you need to understand how they work. So that if you source that out to somebody, you can see what's going on. You have to be educated in the business part of farming.

Iris Peters :

Definitely. Yeah. That's very true. And I don't think people always realize that. Yeah, you kind of have to wear two hats as a business owner and a farmer. Yeah. Very true.

Andrea Davis Cetina :

And the thing is, if you don't want to be a business owner, that's totally cool. You don't have to... One, it can stay a hobby. It doesn't have to be a functioning cash flowing business. It can be a very rewarding hobby that you personally really enjoy doing. Or you might love growing on a production level farm, but there are plenty of farm management positions out there where you can still be in charge of the crop plan, and of harvest, and all those things, but work for somebody else who is making sure that there's enough money for payroll, and getting the loans, and like all that kind of stuff. So I think as farmers and people in agriculture, we have a really strong entrepreneurial streak like, I want to do it myself, but there's nothing wrong with wanting to work for somebody else or just wanting to do things on the side as a hobby.

Iris Peters :

Yeah, definitely. I think that'll be good for all of our listeners to hear as they're mostly young and starting their own operation. So thank you so much for joining the podcast today and sharing some stories about your own operation. We really appreciate it. And yeah, thank you so much.

Andrea Davis Cetina :

Well, thank you so much for having me and I sincerely mean this. If anyone wants to reach out, beginning farmers and has any questions, they are welcome to contact me. You can find our contact information on our website, which is quarteracrefarmstonoma.com. I'm more than happy to answer questions for beginning farmers.

Iris Peters :

Great. Thank you so much, Andrea.

Andrea Davis Cetina :

You're welcome.

Iris Peters :

Thank you for listening to the AgBiz Cast. To learn more about the AgBiz Masters program, visit Agbizmasters.com or check out our Facebook page. Tune in every two weeks to hear more stories from our graduates and partners. Thanks for listening.