~ Chickadee Farms ~

This is a business owner who has reached out to Slow Money NC.

Business Owner: Jenn Sanford-Johnson
Chickadee Farms
Location:  Clayton, NC 27520

Tell us your story. What is your business idea? Tell us your plan.
I am a beginning farmer located in Clayton, NC. My farm’s name is Chickadee Farms NC LLC and I grow organically grown produce and chicken eggs. Our farm got its start in July of 2016. We currently run a 30 member CSA, sell to 6 local restaurants in Raleigh and sell at the Clayton Farm and Community Market.

I have worked in sustainable farming for the last 6-7 years as well as receiving a degree from Chatham County Community College in Sustainable Agriculture, where I met Carol Hewitt who spoke to our class about Slow Money NC.

I love being outside, growing things, solving problems, and I am passionate about feeding people clean, high quality produce and raising my animals in a humane way on pasture. Sustainable Ag is my second career. Coupled with growing up with a love of gardening as an adult I felt as though I wanted to do more to help people in my community. For me personally sustainable ag checked all of those boxes. Creating more access to organically grown produce, using and improving land, creating healthy/inquisitive spaces for the community, and making a living for my family.

I started Chickadee Farms on leased land with the goal of slowly and sustainably building my business infrastructure before making the leap into buying land. I have not taken out any loans for the business either in order to grow my customer base before borrowing money.

Some of the untapped markets that I’d like to explore at Chickadee Farms are growing lettuce and greens during the summer, and extending my growing season to grow all winter. Using moveable high tunnels will help to achieve this goal. Moveable tunnels cost about twice as much as static ones but the flexibility you gain with renewing the soil and starting crops much earlier and later and then moving them under cover later I think makes the investment worth it in the long run. We would like to build 3 moveable tunnels and are seeking funding for two and raising funds through fundraising as well as farm money going into paying for the third.

Please briefly describe your commitment to sustainable food systems in North Carolina.   Before starting my own farm I have worked on 2 different farms. The first was the Interfaith Food Shuttle Farm. Working on a non profit taught me a lot about the problem with food access in NC for certain populations of people. It was very important and humbling to grow produce for those in the most need.

From there I was introduced to Anya and Arthur Gordon, owners of the Irregardless Cafe. The Gordon’s had bought a piece to property near Lake Johnson and wanted to create an urban farm and community garden. I was hired as the garden manager and in concert with the Gordon’s created an urban farm/community garden from the ground up called the Well Fed Community Garden. Over four years the WFCG evolved to an urban farm that supplied produce, fruit, herbs and flowers to the Irregardless, as well as a community garden that hosted weekly volunteers, tours, workshops, garden events, and worked with many groups in the community.

Presently I have a farm in Johnston County. Access to sustainably grown produce is very limited in this area. I made the decision to sell at the Clayton Farm and Community Market for this reason. I also strongly believe in the community aspect of our farm and am working with agri-tourism and other community groups to bring access to those who may not have that experience. And simply growing clean food for people fills me with a large amount of pride. The best compliment I can get is..” Your kale was so good! Amazing!” I hope to continue growing food for many years to come.

What will your sales be? What do you anticipate your profits/your margins will look like? How will you make the money to pay this loan back?  For 2017 our sales are a 30 member CSA with 12 weeks in Spring and 12 weeks in Fall. I also deliver weekly to 6 restaurants in Raleigh including Fiction Kitchen, Standard Foods, The Umstead Hotel and Spa, Crawford and Son, Garland, and Provenance. Finally we sell at the Clayton Farm and Community Market weekly. The projected sales goal for this year was $25,000 and as of September we are at $29,000.

Next year our projected sales goal is $35,000. I plan to expand the CSA to 40-50 members as well as increase sales to established restaurants and pick up 2-3 more. On-farm sales are also on the table for us in the form of a farm stand.  As of right now we have a net profit of $4200 and gross income of $29,443

Have you borrowed money before? How much did you borrow? Is there a balance still due on that loan?   I have personally borrowed money for car loans. One was $3000 paid back in 3 years from the State Employees Credit Union. The other was a car loan for $15,000 from the State Employees Credit Union for 5 years with $6800 left on the loan.

Do you have people who would vouch for your credit worthiness?   My mom Suzanne Sanford has loaned me money through out my adult life which I have always paid back.  Other than that State Employee’s Credit Union is the only place I have ever taken out a loan and hold a credit card from that bank as well.

Tell us about your business background.  I have been in business during my first career which was in photography. I worked in Minneapolis, MN as a photography assistant in commercial studios. I was essentially an independent contractor whom worked for a variety of different studios. I had to pay taxes as a sole proprietor, market myself, adjust to always changing situations, and do high quality work continually. When I left Minneapolis three years later my schedule was continuously full as a photographer’s assistant and was one of the cities few assistants who could be hired as a digital assistant.

How much money do you need to borrow to make your project work? How long do you think you would need to pay that back?


Are there other lenders involved in your project or business?   We are holding a fundraising event in October with a goal to raise $1000 to build another tunnel with the farm contributing $600 towards the tunnel (plus all of the labor.)

What is your timeline for this project?   The timeline for this event is between October and December of 2017 to be completed as soon as possible, hopefully less than a month.