This is a business owner who has reached out to Slow Money NC.
Business Owner: Tom and Diana Kerr
Business Name: Forest Moon Farms, LLC
Location: 7792 Hornaday Trail, Liberty, NC 27298
How did you hear about Slow Money NC?: We first heard about Slow Money NC through the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association.
Tell us your story. What is your business idea? Tell us your plan.
Forest Moon Farms, LLC is a veteran-owned and operated small-scale sustainable agriculture enterprise specializing in unique produce and culinary herbs. Forest Moon Farms is owned and operated by Tom and Diana Kerr and located in Liberty, North Carolina on 5.33 acres of prime agricultural land. Our mission is to cater to the culinary and health conscious residents and restaurants of our local community. We aim to educate our customers on where their food supply comes from and inspire their own culinary creativity. A selection of our flagship produce from our 2018 crop plan include: heirloom cherry and grape tomatoes, ground cherries, international varieties of sweet and hot peppers, heirloom cushaw squash, heat-tolerant greens, heirloom radishes, rainbow carrots, several varieties of beets, snow and sugar-snap peas, fava beans, edible flowers, and culinary herbs like tarragon, rosemary, sage, chervil, cilantro, lemon balm, and mint.
After living in the chaos of city life in first Norfolk, VA followed by Washington, DC, we were determined to return to the country, reconnect with nature and each other, and follow our passion of becoming “agri-prenuers”. After completing 8 years active duty service in the US Navy, I along with my wife Diana started the grass-roots business in 2015 from scratch farming on a small piece of fallow land belonging to my parents. We lived in an RV for 16 months while we poured most of our off-farm paychecks into our first pieces of equipment, soil amendments, and startup supplies. We’ve come so far!
In order to expand our business, we moved our farming operation to Liberty, NC in April of 2017 and purchased our own land. We specifically chose central North Carolina due to the thriving local food movement in the Triangle and Triad areas. This is an incredible source of pride having built our farm from nothing. We are so excited to grow this business to one that will eventually make us a living wage so that we can reduce our dependence on our off-farm jobs and run the farm full-time. Obtaining a few more pieces of vital infrastructure, namely the irrigation installation, will make that happen much faster for us.
Please briefly describe your commitment to sustainable food systems in North Carolina.: From our founding, we have operated under all of the National Organic Program (NOP) directives. As members of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) we have access to free consultation during our NOP certification process. We have been working with the CFSA to create our initial draft of our NOP certification paperwork. We plan to be in certified transitional status by 01JAN19.
In addition to following all NOP directives, we try to implement as many sustainable practices as possible around the farm. We have a 2,500-gallon rain catch/storage system that we use to try to minimize our use of precious ground water. We also practice permaculture design in order to take advantage of mother nature’s inherent efficient soil production. We also practice companion planting which naturally works as a pest deterrent. Furthermore, as our soil health improves, we are transitioning to no/low till production.
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?: Our fiscal projections for 2018 include $33,750 in revenue over a 40-week marketing season.
In 2017 we sold our produce at the Eno River Farmers’ Market and established a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. Additionally, we entered into a partnership with Barn2Door, LLC to offer an online ordering system to our customers.
For 2018, we have been accepted into three additional farmers’ markets: Greensboro Curb Market, Western Wake Farmers’ Market, and the North Park Farmers’ Market. As evidenced by this application, we are still in the expansion phase of our strategic business cycle. After meeting our monthly loan payment obligations, we plan on reinvesting the rest of our net earnings back into the agribusiness this year.
By 2019 we anticipate profitability and we project that by the 2020 season that we will be earning enough to provide a living wage for Diana so that she can transition away from her off-farm career. We also foresee being able to hire additional seasonal help starting in 2020 to continue our planned growth and we’d like to eventually see our revenue mix shift away from all farmers markets to incorporate a larger proportion of co-op grocery stores and restaurant sales.
We are confident in our projected farm earnings to be able to repay our loan, starting immediately as we’ve already begun our 2018 market season. Also, in addition to our farm revenue, we both have off-farm income that we will be able to use to help repay this loan if needed. Diana earns a yearly salary as a project business accountant and Tom receives VA benefits.
Have you borrowed money before? How much did you borrow? From where? How long was the term? Is there a balance still due on that loan?: We have applied for the Farm Service Agency’s (FSA) Microloan Program for the amount of $11,000. These funds will be used to purchase other required equipment for our agribusiness, namely a walk-in cooler and front-end loader for our tractor. We were unable to include our irrigation project into this loan because the FSA will not finance infrastructure that they cannot put a lien on directly. The term on this loan is for 72 months.
Do you have people who would vouch for your credit worthiness? Who are they?: We have several business contacts that can vouch for our credit worthiness. The first is Banner Greenhouses of Nebo, NC. We have been sourcing our organic transplants from Banner since our founding and order a large number of plugs from them several times during the growing season. They will be able to attest that we always settle our account promptly and fully.
The second business contact is Brooks Compost of Goldston, NC. Brooks is the exclusive provider of our organic compost. Again, we order several deliveries of compost each season and Brooks can confirm that we always pay on time and in full.
Additionally, we both have excellent personal credit scores which can be verified by any of the three major credit reporting agencies.
Tell us about your business background. Have you been in business before?: Our management team currently consists of Tom and Diana Kerr. We believe that we both have unique skill sets that complement each other in their respective roles.
Tom is our Chief Operations Officer. As a former Naval Officer, Tom has vast experience in the management and oversight of large scale operations and crews. Tom is primarily responsible for the implementation of infrastructure projects. Additionally, Tom has attended numerous trainings on Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and the National Organic Program (NOP).
Diana is our Chief Financial Officer. Diana has over 8 years’ experience as a financial professional. She is well-suited to run the accounting and bookkeeping functions of the business. Diana is very detail-oriented and maintains meticulous records both in her “off-farm” job in accounting as well as for the farm. In addition to the bookkeeping and accounting functions she is responsible for the strategic crop planning and marketing strategy. Diana is also responsible for creative/strategic product development and market research.
In 2016, we attended Clemson University’s “South Carolina New and Beginning Farmers Program” graduating with Distinction. The program consisted of 13 weeks of classroom instruction and workshops focusing on the business aspects of farming operations.
How would you use the money you would be borrowing?
We are requesting a loan to install an enterprise-wide irrigation system throughout our farm. We would like to pay this loan back over the course of five years. We plan on hiring Hughes Irrigation of Pittsboro, NC to design and install the system. Installing professional irrigation is vital to achieving our strategic goals for several reasons. First, we attempted to install irrigation ourselves but quickly realized that it was beyond our capabilities. By working with a local irrigation company, we will be able to implement an effective, efficient, scalable system that has the backing of an established business. Second, the well on our property cannot handle the water demand of an enterprise-wide irrigation system. By working with Hughes Irrigation, we are able to install reserve holding tanks that will provide an on-demand water supply. Third, a drip irrigation system is far more efficient than overhead watering. Installing pinpoint drip irrigation aids in achieving our core principle of being as environmentally sustainable of an enterprise as possible. And finally, an irrigation system will improve our quality of life and overall efficiency by freeing up hundreds of man-hours over the course of the growing season by removing the need to hand water.
Are there other lenders involved in your project or business?: As mentioned above, the FSA is involved in financing equipment purchases for our business but is unable to finance infrastructure projects. Slow Money NC will be the only lender for this project.
What is your timeline for this project? Would you like it to start in a month? 6 months? A year?: Ideally, we would like to begin work on the project prior to the main season when will be unable to dedicate valuable time to watering. If possible, we would like to have the system installed in April of 2018, depending on the work schedule of Hughes Irrigation.
Is there anything else we forgot to ask you?: We just want to thank Slow Money NC and all of the lenders for supporting small, local, sustainable farming. We would love to have you out to our farm so we can show you around!