272. Start Your Farm for the 21st Century Sustainable Farmer | Plant To Profit | Ellen Polishuk | Washington DC

Plant to Profit

I am delighted to introduce my amazing guest from Plant to Profit Farm Consulting Ellen Polishuk is here to share her amazing knowledge and story as well as her new book available on amazon or her website!


Start Your Farm: The Authoritative Guide to Becoming a Sustainable 21st Century Farmer

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Audio Book from Audible.com

Tell us a little about yourself you were telling me today in Washington DC you had snow today.

Yup! as you said, just the end of January having a little bit of snow

raised in the DC Suburbs

55 been here a long time

whole career has been in agriculture

vegetable gardener

part of a farm called Potomac Vegetable Farms 

25 year career there growing and selling organically grown

  • vegetables
  • herbs
  • cut flowers

Tell me about your first gardening experience?

It’s good story everybody has to start somewhere

easiest way to describe it I think I was just born loving plants, they were sort of my sort of pets

as a little child I would collect indoor plants in my room. I got a community garden plot when I was like 8

goes back quite a long time even though I grew up in a cul de sac, the most ideal suburban childhood but somehow

agriculture grabbed me

ended up getting a degree in horticulture in college

not growing up on a a farm.

Do you want to tell listeners what sustainable agriculture maybe means to you did you learn that in horticulture school?

As a young person when I first

15-16-17 years old, luckily I worked on farms, that were quote unquote, “organically”

started getting Organic Gardening magazine like everyone else, 

keep up and see what other people were doing

sustainable ag

organic more specific and legally defined now

  • bigger umbrella
  • terminology
  • organic
  • biodynamic
  • some conservation practices
  • irregular
  • no-till farmer might take part in
  • fairly broad term
  • specific
  • legally

Do you want to tell listeners about your book?

so, the book is written

Forrest Pritchard

grass-based livestock grower

sells in the larger DC market area

our idea

how to grow things

how to grow animals


technical aspects of farming


bugs are

What we felt was missing was a book that helped described the foundational thinking, that goes with the thinking involved with a farm business

Especially for people who are thinking about moving into a farming business

income generating

what things they might want to think about

personal temperaments



think about the business and financial aspects

manage your energy and not burn out

how not to kill relationships when your pressing hard

That area of the business mind is probably the most striking thing

Like I said, I’ve been pouring through JM Fortier’s book. Trying to figure it all out and then he talks about 2 acres which is a lot more then our 1/3 acre. IDK why at this time in my life I’m obsessed with business podcasts which is so opposite when I was in college and you probably couldn’t even get me to go into the business building. But that’s part of my personality too when you talk about temperament. So what else do you see missing?

The biggest thing is the business mind missing in folks that have an impulse to be a grower

not the same thing

at all

need to have both of those combined

in order to run a business to pay the bills to

getting friendly with numbers

can you get friendly

sustainable ag

bring together this ecological balance and all the beauties most of us growers are attracted to

  • being outside
  • touching the sun
  • watching the plants grow
  • nurturing impulse

combine that ecological care

economic stability

having a reasonable head for numbers

how much is it costing us to grow things?

what does my price need to be so I can stay in business

We talk a lot about business mindset

  • roi
  • how to handle your money
  • pretty specific aspects

that’s the main thing

some conversation in there

thinking about your temperament from other angles:

like whether or not you’re a perfectionists?

Perfectionists are not going to find themselves particularly acceptable if you are super detailed oriented, there are not many tasks where you will be recompensed in the market

88% perfect is pretty good

I’m gonna go with it


temperament without withstand things never being done

constant work in process

never finished with anything


  • growing
  • learning
  • more projects
  • more weather


constant growing process

maybe difficult going to bed each night knowing there are lots of things that didn’t

I think this is so fitting, I look at this from a teaching perspective. There’s so many things about my personality that don’t fit a teacher like, repetition, having to do the same schedule exactly the same way every day at the same time. That’s a part of my temperament. I’m a very visual type or person and a visionary, and I’m always looking into the future and the pace of education changes at a snails pace. And then I’m not a perfectionist, I could never get an A no matter how much I studied but I usually got B+s which I thought was pretty good.

My big question is last summer we found a business that said they would take everything we would grow but I started looking at my kale etc and was thinking other people might not like my kale with little insect holes in it that don’t bother me.

we don’t specifically make any kind of quality standard

I’m happy to parse that out with you now.

And maybe down the line we’re gonna figure that out.

Let’s just say that probably at this moment in time there’s the most capacity for  regular person or consumer to handle imperfection

movement and talked about on TV, written in the paper

less then perfect vegetables

more robust in Europe but coming into the US

more organized recognition

cosmetic standards usually has to do with this 

pepper has this funny shape

doesn’t mean is it going to rot but more of a cosmetic standard

shape and color

doesn’t fit in the box with the other ones

positive awareness

  • lets loosen that up
  • let’s not throw those things away
  • make sure somebody gets to eat them

good news aspects

When it comes to bugs I think there is 0 tolerance

people don’t like bugs at all

it freaks them out

there is no respite and no place to hide

exchange a product that has bugs in it.

I know. It makes me laugh I remember when mike would enter the fair they would want everything to be the same size. Like 5 potatoes or 4 tomatoes on a vine all the same size.

I think that’s an interesting point that your making, its a good point that 

there is a difference between feeding yourselves and your standards are going to be lower then what’s ok in the market place

in the market place there’s a big difference 

At the farmer’s market you can get away with lots of imperfection, people sort of expect it

They’re standing there and they know what their weather is like

what their garden is

chard missing

get into the wholesale setting

sell to someone who’s going to resell

It’s interesting when we went to Young’s Farm, we were looking at the peach trees and he was saying that the peaches just weren’t ever good enough to sell, but they could sell peach pies. Like 5000 of them!

don’t have a lot of experience in the restaurant selling business

determine where ever piece was going to go

would send the worst looking stuff to a restaurant

gonna wash it and cutting it up and cook

perfect place

restaurants to taken up that mantle

thats our role to take

I’d like to spend some time talking about

What resources do you have to bear

When you talk about a farm organism?

Things cost money

building up a set of tools


things cost money

you need to have either time or money or both

what I find in my consulting business and teaching business

come across folks who have neither one

in a sense like this

someone writes to me

I’m on this family land

I got it for free

  • I have no other job
  • have to get money off this piece

They send me this soil test

soil is broken and it takes time for soil to heal

for free


not ready to create your amazing living right off the bat

You can heal and fix things

if you have time

3-5 years you can bring that soil alive doing good practices 

or if you have a huge budget

bring 50 tons of compost

JM Fortier

liquid fertility

foliar sprays

buy microbial inoculants

I used to work for a printer he had a triangle on his wall: 


I thought you were going to talk about tools, as far as labor how long it takes mike to weed his minifarm with his cultivator hoe. But I feel like you just dropped a ton of golden seeds about things I have never thought of.

I always tell people, go ahead and quit your day job, but get a night job. We delivered the paper that was helped me get my podcast off the ground. People always say to me you’ve been doing this for 4 years why aren’t you making money but it takes a long time to get an online business off the ground.I feel like I grow in leaps and bounds.

on target with what I am trying to talk about

closely related

said a different way

read books like JM Fortier’s book and say I’m gonna do that but then they don’t buy the 50 tons of compost.

think they are going to plant intensively and all these plants and their soil resource isn’t ready and they don’t get very good crops

be careful about following the advice or a book or something you have read

if you don’t understand how that person is building a whole system

some part is successful

JM Fortier style

you have to do do 50 tons of compost over and over and over again

that’s his system. If you want the results of his system you have to put it to work.

Not to say anything negative his book is amazing very inspiring.

That’s like I was looking for a job online customer service and I was reading people’s terms and conditions for refunds, and it was like can you prove you did this, this, and this.

I’m glad you brought that up, because that’s another thing

somehow people think that faming doesn’t require practice and it isn’t a profession especially people who aren’t even gardeners thinkanybody can do that

haven’t thought about it

highly encouraging working for someone else

  • paid to observe
  • paid to be helping

It’s crazy to think you could go from  being a happy gardener in your backyard

when one you don’t know anything about business

many not know

  • mareketing which is selling
  • customer service

so much to learn, one must go slowly

learn from other people’s operations and mistakes, that’s the best way possible

But that only applies to a young person who’s loose and doesn’t have kids, a husband or wife, that needs to be in one stuck

It’s the preferred method to go work for 2-3 seasons

I think that works in so many situations, I tell my mom a lot I wish someone would have told me when I was young, I would love running when I was older but if someone would have taught me all the tricks and I always thought running meant running 5 miles in 30 minutes everyday but that’s the farthest thing from the truth.

 So I imagine your book is about if you follow your steps in your book that helps people turn a profit 

then launch your business

the glass ceiling with agriculture 

not that a woman can’t move up to a board level but a glass ceiling on price

any kind of food business are bumping hard against this ceiling that Americans don’t value food we are cheapskates and how much we think food should take of our budget 

There’s study after study that Americans spend less on food as a percentage of their income by a long shot and still complain about it

making a profit

make 10$ more then you spent there’s a profit but you can’t make a living on $10

Need to have enough profit to make a living and not have another job which isn’t easy to do when food is not a valuable commodity.

I hope someone out there that is righteous feisty I hope we can bust through that ceiling, how much food is worth. 

I think  alot of it is subsidies on processed food, etc. I can stand in the grocery store for like an hour debating back and forth should I spend this extra for organic buy this..? Now I’m blessed because my husband grows a lot of my food.


  • oil
  • nuts
  • seeds

I just keeping thinking about this cauliflower I was excited to buy it was giant and gonna taste good but it was $8 and I there was no way I could afford that.

its an individual battle for each of us

what is it worth how much do I have

long way to go in our culture to raise the value of food in our minds

Do you have a system for helping people go from Plants to Profits?

big part of my teaching

a little bit in the book but in my teaching around the country

I work with a group out of Wisconsin

compass tools


  • vegetable growers
  • livestock growers

veggie compass

The goal is for people figure out what does it cost them to grow each of their products

50-75 different crops that we grow

The kind of bookkeeping and record keeping to determine the cost does require some time and attention. That’s kind of my holy grail and what I teach

show what records to keep

ideas of how to keep records and show what’s possible with a healthy set of data from your own operation so you can find out which are my

20 top profitable crops

what are my worst crops

making a whole set of questions or designs

why do I loose money on these crops? 

What’s wrong? what part of the equation is off?

  • am I not growing it?
  • yield is no good?
  • price is not sustainable?
  • I have a poor marketplace to sell this thing?

Not as much in the book because we don’t want to freak people out and nobody wants a book about record keeping

some other good

famer number rich business books


Julia shanks

The Farmer's Office: Tools, Tips and Templates to Successfully Manage a Growing Farm Business

The Farmer’s Office: Tools, Tips and Templates to Successfully Manage a Growing Farm Business

Fearless Farm Finances- Farm Financial Management Demystified

Fearless Farm Finances: Farm Financial Management Demystified

out of Wisconsin

Richard Wiswall’s The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook

go super deep into spreadsheets and costs

We hope ours is filling in this other stuff that missing

can’t get it all in one places, you need a shelf

I have 2 of those and I’ll have to look into the Farm Finances

He’s the lender, the banker, helps you understand what the words mean that the bank is going to use with you.

So a lot of my guests have recommended going to the market first before starting out, would you recommend that? Where would you recommend someone start?

Well, it’s not a linear progression and the balls would be what is the natural inclination 

a few balls in the air at the same time

What is the natural inclination of the land?

if you have already landed

rented or given a piece of land

the property has something to say about this

you can’t override the natural inclination of that land

have that ball in the air

Next you have to take into consideration your set of skills and temperaments

if the perfect thing for that land area is to grow sheep that’s not going to work?

and then there’s the marketplace

all these things affecting each other, back and forth and you have to hold them up in the air at the same time in order to come to an idea of a farm organism that will work

  • That you want to be a part of
  • that the land wants to support and
  • the marketplace that will buy your products

So sort of a 3 way, I say!

It’s interesting, have you seen the Netflix movie about the girl who won the Chelsea Flower show in England and then she wrote this other book now called the Garden Awakening, Mary Reynolds is her name. I’ve been reading it this morning because it’s due back at teh library this morning.

The Garden Awakening: Designs to Nurture Our Land and Ourselves https://amzn.to/2Iro8HN

The Garden Awakening: Designs to Nurture Our Land and Ourselves

She talks about the land in similar ways to you, even as far as including a little bit of fairuy magic but 

  • walking the boundaries
  • letting the land heal and even talking to the land itself and asking it?
  • she’s talks a lot about similar things 

How do you learn that? What’s a clue that land’s meant for sheep. We wanted to get sheep and had a very sad experience.

Well I’m not talking about mystically about your example

I’m being very pragmatic

land has a lay to it

  • what is the topography
  • how up and down hilly
  • how flat is it
  • what elevation are you at
  • how strong ar the winds
  • what direction do they come from
  • zone?
  • how deep is the soil itself. If you took a shovel and dig how deep can you go before you hit a rock impediment?

deeper the 12 you probably don’t have to know

  • what is this land suited for?
  • is it covered with trees already?

Are you really gonna have the land cleared and trunks pushed out etc?

that’s what I mean

trying to say people have to access

There are professional people that can help with all of these things

extension agents

Natural Resource conservation service Professionals through USDA

They know how to read land

soil tests

help you get some of those perimeters lined up for any certain set of property

IF you are not landed

know that you want to be a carrot farmer

shop for land for land that will work it’s not gonna be hilly and shallow it’s gonna be flattish and deep! Does that make sense?

Yeah! Excellent!

Get to the root of things?

Let’s take a minute to thank our sponsors and affiliate links

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Now Let’s Get to the Root of Things!

Which activity is your least favorite activity to do in the garden?

The thing I hate and avoid at almost all costs, it’s wearing a backpack sprayer! I don’t care what’s inside even if its full of yummy goodness inside like 

full of microbe and compost tea

whatever I am 

uninterested in wearing backpack sprayer

dragging hoses around

heavy water filled

greenhouse out in the garden

least favorite

Do you think any farm is going to have to have a backpack sprayer?


anyone that is going to farm on any kind of scale

probably for insect control

  • potatoes
  • green beans
  • bunch of crops that have a caterpillar pest

colorado potato beetle pest

There’s really good biological options but the only way is to spray it.

That’s interesting I was also reading Erin’s Benzenkien’s blog post about her favorite tools the other day and it was on her list of gotta have.

What is your favorite activity to do in the garden?

Oh, I love planting I love harvesting most crops

some things that are a pain in the next

  • carrots
  • beets
  • peppers
  • basil

So many good smells!


so rewarding to see the fruits and vegetable of your labor!

?You know your passion comes through so intensely there! You can tell you really love it! I find that is like dreaded labor to me. Do you have any harvesting techniques to make it easier? 

No, I don’t

picking beans is a hard, that’s one of the harder slower sports

on a commercial scale that’s definitely a limiting factor how many people you can get on the grown especially bush beans.

now as an avid home gardeners

plenty of growing season

haven’t had a problem

when I was a full time grower

having good knees

right down on your knees

pick those beans right in front of you

which part of your knees


commercial scale a lot of time on my knees

not a lot of tricks

home gardener

really high raised beds


earth come up

preparing yourself before you go out

maximum mobility

stretching before you go to bed

counteract what’s done during the day

wise strategy

A favorite tool that you like to use? 

If you had to move and could only take one tool with you what would it be.

as a farmer my favorite tool was s machine called a spading

love equipment


spading machine

it’s how your gonna work up the ground


special tillage tool

works really really well

I would take that for sure

As a home gardener now is a good hand hoe

sharp little hand hoe

I like the ones from Johnny’s

triangle shaped piece of metal on the end of a good handle


mix things up

do a little

Excellent I think Aidan at Young’s Farm told me he liked the spader tractor attachment too!

A favorite recipe you like to cook from the garden?


I love to cook everything

million things

  • pesto
  • tomato sauce
  • canning any kind of toast
  • okra pickles
  • dilly beans
  • sauerkraut

don’t have a favorite

A favorite internet resource?

omgoodness! There’s certainly a whole pack now of kind of young whippersnapper

urban grower people

Curtis Stone

Michael Kilpatrick


Ray Tyler – Memphis TN

He has a company in the field consultants

Small Farm University

lessons on it – I know are really popular

young up and new up and coming farmers watching youtube videos

just surprising given someone my age

what did we have

Organic Gardening Magazine

talking to live people

boy people can sit at home get a great education

big conference goer

favorite things is to hear a speaker

live interaction

I love old time


A favorite reading material-book, mag, blog/website etc you can recommend?


Start Your Farm: The Authoritative Guide to Becoming a Sustainable 21st Century Farmer

I certainly love the book but I spent a lot of time with those words already so I’m reading it anymore

2 books

point towards valuable resources in farming

made by our governed


cover cropping book

Managing Cover Crops Profitably.jpg

Managing Cover Crops Profitably

growing cover crops profitably



Building Soils for Better Crops

best soils book written for a person not in a college course

written for regular lay person

tremendous resources that everyone should have on their shelf

Final question-

If there was one change you would like to see to create a greener world what would it be? For example is there a charity or organization your passionate about or a project you would like to see put into action. What do you feel is the most crucial issue facing our planet in regards to the environment either in your local area or on a national or global scale?

Obviously I have lots of feelings for plastic bags all over the world

industry should have to take responsibility for their product through it’s life

its on the radar

I think we should make it illegal to have more then 250 chickens in any one given area

Modern chicken houses should be illegal

I live here by the Chesapeake Bay watershed

Chesapeake Bay is ruined by chicken farming

it’s not ok to put 100,000 chickens in one building and the only way they can be grown is on small scale Joel Salitin style

on little tiny houses that are pulled across

they eat pasture

we could make a change like that

ripple effect would be huge!

  • soil health
  • water shed

It’s not ok with us anymore

it’s not good for the chickens, for us, the land or the water

Let’s just say we can’t do it anymore!

now that’s radical!

That’s radical but it’s doable!

except for the politics

To decentralize chicken farming so that it can be a commodity and decentralized

all that pollution is such a big problem that would make a big difference.

My friend Mary that I interviewed is in NJ but she also talked about the Chesapeake Bay

But chicken farming.

Definitely something near and dear to my heart. I do think it’s doable. We have our chickens for the manure, the eggs are just bonus. Once you get to know them and have them you get to love them.

It’s something we could do. I love the way you put it, we could make it illegal and some day we would think what were we ever thinking?



Start Your Farm: The Authoritative Guide to Becoming a Sustainable 21st Century Farmer

Listen to your first audio book for free by clicking on our audible affiliate link

Audio Book from Audible.com

How do we connect with you?

I have a website for my teaching website one on one consulting

Plant to Profit Farm Consulting

That’s where the action is

You can get my email and watch some videos

videos of classes that I’ve taught


I write articles for Growing for Market Magazine

super publication

I finally got us a subscription to Growing for Market 2 days ago, I’ve wanted to do that for a long time!

On my website


all around the country

  • Kentucky
  • Oregon
  • Tennessee
  • Pennsylvania

on the website there’s the schedule if you want to spend an hour or so or even the next on is a daylong at the penn sustainable ag conference

start your farm

full of people lot in common

starting a new farm business

next Tuesday

Lancaster, PA

Please support us on Patreon so we can keep the show up on the internet. It cost close to $100 a month just to keep it up on the internet for the website etc so if you could help by supporting it with an $8/month contribution or $10/month to join the Green Future Growers Book Club where we can delve deep into some of the best gardening books that have been recommended on the show! GoDaddy even is bugging me for dollars just to have the domain name…

OGP Patreon Page Green Future Grower Book Club


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About the author, Jackie Marie

I'm an artist and educator. I live at the "Organic Oasis" with my husband Mike where we practice earth friendly techniques in our garden nestled in the mountains of Montana.

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