Talking Small Biz: An Earth Day interview

CURT HUDSON / FOR THE DAILY NEWS Former bond trader Dean Carlson now deals in a new kind of green: sustainable agriculture.
CURT HUDSON / FOR THE DAILY NEWS Former bond trader Dean Carlson now deals in a new kind of green: sustainable agriculture.
Posted: April 23, 2013

T O MARK Earth Day, we talk with Dean Carlson, 41, of Elverson, Chester County, owner of the 360-acre Wyebrook Farm in Honey Brook. He practices sustainable agriculture and supplies the public - including several top restaurants - with grass-fed pork, chicken and beef. The former bond trader bought the foreclosed property in 2010 for $12,000 per acre.

Q: How do you go from Wall Street trader to farmer?

A: I got interested in agriculture as an investment because farmland is going to become more valuable over time. Conventional agriculture is premised on oil prices, and it's very energy-intensive. Sustainable agriculture is growing food by trying to minimize fossil-fuel use.

Q: Describe the evolution of Wyebrook Farm.

A: When I got here, the fields were cropped, but everything else was a mess - junk everywhere, no fencing and no water. We reseeded the fields, put in fencing and the first two years was nothing but construction on houses here. I tore down two other structures, fully renovated what is now the market and installed a commercial kitchen so we could butcher and cut meat.

Q: What's the business model?

A: Sell as much as we can directly to the public, and we do that on weekends at our market. We also have a cafe, which is open from April to November on weekends, and we do a cafe menu and people sit outside in the courtyard. We sell to some restaurants who understand we have a limited number of animals every week.

Q: You are a proponent of sustainable agriculture.

A: I look at sustainability as having as few off-farm inputs as possible, such as fossil fuels. We have solar panels on our barn. We recycle our cooking oil into biodiesel during the summer. The best way to cut back on fossil fuels is to have people buy local. Another way we're sustainable is having animals outside harvest their food themselves rather than us using tractors and diesel fuel to harvest it for them. The cows graze every day.

Q: You produce food in ways that tax natural resources less than conventional farming.

A: Grass-fed beef is completely renewable. Grass is a perennial whose only real inputs are sunshine and water. Bio-grazing builds soil fertility, so we're not mining soil of its nutrients.

Q: How big a business is this, and how many people work here?

A: We have five full-time people and about 10 part-time. We started full operations in April 2012, and the revenues were about $300,000 last year. I would hope this year it will be about $500,000 and we can break even.

Q: What's the biggest challenge you've faced growing Wyebrook?

A: It's asking people to buy food in a different way. That means coming here rather than going to the grocery store. People search you out, and it's a case of making the sample size big enough to keep yourself in business.


On Twitter: @MHinkelman

Online: ph.ly/YourBusiness

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