Former Wall Street Executive Trying to "Close the Loop" on Sustainable Farming
Jeff Gangemi Feb 29, 2012 Farmer Beat 1 comments
Like his friend Dean Carlson, who we recently profiled, Jon McConaughy has over a decade of experience in the finance industry. Also like Carlson, McConaughy says his business experience developed his decision-making ability, particularly when working with limited information.
While running Double Brook Farm in Hopewell, New Jersey, McConaughy says he finds himself making loads of decisions on a daily basis. “As a farmer, you spend much of your day trying to work through problems, trying to make it better and more efficient, and that’s very similar to finance,” he says.
But his biggest and most critical decision? To jump into farming with the same zeal and ambition with which he approached his previous career.
When the farm portion of Double Brook is up and running at full capacity by the end of 2012, the farm will encompass 800 total acres (some of the land is owned and some leased) and be home to 450 beef cows and 60 milk cows, and they'll raise 400 sheep, 400 pigs, and between 10,000 and 15,000 chickens per year, as well as all the vegetables and grains to support the rest of the associated businesses, McConaughy says.
Those other businesses consist of an animal slaughtering operation, a butcher to produce charcuterie, a cheese-making operation, a bakery -- and a farm store and farm-to-table restaurant to move it all.
McConaughy expects to employ between 80-100 workers across all the different businesses. “If we’re going to make a difference, we might as well make a big difference,” he says.
The key to the farm’s success, he says, lies in vertical integration. That means incorporating various business operations – in McConaughy’s case raising animals, then slaughtering, butchering, marketing, and selling them – under one “roof.” What doesn’t get sold in the market or the restaurant will return to the farm as feed or fertilizer. “If we’re overproducing, we just produce less. A lot of the model is based around inventory management,” says McConaughy.
The ultimate goal is a farm that is “closed loop,” with zero outside inputs, no external animal feed, no external fertilizers and a very limited carbon footprint. For now, McConaughy says he’s targeting 90% self-sufficiency by year two or three, with only items like wine, spices, sugar, and the like being sourced from off the premises.
By going to such a vertical integration extreme, the Double Brook model is designed to take the burden of marketing and distribution off the farmer, who is then freed up to grow and produce great food. “You have to sell direct, otherwise you spend two days a week marketing and distributing,” says McConaughy.
Though he and his wife, Robin, are actively managing much of the farm’s operation, McConaughy says he’s trying to “put good people in the important spots so that we’re not making the decisions. When it’s all up and running, my passion would be working on the farm.” He says he definitely didn't get into farming to do marketing and distribution.
If McConaughy succeeds in proving the vertically integrated, closed-loop model, not only will he have freed himself up to do the work he loves, but he’ll also have helped others do the same. “The idea would be to give the knowledge to someone else. Hopefully it will become a new alternative to the [current] farming system,” McConaughy says.
The restaurant is slated to open this fall, as is the cheese-making operation, the butcher, and the bakery. We’ll be watching with great interest and wishing McConaughy and team the best of luck.
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Photos courtesy of Double Brook Farm