Family farm becomes more profitable and planful
Samuel Canonica and Sarah Costa met in junior high and bonded over their love of animals, the outdoors, and farming.
Sarah got her first horse at 12, Sam his first cow for Christmas when he was 16. When they graduated from high school, Sam headed to the woods and started a timber and firewood business. Sarah headed to the University of New Hampshire, where she got a bachelor’s degree in Animal Science.
They shared a big dream of having a farm together but had little idea of how they could afford it.
Nearly 15 years ago, they found an 1850s farm at the end of a scenic dirt road in Winchester. It had a house, barn, and 126 acres of woodland and grown-over fields, overlooking the Connecticut River Valley. They bought the parcel in 2006, naming it Manning Hill Farm, and moved in, bringing Sam’s small beef herd, Sarah’s horses, and their Great Dane, Diesel.
They built the farm slowly, learning about the land, the market, the business of farming, and establishing products. They decided to raise a unique dairy herd of heritage Dutch Belted cows, which produce a sweet, easily digestible, super-premium milk.
They brought the farm’s original milk house, an old stone building, back to life as their processing plant in August 2010.
Today they pasteurize and bottle their milk on the farm, and offer pasture-raised, grass-fed meats including beef, pork, chicken and eggs, as well as maple syrup, honey, hay and timber. They sell their products at their farm store, farmers’ markets, and stores around the Keene-Brattleboro-Northwestern Mass. area.
In 2018, as their operations and sales continued to grow, an adjacent farm became available. It was an opportunity for the couple to have more grazing land, lower the costs of feed and bedding, better manage the herd’s grazing, and protect a maple grove they’d been leasing. The land’s owner worked with the Monadnock Conservancy and Sam and Sarah on a farm-friendly conservation easement that made the price affordable.
But a clock was ticking on the deal. The landowner wanted to close on the property quickly. The lender who had helped the couple refinance their farm couldn’t meet that timeline and had also tightened its credit requirements.
Sam and Sarah approached some community-based lenders but didn’t have a large-enough down payment to satisfy them. Then the Monadnock Conservancy reached out to the Community Loan Fund to help.
The support of our investors and donors enabled us to customize a loan with which the farmers could purchase the additional land and stabilize their cash flow. We closed the loan in June of 2018.
The couple were also enthusiastic about working with a business coach we connected them with. The coach has helped them analyze the farm’s business opportunities, understand their production costs, and become more profitable. They’ve created a plan to upgrade their dairy processing facility, complete with a capital budget and return-on-investment analysis.
“Working with (the coach) has made us dig deeper into our business and has given us an outside perspective on our different business enterprises,” said Sarah. “It has also reassured us as to what is really working for the business, what our strengths are and what we need and want to work on going forward. What we thought we originally wanted has changed and our goals going forward feel much more attainable.”
Because of your support, Sam and Sarah were able to get the business coaching they need to succeed, as well as access to a loan that is helping them make Manning Hill Farm better and stronger.
Photos courtesy Manning Hill Farm