Experiences of a FileMaker Pro Database Developer

Getting Down and Dirty – Part 1


The old work horse of the farm

Donna Long from the Ponca Hills area just north of Omaha, Nebraska contacted me by posting a comment on my company website about using FileMaker Pro to help run their small organic farm operation. I thought this project would be a great case study on what’s involved in developing software using FileMaker Pro.

I plan to provide guidance and help Donna get started building her database. Together we are going to follow the steps necessary to build a database system. This is the first post of a series that will be published under Case Studies. Here you can follow the information gathering process, planning the database, initial builds, feedback, questions and answers and final deployment. My goal is to guide Donna as she does the work, but who knows where this will go and evolve. I welcome comments, feedback and suggestions as we take this journey. Let’s get started!

The first step is gathering information. In my initial interview with Donna you’ll see it’s important to take a genuine interest which helps to understand the project and, more important, the people behind the project. To me, the best part of any new project is getting to learn about a new business.

MATT: If you can tell me more about your farm and exactly what you need, that will be the first step. Are you using anything right now, Excel, Word, other? What kind of timeline are you on? I’ll do my best to help you get started, but it may take me a little while to carve out some time.
Where are you located? I love gardening and grew up with a father that always gardened and spent his last job as the Horticulturist for Winter Park, FL. I live in Connecticut and can’t wait for Spring and for the feet of snow and ice to melt!

DONNA: We’re in Nebraska, a little north of Omaha in the Ponca Hills area.
No, I have merely used pen and notebook so far.  We planted our first crop last fall….2000 garlic cloves….asleep under the snow for now, I’m hoping.  I will start some seeds indoors soon, and when Spring arrives will plant more asparagus, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and annual vegetables.
We’ve established an early relationship with some restaurant owners and hope to entice Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s to sell our products.  And of course we’ll make the rounds of the Farmers Markets.  Buying “local” has just begun to take off here, and the same is true for the response to organic produce.  Our intention is to work toward certification, so we’ll be using only natural pest and weed control, and fertilization.
I’d like to track our costs, field preparation, planting information(including location to facilitate crop rotation), maintenance of plants(including weed/pest control), and harvest/yield information. Then on to sales information, including where sold and price.
All through this I think we should try to track our hours of labor, as well as ‘diary’ what that labor entailed.  So, maybe that’s leaning towards a “calendar approach”….I don’t know, just kind of free-thinking as I go here.  There may be something I left out…it’s late and I’ve been studying FMP11 all day….probably have a little ‘brain freeze’….
I’ve lived on this 10 acre plot for 19 years and have spent most of that time flower gardening with minimal amounts of vegetable and fruit efforts.  I’ve worked as a nurse anesthetist for over 40 years and would like to spend more time soaking up the smell of dirt!  So this will be a retirement pursuit for me and I’m as excited as when I saw my first radish seed sprout in Plant City Fla. 63 years ago.
Are you a native Floridian?  Winter Park is my favorite city in Florida….not least because of all the beautiful landscapes there.  I was born in Lakeland and my 91 year old mom still lives there.  My grandparents had a flower nursery in Plant City and some of my grandfather’s hardscapes are still being enjoyed around the town.

MATT: Pen and notebook is great. This means you already have a lot of thought and a system in place. The computer is just another tool to help with this system. Can you scan or fax me some pages from your notebook so I can see some actual data?
I’m originally from California and moved to the deep south when I was a teenager. My Dad’s sister married an Alabama southern family. We ended up moving across country, but I really enjoyed the freedom and hunting and fishing. I still love to fish, but haven’t hunted in years. I spent my summers with my uncle robbing bees. He was a school teacher and had about 10 bee yards, so we had all summer to get the honey.
I then ended up in Mississippi and finally in Orlando Florida through a Disney College Program. My parents later followed me to Florida and my Mom ran an Estate Sale Business and my Dad worked for the town of Winter Park.
I met my wife in Florida who was a native New Yorker and that’s how I ended up in New York and settled in Connecticut.

DONNA: Sorry I haven’t gotten back to you sooner.  Have been at a sustainable farming conference, working on logo and website, and planting seeds indoors.  Also work has been unusually busy so that gets first priority.
Thanks for hanging in with me.  I’m at work now but will write more later and I do have some additional info from the conference.
Question, can Filemaker take the place of excel for tracking expenses and income?

MATT: I look forward to more information…
Explain what you mean by tracking expenses and income? I need examples. Have you looked at Quickbooks for this?

DONNA: These are two resources from Roger Wilson at UNL that are put together using excel to track costs and income.  I would like to be able to use FileMaker for this information as well as other data we’ve discussed.
Agricultural Economics
Crop Budgets
Guess my question is basically can filemaker work sort of like a spreadsheet as well?
Thanks for the timely response today.  I really appreciate your interest.  By expenses, I’m talking about the costs of the crop, and income of course means from the sales of the crops.  This Mr. Wilson has put it together so you can actually determine what price to set for your produce.

MATT: Great information and yes FileMaker Pro can work similar to a spreadsheet even with a spreadsheet view.
Are you looking for FileMaker to actually determine what price to set for your produce? If so, I see that more in a phase 2 or 3 of the project. We want to get the basics in place and working before tackling those kinds of calculations.

I have enough information now to put together an outline and rough schema of the database modules/areas. I’m sure I’ll have more questions as I put that together. This will be the subject of my next post.

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  1. Although I list a website, it is truly nothing useable right now. Have been working on a logo for the site as well as business cards, along with all the many other tasks arising when spring is just around the corner.
    Yes, I would like for FM to help in the calculation of cost per unit which will then give us the price to ask in order to make a profit. I know of course this “bottom line” number must be in the price range of similar products in the market, but I think it would be especially helpful when setting a price for restaurants and retail food markets.
    Thanks again for your interest and assistance.

  2. Ellen Anderson says:

    Hi – I don’t know whether you are still active on this blog but I am about to try to develop a small organic farm database.
    I am a commercial real estate appraiser and I designed a database in which I write all of my reports. It works well though it is far from elegant. I like your initial take on what would be required to do a farm. Would each of those categories be layouts?
    Are you still interested in working on this?
    I have filemaker 12 and am thinking about going to 13. I have a mac power book (4 years old and will need replacing soon) and an iphone 3G that is due for an upgrade. My satellite is Hughesnet gen 4 (yup, out in the boonies that is what I get) and I have wifi.
    I have been using filemaker since it first came out but never have gotten much into the scripting. Navigating by buttons is pretty much it. I would love to be able to learn how to make filemaker work more like a spreadsheet while retaining the flexibility of excel. For my appraisals I take screen grabs of my excel sheets and copy them into container fields. Very inelegant.
    If you are interested in how I am proceeding you have my email. Thanks. BTW, we are beekeepers, we have dairy goats, chickens and a draft horse as well as fields for growing crops. I also breed hunting dogs (not very often but I have to keep track of the owners and the puppies.) I need to be able to keep track of milk testing, vet visits, vaccinations etc.


  1. […] is part 2 of a multipart series, see Getting Down and Dirty – Part 1 for the previous post. Filed Under: […]

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