You Want To Know How To Start A Farm?
Small to medium scale farming is becoming more and more popular as the world blunders into the twenty-first century. A lack of connection to the land, a loss of sense of purpose in our current careers (if we are lucky enough to have one), and the food-related medical epidemics that are making their way around the world are causing people like you and me to look to a more rural lifestyle.
It is very exciting to be at work daydreaming, or at home talking with friends and family over a beer, about all the things you want to grow, how you want to work with you hands, raise animals, and lead a fulfilling lifestyle. It is very easy to get carried away in the fantasy of how good life is on the other side. You have heard the old sayings, "You know farming is hard work," and, "You know, you don't make any money farming." But you don't care about that. You will have a beautiful little farmhouse, your kids will play barefoot in the pasture, and you will eat like a king on your long farm table each night before you go to bed tired and at peace from a day spent doing meaningful work.
Well of course you love that dream! Who wouldn't? I would like to win the lottery too. Let me tell you how many times I have played the game, "What would I do if I was rich?" The fact of the matter is, you're not very likely to hit the lottery, and you are not very likely going to have the perfect dream of a farm that you are building in your mind. BUT, and there is a but, with hard work, the right set of skills, a whole lot of passion and determination, and a little luck, you can live out a version of your farm dream.
The Truth About Starting A Farm
A farmer friend of mine told me the advice that he gives everyone who asks him about starting a farm. "Don't!" Don't do it. That is what he tells people, every time. If you hear that you should NOT start a farm, and you think to yourself, "Maybe you are right, maybe I was dreaming." Then farming is not what you should be doing with your life. Now, if you think to yourself, "That is the worst advice ever. Not only am I going to be a farmer, I am going to be a great farmer. No Matter what it takes!" Then my friend, you are meant to be a farmer.
Starting a farm requires so much more than the knowledge of how to grow things. It requires a diverse skill set that can combine some of the most boring and monotonous work you have ever done in your life. The list of required skills will be covered in the "How To Start A Farm" section of the Farm Marketing Solutions website in further detail, so I won't go into it here. What I am getting at though, is the one thing that you need above all those other skills, and that is passion.
Farming requires passion. Without passion you have nothing. You have another job that you do not enjoy. Go work for someone else. You are not going to find pleasure in your achievements, you are not going to have the eye for what is needed to move your business forward, and you are not going to care if you succeed or fail. You can learn anything else. How to fix a tractor, that's in a book. How to treat a certain plant disease organically, call an extension agent. Stink at financial record keeping, take a course on QuickBooks. Passion, that has to come from within.
The important question you have to ask yourself is, "Are you willing to let starting a business consume every thought in your head for (at the very least) several years?" Because if you want to start a farm, you have to think about it as starting a business, not as starting a farm.
Things You Need To Know Before Beginning An Agricultural Business
Do you really want to start a farm? Honestly, I hope you do. And I hope you are ready for it. Before you start to look for land, before you start to think about crop plans, financial records, farmers' markets, or even where you want to live, there are some crucial steps you need to take first.
Some of these steps are physical and some are mental. Starting your farm will be a journey, one that you have to be prepared for. Think of the year you first start on your farm as the destination. You cannot wait to get there! However, first you much pack your bags, figure out where you are going, book the flights, and create an itinerary.
Packing Your Bags
Some of the things you are going to want to put in your bag will be philosophical. I can tell you what I did, and what I was thinking. Through that I can give you some guidelines to follow, but the actual information and application will come from you.
Other things will be experiences. Again, I can give you a guide based on my experiences, and the experiences of others, but the actual execution of those experiences are going to come from you. After all this is your journey.
Due to how long this page is becoming, I have created a series of pages linked from this page. That will help you keep things organized, and make the information more digestible for you.
- Assessing Your Values
- Creating a Realistic Timeline
- Mind-Mapping vs. Linear Planning
- Creating a Farm Website to Document Your Journey
- Volunteering On A Farm
- Farm Internships and Apprenticeships
- Farming Training Programs
- Finding Farm Land
- Other Beginning Farmer Websites
- Recommended Farm Books and Business Books
Once you have read all this information, or if you feel you are beyond this point (though it never hurts to re-read) feel free to continue on to the Farm Marketing Solutions Resources Page.
I can only tell you what works for me. This doesn't mean it is going to work 100% right for you. Whether my advice works 100% or 10%, the important thing is that you get SOMETHING out of it. If you find yourself closer to 10%, it may be that you are not taking my advice, and modifying it to fit your situation. Keep your mind open, because the core concepts apply to almost any small business, not just agriculture.
You will have a different farm, you will have different finances, you will have different values. I know that as I started my farm, I would have killed for something like this. There are resources out there where people have disclosed similar information, but not quite in the detail that I cover here.
Also, the resources are all over the place. I do my best to take all the knowledge that I have gained through the years from talking to hundreds of farmers, visiting dozens of farms, and from my own experiences on my farm and speaking with other business professionals.