Wanting to farm is a commendable desire. Farms give us food. From mass-produced cereal grains to the most well-tended, ultra-local crops, meats and dairy goods, a farmer had to have the know-how and put in hard work to bring them to you. There are many things you should consider when looking to start a farm. They are entirely practical, as a farm is a business. Simply having the desire to do this will get you pretty far, but only foresight and hard work will get you off the ground.
New Farm Approaches
We’ll start with the assumption that you want to farm sustainably and that you have less than 50 acres to work with. Think about what you want to grow and the scale to which you want to grow it. Focusing on one or two crops simplifies things, but makes your farm more susceptible to pests and sicknesses or the ill effects of bad weather. For instance, if you have a corn crop, it will be susceptible to the same pests and diseases, as it is monocropped in a widely-distributed area and would be a breeding ground for pests. Diversifying your crops makes this less precarious, but it also means that you have to pay more specific attention to the variety that you’re cultivating. Farms moved away from this, favoring efficiency and purely economic concerns as a model when they fell into industrial production.
You could grow livestock, as well, but this takes room. Goats, chickens and pigs are less space-intensive than cattle. They need to be rigorously maintained and fed and watered regularly.
Jump in. It’s okay. But first, talk to farmers in your area. As many as you can. Work for them, ask them any questions you have and identify the ones that can help you. You’ll need them. They can also help you through the process of procuring a loan to start, if you need that. Currently credit is tight and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. The start-up cost for a small farm needn’t be immense when you buy used equipment, but fencing, feed, fuel, seeds, are all inputs that must be considered. You’ll need a pickup, too, if you’ll be hauling things. Talk to an accountant when setting up your business, formally and learn whatever tax breaks and write-offs you can get.
Also, your local university agricultural extension can offer classes or answer your questions.
As a small farmer, you’ll most likely be taking your products to a farmer’s market or selling it via a CSA, or community-supported agriculture. Both models have their advantages or disadvantages. A CSA means that your customers come to you, but you also have to give them enough to justify their investment.
Farmers markets mean harvesting your crops, storing them temporarily and then transporting them. You’re right up against other stalls, too and while farmers markets are a friendly atmosphere, you could be undercut by someone selling something for twenty cents less than you’re asking for. The advantage is that people will browse around and have come down specifically to buy food. You can chat them up, too. It helps to be charismatic.
Starting a farm is a serious endeavor. A farmer’s life is a hard one, albeit rewarding. Unless you have some serious farm experience it may be in your best interest to volunteer at a farm through the WWOOF program or other opportunity to get a taste of what it is like to grow food for a living.