Bootstrapping your farm dreams
During the week I listen to business podcasts on my early morning walk but on the weekend, I listen to farming and growing episodes. This past weekend I heard one podcast host say that the two things you need to start a farm are land and money and most people don't have those when they want to start a farm and so that is why people struggle to get into farming.
Most extension services and many ag colleges have a beginning farmer program that says you need land, and a business plan and your marketing plan all worked out and…and…and… before you even plan a single crop. That's like telling people you can't get a job until you have your whole career mapped out.
While I agree that eventually, you will need to put some or all of those pieces in place, I don’t agree that you must have them all in place before you do a single thing towards starting your farm. The thing that is standing between you and starting a farm is not land or money it is you. More specifically it is your thoughts. The thoughts that say you need land and money and you have neither therefore you can't start a farm.
What if that wasn't true. What if you could start a farm right here, right now and build it as you go along investing the money back into the farm until you have the money to buy the land.
My ideal farm would be 10-20 acres. I'd have a dairy cow, some chickens, a big herb garden and kitchen garden and I'd be growing a couple of acres of crops outside and have a good-sized greenhouse or two for winter growing. My farm would be year-round, it would provide most of my family's food and an income to keep us happy. OK, it would keep ME happy; my daughter would only be happy if the farm also included a sizable art studio with a gallery attached!
It's easy to sit and wait until I have the land and money to put all of that in place but if I did that it would never happen and I would get grumpier and grumpier by the year as growing seasons slipped by without me being able to make a contribution to farming in this country.
What if you could get started for the cost of a good night out. A good night out for me would cost around $50. How can you start a farm for $50?
Cost of 25 by 25-foot community garden for the season - $30
The rest would go on seeds, fertilizer. The community gardens here are supplied with water so that isn’t something I would need to worry about.
You can start by growing a few things that sell well at farmers markets; maybe zucchini, basil, cilantro for sale (and vegetables for your family table because farming is supposed to feed the farm family first)
You can sell them at a co-op table at a local farmers market. (Some farmers markets have a co-op table, some don’t but you can start one if there isn’t one) or start your own farm stand, sell to local restaurants. A few small growers local to me have started a small bi-weekly farmers market in a park near my home to give themselves another outlet for their products.
The money you make on your spare time 'hobby' farm (less tax) would go back into the farm in year two and allow you to buy tools and more seed/fertilizer etc. Some should go into a savings account that will help you buy your own farm in the future. Small savings compounded over a few years will add up. But not if you don’t get started now.
Maybe you have friends or family with a big yard they don't use and would lease to you for the price of a few vegetables for their table.
Maybe you can grow herbs hydroponically on your deck. This is something I am about to experiment with after this year’s grow-bag experiment (more on that in another blog).
There's always a way to start growing your farming muscles. Land and money are not required, at least not right away. What is required is the will to do whatever it takes to create the farm of your dreams bit by bit. Starting where you are, with what you have.
If you want more information on how to start your farm now download my free guide and get started.
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