I’ve been farming for eight years, and for six of those years, vegetables have been my primary income. In that time, I have learned a bit about what it takes to survive at this job, and a lot about how easy it is to fail. I have made many mistakes, sometimes over and over again, but there are a few things that I have adopted into my approach to farming now that I wish I had known starting out. If you’re a beginning farmer, here are just four realizations I’ve had that I wish someone would have told me as a beginner.
1. Try Everything, But Not All At Once
The classic young farmer story of our day is this: We try everything we can possibly think of—all the animals, all the fruits, all the veggies, all the permaculture systems, but we try them all at the same time. Although you should eventually try everything you want to, there is no better way to become overwhelmed and prematurely burnt out from the get-go than doing everything at once.
I wish we had just stuck with maybe one animal and a large garden but done both very well. Maybe even just one or the other. I realize that’s not as exciting as trying a little of everything, but a little of everything is very often a lot of nothing. You need a reliable, significant income. Invest your time and money into one big project a year. Stick with a few money makers, and let those pay for the other ventures you’re interested in.
2. Don’t Raise Or Grow Too Many Unique Things
Seed catalogs are alluring publications. The colors and descriptions, the variety and possibilities—it’s all very intoxicating. However, in order to make farming successful, you have to stay focused. Always buy a new variety or two, of course, but make sure to purchase some tried-and-true crops, proven in yield and uniformity. These are the varieties that will earn your living—”cash crops,” if you will. This same rule, of course, applies to animals. Rare breeds are fun, and by all means give them a whirl, but keep in mind the next two points when the exotic birds section of the hatchery catalogs start to draw you in.
3. Prep The Farm For New Animals
When it comes to successful husbandry, infrastructure is critical. I cannot tell you how many times we would buy a flock or herd of something and kick ourselves for our lack of preparedness. Now, we research what we want to raise, get everything we need to manage that animal—shelters, fences, waterers, feeders—and only when the farm is fortified do we bring in the animal. This seems logical, but it’s just way too easy to hear of a good deal from a friend or neighbor and find yourself with too many goats and not enough fences.
4. Treat Farming Like The Business It Is
If you are venturing out into the world to sell food, you are starting a business. There’s no two ways about it, especially if you are going to rely on this money to live. Of course, as unromantic as that sounds, it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. If you treat it like a business from the very beginning, you will be able to keep yourself out of the type of financial troubles that so many young farmers inadvertently find themselves in. Plus, if you’re treating farming like a business, you are tracking your expenses, profit, losses and budget, so you are able to expand your business and try some new things around the farm. I realize money may not be the reason you started farming, but it’s what’s going to keep you afloat, so always have an eye on profit. This is definitely something I wish I had realized much much earlier in my farming endeavors.