If you aim to take big steps and start that dream farm soon—great! That’s exciting. At the rate that farmers are retiring and not being replaced, we need as many new farmers as possible to succeed.
However, we should pause upon the word “succeed” for a moment and say that much of what makes a farm successful starts long before the farm is started. To be sure, this article is geared more toward those without any farming experience, though there is something for everyone in this piece.
1. Gain Experience
Farming is unique in that, in my experience, beginning farmers tend to focus more on starting a farm than learning to farm. It cannot be overstated, however that farming is a craft. There is a lot to learn and a lot to know to run a successful farm. If you are in a position to take a year and intern, such a move can be an eye-opening, immersive crash-course in farming. Perhaps there are jobs on farms nearby where you can work for a decent wage. Either way, starting a farm is starting a business, and it is essential in any business to know and understand as much about it as possible before you dive in, especially with your savings on the line.
2. Get Some Capital
Speaking of savings, it is critical to have some amount of startup capital together before you start your farm. Far too many articles and videos online suggest that a farm can be started for a $100 or $1,000. Just note that it costs far more than that. Our farmers market fee alone is more than $1,000 for a year. Depending on the type of farm you want to start, you will need a minimum of $10,000 to $20,000. This will pay for all of you packaging, some infrastructure, fees, tools and so on. Perhaps a microgreen operation can be started for half of that or less. A similar amount might pay for your first run of broiler chickens. Yet most often, a farm will cost more than $20,000 to really get going. And it should. Having some capital to invest will get the farm off to a good start.
3. Get a Consult
Some of that capital should simply go toward hiring a pro to help you understand the business and set up your farm. It might cost you a couple of thousand dollars over the course of a year, but it will save you tens of thousands of dollars in mistakes over the first decade farming.
4. Do Market Research
If you do not spend ample time at the farmers market looking around and seeing what niches need to be filled, it will be hard to succeed. All too often, beginning farmers start a business whose product is already wholly satisfied. Are there a couple of pork producers already established? Did you make sure there weren’t too many vegetable farms already set up? This is important because not only will it be hard to carve out your own place in the market, it might be difficult to even get into a market with too many of the same kind of vendor. A little research, however—which really is mostly just talking to farmers and spending time at farmers markets, so it’s fairly fun—can serve a farm well not just in the first few years but throughout the entire life of the farm.