Posted by: J Nyman | March 18, 2008

3 Essential Tasks to Surviving a ‘Start Up’ Farm (aka a Soul-Farm, if you do it right)

First, let me explain what I mean by a ‘start up farm’. By the ‘starting period’, I’m referring to that time when you still have to work full time off the farm to be able to farm at all. Clarification is necessary because the vast majority of farms stay at this stage FOREVER. Or until the breadwinner retires from their ‘real job’. This is due to the sad state of the industry, poor business planning etc… Sad.

So, I’m sure many farmers would laugh to hear me say that there are only three essential things to lasting through the sometimes permanent start up phase. But, in my humble opinion, you’re wasting your time if you even think about those other important details before being very clear on the first three. And they’re basic. You’ve heard them before but if I need a reminder now and then, I figure you might be due for one sometime too.

Without further ado, here they are:

Essential Task 1: Witness Your Days

Focus on the very minute you’re experiencing as much as possible. If you spend your energy focusing on the future that you hope for, fear will never come or can’t pay for you will miss stuff. Big stuff. And, you won’t get nearly as much done on the farm.

p1010130.jpgWhat is the reason almost EVERYONE sites for wanting to farm? Lifestyle. Also described as a good environment in which to raise kids. Or peace and serenity.

If you spend too much time living in the future (or the past) you will miss the very purpose of farming and you won’t get that much farming done due to scattered attention.

What a waste. If you must be wasteful, do it in other areas. Don’t waste your children’s childhoods, your relationship’s honeymoon years or the work time before breakfast. Hell, leave the fridge door open instead.

Essential Task 2: Know What YOU Love Doing

As well as knowing what you love to do, do it. As young people, we don’t often really know what we want to do. We get into things only to find out years later that we don’t enjoy what we’ve created. I think that we often create these ‘How did I get this life?’ scenarios and think we’re doomed to live them out until the end of our days.

Don’t get stuck. Review your life and if you don’t like what you spend your time at, change it. Having said that we rarely know what we want when we’re young, we’re also rarely totally off base. If you thought (or think) you want to farm at age 20, when you reach 30 or 40 you probably still have that in you. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. But do review and change what needs changing.

It’s amazing how many farmers are their own bosses and still feel they are trapped by their farm. (Hint: Don’t get too far in debt to farm. Much harder to change things then.)

I put that in brackets but it could almost be the fourth essential task. The more debt you take on, the less you can change when you find you’re spending your time doing something that doesn’t make you whistle while you work.

Channel the dwarfs. Make sure you’re doing whistle-worthy work.

Essential Task 3: Stop Working and Hang Out

This may sound counter productive. I am talking about the start up phase, after all. Aren’t we supposed to put our nose to the grindstone and get this business up and running before coming up for air?

NO. Take a lesson from Leo at ZenHabits and Reward Yourself. Often. Your spirits will sag when one or more family members are working full time jobs doing something they may not much enjoy only to come home to another full time job that entails manual labour. Even when it’s raining.p1010159.jpg

You’re spirits will sag at some point. That is unavoidable unless your a member of the Brady Bunch.

What you can avoid is resentment from family members. If you don’t take a break to be with and focus on your loved ones, their resentment will be well deserved. Notice the emphasis. You’re not taking a break to stick your head in the latest farm paper here.

As Leo points out, it is good to reward yourself. If the budget is really tight, sitting down to a play-dough cake made by your two year old and a hot coffee will feel like a feast. Have the occasional feast.

Feast on your family’s attention and let them feast on yours. Hang out. Dude.


There they are. The thunderous threesome of ‘must-do’s’ as I see it. And, yes, they are pretty fluffy, not business-minded at all. They’re possibly even spiritual on some levels. And sure, you could rhyme off more than three essential business practices that seem to blow me out of the water.

Here’s the thing. We’re talking about farming. And, again, let me take you back to the reason people choose farming. There are very few basic motivations for starting a business. It fills your pocket is definitely one. It strokes your ego is not uncommon either. Or, it allows you to do what soothes your soul.

Farming falls into the third category. Pocket lining and ego stroking are not farming’s forte. So, my 3 Essential Tasks are Soul Tasks. If you let these slip, your going to erode what you set out to accomplish.

If you aren’t witnessing the passing of your days, if you’re not doing Whistle-Worthy Work, if you aren’t stopping to reward yourself and your family with your attention, you’re going to miss out on the Soul-Paycheck. That lifestyle, the kid-friendly environment and definitely the peace and serenity will pass you by.

Don’t let it happen. That would just be working one ‘because I have to’ type of job to pay for a second. Don’t work two full time Soul-Drainers. If you’re going to run a Start Up Farm, at least make it a Soul Farm.


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