Posted by: J Nyman | March 31, 2009

How To Get Enough Money To Start a Farm


What is (or was) your biggest roadblock to starting a farm?

This was my first poll question of choice for you readers.

How to get enough money to start

Lack of farming know-how

The time it takes when you’re still working an off-farm job

Other answer…

Those were the options I provided for your polling pleasure.

I know that many of you saw the poll in our sidebar because, so far, 63 of you answered it.  And, of those 63, 57% said that how to get enough money to start their farm was the biggest issue.

So, now I have a question about poll etiquette.  Because, really, is it bad form to ask about someone’s challenges without at least a bit of knowledge that might help them over the hurdle??

How to get enough money to do anything is a sticking point for a lot of people and farming has a lot more ‘junk’ surrounding it than most businesses.

For one thing, there is a whole societal belief that food is cheap.  And, yes, crappy food is cheap – at the initial outlay.  The true cost of crappy food, or pseudo-food, as I like to call it, comes when you look at the health care bills it causes and the environmental damage it does.  When you’re producing good food, naturally the cost is going to be higher.

So, I guess step one to getting enough money to start a farm is to clear society of some old, mistaken beliefs about food and install some new ones.

If that’s step one, it kinda sounds like there might be a lot of steps before you get to the money part, doesn’t it?

But wait, there’s more than just cheap food ‘junk’ that makes it difficult to make a living farming.  As a fascinated observer of humanity, I have noticed that it isn’t only long time farmers who have the ‘Life is hard,  please notice me struggling’ mindset.

It seems that a lot of new farmers getting into sustainable agriculture have that same mindset and, honestly, it’s a killer.  This is the ‘Poor Dirt Farmer Junk’.

(John used to say that he was a poor dirt farmer.  But he has learned that to say this is to invoke the wrath of the wife.)

If you want to repel abundance, this is the way to do it.  Don’t get me wrong, farming is not Easy Street financially.  Yes, we struggle too.  But if you’re into farming because your identity is about struggle, well, a bucket of cash could fall on you and you’d still figure out how to make it hard.

So, do I have any new useful answers for those who are in the ‘not enough money’ category?  I’ll do my best, but it might not be what you’re expecting.

Three Financial Thoughts For Planning Your Farm:

  1. Do it yourself:  Do what yourself, you ask?  All of it.
    Yes, the goal is to pay yourself a reasonable wage; $15 or $20 per hour, say.  But start where you are.  If you have little financial capital, make it up in hourly capital.
  2. Sell first, then produce:  A lot of farmers (especially conventional farmers) have gotten into the habit of producing something and then trying to sell it.  Don’t do it!  Sell it – or, at very least, market it – first so you know you can sell it.If you don’t know how a C.S.A. (Community Supported Agriculture) program starts yet, find out now.
  3. Know yourself:  (and your spouse/partner/family)
    Make no mistake, you will be short of cash and/or time – likely both.  Unless you save A LOT of money before starting your farm, you will have a farmer’s lifestyle for some years.

    Know what need motivates you to farm and be able to tell when enough is enough, for you and for your family.  Because, yes,  everyone can survive with nothing but second hand clothes, old cars, “No, we can’t rent a movie”, “No, you can’t play hockey”, “No, we can’t have a vacation”, without cable TV and “No, Daddy won’t be home to tuck you in”.

    But, can they thrive in the conditions you’re planning on foisting on them?

I know, number 3 doesn’t sound like a financial thought but it applies directly.  If you’re going to make hard financial choices for your family, make sure the individual personalities you’re dealing with can thrive despite them.

Even better would be to make the financial choices that help your family thrive.  But don’t ask me exactly how to do that.  When I figure it out, I’ll let you know.

In the meantime, here is an unofficial number 4:  Starting a farm is like having kids.  You’re never really going to be ready or have enough money but that shouldn’t stop you.  Follow numbers 1 through 3, then jump in.

Your options are sink or swim and, in the case of farming, neither one is likely to kill you.


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