9 Rules for Starting Your Own Farm

by A Manly Guest Contributor on June 5, 2013 · 58 comments

in Money & Career


Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Forrest Pritchard, farmer and author of Gaining Ground.

You’ve dreamed of becoming a farmer, growing food not just for yourself but for your greater community. You yearn to work with the soil, and are prepared for a life of physical toil, intellectual challenges, and uncertain finances. All that’s left is to trade in your suit and tie for sturdy boots and a dilapidated hat.

Congratulations. The world needs you. According to this article in The Atlantic, there are currently more bus drivers than farmers in the United States. While at first glance this might seem like an arbitrary statistic, consider this: which is more likely to happen first, a bus driver needing to eat, or a farmer needing a bus ticket? Food ranks in the upper echelon of human needs, right beside oxygen, sleep, and cuddling with your sweetheart.

The planet needs nutritious food, and that requires thoughtful, intelligent people to grow it. So if you’re genuinely considering farming as a career, tape the following 9 rules for starting a farm to your refrigerator, tack them to your barn door, or commit them to memory. After fifteen years of running my own farm, these lessons were hard won, but continue to serve me well. As you pursue your own farming dream, keep them in the forefront of your mind. Following them might not guarantee success, but they will certainly put you on the path to economic and agricultural sustainability.

9 Rules for Starting Your Own Farm

Rule #1: Avoid Debt!


Farming doesn’t HAVE to be financed with borrowed money. Avoiding debt should be a primary goal for any new farmer, even if they have to start very, very small for a few years. That’s how our farm started. And clearly, I still save my pennies.

Why is this #1? Why does it have an exclamation point after it? Because—listen up—in the past fifty years, debt has tanked more farms than drought, plague, and pestilence combined. If there’s one thing our national housing crisis has reinforced, it’s how economically debilitating debt can be for the average person. Farmers aren’t immune to these challenges. Legions of great producers have abandoned their farming dreams simply because they couldn’t pay their debt when the bank came calling.

In a nutshell, debt (borrowing money, with interest) allows us to accelerate our goals, turning dreams of tomorrow into realities of today. While borrowed money might buy us a tractor, a new barn, or even the land we’ll be farming, experience, the most valuable farming asset of all, cannot be purchased.

Experience doesn’t come with a Bachelor’s Degree in Agriculture, and it certainly doesn’t come from a book. Agriculture is fraught with uncertainties, surprises, and intellectual challenges. And that’s just before lunch. Adding monthly payments to this intimidating list financially handcuffs most people right from the start.

So does this mean ‘never take on debt’? Certainly not. There are plenty of times when leveraging assets makes sense. As you gain farming experience, and create reliable cash flow in your business, these opportunities (or necessities) will become clearer. In the meantime, however, embrace this generalization: avoid debt as much as possible.

Rule #2: Allow Yourself the Opportunity to Fail

Wait a minute. This was supposed to be about not failing, and now we’re saying failure’s an opportunity? Ironic, I know. Bear with me.

Our culture seems obsessed with failure, simultaneously terrified and captivated with the concept. I know people who spend their days avoiding the humiliation of failure at all costs. Some of these people fear failure so much, they never try to accomplish anything. The thought of failure paralyzes them.

If failure is a major concern to you, here’s a spoiler: in farming, you will fail. 100% chance. In fact, with apologies to Benjamin Franklin, failure on a farm is every bit as reliable as death, taxes, and Paul Schaffer calling a rimshot.

But here’s what no one ever told me. It’s okay to fail. Moreover, in farming, it’s important to fail. While painful at first, failure can be an enormously useful tool. It helps us learn our personal limits of time and energy. It’s an instrumental timesaver in the long run, letting us know what works well, and what’s a complete boondoggle. Failure provides us perspective for future enterprises, making us intellectually stronger, more emotionally resilient.

So, thumb your nose at that sagging bookshelf loaded with self-help books telling you you’re not a failure. Yes you are! Get out there and fail! But while you’re failing, fail well. Fail gracefully and thoughtfully. It’s the only sure way to recognize success when it finally arrives.

Rule #3: Identify Your Market Before You Start Farming

Beautiful, but these beets (and many more) were all ready to be picked at the same time. These were shared with my family, but would have also found happy homes at my local farmers market.

Beautiful, but these beets (and many more) were all ready to be picked at the same time. These were shared with my family, but would have also found happy homes at my local farmers market.

So you want to raise cattle, grow watermelons, or start a sauerkraut business. Maybe you just want to sell wool to local knitters. Awesome. I like steaks, sauerkraut, and knit caps as much as the next guy. But how are you going to find customers like me? Do I live in your neighborhood, or five hundred miles away? How much of your stuff will I buy? How will you find others like me? What will you do if I buy ALL of your stuff, and you’re sold out? What will you do if I buy NONE of your stuff, and you’ve got a barn full of it?

Before you plant that first seed, jar your first kraut, or shear your first ewe, take the time (lots and lots of time) to figure out where you’re going to sell your products, who is going to buy them, and how you’re going to do it. Once you’ve done this, create a backup plan. Then, come up with another backup plan. Chances are you’re going to need them.

Small and niche producers spend an enormous amount of effort finding their customers. This is every bit as important as growing the food to begin with, because without appropriate sales channels, fresh produce will quickly languish. When all those watermelons ripen at the exact same moment, you’ll need a place to sell them—and fast. Have a solid marketing plan prepared well in advance.


Rule #4: Match the Land to Its Suited Use

We try to take our cues from nature. In the Mid-Atlantic, grazing, foraging and gleaning opportunities present themselves nearly year-round.

We try to take our cues from nature. In the Mid-Atlantic, grazing, foraging and gleaning opportunities present themselves nearly year-round.

We can try to force our human dreams onto the land, or we can work with what nature gives us. On our farm, wild turkeys, deer, cottontail rabbits, and raccoons naturally flourish. As such, it’s no coincidence that we’re able to raise free-range chickens, sheep, cattle, and pigs on our land. While the correlations may not be identical, when we stand back for a moment and consider the landscape, there’s a nice pattern here.

Conversely, a few years back, we tried raising free-range ducks. We learned the hard way how they evinced their waterfowl instincts: In a matter of weeks, they turned acres of pasture into muddy ponds. They methodically tipped over their automatic watering troughs (it’s a long story, but trust me, they did it), creating sloppy watering holes in our pastures that we dubbed ‘quack mires.’ In their own way, ducks were telling us that they belonged near water, not out on pasture. We listened. The following season, we stopped raising ducks and have been happier ever since.

Rule #5: Grow Your Passion

Shovel, dirt, gumption. Check, check, and double check. What comes next?

Shovel, dirt, gumption. Check, check, and double check. What comes next?

Everyone knows that farming is hard work. So do yourself a favor: grow something that you love. Like blueberries? Then grow blueberries, for Pete’s sake. If you grow what you’re passionate about, it will help mitigate those difficult days when the sledding gets rough and things don’t go your way. It may seem like common sense, but we often find our decisions driven more by finances, tradition, or inertia than by something we truly love. Go out on a limb, and grow heirloom apples if you want. Consider it your first reward. There will be more.

Rule #6: Set Reasonable Goals

Yes, yes, we all know that you were a double major, the captain of the fencing team, and turned down a Fulbright to construct Mongolian yurts in the Peace Corps. You’re talented, we get it. Now repeat after me:

“It’s okay if I can’t feed the entire state of Nebraska, so long as I can supply my local market.

It’s okay if I don’t make ‘X’ number of dollars this year, as long as all of my bills are paid.

It’s okay if I don’t add an additional enterprise, until I get really good at the 3 other enterprises I’m already trying to master.”

Yes, you workaholics, it’s even okay to take Tuesday afternoons off to drink a few beers and read a book, especially if you work all weekend (like I do). Take care of yourself. Burnout is big in farming. You already know that the work is physically taxing, with unique emotional demands. Find your pace. Visualize a fifty-year career, and set annual, reasonable goals that will get you there. Check in with yourself frequently. And by all means, if you raise flowers for a living, be sure to “stop and smell the petunias” from time to time. Or the daffodils. Whatever…I raise pigs, cut me some slack.

Rule #7: Don’t Worry About What Other People Think

There’s an old saying that goes, “The easiest way over the wall is through the door.” In this case, perhaps it’s an open gate. There’s nothing more satisfying than following our own intuition, and being true to our dreams.

There’s an old saying that goes, “The easiest way over the wall is through the door.” In this case, perhaps it’s an open gate. There’s nothing more satisfying than following our own intuition, and being true to our dreams.

In 1994, when I was twenty years old, I found myself talking to an older farming couple at a local picnic. We both raised cattle for a living, but they sold their animals straight to corn-fed feedlots. They asked me about my farming ambitions, and I told them of my dream to sell 100% grass-fed beef. The cattle would be completely organic, and I’d direct market the meat myself. I told them our farm could provide food for several hundred families once I really got going.

Their reaction? When I had finished speaking, they turned to each other, made eye contact, and burst into uncontrollable laughter.

Eighteen years later, despite this withering response from my elders (they apologized for their behavior after they managed to stop laughing, bless their hearts), our farm has accomplished all of these goals and much, much more. If I had worried what my neighboring farmers thought of me, I certainly wouldn’t be sitting here now, typing this list. Believe in yourself, and just go for it.

As for that couple? Five years ago, they put a sign up at the end of their lane: “Free-Range Beef for Sale.” The sign is out there at this very moment. Pardon me while I indulge in a moment of uncontrollable laughter.

Rule #8: Have a Sense of Humor


Lighten up Francis: When it comes to farming, it’s only a matter of life or death.

Think about it for a second. Take an average day at a mainstream job. What’s the worst that typically happens? A client gets pissed off, or an irate customer reams out the supervisor. Maybe Larry (whatever happened to guys named Larry, anyway?) gets his tie caught in the fax machine…again. Somebody get that guy a golf shirt!

On any given day on a farm, things die. And not in any noble, dignified, or discreet kind of way, either. Things die screaming, eviscerated, and—more often than we’d care to think about—partially masticated. Have you ever walked through the morning dew to check on your free-range chickens (cue love theme from St. Elmo’s Fire), crested a hill, and found them slaughtered willy-nilly (cue Insane Clown Posse’s “Night of the Chainsaw“), their gleaming entrails spilled across the clover?

Frankly, it puts this whole farming thing in perspective pretty quickly. And faced with the possibility of daily mayhem, a sense of humor can be a handy-dandy coping mechanism.

I learned this particular bit of wisdom from Travis, a farmhand of over 50 years. Travis arrives on my farm each morning sporting an un-ironic trucker’s hat, unruly lamb chop sideburns, and an emotional disconnect that leaves no doubt he’s capable of neck-punching me into a coma. After pulling a mummified calf from a laboring heifer one afternoon, he regarded me with pale, unblinking eyes.

“You know,” he said, “if we didn’t laugh about things, we’d probably end up just murdering each other.”

Right you are, Travis. Right you are.

Rule #9: Read. Ask Questions. Share Your Knowledge.

Okay, so this is really numbers nine, ten, and eleven all rolled into one. Consider it a farming Venn diagram.

Don’t like to read? Start. Read everything that hits your intellectual radar.

Shy? Get up near the teacher if you want to learn anything.

Have an ego? Better to lose it now, before Mother Nature loses it for you.

Last but not least (bonus rule!): Be generous with your knowledge, especially with people who want to learn from you.

So that’s the list. Still want to be a farmer? Congratulations again! You’re entering a world of excellent company. As Bob Evans (yes, that Bob Evans) once told me, there’s no finer group of people on the planet than those who call themselves farmers. By all means, join us.


Forrest Pritchard is a farmer at Smith Meadows, a seven-generation family farm located in the rolling hills of Virginia. He’s the author of the recently published book, Gaining Grounda memoir about how he saved his family farm with sustainable farming. Look for our podcast with Forrest later this week!

{ 58 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Denny June 5, 2013 at 6:18 pm

Good post Forrest!
Most of your Rules could be modified to apply to an assortment of different businesses.
My goal for this year is to begin homestead farming, and to ultimately be (mostly) food self sufficient. My plan is to start with chickens this summer.
I love that the local/clean food movement is gaining traction. You can’t be any more local than your own backyard.
I hope you contribute more farming articles in the future.

2 logan June 5, 2013 at 8:23 pm

im 21, and im going to grow my own food. and no one is gonna stop me.

3 matt June 5, 2013 at 9:14 pm

Your rules are a good set and I agree with most. However my family has owned a working beef farm for the past 100 years or so. It is hard to stay out of debt on a farm the cost of machinery these days. Even with making money from the beef, excess hay, and a few hunting leases; it is still hard to write a check for $40,000 or more for a new tractor. Even an used one with high operating hours, they are still pricy. I actually think the crop farmers have it worse than us livestockers. In days long past farmers used to save seed from one year to the next. Now with Monsanto, and their Round-up, Round-up resistance crops, and seeds they are putting farmers out. If you use the their seed Monsanto forces the farmers to buy need seed each year. I have even heard of the company suing farmers, for saving seed year to year.

4 Taiko June 5, 2013 at 9:49 pm

This was an EXCELLENT post! Thank you!

5 Brad June 5, 2013 at 10:38 pm

Great post – could be the start of something? I think a series of posts about farming skills (i.e. sheep/cattle handling/animal husbandry, farming on a small scale, environmentally friendly practices etc) would be super interesting.

6 clifford hebestreit June 6, 2013 at 2:20 am

got new land, clearing canes of blackberries and starting laying of compost and compost tea over same to see its response, laid seed to see what the soil had in it already(a ‘control). Dug with pick Ax to see how soil was, deep within and the composition-growing only for myself this year, neighbors, too. Usually, I grow only for Chefs at 5-star restaurants-they name it in Jan. I grow that for them, they buy all of what I grow-you better KNOW your lands capability first to do that. I have a botique “Farm”, at best. nothing more.

7 bobster June 6, 2013 at 8:16 am

3 suggestions:
1) If you’re gonna go for it, I suggest having a ‘transition plan’ – meaning a way to gradually switch from what you are doing now.
>In my case, I began the practice of waking at 4:50 every morning, and getting out into the garden plus feed animals (after a quick bite to eat and a short prayer time). I came back in at 7:00 and was off to my job at 7:30 am. back from job at 6:00 – time to feed the animals again.
>Next I was able to wangle my job back to 4 days a week. now I had Friday and Saturday to work on agriculture.
>Next see if you can transition from the 4 day work week to a sort of consultant in whatever you do, or a fill-in guy. This keeps up the cash-flow while you expand your ag efforts.
> going through this process will help you decide whether you can handle it, or if you are just a romantic.

2) Ag is relatively low-grade but continuous effort for 12 hours a day, with a few hours of extreme effort thrown in. the transition plan will ramp you up to it.

3) treat your computer as a necessary tool, like your toilet. Forget the gaming and browsing.

8 Neal June 6, 2013 at 8:44 am

This is my favorite post on TAOM to date. Printed and will re-read multiple times I guarantee. Urban Farming is just a hobby for me now, but one I’m passionate about it. When I retire I hope to have accumulated the knowledge to have a “selfish retirement” in farming.

9 Jimmy June 6, 2013 at 8:46 am

Very interesting read. My parents grow their own vegetables (corn, potatoes, beans, lettuce etc.) and some fruit (watermelons, pumpkins, apple trees, grapevines) and they also have a small butcher shop where they butcher their own beef and pork. My dad even taps his own maple trees for syrup that tastes amazing. When i was younger I used to hate all the work involved in the upkeep of their small farm but now that I am living on my own, and a little wiser, I realize all the money that they save and how much better all the products are than their store bought counterparts. If I am lucky enough to own some land in the future I believe I too will try to take advantage of the skills that I learned when I was younger. Again, great post and I love this website.

10 Walker June 6, 2013 at 9:45 am

matt, in Forrest’s book he describes how he took an unorthodox approach to eliminating much of his farm’s expenses in order to tackle the debt problem. He decided to buy his hay instead of grow and harvest it himself. He was then able to sell most of the farm equipment and saved a bundle on gas and repairs. The book is a great read, check it out.

11 Jesse June 6, 2013 at 10:29 am

Great article! I’ve been growing my own food for the past 3 years when I bought my house. My wife and I only have 1/3 acre, but we managed to optimize our space. I have a small corn field, over 32 blueberry bushes, two vegetable gardens and a small herb garden, as well as 8 fruit trees and some other stuff. Thinking about getting a couple of chickens now so I can have fresh free-range organic eggs! As two busy working professionals, it’s nice to come home from the city in the evening to my own little “farm” (I know, very small farm). The kids enjoy working with us in the yard too, so it’s just an overall great experience with the family. Very nice to know that the produce I’m giving my kids came from our own backyard.

12 Bevan June 6, 2013 at 12:09 pm

I grew up on a farm and have farming lineage back to the fields of Ireland but now I do it as a side business. I went from cattle, hogs, corn, soybeans, hay, chickens, ducks, and horses to just veggies. One thing you didn’t tell people about is research the regulations/laws. Processed foods have to be certified whether its your kitchen or whatever. I have seen several businesses fail or flounder because a newbie brought a bunch of canned goods to the farmers market and the “man” came down on them for an uninspected separate kitchen. Land has to be zoned to allow livestock in some areas. I live outside town but still have to deal with county laws on what I do. The know your market is good. I raised a lot of different items I liked until I found that some just didn’t sell in our area. I am a fantastic shallot farmer but I could only sell a few pounds a year so I gave up on it. The final piece of advice that I would give and this was learned the hard way by my sister who entered the game too is mechanize what you can. Don’t think you can farm 5 or six acres of vegetable crops with a wheel barrow and a few hand tools. You need to plant straight and evenly to get the best results. I would tie that advice into the other one I found works. You don’t have to buy new, buy antiques or classic implements. You can get a 60 year old 40 hp tractor for 1/10 the cost of a new one and it will run simply and easy to fix. 30-60 years ago implements were made smaller and worked fine for many items and they were built to last. Some need TLC but can be found for a song and for the budget minded.

13 Mike Martel June 6, 2013 at 12:57 pm

Excellent article. I would just add a #10. Think outside the box.

With the Internet, you don’t have to necessarily sell farm products to the local economy. You can sell honey across the nation, dried herbs internationally, or even just information on how to do what you are doing. I read in your article and the comments before mine that people are really looking for the farm lifestyle. There is a lot of ways to fund this.

14 Mark June 6, 2013 at 1:41 pm

You forgot an extremely important one for those in the US. Know you Cooperative Extension Agent. Every county has one or more of them and they have access to a tremendous amount of free or low cost to you resources. Pest ID, soil analysis, treatment recommendations, and a whole host of other things. They what challenges other farmers in the area are facing and what has worked in the past in your area.

15 Dre June 6, 2013 at 2:03 pm

The bus driver / farmer comparison has some bad logic behind it, but the rest was pretty interesting. A post about growing on a small scale or urban setting would help too.

16 Martin June 6, 2013 at 5:34 pm

Very interesting! Im thinking about becoming an farmer and using the principle of permaculture to produce food. Look it up! it’s really interesting and could be (part of) the future of farming!

17 Mark Roberts June 6, 2013 at 8:44 pm

I have known Forrest Pritchard for twenty years. His book is the cultivation of years of thinking and sweating and persistence to re-create a Virginia farm in the Shenandoah Valley. This is a man who believes in eating locally and sustainably even in the very metropolitan Washington, DC. He’s helping the way thousands of people eat. If you enjoyed his post, you’ll love the book. It’s a true American story.

18 Sean June 6, 2013 at 8:45 pm

I’ve lived on farms my whole life so I can say with experience that it is HARD work. I would say the #3, identifying your market is the priority rule to keep in mind. I live in the the salad bowl of California where anyone trying to compete with the ‘giants’ who produce strawberries, garlic, artichokes, lettuce, or brussels sprouts is 99.9% guaranteed to fail. Much like a small farmer attempting to grow corn in Iowa. You might be able to sell a small amount at farmers markets, but the majority of your product will go bad. The best bet is to lock down a buyer BEFORE you even sow. This guarantees you will sell in a fluctuating market. So find that niche market, identify a buyer, make a contract to sell that product, and profit.

Depending on where you are it is often more profitable to grow organic these days. It takes longer (produce and meat), it requires organic agencies to routinely check your farm for non-organic stuff, and the short term profits are lower. However, demand for organic meat and produce rises every year, so its a safe bet to go organic unless you have a contract with a corporate farm.

19 Terry June 6, 2013 at 8:59 pm

Thank you Forrest for an excellent article! I would love to see a series on farming or urban farming

20 Brandon June 7, 2013 at 1:38 pm

This is my first year as a farmer so this post is right on time. I’m growing in my backyard right now. Awesome post! Love the site! Keep ‘em coming!

21 Jens June 7, 2013 at 1:59 pm

So – obviously this is for farmers wanting to take on a lifestyle as well. For all of those interested in farming, but not taking on a ‘farmers market’ lifestyle, agriculture has been fantastic through the economic slowdown. High corn and wheat prices have driven up the price of all other commodities. There are markets available to you that allow you to maximize your return on small acres – Markets that dont require that you wear retro clothing, sling poop, and pull weeds all day for the reward of burning up your life at the farmers market. Getting good ground with access to reliable and affordable water (and having the $ to pay for it) is the largest hurdle – followed by the equipment costs. People think farmers are dummies, but even a 200-500 acre broadcast irrigated row crop farm is potentially a multi-million dollar business depending on the crop. These guys/gals will business you under the table – no alternative lifestyle required. (I am a cherry farmer and an irrigation designer/consultant)

22 Tyler G June 7, 2013 at 5:29 pm

Wow, super excited to have come across this amazing website! My wife and I just bought a totally off-grid acreage and are making a small-scale farming plan to provide sustainable growing food for our family and community. I am greatful for your down to earth advice and am looking forward for more!

23 Kelly June 7, 2013 at 9:38 pm

Really enjoyed reading this. Great article. Thanks!

24 Ed June 8, 2013 at 12:50 pm

I grew up on a farm and miss it even though i’m a Chief Systems Engineer these days. Depending on what you raise, you need not quit your day job. My dad was a university professor and my mom was a school psychologist. Yet we still had time to raise over 30 beef cows, a handful of loose (i.e. “free range” in today’s vernacular) chickens, and a small flock of sheep.

25 Eric June 8, 2013 at 8:38 pm

How do you make a small fortune farming…

Start with a large fortune!

Good luck!

26 Barton June 10, 2013 at 10:29 pm

I’m the fifth generation to see our family’s farm. Currently my great uncle farms the place, and he’s up there in age. I would love to take the place over, just would hate to see such a place leave our family and not be there for my kids to enjoy like I did. Growing up in the suburbs of the Chicago, nothing was better than riding a tractor or four-wheeler and feeding a baby calf.

Anyway, this is great advice, I will definitely be looking into your book. Who knows, maybe I can find some way to raise the funds to buy the place from my uncle, grandpa, and aunt.

27 DH June 11, 2013 at 8:04 am

I’d second (or third, etc.) the calls for a series on this. As someone interested in farming but with no experience of farming techniques, it is a task on its own knowing where to start! It would be great to have someone like Mr. Pritchard break it down and make the task less daunting!

Certainly here in the UK, we are seeing a gulf of young farmers and for rural communities like mine, this is potentially very damaging. It is my ambition to start my own smallholding and try to enthuse the next generation with how interesting agriculture can be!

28 Granny Miller June 11, 2013 at 12:59 pm

Forrest -
You forgot the most important rule about small farming
* Don’t quit your day job*
Fact is when the Amish can’t make a full-time living farming most people won’t be able to either.
(Unless you’re growing weed in the basement or hidden in the corn field but that’s a whole other thing….)

29 NMH June 11, 2013 at 2:39 pm

Funny, there are a number of us suggesting additional rules. Well, I’ll jump in. Mine is “Start small.” Not taking on too many things at once is absolutely critical to doing well with farming. Particularly if a person has little to no experience with gardening or livestock, trying to do too many things at once will make it much more likely they’ll hit the burnout point and drop the whole endeavor. Back when we still lived “in town” (when my husband and I were in graduate school), we had a CSA farmer that we went to, and who has become our example for how *not* to do things. He was a great guy with good intentions and real enthusiasm, but he took on new projects without adequate planning, and as a result, they never quite worked out the way he wanted them to (things like getting milk goats and not making the milking stanchion before they got to kidding), and he ended up taking a couple of years off from his CSA to stop and re-adjust what he was doing. Because of that example, my husband and I are basically trying to take on only one major new project a year so that we have time to work out the kinks and figure out how not to screw up too badly. Last year was chickens, and this year was getting in our full garden. We’re also testing out turkeys, now that we’ve got our basic poultry set-up. There are other things, like a couple of meat goats, that we’re putting off until next year. If we’d tried doing all of these things last year, something would have ended in disaster, but by spreading it over a few years, it’s not only easier to avoid debt, but also to learn the basics of each thing fairly well before moving on to the next.

30 Galen June 12, 2013 at 5:19 pm

I saw a link to your title on a forum. At first, I was not going to read the article. I remembered a recent Cooperative Extension Office meeting I attended, and their ‘course’ on how to start farming. Uggh. They insisted you must start with huge debt.

I thought; Okay here is my chance to read an article, and explain why they are full of ‘it’.

I must apologize to you. That is a good article. I agree with every point it makes. I could preach a sermon, on each topic. Yes, each topic you presented, I can testify to.

May God bless you.

31 Maroubra Vet June 13, 2013 at 11:21 pm

That’s right, Forrest! Go for the goal but always keep a light heart when farming! Grow your passion, Forrest.

32 Tommy H June 14, 2013 at 2:35 am

Great post, I grew up in a farm family, and worked as a farm hand a little through highschool. I went to college for Ag Business and ended up working at a bank(hey what I did wasn’t as important to me as being able to live where I grew up and my family has been since the 1700s, priorities you know what I mean.) I love Agriculture but learned long ago I didn’t have what it takes to be a Full time Farmer. One day I will have a few acres and raise enough food for the family and hopefullly sale enough to cover the next seasons expenses. I don’t care to make money off of it just want my kids(when I have them) to benifit from eating fresh food and not the processed mess sold in alot of places now.

Great respect and thanks to all who do farm or are working towards being able to farm, there is a great satisfaction in farming that cannot be duplicated any where else. Our country was built on farming our very electoral system is based around the standard harvest schedule. Take pride in farming whether you farm, your daddy farmed, your granddaddy or your great great great great great granddaddy farmed.

God Bless the Farmers of America and thank you again for all you do.

33 Native Son June 15, 2013 at 9:56 am

Rule #10. Compared with the typical urban or suburban job, farming can be brutally hard work. That may come as a surprise to folks who only casually view grain crops when driving through farming country, but it is the reality. Even a relatively small backyard vegetable patch requires something to be done to it virtually every day, and a lot of it is getting your hands dirty and sweating in the sun type of work.
And always remember there’s a decided operational and psychological difference between growing for your own consumption and operating on the commercial scale needed to be profitable.

34 Nate Kringle June 16, 2013 at 10:12 pm

Perhaps something to add to #7 is to not worry about what other people think, especially those with little or no experience on the topic.
Your extension agent, other farmers, university professors (A bachelors degree in agriculture may not be a substitute for experience, but it can often give you some background knowledge and connections that might you from a lot of expensive mistakes/”experience”), etc have a lot more hands on experience than some one who watched Food, Inc once and suddenly thinks they know exactly how things should be done on every farm.
If you want to sell organic, free-range, heritage-breed pork direct-to-consumer… more power to you! But don’t think that another hog farmer doesn’t have experience and knowledge that can be valuable to you just because the pigs that they raise end up at Wal-Mart with a Hormel label on them. Most of the country eats food they buy at the supermarket, and for the foreseeable future most of them will continue to do so, and there is nothing wrong with providing that to them.
A college-educated 4th-generation dairy farmer whose cows’ milk can be purchased in the form of cheese in grocery stores, gas stations, and stadiums across the Midwest

35 Robert B June 22, 2013 at 8:40 pm

Great post, all though maybe not the best advise it dose shows great respect for the us raising and growing the worlds food. I am a 5th generation cattle rancher. I was born into this life and is the only skills I have and it is extremely hard to make a living do this. Thank God I have a wife that has a great job. The 1st rule stay out of debt is impossible, will not happen can not happen. I was given the land that I use and I still have to have at least a $100,000 line of credit to operate for the year. Anybody wanting to start up buying land, equipment, livestock, and everything else and want to make a living farming will have to barrow at least a million. It is a very hard life with very little pay, and most of us will work 80 hours a week at about $3/hour. But if anybody wants to farm I have great respect for you we need more of you. Good Luck

36 Christopher June 25, 2013 at 12:45 pm

Being the stereotypical Texan, I come from a family of cattle ranchers and peanut farmers and here are the best tips over 100 years of experience can provide:

1. Lease the land until you learn enough to make a decent living. Cost of upkeep is huge and damn near a wash. The first screw up could be the last if you get ahead of yourself.

2. If you buy land, make sure you own all mineral rights and there are no outstanding leases. Hire the best landman you can afford to research titles/deeds.

3. Never let a cousin borrow a brand new tractor (just trust me on this one).

4. If a neighbor asks for help, do your best to oblige. You never know when you may need theirs.

5. Research crop insurance and government subsidies. These have kept more people out of the poorhouse than you can count.

37 Ed June 29, 2013 at 4:38 am

Great post but I think there should have been one additional rule. Know where your seeds come from. Being informed if your seeds are bio engineered or organic means the difference between feeding real food to the greater mass, oneself, and immediate circle. Versus feeding nutritionally robbed, toxic, poisonous food to individuals. I think as men we should entirely be conscious of our societal and national issues.

38 Howard June 30, 2013 at 1:54 am

Great Post! There is a lot of truth to your 9 rules. Thanks for sharing and inspiring others to not give up on their ideas.

39 Jason Ellis July 7, 2013 at 9:25 pm

You’re definitely not selling the “farming dream” with the reality checks posted here :) I think I’ll stick with my simple backyard garden, feed my family and call it a day. Great post. Thanks.

40 sean August 9, 2013 at 2:41 pm

10. Dont hesitate to work closely with your local extension agents and plant pathologists. Were here to help you, and thats it, our only job is to diagnose plant diseases for you and suggest solutions and control. So please, ask! No farm is too small or problem to trivial. I’m just as happy to work on one potted tomato as I am to work on 40 acres of soybean

41 Kirk Mcquest August 19, 2013 at 5:46 pm

All good advice here. I have been “farming” for three years now. The thing i struggle with the most is the most important…finding our markets.

We have started slowly with the idea of growing and raising for our own needs and selling the excess. Slowly, we are producing more and more.

42 Leslie September 3, 2013 at 6:37 am

Thank you for this article, I just realized today I want to become a farmer, though its been years in the making. As for the guys named Larry, they’re all bus drivers.

43 Ogundiran Kayode October 11, 2013 at 8:02 am

This is nice, keep on.

44 Jake October 29, 2013 at 10:50 am

I’m 22 and I’ve lived on a farm my whole life. My earliest memories are of feeding cattle with my great grandpa, he’s now 86 and has farmed his whole life. Farm life is extremely rewarding, but also very difficult. There is a difference in “becoming a Farmer” and doing what many commenters talk about, “growing your own food”. Growing your own food is great, it’s a wonderful thing and it too is very rewarding, and some people in suburbia may call you a farmer, but until you know the hardships of farming, don’t call yourself a farmer, until you’ve lost 30% to 50% of you livestock like those in South Dakota don’t call yourself a farmer, until you’ve seen a man’s legs ripped off by a PTO shaft don’t call yourself a farmer. Don’t falsely label yourself as something you’re not just to obtain self gratification. I’m not trying to discourage anyone from growing a garden or raising their own chickens to butcher, I’m just trying to encourage others to really understand what farming is like. If you’re interested in supporting Agriculture donate to your local FFA and 4-H, this allows our youth to learn and respect Agriculture.

45 aloke banerjee November 4, 2013 at 4:50 am

I am in service now. After the age of 50+ I would like to become a farmer. I would like to buy land in a village and start a farm. The farm would produce foodgrains, fruits and vegetables. Besides, there will be animal culture like goat culture, cow culture and ducks. I am saving money for this. This topic is very useful to me. Thanks. Aloke

46 shane November 15, 2013 at 10:06 pm

I want to get out of the Navy and farm and ranch. It will be extremely hard for me being I have no experience, land, or very much money. I pray it be in The Lords will for me somehow someway. Godbless you!

47 Mike Brassil December 19, 2013 at 8:48 am

You have dreamed of becoming a farmer, growing food not just for yourself, but for your greater community. You want to live a life in harmony with the seasons, the soil, the moment. It’s a life of physical work, intellectual challenges, and uncertain finances, but you know that you’re ready.

48 Chris Earl December 22, 2013 at 10:14 am

I think the post was exciting and knowledgable. Coming from a farming family I have understood the expense within machinery as well as debt. The bright side is leaning the models and how to fix them. Much like your land, crop and animals, every aspect is an opportunity to experience and learn to fix any one situation and to have a better outcome and solution for the problem. Have said that, this has inspired me to take myself and my future back to where my family started. Farming. One question though? Would a spouse that is un knowledgable but willing, be a bad choice to make as a partner relationship within farming Crop and Cattle?

49 Marcus Howling January 17, 2014 at 10:53 am

These are all some really great points and will definitely help anyone who is interested in starting a farm. But the number one thing you need to know is finding the right land. If you need land you should check out this premiere service provider.https://lotnetwork.com/search-lots-and-land.aspx they have a database with plots all over the country.

50 Jonas January 18, 2014 at 5:14 pm

As a recent grad with a degree in ag and NR, saying avoid debt is a blanket statement that isn’t really correct.

Interest rates are as low as they have been in about 5 decades right now, so right now is the best time to take out a loan. And you can’t start a business (farm included) without loans or an inheritance.

51 The Corporate Horse ListenerTM February 8, 2014 at 3:01 pm

I have followed my dream with a horse farm after 26 years in the financial sector, and can say these are excellent rules – particularly avoid debt. We have built and renovated the property ourselves, which took longer than a contractor (quite a bit longer) as we were learning while doing. However we did it to our high standards, building with our hands and hearts, and it is all paid for. A small sacrifice for the long term. Though I would not necessarily wish to do it again, as it put a strain on relationships.
Also, listen to your intuition, make a good conservative business plan & go for it.
Farming is real, with birth, growth, death and real tangible sh*t – unlike the corporate workplace where it simply feels that way.

52 Randall February 21, 2014 at 10:44 pm

Pretty good information, but it seemed to be targeted more towards the hobby farmer. One simply cannot start or manage a large scale operation without a pretty substantial amount of capital. For most, this means loans, but if they can become successful, the expenses can be covered with cash out of your own pocket.

53 grace kapere March 6, 2014 at 7:48 am

Very inspiring for those who want to start farming enterprises like me! Thanks. I appreciate.

54 venugopal March 24, 2014 at 3:53 am

thanks for given this inspiring information, i am very interested to do the dairy business but i am facing some problems in the process, any way i will
do my level best,,,

Thank you so much…

55 Jessie Gray March 30, 2014 at 8:22 am

As I sit here reading the 9 rules for the hundredth time over the last year, I realize how wonderfully true they are and how they have helped me deal with our own Chaos on The Family Farm. We have done everything we can to stay out of debt, we have failed at least once every time we start to add a new chapter to our business plan, and I have learned to accept that things die and even though we fight to try and keep it from happening sometimes you crest the hill of your pasture only to find “the killing fields”(cue the classical helicopter assault music from “Apocalypse Now”). Which leads me to the best part of the 9 rules….
having a sense of humor…
and realizing that even in the worst of times you can still see the humor of any situation.

This past week has been a perfect example of such a horrible week that our family has decided to remove it from next years calendar and just skip it completely. Until one of my 4 young daughters asks sheepishly if we skip it next year does that mean we won’t celebrate our new piglets birthday? You see not every bad thing needs to be recognized as such, loosing our first and only sow due to sever complications during farrowing was tough on my wife and I. But we failed to see or celebrate that even in this tragic loss she was able to leave us with 3 of the cutest piglets that now require our undivided attention every hour or so. And who else can say the have turned their living room into a piglet nursery… (as I sneak a peak of the 3 sleeping purty girls over the top of my tablet from my comfy lazy boy)….
I guess what I really want to day here is thanks for giving me some where to turn to and catch a glimpse of reality and find some solstice in our chaotic seasons of life. Again thank you for a great set of happy and healthy set of rules!

56 c elliot April 3, 2014 at 8:02 am

What a great article! The graphics which go along with it are ideally selected as well. Item #4 – (Match the land to its suited use) is one our neighbor is struggling with now. Unfortunately, he’s made his issues our problems. First, he and his family came over for a welcoming dinner during which time he said their adorable little girl would like some baby chicks and he wondered if we would mind… I couldn’t imagine why it would be a problem – until my husband ask him if the city allowed chicks, or rather, CHICKENS. I was naïve and fell for the little girl story. The baby chicks were eaten by something- we live near a river, there are hawks here as well as some barn cats. Yes, there are some old barns behind us, but we all live within city limits. He uses everything from Jesus to smiling until his face is stuck that way to try to get his way. After the chicks were gone, he had his son kill the barn cats (although those barn cats killed the barn rodents) then he bought full sized laying hens. Then someone gave him some Banty hens which means he has over a dozen chickens now. The other day he asked what we thought about his son raising a pig for 4H in his back yard! I said no. I did not like it. And that was the end of my willingness to discuss it. The chickens are illegal, he knows but does not care. The pig would be ridiculous. He obviously wants a small farm but what he has is less than two acres within city limits! Not only that, but several of the older properties have well water, were grandfathered in, and do not have to have city water hooked up. I don’t want the run off from his animal waste to contaminate the water supply. I guess other than sending him a copy of your article, I don’t know what to do. Do you have suggestions?

57 Tom April 15, 2014 at 6:38 pm

It would have been a great article had the subject of “how to find land for cheap” been addressed. Without land all of those suggestions amount to little.

58 prosper April 20, 2014 at 8:01 am

thanks for such a great article i love it i am a young guy trying to complete my business plan before hitting the ground running.i need a lot of ideas to start my business.i hope you will keep inspiring we he young folks who want to take farming us our life time career.thank u…

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