If you want to farm, it is very important to define what this means clearly. You need to select enterprises for your farm and organize them for profitability and resilience. Here’s what I mean.
Farming, as a concept, carries a broad range of meaning today. To some farming means hundreds of acres (or more), large tractors, and commercial cropping or livestock management for wholesale. For others it means intensive production of niche crops and animals for direct sale through farmers markets and other venues. And for still others, farming simply conjures up images of life on the land, growing your own food.
Despite their differences in scope, each of these concepts involves the production of food. And they all require definition from the get-go for new farmers.
Set a Holistic Goal
When you decide to farm, be very upfront with yourself and list out your goals clearly. “I will farm commercially” or “I will hobby farm for fun” are too-vague statements. A better goal statement would be, “I will grow 30 acres of buckwheat and a 1-acre market garden, and raise small livestock like chickens for meat and eggs.”
The more definite the statement, the better the holistic goal. A holistic goal is a series of statements that define exactly your farming life over the decade it takes to establish and meet the goal.
Give Yourself Time
That’s right, it takes time to start a farm!
Indeed, most farms can best be understood as going through start-up, scale-up and pro-up phases. I break this down thoroughly in my book The Two-wheel Tractor Handbook. When we understand that we naturally go through these phases and eventually reach a static scale (the point when we really aren’t expanding or changing our production, just fine-tuning it), then we make better decisions at each stage in terms of equipment acquisition, infrastructure construction, business planning, etc.
In a start-up phase, you will often acquire equipment and invest in skill-building. In a scale-up phase, you’ll acquire more land and infrastructure to meet your growing needs. Finally, in a pro-up phase, only very specialized equipment and infrastructure adjustment are made to really fine-tune weak links in the production.
Making a plan for your enterprises at the get-go based on a holistic goal ensures you won’t over-invest in equipment during start-up that is obsolete in scale-up or pro-up phases—for example, buying a tractor that is ideal for less acreage but far too small for your final production acreage. It’s great to know upfront that you want to manage 30 acres in buckwheat for wholesale and rotate your 1-acre market garden every five years into new land.
Farming as an Enterprise
Enterprises are any of the businesses or productions you manage—for example a market garden enterprise, a wholesale grain enterprise and/or a small livestock enterprise. Choose three enterprises and link them through strategic cycles:
- outputs (waste, like manure)
- inputs (compost for the garden)
- seasonally balanced labor (not focusing all your work heavily in spring, for instance)
- sharing equipment strategically (when planning for custom work for grains, the tractor for a market garden can be smaller than useful for field agriculture, for example)
Linked together, these strategic cycles can be called a guild enterprise production.
When we design for our enterprises to work together, then we find avenues for success, efficiency and resilience. An example of this would be cover cropping your land in buckwheat to suppress weeds for market garden plots while also gaining a grain yield. You could even grow some of your own chicken feed!
Whether you are commercial or DIY, setting a holistic goal to define everything clearly, selecting enterprises, and planning for them to make a guild of enterprises builds profit resilience. Your farm shows profitability and resilience in the face of socio-economic and environmental change.
This sort of resilience and profitability necessitates knowing where your farm is headed 10 years down the road and building up to ensure there are no weak links in your now and future plans!