7 Tips to Start Your Sustainable Farming Business
By Michelle Arios
The world needs more sustainable farmers. If you aren’t afraid of getting a little dirt on your face, you just might be the best person for the job. Sustainable farms are typically small and family owned, creating a sharp contrast between large commercial farms. This makes both the process and the outcome quite different. Just make sure you know what you’re in for.
1. Figure Out Who You Want to Serve
Do you want to supply local health food chains with your produce, or would you rather be a one-person operation? The difference between becoming a community retail supplier and the proud owner of a produce booth at a farmer’s market is very different. It might help to start small for your first few years, even if you want to be big. You’ll be able to iron out the kinks as you go.
2. Think About What You’ll Do With Your Product
Do you want to provide beautiful organic tomatoes, farm fresh salsa made with beautiful organic tomatoes, or both? A lot of people in sustainable farming make the most of their harvests by hiding the “ugly” produce in prepared products. It’s a little more work, but it reduces waste. Consider creating things that can be frozen or jarred with natural preservatives if you aren’t sure how to handle something as time sensitive as fresh fruits and vegetables.
3. Consider the Financial Aspects
Farms can amass debt quickly, and that debt is the last thing you want. You can start a small scale sustainable farm for your community for a shockingly low price, especially if you use resources like free natural compost to nourish plants or recycled scraps and donated unsold produce to enrich the diets of your animals. Since well trained farmers make a decent salary, it helps to slowly reinvest back into your own business rather than borrowing money.
4. Brace Yourself for the Downsides
Every farm, no matter the size, has bad years. So much of farming relies on nature, which is something that can neither be predicted nor avoided. There are going to be times where you drastically fall below expectations, or when weather conditions negatively impact the way you farm. When you’re planning your farm, set your expectations very low. If you do better, that’s awesome. If you don’t, you were already prepared.
5. Limit Your Ambitions
You don’t need to do absolutely everything. If you only want to farm free range eggs, do that. If you only like watermelons and carrots, that’s all you need to grow. Stick with what you’re good at and what you like doing. Farms are labor intensive, and making too much work for yourself will create a farm that’s impossible to keep up with and a boatload of stress in your professional life. Focus your sustainable farm on your passions.
6. Understand That Things Can (and Will) Get Gritty
If you can’t handle the thought of waking up in the morning to discover that a curious coyote made a gruesome meal of your free range ducks or a wandering deer destroyed a years’ worth of cabbage, farming isn’t the business for you. Accidents will always happen, regardless as to how great you are at preventing them. Approach sustainable farming with a Zen attitude, and understand that some things just happen.
7. Be Very, Very Patient
Sustainable farming is a worthwhile pursuit, but it’s going to be a while before you see a large paycheck. Even then, a lot of that paycheck will go back into the upkeep of your farm. Farming is best for patient people who love working outdoors. You’re going to do a lot of learning along the way, and your heart needs to be in it if you want to succeed.
No one becomes a successful sustainable farmer in the blink of an eye. You’ll be doing a lot of tinkering and it could be years before you feel like the harmony of your farm is perfect. It will be even longer if you procrastinate on following your dreams, so start looking for the perfect plot of land.
About the author:
Michelle Arios is a careers blogger, deeply interested in supporting people in finding and pursuing the jobs and careers that bring them both happiness and financial stability. Michelle is also a part of the team behind BizDb.co.nz, and can often be found online, sharing her tips and suggestions with business owners. Feel free to find her at @MichelleArios.