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Old 08-08-2011, 11:11 AM
 
Location: Taxmanistan
4,283 posts, read 4,066,765 times
Reputation: 2080

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Hi, everyone. I'm a nearly-middle-aged suburban guy with a boring office job. (Not that I'm complaining.) I'm happy to be employed, but the idea of living on and operating a small farm really appeals to me. I love working outdoors, enjoy physical labor, am not averse to getting very dirty, and I don't run screaming like a little girl at the sight of blood or animal poo.

What's the most profitable type of farming? I've heard that organic farming (veggies and/or meat) makes a good living. (An example would be Polyface Farms in Virginia, profiled in Food Inc.). I also like the idea of a vineyard. (Go ahead, roll your eyes. I know it sounds kinda ridiculous. Especially for a guy whose favorite wine is Three Buck Chuck.) I like the idea of being outside a lot, working really hard for a few hours, then not at all. And not having a boss sounds pretty good too!

Is this a viable idea? And how would one go about it, other than the obvious steps of buying land and equipment/animals? Register with USDA?

It's funny: My 92-year-old godfather couldn't wait to get away from the farm in Alvarado, Texas when he was a boy. Now here I am dreaming of that life wistfully.

Thanks for any thoughts or advice.
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Old 08-08-2011, 02:58 PM
 
220 posts, read 496,559 times
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The realities of real life on a real working "profitable" farm:

1) It takes a HUGE amount of money for start-up: land/seed/equipment. Where will you get these funds?

2) Farming is 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Getting a day off, EVER, takes a long time planning and good relationships with neighbors. Farming is nearly impossible for one person to do alone.

3) You will need a strong working knowledge of mechanics, construction, computer software and hardware, economics (local and regional markets), meterology, etc. etc. etc.

4) Your planning should include not only coursework through Extension services or the state university but also some time working for or volunteering on a farm of the type that interests you. Do this before you make a committment for a life you may be somewhat naive about.

5) Even though you will not working for a "boss", you still be subject to much that is out of your control - the weather, international markets, diseases of plants and animals, and even local politics.

I've come to know several people who have tried to make a go of subsistance farming - raising food for their own families while selling eggs, emus, herbs, garden vegetables for farmer's markets and local restaurants. NONE of them have been able to survive without supplementing their farm income with outside work.

I think a few people on CD have made a go of it with specialty farming - christmas trees, bees . . . maybe some of them will offer more encouraging words.
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Old 08-08-2011, 06:54 PM
 
8,322 posts, read 22,481,894 times
Reputation: 8065
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lily0fthevalley View Post
The realities of real life on a real working "profitable" farm:

1) It takes a HUGE amount of money for start-up: land/seed/equipment. Where will you get these funds?

2) Farming is 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Getting a day off, EVER, takes a long time planning and good relationships with neighbors. Farming is nearly impossible for one person to do alone.

3) You will need a strong working knowledge of mechanics, construction, computer software and hardware, economics (local and regional markets), meterology, etc. etc. etc.

4) Your planning should include not only coursework through Extension services or the state university but also some time working for or volunteering on a farm of the type that interests you. Do this before you make a committment for a life you may be somewhat naive about.

5) Even though you will not working for a "boss", you still be subject to much that is out of your control - the weather, international markets, diseases of plants and animals, and even local politics.

I've come to know several people who have tried to make a go of subsistance farming - raising food for their own families while selling eggs, emus, herbs, garden vegetables for farmer's markets and local restaurants. NONE of them have been able to survive without supplementing their farm income with outside work.

I think a few people on CD have made a go of it with specialty farming - christmas trees, bees . . . maybe some of them will offer more encouraging words.
The reality of this list is that it's only a beginning ... small farming is not purely a business, it's a lifestyle.

You also need to be competent in horticulture or agronomy of the crops you choose to grow. What you choose to grow will be highly dependent upon the current markets, your soils/water, and many other factors far beyond your control.

Nothing in this business is "easy". Everything will take more money, time, energy, and overhead expense than you think it will. Especially if you are a small operator, because the scale of equipment needed to get jobs done is larger than your cash flow can support. It's just as easy to do a couple hundred acres as it is to do a half-section or a 20 acre parcel (which isn't enough to provide a living income in legal crops).

There is a reason why most small family farm operations have off-farm jobs to help support their farming habit. Their is nothing you can grow on a small scale that isn't grown more efficiently by large outfits ... some domestically, some off-shore. The liklihood of you being able to take a modest investment and "first-time farmer" gov't grant money and turn it into a living income situation is miniscule; you need serious capital to invest and enough productive acreage to generate a cash flow adequate to support your debt service, let alone generate a living income.

Even if you have a good track record of a hobby garden, turning that in to a large enough enterprise to generate a living cash flow is a whole 'nother matter. It's kinda' like the stay-at-home Mom who loves to cook who suddenly thinks she's a restarateur and is going to open a cash cow place on a whim and a shoestring and have time to enjoy all the profits she's going to bring home.
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Old 08-08-2011, 07:06 PM
 
Location: Nebraska
4,179 posts, read 5,751,495 times
Reputation: 9219
^^^ LilyOfthevalley pretty much nailed it.
It also depends on your area. Are you near a large city where small 'baby' vegetables are popular? Are you in an area where EVERYone has a garden, so you'd have to pick a niche?

There's nothing wrong with owning a vineyard; seems like everyone is doing it. But if you want to make a serious profit, you not only have to have a talent for growing, but understand what makes wine - well, wine instead of vinegar. Although a neighbor has a burgeoning flavored-vinegar business nearby, there are a lot of up-and-coming wineries in Nebraska, with really good varieties and flavor. But it takes a LOT of knowledge, effort, and attention to details, not to mention MONEY. Even then, one hailstorm can wipe you out.

We started our little farm 3 years ago; and it cost us, not only for the land, but the breeding animals, the feed, the shelter, the medication. We also can our own produce, raise our own (big brown) eggs and chickens, and even sell some to locals (especially in winter when the roads are treacherous and the store is 40 miles away). We don't plan on ever making a profit, and DH has his retirement income, plus I work 10 months out of the year as a school district secretary. Of course we will probably sell a cow or bull here and there, to those who are interested in our particular breed (Dexter; small family-cow) type; if nothing else they will go into the freezer to feed us.

But even people who have inherited their great-grandparents' farms and ranches have to have a business degree, experience, and knowledge - and still some have problems making it work. It sounds idyllic to many city folk, thinking about picnics under the shade tree, buzzing bees in the garden/vineyard, the smell of grapes being crushed into wine. The reality is very, VERY different.
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Old 08-08-2011, 08:09 PM
 
Location: Tejas
1,816 posts, read 1,784,309 times
Reputation: 1623
Quote:
Originally Posted by Carlingtonian View Post
Hi, everyone. I'm a nearly-middle-aged suburban guy with a boring office job. (Not that I'm complaining.) I'm happy to be employed, but the idea of living on and operating a small farm really appeals to me. I love working outdoors, enjoy physical labor, am not averse to getting very dirty, and I don't run screaming like a little girl at the sight of blood or animal poo.

What's the most profitable type of farming? I've heard that organic farming (veggies and/or meat) makes a good living. (An example would be Polyface Farms in Virginia, profiled in Food Inc.). I also like the idea of a vineyard. (Go ahead, roll your eyes. I know it sounds kinda ridiculous. Especially for a guy whose favorite wine is Three Buck Chuck.) I like the idea of being outside a lot, working really hard for a few hours, then not at all. And not having a boss sounds pretty good too!

Is this a viable idea? And how would one go about it, other than the obvious steps of buying land and equipment/animals? Register with USDA?

It's funny: My 92-year-old godfather couldn't wait to get away from the farm in Alvarado, Texas when he was a boy. Now here I am dreaming of that life wistfully.

Thanks for any thoughts or advice.
First off, it's possible and it is not complicated. Contrary to what folks have told you in this thread, it is doable and you dont have to spend a fortune. All the cry-me-a-river stories of small farms come from folks who are used to plowing 100+ acres - they just can't accept the reality that you can be WAY more productive per acre in a small acreage. Check out SPIN farming SPIN-Farming - How to farm commercially on under an acre and also check out the Urban Homestead Urban Homestead - Path to Freedom - the latter will refute all the bull***t spread around about how difficult it is to farm a small spread.

Most important thing is to believe in whatever process you choose and not to listen to nay-sayers.
My $.02
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Old 08-08-2011, 10:49 PM
 
Location: Rivendell
1,243 posts, read 1,289,262 times
Reputation: 1327
Around here half the people are growing pot. They all drive nice trucks, have several quads, fishing boats, and are fixing up their homes.

Every one else is just getting by.
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Old 08-09-2011, 07:13 AM
 
7,536 posts, read 3,245,576 times
Reputation: 12588
don't ignore the naysayers; they are offering valuable information.


But do it anyway.
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Old 08-09-2011, 08:13 AM
 
Location: Forests of Maine
21,869 posts, read 28,669,930 times
Reputation: 8913
I sell some produce at a Farmer's Market, though I am really small time.

I see many examples around here of people who got started by doing apprenticeships.

Apprenticeships can lead to our local journeyman program [where the farm association will locate land for you to own], or where you may become a partner in a farm LLC. I know farmers who did it either way.

I attended a meeting this spring that hosted local institutional consumers [hospitals, school districts, restaurants] and local organic farmers for a face-to-face round table session. It allowed for numerous contracts to be agreed to that day, to what crops were going to be planted and who will buy each crop. At that meeting I met three young farmers, who are just starting out. Each of them are single, each is sharecropping, and each has nothing but hand-tools and the shirt on their backs.



I have siblings out West that own 400+ acre farms with $Million equipment, very pricey setups. They do earn big bucks.

The farmers I see around me do not earn big bucks at all. But they are doing okay. They try to avoid debt, they buy what they have cash to afford, most of their operations are in cash [though many do accept the foodstamp cards].
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Old 08-09-2011, 11:59 AM
 
Location: Taxmanistan
4,283 posts, read 4,066,765 times
Reputation: 2080
Thank you all so much for these very informative responses.

Lily of the Valley, re. your point no. 3: I know none of those things. At all. Which would indicate that this is not a great idea in my situation--at least any time soon. I have zero ag experience, and my wife and I (assuming I could convince her of all this--which is a real stretch) have only a small nest egg and zero experience running a business.

We live just outside of Washington, DC. There's a lot of demand for organic everything, free-range everything.

SC Granny: Appreciate the reality check.

Ognend and PAHippo: I will check out the Spin Farming site.

Maybe if I win the lottery we can buy a farm and convince the seller to show us the ropes for six months.

Anyway. Thanks again!

Last edited by Carlingtonian; 08-09-2011 at 12:14 PM..
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Old 08-09-2011, 12:55 PM
 
Location: We_tside PNW / CO / SA TX / Thailand
11,268 posts, read 18,932,579 times
Reputation: 8137
anything that has a large grower base is tough to compete. Commodity prices come to 'specialty' crops about the time your 'great ideas' start 'producing' ... 2-5 yrs in planning.

You need a niche, but the most profitable I've seen are herbs and hydroponics.

"Value added ag is IMPORTANT for small operations. (post processing / preparation / marketing)

My favorite gem locally is our mobile farmer's market. Gorge Grown Mobile Farmers' Market | Gorge Grown Food Network

That saves growers (and consumers) LOTS of time, and accesses many communities.
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