4 Things You Should Consider Before Starting a Farm
1. Know your vision
There is no one size fits all farm. Every farm has unique differences and things that set them apart for better or for worse. Knowing your vision and aligning your goals is crucial to building the life that you want and the farm of your dreams.
Vision can be best honed through asking questions. A certain amount of learn-as-you-go is required, but you want to have some key questions answered before you jump in with both feet. Answering these questions will help you arrive where you want to arrive sooner rather than later. The efficiency of your time spent in learning is crucial: farming is hard work even when it’s done well and it can be very discouraging when 1) your work is aimless, 2) you waste effort/time/money on something that doesn’t help your farm succeed, and 3) you experience a failure that could’ve been preventable with the right questions. Burn-out is a very real and all-too-prevalent issue for farmers and farm families. Help prevent it by asking questions to develop your vision.
There are so many questions to ask as you begin your farm journey. But when you ask the right questions early, you will shave off years of wasted time and money spent on systems that are not relevant to you or your farm.
2. Farming is a LIFESTYLE, not a “thinkstyle”
A back-to-the-land trend and rekindling of the farming dream is sweeping across America in record fashion. People love the idea of waking up on the farm and raising their own food. They want a self-sustaining lifestyle that is not dependent on “the food system.” It’s a beautiful, nostalgic dream for many people.
What is not well understood in the thinking and dreaming phase is that farming is a lifestyle decision.
Animals: If you are raising animals, it is a 24/7 caretaker’s responsibility. All animals need fresh water, food, and shelter. They need to be moved and provided a clean environment to avoid pathogens. This doesn’t happen by itself. It takes a farmer.
Nature: You are always 100% dependent on nature. You cannot control the rainfall and usually, it is too much or too little. Summers are hot and winters are cold. Breaking ice to water animals and fixing fences are just a part of this lifestyle. If these challenges can’t be embraced, farming might not be for you. There are infinite obstacles to successful farming and at the heart of this lifestyle is the farmer.
Commitment to location: Travel is rare, vacations off the farm are few and far between and leisure must be built into your “normal” days, right alongside the work. Farming is more than a job: it’s a way of life and a place where most of life occurs. Farming is hugely rewarding, but just remember that everything you say “yes” to in farming, you are saying “no” to something else.
3. What is your unfair advantage?
Every farmer has an unfair advantage built into their personality and talents. What is your unfair advantage?
- Charisma– Some farmers are able to draw people into the vision of what they are doing and everyone just loves being around them because when they are, they are drawn in by charisma and feel like they are part of the farm experience. Customers leave with their purchased products feeling proud to contribute and be part of what their farmer is creating.
- Sales – Some farmers have a way with words, quick humor, and social prowess that can sell beef to vegetarians.
- Detail-oriented – Some farmers are extremely organized and have a natural attention to detail that keeps them on track and focused – as well as clean and attractive in their farm presentation.
- Energy – Some farmers seem to never get tired working out in the field and are fueled by hot weather. This strength keeps them from dreading the work and a common burnout that comes from sheer physical exhaustion.
- Focus – While a lot of current business helps will say that multi-tasking is a beneficial skill, there is something to be said for focus that achieves one thing at a time from start to finish. Farmers who take this approach don’t get overwhelmed by unfinished projects the way so many eager dreamers do because they stay on task until one piece of work at a time is done.
- Craftsmanship – Some farmers seem to be able to get the worst equipment on the planet to run and function in a matter of minutes. Doing more with less is a very helpful and practical strength in farming.
- Risk-taking – Some farmers that don’t come from a farming background still ask hard questions, dream big, and don’t get daunted by preconceived impossibilities. They think limitlessly. They push forward to what hasn’t been done before and are willing to live in the unknown and uncertainties in the present while they strive to create the future for their farm and community.
4. An economy of grace and humility
Every farm needs grace. Grace is when we get what we don’t deserve. In farming, we face our own dependence on the Creator and the environment in a very felt way. An aspect of grace is the expression of our courteous goodwill through our mistakes to everyone and everything involved. Every failure is an opportunity for grace. A learning opportunity. Forgetting to water the garden in the heat provides us the opportunity to learn grace. Sometimes the plants will bounce back and survive, which is grace leaning into mercy, which is NOT getting what we deserve. Other times we have to own our own forgetfulness and give ourselves the grace to move on. It takes grace to load pigs, keep goats in the fence, keep chickens alive, and so much more. Farming is a constant economy of grace where the more we extend to others, ourselves, and in our farm ecosystems, the more we see multiplied back to us.
As a rafting guide in the Grand Canyon years ago, I heard a seasoned guide say “On the river… Just when you think YOU IS…The river lets you know you ain’t.” He was talking to young guides that had built respect for reading the river and running the rapids clean with no errors, flips or failures. This catchphrase served as a humility checkpoint to help manage the dance between confidence and respect for the power of nature. This phrase served as a constant reminder to keep the focus off of ourselves and back on humility as we approached our goals. There is nothing wrong with confidence, but unchecked confidence can drift into pride. And we all have heard that pride before the fall.
- Farming will grow your humility. Prepare for this challenge, work hard, and give yourself grace as you grow nature, your animals, your processes, and your old beliefs.
- Seek support and help in areas of weakness.
- Don’t be afraid to hire others that are more talented than you in certain areas.
I hope these thoughts help prepare you as you get started or encourage you through the coming challenges.