Farmstart is a pretty cool organization. They came down to speak with me years ago to discuss what it was I was doing as a small farmer with a small degree of success. Read about it here.
In a nutshell : "The objective of FarmStart is to support and encourage a new generation of farmers to develop locally based, ecologically sound and economically viable agricultural enterprises."
Exploring Your New Farm Dream is one of their course offerings this time around, and I've been asked to participate in one of their assignment " TheFarmer Interview" by a person I know who is exploring options for her retirement.
I liked the questions and thought they might make an interesting blog post. Thanks, Cathy. It's good to think about these things sometimes.
1. How did you prepare to become a full-time farmer? For instance: Did you take courses before you started? After? Which courses? Where?
Well, no, no, no and no.
I grew up on a farm as not just a mere bystander. We picked and sold veggies on Hwy 6 in front of our family farm, my birthday was always in the middle of the corn harvest, and my favourite place in the world to be was in those fields, in the bush. Just on that marvellous patch of land.
So how did I prepare? Well, I was born into it, and I knew a fair bit before I took the plunge. I gradually made my growing area larger and larger while I maintained my social work career, until one just had to go.
So logically, the one I made money doing was the one I left behind. But I also left behind a career that was highly stressful, reasonably unsatisfying and a bureaucratic nightmare.
I did complete my Certificate of Horticulture through the University of Guelph in my early farming years, but this I did for interest.
I'm going into my 15th year of farming, and there was not a plethora of courses or people doing what I was doing 15 years ago.
I have a very extensive farming and gardening library, but more than that, I learned from doing. And from doing, I learned what I loved.
And I loved heirlooms, seed saving and chemical free agriculture.
2) What was the biggest farming obstacle or problem that you did not foresee? Was there a solution?
I can't think of what the biggest problem would be that I've had to overcome. I haven't seen any that have been insurmountable. One would be learning to grow on clay soil, which I've pretty much got sorted out now, and loving it because it is clay. I mean - is the glass half empty or half full?
Clay has it's detractors, but it has so many positives, and can be successfully worked on and improved upon year after year that I refuse to sell it short.
The weather is the biggest variable and poor weather can ruin my season as it does any farmers. My hoop houses ensure I can grow some things even in poor weather, but a season of poor weather regardless, means a poor year for me income-wise.
3) What advice would you give to start-up farmers? Any hints on how to do it all, especially if you’re the key person involved?
My advice is just do it. I can't tell you the number of people I have talked too over the years who read books, took courses, looked at farming from every angle possible...and then went no further.
Key in this is finding your niche and developing your market in advance as much as you can.
Become known for something unique that you are able to grow really well and you can grow it reliably.
What is lacking in your area? Most restaurants I know of are screaming for more year round salad growers. Develop a beautiful and tasty mix and visit restaurants with it to see if it will sell. And if it is quality, don't undersell yourself. Charge what it is worth. Or is it something else? Globe artichokes, or are you the pepper gal? Don't repeat something that's already being done-ad nauseum.
If you are the key person involved, how do you do it all? You work hard. That's it. You just work really hard. You work hard in the fields, you plan, you work hard to give your business a good image, you work hard at customer service and most importantly you put out a superb product and do what you say you are going to do. Be trustworthy, be honest and be the person you would like to deal with in business.
It's hard work. Work hard.