Starting your own farm? 7 Questions to ask yourself first
-by Rita Winters
When starting a small farm, there are considerations you have to make. A small farm is a small business, and as harmless as it may sound, there are painful downsides when it is not managed properly. Nevertheless, a small farm is a good way to fulfill your nutritional and financial needs.
Small farms can be run by the whole family. It is an excellent way to foster relationships and promote overall family well-being. Aside from being able to provide for yourselves, owning and managing your own small farm positively affects the immediate community by supplying accessible, healthy, and affordable food options. You are also able to help the environment by employing organic farming methods that preserve and regenerate soil health and biodiversity.
Having a small farm requires you to think like an entrepreneur. Similar to office hierarchy, you would be the manager, ensuring all business aspects are in order. The rest of your family would then be your employees, whom you would have to guide and manage as well. Poorly-managed farms often fail because there is no method of tracking finances, nor a way to keep track of staff progress. Unlike backyard gardening, small farms require more control over balance sheets, since not all of the materials you’ll be using can be acquired free of charge. Oversight also defines a failed farm. A successful small farm on the other hand, is usually run by a manager/farmer who has discipline, patience, resourcefulness, and determination.
Given that you have the skills (and more) to run a small farm, and are willing to go through all the ups and downs of business management, you’ll need to set goals. Here are a few questions that you need to ask yourself first:
- What are my reasons for starting a small farm? If your answer to the first question is “to make a lot of money”, then you’re probably better off investing in other businesses. Small farms are not necessarily income-generating establishments, and without prior experience in planting or raising animals, it will be very difficult to handle. Running a small farm usually involves people who are willing to learn about the trade, or are content with producing enough for their families and communities. Earning a huge profit is only a benefit of being an expert at farming. (Related: Take charge of your own life: The first steps to Food Independence.)
- Will I be focusing on vegetables and fruits solely, or am I looking into raising some livestock as well? Raising a single pig is different from raising a whole bunch of them. The expenses are immense, and you’ll have to make special arrangements for waste disposal and housing.
- Do I plan on making some profit or am I okay with producing just enough to live on? There is no right or wrong answer for this question. Making some profit from your hard work will allow you to improve or expand your current farm. It will also allow you to explore more types of crops and invest in more livestock. Once your goals are set straight, you’re now going to have to assess the land, plot out your resources, and plan the first year.
- How much am I willing to put out for building my farm? Another difference from backyard farming is that you will actually need to spend money in order to put up a granary or storage space for your crops, housing for livestock, water pipes and sewage constructions, and other infrastructure. A lot of people can make do with what they’ve got, but the larger the farm, the larger the expense.
- Does the land, weather, and nearby resources allow for a large diversity of plants and animals, or is it very limited? This is self-explanatory.
- What are the items I want to produce specifically? Once you’ve assessed the soil quality, the actual space, water sources and other lot details, you will then be able to identify the types of crops you can plant, and the types of animals you can raise. Can you easily plant tomatoes? Corn? Wheat? From there you can narrow it down to a short list that you can actually commit to.
- What should I achieve in a year? Again, you have to go back to your goals. Once in a while, you’ll have to monitor and re-assess them to identify if they are achievable within a specific time frame. Make the necessary adjustments, cut down on expenses and manage your staff (or family) well. Make sure that the limitations or goals you set for your small farm are not too difficult for you and your family, but are ambitious enough to keep progressing, day by day.
Some of these questions may seem hard to answer at first, but taking the time to answer them honestly will ensure a smoother endeavor. Remember — and we cannot emphasize this enough — that there is no right or wrong answer to any of these questions. You have to really be honest with yourself and understand where your heart is in the planning, building, and managing of your farm.