GFP093: 2017 Farm Plan

2017 Farm Plan - Camps Road Farm

With each new farm season there are adaptations based on what you have learned from previous years as well as adapting to what your goals are for the coming year. We are making some big changes on our farm this year and I am really happy to be able to share them with you through the Growing Farms Podcast.

I am using the Farm Marketing Solutions website to take notes this year. I am organizing my thoughts, my research, my production numbers into the Resources section of the website.

On the resources page you will find more information on:

...and in the works are sections on:

  • My equipment
  • Marketing Strategies
  • Writing a farm business plan
  • Whatever you ask me about in the form below

Have a question that you can't seem to find an answer for? On the main resources page you'll find a simple form to submit your question to me and I'll create a piece of content around it. You should drive the direction of this website as much as I do, after all, I'm sharing this stuff for you.

 
 

Growing Farms Podcast "Plan" Going Forward

The podcast is back for a while by popular demand. Having taken some time off from podcasting to publish not one, but two books, I'm coming back with simple, straight-forward, and honest podcasts about my farm journey.

In a more rapid succession than my usual pace I'll have episodes on the operations listed above. We're going to cover what I'm doing on all areas of the farm so that you have a good idea of where I am at and what I have learned to date. After we're caught up Kate and I are going to do updates throughout the season so you get a taste of farm life, share in our successes and failures, and continue to grow the community.

Final Notes

It's good to be back. I had a blast recording with Kate for this episode. It's a busy and kind of stressful time on farm right now but at the same time it is really exciting! Thanks for supporting FMS through the years. If you're new here, welcome! 

Let's all work to grow personally, professionally, and as a community. Thanks for stopping in and until next time I will see you out in the field.

Cheers,

John

Why get into pastured poultry farming?

It was an emotional roller coaster this morning over my AM cup of coffee. It started with revisiting a state of depression that almost sent me sulking on the couch for the rest of the day, and ended on news so great that I did a complete 180 and shed a few happy tears. In one morning I felt the range of emotions that started me in chicken farming in the first place.

I started farming because I wanted to be a part of the alternative to our conventional agricultural system here in the United States. Once I became focused on my own nutrition I realized that we are producing calories but not food. We have a lot of things that look like food, but are so void of nutrition that diabetes, heart disease, and other food-related illnesses are now common place. 

Put aside nutrition for a second and think about the farmers producing this food. I don't believe that there are evil farmers. No one gets into farming to treat animals inhumanely or to pour chemicals on the ground. Generally folks get into agriculture because they grew up with it or answered a call back to the earth (or both).

The Sad

This morning two things I enjoy aligned to bring me the video I am about to show you. Part of my morning routine is to check YouTube for new videos from the channels I subscribe to. Part of my evenings are to watch Last Week Tonight with John Oliver on HBO.

Even though HBO is a paid subscription, Mr. Oliver puts many of his segments on his YouTube channel. This morning I came across an old segment on poultry farming.

That was the low point. Imagine waking up to watch something that intense. Yeah, sad morning coffee. But then this happened:

The Glad

With a little extra gloom in my heart I left YouTube for the vast unknown, my email inbox. You just never know what might be lurking in there. A recent email caught my eye, so for once in my life I opened an email.

The email was from Rhonda Tomko of TBS Micro Farm in Southern New Jersey. Rhonda did not write in asking for me to solve something for her, she wrote in having solved a problem herself, she just wanted to make sure I was OK with her using my content.

Backstory

Rhonda has chosen agriculture as a second career. Second, third, or fourth, it doesn't matter. The point is she left a desk job to pursue a life connected to her food.

In her area of Southern New Jersey there are no options that she can find for processing pastured poultry. No State inspected facilities, no USDA facilities, there was nothing for her to use. So, she took matters into her own hands.

Rhonda is launching her own mobile poultry processing facility this April 2017. Like a good business person she's not only working on setting up her facility, but she's already starting to market to potential customers.

This April Tree By Springs Micro Farm is launching its' poultry processing facility. You can see Rhonda's advertisement for whether or not pastured poultry is profitable by clicking on the picture above or on this link. For information on her fee structure click here.

The Takeaway

This morning was a win for me on a couple levels. I have specialized in chickens because I like chickens, and I don't like the way they are being raised in the United States. While I am doing what I can to fight the system I don't think about it every single day. After all, I have a life to live.

To be reminded of how bad our food system is can be a downer. My momentary sadness was replaced by the joy in knowing that I am doing all I can to fix what I see as wrong.

Then to get such a lovely email as the one that I got from Rhonda just made my day. Here's someone I never met in person, working for the same change I want to see in the world.

The whole purpose of publishing information on Farm Marketing Solutions is to have other people learn from my successes and failures and build on what I have done. "Standing on the shoulders of giants" as the phrase goes. 

I am standing on the shoulders of people like Joel Salatin, Jeff Mattocks, Harvey Ussery, and all the folks involved with APPPA. My hope, as I get better at sharing information, is that you reading this, you, go out and take action like Rhonda. Not just talk about it, not just start a food-related Instagram feed, but to go actually take action toward a better food system.


Want to get started with pastured poultry farming?

Chicken Tractor Plans

Build a chicken tractor to raise broiler chickens on grass. Raising a chicken on grass gives them a healthier life, makes for tastier meat, and works toward a better food system.

Pastured Poultry Packet

Make sure raising chickens is going to work for you. I will not sell you on whether broiler chickens are going to make financial sense for you. I will however show you how to define your own number.  

Through PPP#1 you will calculate your start up costs and determine how much it will cost you to raise each chicken. Use these numbers to plan your farm or refine your operation going forward.

Buy the Books  |  Free Broiler Resources

May the Force Multiplier Be With You

http://youtu.be/y9PVPRBga6U

What This Post is All About

I would like to introduce my friend and now business partner at Farm Marketing Solutions, Scott Messina. While this post is meant to be all about Scott, I also wanted to share the whole story to highlight how important is has been for me to have another person to work with on my business.

That is the takeaway from all of this, the right business partner can do wonders for your company.

Entrepreneur “Superman Syndrome”

Farm Marketing Solutions was founded in 2012. Kate and I were just finishing up our bike ride across the United States and we were looking more seriously at starting our life in agriculture. We had just spent the year working on different organic farms and were looking to head from San Diego (where we ended) back to Connecticut to work as apprentices.

While on the road I noticed one general theme: small farms could use marketing and business help. So naturally, without having any kind of business degree or background, I started Farm Marketing Solutions.

Fast forward to 2015 and I have started and/or run three businesses: Farm Marketing Solutions, FoodCyclist Farm (my original farm), and now I manage Camps Road Farm. By diving in head first I have certainly learned a lot, which means I made a lot of mistakes.

One of the biggest mistakes I made was trying to do all of this myself. I fell into the entrepreneurial trap of “I’m superman, I can do it all myself.” That’s wrong. So wrong. I came close to completely burning out many times in the last few years. I needed help.

scott messina

Balancing My Farm While Growing My Internet Business

My first love is my family. As long as Kate and Mabel are happy I will keep moving forward. My next love is my farm. Camps Road Farm is an amazing opportunity to live the life I’m passionate about, while giving me the platform to share that life with others in many different ways.

Two things are clear after spending a few years as a full-time farmer:

  1. It takes an immense amount of knowledge and skill to pull this off. That knowledge can be hard to come by even if you are looking in the right places.
  2. That demographic of farmers 55 years old+ is worried about their lifes’ work being lost and the knowledge they have retiring with them.

I was learning, usually the hard way, how to be a good farmer. Given my outspoken nature and “nothing to lose” attitude I have had countless conversations with other farmers who have shared their experiences with me. I was getting so much input that I even started a podcast to capture and share those conversations.

After three years of wanting to help other farmers with their marketing and business strategies I was “quickly” growing a community who wanted more. The only problem was that I am one person and I am dedicated to my farm. How do I effectively share more information with other farmers and not detract from Camps Road Farm? Enter my force multiplier!

A Partner with a Complementary Skill-set

In my experience, trying to do everything for your business is just pure shenanigans. With all the skills required to run any business it is good to have another person to share the workload who brings in a complementary skill-set in support of yours.

That and let me tell you, it’s great to have another person to bounce ideas off of. There exists a thing called “decision fatigue” where you have to make so many decisions that you end up just blanking after a while because you’re tired of calling all the shots. Having someone else to help make decisions, to be a gauge for how good your ideas area, and to help you keep focused on your strategy is so beneficial. I cannot recommend it enough.

Result: Growth, Prosperity, Organization, Better Sleep

If the right person joins your company it can work wonders. Scott came on just as the Farm Finance Challenge launched, and there couldn’t have been a better time. The FFC has been a decent amount of extra work on top of what I normally do on Farm Marketing Solutions and I have only been able to pull it off with Scott’s help.

Since the start of 2015 our website traffic numbers have increased by a power of 5, our social media engagement is through the roof, and most importantly we’re helping more people.

I now have someone to help me with the monotonous tasks, someone to help with overall strategy to know if we’re headed in the right direction, and to be another creative mind in the whole “internet business” world.

Scott’s Story

In addition to learning that I need another person to run my business, I have also learned that I shouldn’t try and speak for anyone else. Letting Scott speak in Scott’s words I would like to share a link to an article he wrote on what motivated him to come on as a partner in Farm Marketing Solutions.

Farming is Tough - An introduction to Scott Messina

scott messina

What the Future Holds

Right now we are working on making the Farm Finance Challenge to best that it can be. It’s a big project and we’re both doing this as our second job. Once we’ve worked out the kinks we will get into producing and organizing more content.

Expect to see Scott on some of my videos, posting business information on the blog, and even making appearances on the podcast. Whether he is actually in the content or not, he is taking a more active hand in organizing, creating, and distributing the information that we are sharing on FMS.

Also, Scott now runs our Twitter account. Pop on over to Twitter.com/marketingfarms and say hello!

I am happy/excited/relieved/inspired to have another person to work with. I have been quietly looking for someone for about a year and it is great to find the right fit.

If you don’t mind, please take a second and write a quick note in the comments section below to welcome Scott to the community.

Cheers!

What Sesame Street Taught Me About Farming

farm baby As quasi-hippy parents raising our daughter Mabel, Kate and I don't allow much TV in the house. Coming from a television production background myself, I don't think all TV is bad, just a lot of it. If we're going to let Mae watch TV it is going to be one of two shows, Sesame Street and Dinosaur Train.

I happen to love watching both of those shows now. Is it sad that Mabel will lose interest and I'll still be sitting there watching? I say no, haha. Having now watched my fair share of Sesame Street I have come to appreciate the knowledge that they share through the use of puppets. It's cute, it's colorful, and it often carries a great message.

The Right Words at the Right Time

The right advice at the right moment in your life can make all the difference. Sometimes when you need something the most it presents itself in a way you never imagined.

It has been a tough winter on the farm. Pipes bursting, 110 year record low temperatures, trained farm staff quitting, financial pressure and stress, and your typical Seasonal Affective Disorder. It can all lead to a pretty depressing state of mind. I'll be talking about it in the next farm podcast as well as touching on it in the next Farm Finance Challenge report.

I would say 6 our of every 7 days I have had to convince myself to not give it all up and leave. I have to remember that Spring will come, new staff will help relieve the pressure on me, and that I have a wonderful support system on farm. Even with all of that perspective some days all you want to do is throw your hands in the air, yell F*** IT, and get in the car and start driving in the opposite direction.

Enter Sesame Street

http://youtu.be/pWp6kkz-pnQ

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That Bruno Mars, what a guy!!! Mabel loves this song. She will run into my office when I'm working on something and pull on my desk chair saying "music... music..." Though coming from her 1-1/2 year old mouth it sounds like "mew-mick...mew-mick...".

Farming is tough. There's no way around it. But as the quote that I gave on the last podcast episode says, "A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person. You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well.” – Jeff Bezos

It is my passion and my job to make my farm work. Farming is my hard thing to do well. It is going to take time, it is going to take patience, and it going to take getting through the tough times and focusing instead on all the good that this life as to bring. After all, I am who I am.

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http://youtu.be/cyVzjoj96vs

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What I am is a farmer, through and through.

I farm for my family, I farm for my community, and I farm for myself. It is important to always take stock of why you are doing something and to not lose that. No matter what your profession there will be challenges and you will want to quit at times. I may be one of the very few that is willing to openly talk about it though. I hope that my openness and candidness (is that a word? has to be a word) helps you in your journey and lends some perspective.

Farming is not all sunshine and roses. You'll deal with financial stress, death, disease, grumpy customers, the forces of nature, and so much more. At times it will feel like the world is out to get you. But it's not, tomorrow will come, and you will do what you have to do bring balance back into your life.

Take a lesson from Bruno and Will. You are who your are and DON'T GIVE UP!!!

Cheers!

How to Start a CSA Days 1 - 7

The first week of my CSA marketing was spent primarily on setting up my sales infrastructure. The same way you wouldn't buy cows without buying any fence, or plant vegetables without buying seeds or preparing bed space, you marketing needs preparation as well.

CSA shares sold:

Full: 7

Half: 1

Below are the videos from the first week of CSA marketing.

There are many ways that you can market your farm. Having a diverse marketing strategy is as important as maintaining diversity on your farm. If you only count on one ting to bring you all of your business you are not prepared when that one thing falls through.

I have also found over time that people digest information in different ways. Some people read bulletin boards, some people just walk right by, some people spend half their day on Facebook, some people don't have accounts. You get my point. The thing is, everyone needs to eat. Defining your target demographic and then strategically planning different marketing strategies to advertise to them is an important first step.

Creating a marketing timeline will help keep you on track. The effort you spend up front to create a timeline will pay off when you don't have to think of "what do I do next?" You already know.

I create timelines for my pasture rotation, planting schedule, and other business objectives. Having a marketing timeline ensures that my CSA marketing is an important part of my day and I dedicate time to it.

I found that setting goals when I am doing anything is important to keep me focused and on track. Without a goal there is nothing to shoot for, and you don't know when or how you are progressing. SMART goals will help keep your marketing where it should be.

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Timely

You e-mail list will become your business year to year. I already have a jump start on my CSA marketing because I put effort into creating my e-mail list in the past. These are people that have given you a hugely valuable way to get in touch with them. With access to e-mail on computers and on cell phones it has become the best way to reach some people. Think of how often you are near someone that hears their phone beep and checks it because "it might be important". Just think, you could be that e-mail and that sale of your farm goods could be what's important.

Having a  farm website to handle the information and sales for your farm is a very valuable thing. How many times have you had the same conversation, "we grow this, it's available at these times, here's a picture of the farm, etc..." Putting all of that information online doesn't take the place of that conversation, rather it prepares the customer for a conversation with you where you are already one step closer to the sale.

We live in a digital age, and if you aren't willing to adapt you are going to have a tough time competing with those who have adapted. This is one area of farming where technology has worked wonders with no foreseeable negative effect.

I got my very first CSA member on the first CSA I started in a new town from Facebook. No lie. Since that day I have used Facebook and YouTube in conjunction with my farm website to engage with my customers, build value into my products, and increase customer retention.

As a farmer I found that my target demographic is mainly on Facebook and YouTube. I also use Instagram to take photos, add fun filters to them, and then share them to Facebook.

Registering your farm with websites like Local Harvest and Real Time Farms increases your exposure online and also helps with Search Engine Optimization. Both sites are free to join and help people find you. Why not do it?

Thanks for Following

I have had a lot of fun doing this project so far. It's more work creating a video a day but I am getting more efficient every day. At the end of it all I'm planning on putting a tutorial together on how to easily create YouTube videos like the ones I am creating here so that you can add video into your marketing efforts as well. YouTube is the second largest search engine online, so it certainly helps with website traffic.

Stay Connected

Like me on Facebook: Every day I re-post the YouTube videos on Facebook with some exclusive content on what else I did on the farm that day.

Subscribe to my YouTube Channel: Every day I post a new video in the evening after Mabel goes to sleep. That's when I have a little computer time.

Visit the Hub: I will be keeping all of this content organized at the How to Start a CSA hub on FMS.

Increase farm profits by starting a farm e-mail list

Email Marketing $19/Month!

I can attribute the majority of the chickens I have sold this year to one thing, my e-mail list. No bull! Yeah my farm website gets decent traffic, I am active on Facebook, but as the saying goes "The money is in the list". I created this post to honestly share my numbers. Honestly, you'll be surprised.

How I started my farm e-mail list:

I started the e-mail list in a few ways. The first was to put up an opt-in form on my farm website. As I drove traffic to the website visitors had a way to send me their name and e-mail address. I got traffic from people searching for chicken, other farmers referring people to me, and sites like LocalHarvest.org.

The second way I got people to sign up for my e-mail, which proved to be quite effective, was to put out a sign-up sheet at the farmers' market and at agricultural events that I went to. I created a simple sheet in Microsoft Word with spaces for people's names and e-mail addresses that I put out on my table. Then I would verbally encourage people to sign p for "news about chicken". After the event I would go home and put them all in manually. It was a little bit of a pain, but it has paid off.

Other than those two things I collect e-mail addresses at my CSA for people who just stop by. I carry business cards and let people know that they can sign up on my website.

(Click here to learn how to start your own farm website without having to learn any complex code) 

Disclaimer: Some of the links to on this page are Affiliate links. That means I earn a tiny commission from them by recommending you. There is no additional cost to you. Aweber just like to award people for recommending them. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me.

What are my numbers?

Ready to see the reality?

farm e-mail list stats

That's right, I only currently have 147 subscribers. Not 147,000, just 147. Truth is, that is all I needed this year. I have a 45 member Chicken CSA. So minus those people we're at 102 more people. I usually have between 8-15 extra chickens for sale each week. When I send an e-mail out to my list to pre-sell my chickens I sell out each week.

My average chicken goes for around $25. Multiply that times 15 and the list pays for itself pretty quick. That and it gets people to the CSA pick-up who might not come every week. As I start to grow and sell more farm products I can cross promote.

If I needed to sell more birds I would more actively promote my list and get more names on it. But for now this is working quite well. And yeah, some people unsubscribed, that's fine. You only want people on your list that are going to buy. The larger the list the more you have to pay, so it is better to keep it pretty narrowly targeted.

Does everyone open my farm e-mails?

NOPE! According to a study done by Silverpop.com, the average open rate for e-mails is around 20%. Mine averages 50-60%. So of 147 people that's an average of 74(ish) people who see my e-mail each week. With that, I either sell every single chicken, or I am left with a maximum of 1 or 2 for the freezer or my own consumption.

e-mail list open rate

 

 What do my farm e-mails look like?

There are some farms that I know who do a beautiful job of sending out pretty complex e-mails. In the middle of the season I find that hard to do. In general if you give people too much information they run the chance of getting lost. My only goal was/is to sell chickens. So that is what my e-mails focus on.

I create them so they will look good whether they are viewed as an HTML e-mail or as just plain text. Basically, fancy or non-fancy. The e-mail editor with my e-mail provider, Aweber.com, is super-easy to use and get your e-mails out. There are templates you can use that are already designed for you and it's mostly drag and drop.

Here's what one of my e-mails looks like.

farm e-mail list message

 

That is an actual message I sent to my e-mail list. It scrolls down a little to show some more pictures but you get the point. Really simple, to the point, and with some links to recipes online. I also write out recipes and include other farm news. Mostly my e-mails are about what I have for sale. Now that I am selling vegetables each week I add a list of what was harvested so people can plan recipes of their own.

How do you get started? Free or paid?

When it comes to my business I don't mess around. Well, besides singing to my chickens. There are free options out there that you can use. MailChimp is a decent one. The thing is with various free e-mail list service providers, they don't have a good track record of e-mails getting opened.

What do I mean by that?

When you send out an e-mail from you list provider (free MailChimp) it is more likely to be seen as "spam" by the recipients inbox. That means the e-mail doesn't get opened, and no chickens (or whatever) are sold.

Aweber has a great open rate. They have good customer service, fair prices, and very easy to use software to create your e-mails and manage your lists. I know this because that is who I use to manage my e-mail list.

Seriously, the majority of the money I have made before during and after I signed up all my CSA members was through my e-mail list with Aweber. I cannot say enough good things.

aweber farm e-mail list sign up

farm e-mail newsletter

A little video help:

Aweber has put together some videos to help you get started. I will paste them in here so you don't have to go looking. The first is a video of some testimonials from clients that they have. Keep in mind as you are watching what an e-mail list could mean for you.

Get Started Today For Only $1! - AWeber Communications

Send Your First Email Newsletter Today - AWeber Communications

Thank You!

I sincerely hope this blog post helps you. I will go into further detail about my e-mails and my list this winter but I wanted to get this up so you could see how much it has helped me.

The important thing to remember is that it is never too late to start, and you don't need a million people on your list.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. If you have any questions about e-mails lists or farm marketing in general I respond quickest on Facebook.

Cheers!

Disclaimer: Some of the links to on this page are Affiliate links. That means I earn a tiny commission from them by recommending you. There is no additional cost to you. Aweber just likes to award people for recommending them. I wouldn't recommend it if I didn't use it personally, I am not trying to sell you anything. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me.

GFP013: Organizing Your Thoughts for a Successful Farm, Michael Ableman Author and Farmer, Sole Food Farm, Vancouver, BC

Keeping organized is critical when running a farm. There are simply too many things to manage to be disorganized. Keeping it all in your head is not an option, because no matter how good you think you are, you are going to forget things.

The good news is you don't have to break the bank. You hardly have to spend any money at all. The investment you will be making in your farm is a little time up front to save you loads of time down the road.

I never go anywhere without my trusty notebook. One subject graph, quadrille ruled, inexpensive notebook that I got from Staples. It is on my person at all times. I meet too many people, manage too many projects, and have to remember too many things not to have something to write it all down in.

I am not saying you have to run out and buy this notebook specifically, but I am suggesting you get something to write down your thoughts in. It could be a one-subject notebook, or something that you can stick in your pocket.

I have a few more organizational tools that I cover in today's agricultural podcast. Managing all the projects we as farmers have to manage is tough, but keep organized and you will be fine.

Right Click to Download MP3

In this farm podcast you will learn:

  • Where soil comes from on an urban farm
  • Manageing staff
  • Significance of marketing
  • Farmers' market sales techniques
  • The importance of staying organized

Interview with Michael Ableman Sole Food Urban Farm

michael ableman foxglove farm bc sole food farm
michael ableman foxglove farm bc sole food farm

Michael's photographs have appeared in publications throughout the world and in solo exhibitions at the Oakland Museum, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, and the Field Museum in Chicago.

He has lectured extensively throughout the U.S. and in Europe. His work has been covered in National Geographic, on National Public Radio's All Things Considered, in the Utne Reader, Gourmet Magazine, and the L.A. Times. An award-winning film about Ableman's work, Beyond Organic, narrated by Meryl Streep aired nationally on PBS in 2001.

Ableman has received numerous awards including the 2001 "Sustie" Award for his work in sustainable agriculture, Eating Well magazine's 1995 Food Hero Award, and the 1997 Environmental Leadership Award from the governor of the state of California.

how to start an urban farm-1
how to start an urban farm-2
how to start an urban farm-5

Items mentioned in this farm podcast include:

Take aways:

What tools do you use to keep organized?

How can increasing your organizational skills benefit your farm?

What is your future timeline for starting or expanding your farm?

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My skills are ever-evolving as an interviewer. Thanks for taking the time to listen in, and let me know what you think. You can leave a comment below, send me an e-mail, reach me on Facebook or Twitter, or leave a rating in iTunes if you liked the show.

Mind Mapping vs Linear Planning

Building a Railroad, and What That Has To Do With Farm Planning

how to start a farm railroad-1

If you wanted to build a railroad across the country, you wouldn't build the entire track before you started building the first locomotive. You would have people start clearing and preparing the land as the engineers started designing the train. Now that the engineers have a width for the tracks you can have one team start to build the tracks as another team builds the train cars. While this is going on you have a marketing team making sure people are going to want to use the railroad in the first place. In order for everyone to be able to carry out their jobs there has to be someone with the big picture in mind, a project manager, who can orchestrate the whole thing.

There are many things that have to take place at once if you ever want to complete that railroad. Not all of them need your full attention every hour of the day. Most will need to spend some time being worked on by other people. Therefore having a linear process just won't work for you. You need a way to organize all of the pieces while keeping an eye on the big picture.

The Illusive Beginning Farm Checklist

I cannot tell you how hard I have searched for a checklist to follow to start a farm. Yes, there are some out there, but I found all of them, even my own, to be fundamentally flawed. The problem is that starting a business (which is what you are doing) is that it is not a linear process. There is no set process to "Complete step one, move on to step two, etc etc..." You will be juggling several things at once. That, and the actual process will be a little different for each person. The elements will be the same, but the order that they have to fall into place will change slightly.

Checklists are very handy. I use them every day. I even used one to create this page on the website. But with all the many tasks you have to juggle, you are going to need a different tool to organize your thoughts. Here's a video to explain that farm tool.

Mind Mapping Tools For Farm Business Planning

Pen and Paper

how to start a farm notebook

The cheapest and easiest is to use pen and paper. I never leave home without it, and at home it is always within arms reach. Mind-mapping is easy to do on pen and paper. You may not be able to manipulate the information by dragging it around a screen, but it is always there in hand. It's always able to travel with you, never requires recharging, doesn't need wifi, and won't break if a tractor runs it over.

iPhone or iPad

how to start a farm ithoughts mind mapping

I am fortunate enough to have an iPad. When I am planning a new part of the farm website, when I am planning a part of the farm, basically when I plan anything, I whip out the iPad and fire-up the iThoughtsHD app. It lets me create a mind-map just like I would on paper, except I can move things around without it getting messy.

The app lets you link to websites, add photos, change colors and styles, and lets you export your map to a Microsoft Word file, or a number of other formats. I find it hugely useful. I think that app is around $10 in the iTunes store. Not a free tool, but it has certainly paid for itself in usefulness. Saves on paper too.

Online

I don't use any online mind mapping tools so I really cannot recommend them. If you do a Google search on "mind mapping tools" I am sure you will find any number of websites on the topic. A friend of mine likes this software http://www.mindmeister.com/, but again, I have not used it. Just wanted to give you somewhere to start.

My Mind Mapping Process

Starts With An Idea

At first I begin with the idea. What do I need to accomplish? Could be Anything:

  • Starting a farm
  • Decorating the house
  • Writing a farm business plan
  • Learning a new skill
  • Creating a "How To Start A Farm" tutorial section of my website

Moves To The Notebook

I then write that idea down in my notebook. I create a list of what I need to accomplish to get that task done. Doesn't have to be organized, I am just writing down my thoughts, and taking notes while I research what I am going to need.

Goes to the Mind Map

I organize all of my notes onto a mind map. This creates sections for me. I don't know about you, but I get over-whelmed when I see a huge project. This way I have digestible chunks that I can tackle. Because I now have an outline and a plan I can overcome the scariness of the project and get down to work.

Becomes a Series of "To Do" Lists

Each section on my mind map becomes a "to do list. I like checklist because they let you know how you are progressing. You can see when you have gotten things done by crossing them off.

How To Find An Internship or Apprenticeship On An Organic Farm

Now that you have WWOOFed on one farm, two farms, a few farms, and you are ready to take the leap and become a farm apprentice, let's take a look and see where and what you need to start that process.

Why Become an Organic Farm Apprentice?

farm apprentice vermont cartFarming is a trade just like plumbing, carpentry, or electrical. Just like any trade there is trade school, apprenticeship requirements, and a steep learning curve. Your farm apprenticeship is the next step to either realizing your dream of becoming a farmer, or realizing that this may not be for you.

Unlike most trades, you have to know just about every trade to make a halfway decent farmer. Even being a bike mechanic can come into play while working on a farm. Our Vermont Cart which is used to haul things around the farm got a flat tire. Since I have changed dozens of bike tires in the last year riding across the country, it was my job to fix the wheel.

Whether you are looking to start your own farm, or you are looking to be a hired hand at an existing farm, you need experience in the field. A farm internship will give that to you. You are building a new resume, and this is a good place to start.

Depending on your dedication to looking, your luck at finding a place, and the opportunities available, you do not have to lose money learning how to farm. Some farms offer housing, others housing and food, and still others (though fewer) offer housing, food, and a stipend. Stipends can range from $50 a week to around $200 a week. You're not going to buy a Mercedes, but when you consider that you have no rent to pay, and most of your food bills are covered, it's a pretty good gig. Besides, you're there to learn, not to make money. Knowledge is wealth.

Where to Find Organic Farm Internships / Apprenticeships

There are a lot of places and ways to find internships. Some lay it right out there for you, some you will have to dig for. To find the one you want, it is definitely worth being persistent. You are going to probably spend most of a year working very closely with a stereotypically eccentric group of people. You want to make sure you mesh with the farm, the surroundings, and the people.

The first place I would start is with your local farms and the people that you know. If there is a farm that you love to buy from at the farmers' market or you are subscribed to their CSA, do not be afraid to ask if they have volunteer or internship opportunities. What's the worst they can say? No? Then you move on and find somewhere else. Finding a place close to home means you can stay local and you might not have to sleep in a tent for the summer as "intern housing".

The second place to start is Google. Do a Google search for "farm internship" or "farm apprenticeship" and see what comes up.  Add in the name of your state, or what you think you might want to grow.

WWOOF.org

wwoof dot org

WWOOF or WWOOFUSA is not a bad place to start looking. If you have done some volunteering on farms, you are already a memeber ($20 a year) and are familiar with the website. Some WWOOF farms prefer or even require a year long commitment. In general the WWOOF relationship between you and the farmer is that you are a volunteer. If you are looking to make at least a few bucks off your apprenticeship it might be tougher to find going this route. Though, it is not unheard of and you can find paid opportunities.

National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (ATTRA)

Sustainable Farming Internships and Apprenticeships   Begin  ATTRA   National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service

I used the ATTRA website a fair amount while looking for my apprenticeship. A lot of the listings in here offer housing and a stipend. Not all of them do, but certainly more than the WWOOFing website. They are organized pretty well into regions and states. Figuring out what area of the country (or which country) you want to farm in before you go looking helps you narrow your search by a lot.

Spend some time reading the descriptions for each place. After a while, you will get good at skimming for the details you really want to find. When you find a farm, do a Google search on them. Find their website, find any news articles they may be in online. Believe me when I say that it is no good for anyone involved if you end up at a place where you are not happy.

BeginningFarmers.org

Jobs and Internships in Farming  Food  and Agriculture

Certainly bookmark this page. As you merrily skip down that path toward becoming a family farmer, you will be visiting the Beginning Farmers website more than a handful of times. Their Jobs and Internships page is a seemingly disorganized organized amalgamation of links that will bring you to any number of websites with job listings. Not all the websites will be what you want, and some of them are terrible. But there are also a lot of great links there, and this page alone saves you hours of searching Google.

GoodFoodJobs.com

good food jobs

Just because you spend a season working on a farm does not necessarily mean you have to become a farmer. It's a tough row to hoe, believe me. I'm neck deep in it as I type this. If you work your season on the farm and decide it's not for you, there are a lot of other opportunities out there you can take advantage of to capitalize on your farm experience.

Jobs "in food" are becoming more popular, and more available. Good Food Jobs is a job posting board that will have listings for farm work, office work, and everything in between, all relating to "Good Food".  You might find a farm job here, and you might find a job as a sales associate, or even a food services manager. My friend Chad was a chef in New York City, spent a year working on a vegetable farm, and now has started his own restaurant.

Besides, Taylor and Dorothy the co-founders of Good Food Jobs are fantastic people. They have done a lot of good work through their site and I would love to see it continue.

My Experience Applying for A Farm Apprenticeship

american foodcyclist gothicNothing good comes easy, and I am proving that constantly. Finding not only the right farm, but a farm that would take a married couple was no small feat. While exciting and fun, it was also frustrating at times. I did not keep track of the hours that Kate and I spent looking, but we were determined to find the right farm.

We used the above strategies and websites to track down farms to apply to. The ATTRA site was especially helpful. I think in total we applied to 18 farms. Some never returned our e-mails or calls and some out-right rejected us. Others told us that our timing was off and that they were either not to that part of their planning yet and not hiring, or they had just hired another young married couple from New York City and did not have any open positions.

At that time, I was market testing for Farm Marketing Solutions and I was exhibiting the company at various trade shows and slow food conferences around New England. It was at the CTNOFA conference in Connecticut that I finally found the farm I was looking for. One of the workshops was on using your website to market your farm. This is a specialty of mine and I was interested in what the presenters had to say, and more importantly what questions the audience had.

Erick & Patty Taylor of Devon Point Farm were hosting the workshop. Long story short, I knew after hearing them present that I knew I had to work at their farm. After the presentation, I went up and asked them if they had any openings for internships. Patty told me they did not take couples, but I could talk to Erick.

What ensued was the most elaborate hiring process I have ever experienced. Kate and I sent them resumes, cover letters, and photos. Over the next week, we talked on the phone a few times. They told us that they did not want to hire a couple, it was against their policy. (Hey, it's a volunteer position, they can make whatever rules they want). The reasoning, and I agree with it, is that if one person does not work out for whatever reason then they lose two people. That's two people they will have spent extensive hours training and would have to replace. I knew we wouldn't leave no matter what came our way so I was persistent.

found my best fit jobI wrote e-mails convincing them we were awesome. I even went so far as to Photoshop WWII propaganda. We had an in person interview which took half a day, after which they were still not sold on the idea of a married couple.

We Skyped, we talked with past interns, they talked with the interns that talked to us, and we talked via e-mail some more.

Finally, we wore them down. We got the apprenticeship, we had a place to stay, a beautiful farm to work on, knowledgeable farmers to work for, and a life changing experience.

Not everyone goes through that though. I have friends who just called the place, chatted for half an hour and they were hired. Simple as that. Not every case will be the same, far from it.

The moral of the story is, if you know what you want go for it!

Make Sure Farming Is For You, Volunteer On A Farm First

By now you have seen Food Inc. You have read Michael Pollan's Omnivoure's Dilemma. You are all amped up about slow food and you are ready to go out and start a farm of your own! Well, it's time to pump the breaks and take a look at how serious of a decision that is. Growing food and working the land is nothing short of amazing, but there are a few steps you should take before making a career change.

Starting a farm is a major life change, in more ways than you can imagine. The toils and troubles that come with the territory can never be accurately portrayed in any documentary, on the screen or in print. Before you dive headlong into the hardest thing that anyone can choose to do, start by taking baby steps. You will be happy that you did.

volunteer on a farm

More and more people are doing the same thing that I chose to do. I left my job in New York City. I left my apartment, benefits, paycheck, carbon-fiber racing bicycle, and solidarity of routine life for the endurance sprint that is farm life. I took my time to get here though, and I took some very necessary steps to ensure that this is something I want to do for life.

The wonderful thing about gardening is that really anyone can do it. Anyone can, in theory, buy seeds, put them in the ground, add some water, and hopefully something will grow. The difference between farmers and gardeners is that gardeners can have an entire crop fail and they still get a paycheck, because it is a hobby. If a crop fails on the farm, that means a major hit in income resulting any number of things including the loss of your livelihood.

You may crawl down the rabbit hole and figure out that farming is the most rewarding thing you can do with you life, like I did. Or you may stop short of that extreme and realize you're going to be a heck of a gardener. You may also decide that you place in slow food is better suited working for a non-profit, working the office of a farm, or doing one of the other thousands of jobs that this movement is creating.

Farm Volunteer with WWOOF.org

The best way to volunteer on a farm is to try WWOOFing. WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. WWOOF is an organization that helps to pair organic farms with volunteers that are looking to learn more about sustainable lifestyles. There are WWOOFing farms in just about every country all over the world. Which is great, because if you like to farm and want to travel on the cheap, you can schedule a stay at a WWOOFing farm and you meals and housing will be taken care of (usually) for the duration of your vacation.

wwoof dot org

Why WWOOFing works so well with people who want to farm, like you, is that there is already an understanding about accepting volunteers on the farm. Training inexperienced people takes time and effort, and can often be more trouble than it is worth. I know a farmer who had a WWOOFer that thought her baby carrots were weeds and picked out all of the seedlings in the bed, ouch. On a WWOOF farm the understanding is already there that you may not be experienced, but you are willing to learn, and the farmer is willing to teach.

A WWOOFing Experience to Suit Your Needs

I have visited dozens of WWOOFing farms. They are not all created equal. Some only ask that you work a couple of hours a day, some the entire day. Some offer an air conditioned bedroom and a flush toilet, some offer a place for you to pitch a tent with an outdoor composting toilet. For the most part the details are laid out in the individual  profiles of the farms.

There is not just a difference in accommodations. There are also big differences in the types of farms you can work at. You can find a WWOOF farm that specializes in vegetables, beef cattle, mushrooms, dairy goats, and everything in-between. The most common are organic vegetable farms.

I used the WWOOF USA website to arrange most of my farm

WWOOF-USA® - Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, USA

Alternatives to WWOOFing

While I think WWOOFing is one of the best ways to find a farm experience, it certainly is not the only place. You can find a farm near you on LocalHarvest.org and write to them asking about volunteer opportunities. If you are a member of a CSA you can approach them about opportunities at their farm. You may even be able to find a farm at your local farmers market.

Things to Keep In Mind

You are there to volunteer. You may be pushed a little out of your comfort zone, but that is farming. That being said, this is the first step and you do not want to be taken advantage of. If you feel like a host farmer is treating you poorly let them know, or just leave. It goes the other way too. You do not want to take advantage of the farmer. It would be bad form to sit in the field and dream the day away not getting anything done, only to stuff your face full of free food at dinner that evening.

Be Prepared to Farm

Come prepared to get dirty. Wear sturdy pants or decent shorts if it is hot out. Bring your own work gloves. On really hot days light weight button long sleeve shirts are cooler than any cotton t-shirt. the Buttons let more air in, the fabric won't stick to you as much and will dry quicker, and the long sleeves keep the sun off your arms. That is why people in the dessert dress is light-colored loose clothing. You don't have to worry to much about looking fashionable. I buy all of my farm clothes at the Good Will, especially the long sleeve work shirts. What better way to stick it to your corporate job than to wear a work shirt on the farm?

Sun block, sun block, sun block.

You Are There To Have Fun

Farming is incredible. It is fulfilling both in mind and body. There is nothing better than sitting down (with a beer) at the end of a long day of work and kicking your feet up. Remember that. Whether you are working for two days or two hundred (you can WWOOF for over a year at some places) you are there to enjoy the experience.

What's next in farming for you?

After you have volunteered once, twice, a dozen times, and you still love it, it may be time to consider an apprenticeship. Looking for, applying to, and surviving a farm apprenticeship deserves a blog post all of it's own.