I’m starting my own farm! I am thrilled to announce that I’ll be starting my own small business to grow a variety of organic vegetables to sell through a CSA and a small farmer’s market.
First, I’ll need to lease land and invest in a few greenhouses and basic pieces of equipment. Then I’ll need to order seeds from suppliers such as Johnny’s and Fedco’s, which carry a greater variety of heirloom and organic seeds in bulk than I can find locally but I’ll need to pay for shipping too. To start these seeds, I’ll need dozens of trays and plastic pots to fill with sterile growing soil, compost (which I’ll also need to buy because I won’t have started my own compost pile yet) and fertilizer. After getting my soil tested, I’ll also pick up bags of lime and more fertilizer, to spread over my plots before planting.
Unfortunately, by the time I’m ready to plant any starts or seeds outside, I’ll have used up my savings set aside for this farm and I still need to purchase the supplies for a simple drip irrigation system. Where will these funds come from? Then there’s the gas I’ll need for a small tractor, the maintenance and gas for my car to get to the markets and make deliveries as well as the space and equipment to wash and prep my veggies for sale.
Wait, am I doing this all by myself? Maybe I’ll hire an intern…and they’ll want to be paid too. It would also be great publicity for attracting new customers to become naturally or organically grown certified, which comes with its own steep fees. To become a member of Certified Naturally Grown, a popular certification for small farmers, the organization estimates annual fees of $75-200.
I don’t want to borrow money from my family because they have their own expenses to pay and I am determined to make this my own business endeavor as much as possible. After visiting some small banks to discuss taking out a loan, I’m discouraged about finding any loan with an interest lower than 12%. Another option is a Farm Service Agency (FSA) loan. However, the amount loaned is based on future yields and predicted revenue, which for a small beginning farm like mine means I can only take out a few hundred dollars. So it seems after my savings are used up, I’ll be applying for a credit card and doing my best to produce a first year yield as a new farmer that brings in enough revenue to pay off my card before the 18.9% interest rate starts. Youch.
April Fools! I’m not buying a farm, but this is the discouraging situation facing young farmers across the United States today. In fact, this scenario was Zoe Bradbury’s experience as told in “Building A Future with Farmers” by the National Young Farmers’ Coalition. Through surveying 1000 young farmers, NYFC outlined the most common challenges that they face in establishing their own productive farms. The top three obstacles named are difficulties in accessing land, capital and healthcare.
Without getting too far into health care politics and land reform, which I’m only just learning about, I appreciate that the report provides both small and large scale recommendations for ways to help young farmers get on their feet. These include legalizing farm apprenticeships, joining a CSA, and incentives for older farmers or households with a good chunk of land to rent or sell land to new farmers.
If you want to take a look at the other recommendations and details on the survey findings, you can read a summary or the full PDF here. National Young Farmer’s Coalition also has a website with news updates, a blog and stories from across the U.S. about beginning farmers. Don’t feel like reading more or getting into the dirty details? No worries, but maybe a “Congratulations” or “Good work!” is in order the next time you meet a young farmer. Or even an older farmer, who at one time was young.