Get Beyond the Love or Money Choice

Farmers don’t have to choose.

People say, “I’d really love to be a farmer.” News reports come out all the time about failed farmers who couldn’t make money. Despite what lifestyle gurus promise, if you do what you love, the money doesn’t necessarily follow.

Making money, especially in a farm’s first few years, means you don’t have to deplete all your savings to run your operation. That means you can continue learning on a basic level without being afraid of running out of financial resources.

Money buys time, and time is what is needed to reach a sustainable level of revenue, which is what defines business success. The way to make $2k/week farming is to first learn how to make $100/week. The exact numbers don’t matter, but the point is, to make a lot of money, you start by making a little.

Striving for ever higher levels of income defines business success in the corporate world, but farming allows a different way to look at it. Having stretch goals for revenue can be motivating and exciting in the early years, but a farm geared towards ever higher levels of income turns it into the rat race it was meant to be an alternative to. It can lead to a number of intractable situations. Physical and mental burnout, making poor investments and taking on too much debt take the romance out of farming really quickly. The economic goal of a farm is supporting the owner at whatever level of income he or she decides is right for them, and that may be just steady revenue, not so much increasing it.

A related point is that farming is a uniquely flexible business that can easily be ramped up or down, to adjust to other commitments, family situation, and time availability. There are 4 different operating models to choose from, and each one has its time and place:
part-time seasonal
part-time year-round
full-time seasonal
full-time year-round

Choosing the right fit between an operating model, revenue goals, abilities and resources is a unique opportunity farmers have throughout their entire careers, and it’s an important one to recognize now that the work culture is going through a dramatic re-examination. It’s hard to say what it will look like post-pandemic, but flexibility and multiple occupations promise to be a big part of it. Backyard-scale farming is a very accessible level of farming to start with, and it provides the same values and ethos, much the same lifestyle, and in many case more income, than the traditional farming model. It also provides the time to find access to good markets and develop strong, loyal customer bases for sustainable expansion.

Society is changing dramatically. For people who are looking for new ways to re-define themselves through their work, they can find it with farming without having to choose between love and money. Growing food to make money can be done at a variety of scales: as a major source of income, or for extra pocket money, or to fund a specific project. Whatever the goal, to reach it you need to learn how to make that first $100.

Here’s the first 3 steps to getting started as a backyard farmer.
#1. Get your farmland
1,000 sq. ft.
in full sun
with water access
have soil tested if you don’t know its history

Why that size?
is a typical size of backyards or neighborhood and suburban lots
manageable for a single operator
can be worked either by hand or with a tiller
provides a standardized unit to project crop production and market value
supports a simple irrigation setup — just garden hoses

# 2. Grow high-value crops
in demand at market
not the common vegetables or varieties
worth at least $1k/1,000 sq. ft.
examples: carrots, herbs, leafy greens, radish, salad mixes, scallion, spinach and lots of others.

The last step is the point where a lot of people get hung up, but it is actually the easiest.
# 3. Decide which mix of crops you will sell each week and who will buy them
How? Look in the mirror. It’s yourself. Your first reward is saving yourself $1k on your grocery bill. Grow what you and your family want to eat. Then expand to your friends and neighbors. You’ve now completed the first lesson in learning how to launch a business that you can love.