Over the last few months, we have collected responses from our members and supporters about aspects of farming that they wish they would have known about before they began their journey. Many farmers come from family farms where previous generations have farmed the land and passed down their wisdom. Children living on the farm receive a first-hand account of the ins and outs of farming knowledge. But for others, they might be first-generation farmers. The number of farmers under 35 years old is increasing, and many of these young farmers are leaving office jobs to work the land. Furthermore, a survey by the National Young Farmers Coalition showed that the majority of young farmers were not raised in agricultural families. That’s a lot of new folks out on the land!
You don’t know what you’re getting into until you’re a farmer, and even then there is so much to learn. As an organization that advocates for farmers and strives to foster a supportive environment for farmers, we want to do our part in helping those that might need an extra hand. We hope the advice can enlighten new farmers, and perhaps provide a little support and camaraderie for the experienced folk.
We share the answers below, edited for clarity, and will dig deeper into some of these topics in later posts. As always, if you have any comments or additional advice, please contact us.
The meat, and guts, and potatoes (or tomatoes, if you will) of farming; whether it’s putting in crops, harvesting, or taking care of livestock of any kind; is the easy part and perhaps the most enjoyable and of course rewarding. On the other hand; the maintenance, upkeep, repairing, fix-it-now-or-else scenarios, weed whacking, mowing, fence line clearing of branches, limbs, and occasional trunks in addition to the weed growth always create a never-ending challenge in between, before, during and after all the “fun” stuff.
Windswept Grass Farms
Before Farming, I Wish I Knew…
1. How to better market my products.
2. How hard it is to be profitable.
3. To make sure there is a vet nearby prior to obtaining animals.
4. A business plan should be flexible. I thought I would mostly sell raw milk and make value-added products with the leftover milk, but this ended up being the complete opposite! You never know what your customers’ preferences will be until you jump in and test the market.
5. To ensure that the water systems that delivered water to my animals were easily accessible.
6. The land by itself is of course less expensive than land with infrastructure associated with it, and building infrastructure is time-consuming and has costs associated with it. I wish I had understood infrastructure, specifically building shelters and paddocks.
7. What I could legally sell at the farmers market and the labeling and packaging requirements for selling at market.
8. The legalities of getting grass-fed, grass-finished animals to market and for resale. In many states, there are no certified organic meat processors and very few processors that offer USDA inspection for resale at all (that will work with small operations).
9. About checking my soil in the pastures as well as my garden area. I am so new to farming, having been brought up in the city and living in one until retirement a few years ago. My husband and I bought a mini-farm and were excited to get a few animals. We enlisted the help of our local farmers and agriculture department and learned that we need to seed the pastures and remove a few oak trees since acorns aren’t good for cows and sheep.
10. If you love farming, it’s important not to give up. We understand why we began farming: we want to fix the broken food system in this country. Giving up after a few years is not going to help us reach that goal. Is it the hardest thing we have ever done? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes. Is it like a constant roller coaster ride? Yes. The learning curve has been steep, but it takes time to learn to fly. We learn from everything that has gone wrong and use it for the future to help things go right.
What advice would you add?
YOUR FUND AT WORK
Services provided by FTCLDF go beyond legal representation for members in court cases.
Educational and policy work also provide an avenue for FTCLDF to build grassroots activism to create the most favorable regulatory climate possible. In addition to advising on bill language, FTCLDF supports favorable legislation via action alerts and social media outreach.