5 Things To Know Before You Buy a Farm
With edible gardening continuing to grow in popularity, community gardens popping up everywhere from suburban neighborhoods to New York City rooftops, and raising your own chickens becoming the new "it" hobby, it may be tempting to leave the hectic city life behind and live off the land.
But don't quit your day job just yet. Like starting a family, running a farm is a lifetime commitment that takes more than a piece of land and a couple of chickens.
But don't take it from me: Steve and Mandy O'Shea know farming is serious business. Before stumbling upon the Comer, Georgia property that would become their fruit, flower and vegetable farm, 3 Porch Farm, the couple was prepared to purchase an empty piece of land and live in a tent. Luckily, Steve and Mandy never had to pull out the camping gear, but that's the type of dedication self-sustainable living takes.
Still think you're ready? We asked Steve and Mandy to share questions budding farmers should ask themselves before dropping their cash on 40 acres:
- Scale. Do you want to go high volume, with lots of hands and equipment and sell to supermarkets and wholesalers, or do you want to produce just enough that you can do it yourself and retail it all for the highest return per item?
- Finances. It takes a lot more than seeds and water to get started on a farm. Like any business, there is a significant overhead from day to day, but it is quite substantial at the outset. Make sure you have done your research so you can adequately account for all your upcoming expenses in a healthy and preplanned way as possible, so you don't end up bankrupt before the end of the first year.
- Lifestyle. Many people have an image of a peaceful and bucolic life on the farm, surrounded by butterflies and happily harvesting tomatoes. That does exist. The part that is often overlooked though is the 70- 90 hour work week that constitutes lots of physical labor and persistence in the face of unforeseen challenges, such as the ever-present reminder that nature and the weather do not bend to your will. Are you ready to commit fully to the lifestyle and to forgo a more predictable schedule and the ability to have a full social life...or a social life at all? The rewards are there only if you are happy to work with your partner/crew and to make the farm your world. If you need or want Saturday nights on the town, dinners with friends, time for hobbies, etc., you may encounter challenges beyond the weather.
- Market. Is there a market that can support your venture? If you want to grow organically at a retail scale, is there a farmers' market in your area that gets enough traffic to support your farm? Do the locals value organics or will you be priced out by cheaper conventional foods that are trucked in from somewhere else? Is the organic competition already pretty stiff, thereby driving prices below what you need to pay your costs? What are land prices in your area? Would you have to drive half an hour or two hours to sell your goods?
- What do you enjoy doing/growing? Can you feasibly produce what you enjoy growing and make that your livelihood? Is it fruit? Is it flowers? If so, will they grow well in your area? Will you still love it when you have to do it all the time and your bills depend on it?
When you boil down to it, it's important to know yourself and your strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of your partner(s). If you've got a pretty level-headed understanding of yourself and what it takes to live this kind of lifestyle, and you are at peace with the whole process of diving in and gracefully accepting whatever comes your way as you move forward, then you may well be emotionally ready to start a farm.