Here's a little of the back story of how we came to own an award-winning farm and a thriving e-commerce business. The purpose of this little tale is not to toot our own horn, but to demonstrate to you that just about anyone can make a living on a small farm; whether they are successful or not depends on the motivation and drive they bring to the task.
First, we are not 'born farmers'; we don't come from farming families, although Suzie did work on a dairy farm, and my parents had a small farm (20 acres) for a few years when I was a kid. Our serious interest in farming came to us as adults. We both realized we wanted to create something more tangible and sustainable than our present jobs were providing.
We both worked in office-type jobs in Toronto and Ottawa; Suzie had been an operations supervisor for a Crown corporation, and I had worked as a computer programmer, Industrial Engineer, and later as an independent management consultant.
But even through that period, we were reading about and learning all we could about small farms. We belonged to organizations (Canadian Organic Growers, Rare Breeds Canada) that brought us into contact with farmers. Many of them very kindly told us about the realities of farming for a living. And eventually we realized the time had come to find a farm of our own.
It took a couple years, but we finally found the property that would become New Terra Farm. We bought a 52-acre plot with a house and a couple good barns, and set out to see if we could make money at the farming game. I kept working as a consultant while we went through the learning process.
Now, we weren't sure exactly what we wanted to do. But we did know whatever we chose had to be organic, sustainable, and with as little negative impact on the environment as possible. This ruled out a lot of things. And the fact that we didn't have a lot of start-up capital left after buying the farm ruled out yet more possible businesses.
We did decide that raising basic food stuff was the right choice for us. That way, if we couldn't sell it at least we could feed ourselves and our kids from the farm. So pretty much from the beginning we raised pigs and meat chickens, and had a large garden.
In 2006 we committed to a growing a larger garden, with the idea of selling the extra produce. We had read about
Community Supported Agriculture
and decided that was the model for us. And, being familiar with computers, I wrote a couple spreadsheets to help us figure out our cash flow requirements and plan our garden.
Then we made up a flyer, and sent it out to a local community. Lo and behold, we got 16 customers!
Those customers got all our garden produce, and some of them bought pork and chicken from us as well. We were farmers!
You can see the actual
New Terra Farm Year 1 Cashflow here
In late fall that year, we heard about the Premier's Award competition for small farms in Ontario. Suzie and I decided that the marketing and management model that worked for us might be of interest to other people too. So we wrote up the story of how we launched our business, sent it in, and we won! The plaque from the Premier was nice, the award cheque was even nicer.
The following year I decided that other people might be able to benefit from our experience as well. I was sure there were a lot of people out there who would like to have a small farm, but weren't sure how to get started. So I wrote
Bootstrap Market Gardening
and set up the new-terra-natural-food.com website to let people know about the farm, and the book. You can read more about
how we created our website here
We had also figured out simple and effective ways to raise meat chickens and pigs on pasture; so
A couple of our farm helpers went on to start successful market gardens of their own, using the things we taught them. We were extremely proud of them, and got a lot of satisfaction from the knowledge we helped some new farmers get started.
Being aware of the state of the world, we really believed that the time would come again when communities depended on small local farms for their food. So about a year ago I decided that part of our mission was to help raise farmers as well as food.
One of the things I believe in (besides the importance of a secure local food supply) is the power of the Internet as a communication and education tool. I got serious about building up my site by adding free (and I hope valuable) content, aimed at those people who wanted to start a life on a small farm.
In other words, I wanted to create a site that I would liked to have had access to a few years ago, when we were first learning about farming.
Since that decision, I have increased my site from about 60 pages to more than 170 pages. The number of people who visit my site monthly has increased from about a thousand to more than five thousand. I use the site to promote the farm, and my books. And I'm making pretty good money
selling information products
from my website.
I do charge for my books, because this is a part of my living; it's how I can afford to spend time delivering other free content, and working on community projects.
I did recently start putting the entire contents of my
Bootstrap Market Gardening book online
free for anyone to read. And I created a special 'pick your own price' for those people who choose to buy the whole package. Then I dropped the price of the whole Start Farming Pack, to make it more affordable. All these books were selling well at the old, higher prices, but I feel this approach is more congruent with 'the mission'.
To wrap it up, I want you to realize that I am not special in being able to start a small farm, and an
I learned how to do both those things step by step, and anyone can do the same. The resources on this site are intended to help with that learning curve. The final message to take away from this is, you can do it, too if you believe you can.
New Terra Farm
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