Learn how to Farm from this Award-Winning Small Farm in Ontario . . .

You may own a small farm property, or be thinking about moving to the country. If you want to learn how to farm successfully, and make money on your small farm, New Terra Farm suggests you follow these 5 steps.

Learn how to Farm Step One:
Get Clear on your Vision

OK, we got this property, now what?

This might be the most important task you will face when learning how to farm (or ANY other business for that matter).

Stephen Covey in the 'The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People' said 'begin with the end in mind'; To put it another way, 'if you don't know where you are going, any road will take your there'.

This is NOT 'woo-woo' stuff,  by the way. In my consulting gigs I've observed many 'mission and vision' statements as part of organizational business plans. Many of them were done poorly, in main because of the confusion between mission and vision.

Here's the difference: 'Mission' is what you do e.g. 'sell organic vegetables to local markets'. 'Vision' is what you want to become; it is literally a picture of your future. A Vision is both an inspiration and a guideline to your desired future.

I do an exercise for my farm coaching clients called Your Ideal Scene. In this exercise, I ask them to imagine five years have passed since you completed this exercise. You were so fired-up you went ahead and created your ideal life (because I was JUST THAT GOOD ;-)

You are doing exactly what you want to do; you have exactly the people in your life you wanted to attract; you have all the things you really wanted to have, and you have become the person you always wanted to be.

In short, your life is just about perfect. Let your imagination go wild, don't hold back, believe ANYTHING is possible for you to do and be and have. Spend a few minutes thinking about and picturing that. Got it?

Now, describe a scene from that ideal life. Make it as vivid and as detailed as you can. Who would you see, what would you be doing? What's going on around you? What decisions are you making in this ideal scene? What things or possessions do you see? Who comes to visit? Where are you physically located? What projects are you planning?

Remember, you can have it all, so dream up the most interesting, exciting, satisfying scene you can.

I do this exercise regularly for myself, and I can honestly tell you it motivates me and guides me to set goals and make choices that bring me closer to my Ideal Scene.

Have I achieved it all yet? Nope, but i know which way I'm headed!

Learn how to Farm Step 2:
Set Goals for your Farm

Decide what you expect from your farm both financially and as a lifestyle:

  • Is your goal for your small farm to create a part-time second income, or do you expect the farm to support you?
  • Do you plan to do all farm work yourself, with just your family's help, or do you foresee a need to hire help? Can your farm support you and pay workers?
  • How quickly does the farm need to produce income? Do you need a cash turnaround right away, i.e. within the same season your start, or do you have the resources to wait a couple years for a payback?
  • Do you expect to sell your farm someday for a profit, to help your retire?

Note how your goals are influenced by your Vision i.e. Your Ideal Scene.

Learn how to Farm Step Three:
Decide your Principles of Operation

Principles of operation are the basic guidelines as to how you will operate your farm. Here are some questions to help you decide how you will operate.

Answering these questions will help you narrow down your choices for operating your farm, and therefore determine the farming topics you need to learn.

  • Will you be growing a commodity like grain, which is generally sold to processors, or will you be growing something to sell directly to your end customer, for example vegetables from a market garden?
  • Will you operate a conventional farm, or will you grow organically, using sustainable farming techniques?
  • Do you plan on a 'mono-culture' i.e. growing predominately one crop, or a poly-culture, growing a variety of crops?

You are probably seeing by now that developing a Vision, goals and principles of operation is an iterative exercise. It's normal to work back and forth a number of times to get a product you are happy with.

Learn how to Farm Step Four:
Assess your capabilities and resources

You need to take stock of your skills, your capacity and your resources to operate a small farm. Understand that many farming operations require a lot of skill or a lot of money (or both) to get started.

Ruling out some things will tell you what you don't need to learn how to farm. Here are some realities for you to consider:

  • Grain farming takes hundreds or even thousands of acres of land, and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment to do successfully.
  • Conventional dairy farming requires an investment in barns, milking equipment, bulk tanks, and of course your milking herd. It's estimated that the start-up cost for a new dairy operation is about $1.8 million.
  • Stocker cattle or cow-calf operations require large grazing areas, unless you use feed lots. Then you require an expensive investment in manure handling equipment and a manure lagoon to hold the waste.

Each of these operations is also knowledge-intensive, requiring several years experience to learn how to farm them proficiently. So make a realistic assessment of your capabilities and experience before deciding on your farming model.

Learn how to Farm Step Five:
Determine which farming model fits with your Vision, your goals, your principles, and your resources.

Given all the above, you may be wondering if there is anything you can learn how to farm with limited resources.

Here are a few suggestions based on lowest start-up cost and quickest payback.

Start a market garden based on CSA principles: This does not require a lot of money, or equipment, or land. As little as 1/8 of an acre (5,000 square feet) can produce a lot of vegetables.

Equipment can be borrowed or rented, so the start-up cost can be very low. And you get paid the same season you start. You should have, or plan to acquire, some experience as a gardener.

Our CSA market garden made us money from Day 1

Raise chickens for meat. If you raise meat chickens in the warm months only, on pasture, the start-up cost and the equipment requirements are very low. You can make a profit in 10-12 weeks if you control your bird losses.

We raise our meat birds on pasture using portable shelters and electric mesh fencing for protection
Organic pasture-raised turkey is also a popular and profitable enterprise

Raise freezer pork. Raising a few pigs on pasture is very different from the large 'hog barns' you may have seen. Pigs on pasture are healthier and cleaner than barn-raised animals.

And once your customers taste your premium organic pasture-raised pork, they will keep coming back for moe.

As with meat chickens and turkeys, if you raise them in the warm months only, the start-up requirements are very low.

Our premium piggies also help clean up our garden in the fall


Bonus Step: Get started now!

Whichever enterprise you start with, the best way to learn how to farm is by actually doing it. Get some basic information, buy a couple books, talk to some other farmers already doing what you want to do.

Then get started, perhaps just by growing food for your family and a few friends. Growing a small farm is the best job I ever had; don't wait to learn how to farm on your own small property!

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Bootstrap Market Gardening, my first Bootstrap Book, shows you step-by-step how to start-up, market and manage an organic market garden based on CSA principles.

New edition includes my Garden Planner spreadsheet. Get Bootstrap Market Gardening

Now just $5 only from New Terra Farm.

Or get Bootstrap Market Gardening as part of my Complete Start Farming Pack and SAVE EVEN MORE!


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