Top 5 Things You Should Know About Farming

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By Hannah Becker, Willow Springs Farm

There are pros and cons to every endeavor, and farming is no exception. As a first-generation farmer, I did not have ancestral insight into the world of agriculture; the majority of my education came via trial and error. Looking back on my experiences thus far, here are the top five things I think new farmers should know:

Farming is expensive
I’d always heard, “it takes money to make money”—well this entrepreneur’s adage is certainly relevant to farming! The cost of land required to make a living is often seven figures. Property improvements can cost thousands more. And those costs will only get you a place to farm—what about seeds and/or livestock? Equipment alone can cost more than the average American’s mortgage (and they give you 30 years to pay that off!).
Farming is expensive, especially for us first-generation folks. It took me several years to accept the endless stream of zeros behind the initial investment for farming—more money than I thought I’d even make in a lifetime! Don’t be daunted; we’re all in the same boat. First generation farmers have a unique set of challenges, and startup capital tops the list.

Farming is dangerous
Noted as one of the most dangerous professions, farming is no joke. Growing up a tomboy, I’ve always considered myself pretty invincible. Sprains, cuts, and broken bones accompanied my years of playing sports; however, the risks that often accompany farming pose unique dangers. Much of my farm work involves beings miles away from civilization with no cell service. Just me, my equipment, and my animals. I can attribute a broken leg, muscle tears, and a back injury to my agricultural efforts. Thankfully I’ve never suffered a more serious injury, but I’m always seeking to minimize risk.

Farming takes a family
I’m really fortunate to be married to a man who shares my farming dreams. My husband has derailed his career and delayed the acquisition of many material things to ensure Willow Springs’ development. He’s always the first to help out with bushhogging, fence mending, and sick animals. He understands the demands a farm presents, and he supports all our efforts. Maybe you don’t have a supportive family; that’s ok. Develop a family around your farm: your neighbors, your customers, your community leaders. To be successful, every farm needs a “family,” supportive people who will be rooting for you even through the bad years.


Farming will stretch you
It was 4 degrees Fahrenheit and a winter storm was blowing across the prairie. As the only people within 5+ miles, it was up to my husband and me to repair the barn roof before the surprise storm ruined hundreds of dollars’ worth of hay. Straddling rafters 50 feet in the air while trying to keep sheets of tin from blowing off in the wintery gusts, my crippling fear of heights had no place. Mid-panic attack, I pounded roofing nails and asked myself if this farming adventure had been one big mistake. With the barn sufficiently sealed and hail coming down, I hunkered down in a stall corner and threw up. I hate heights.
Farming will take you out of your comfort zone. It’s just you and Mother Nature—a relationship that fluctuates between symbiotic and full blown enemies. Rising to the occasion will stretch you, push your limits, and give you confidence to take on the world.

Farming is awesome
Theodore Roosevelt said, “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” While I may not have the six-figure salary or half-a-million-dollar home enjoyed my many of my business school classmates, I’m pretty excited to be “working hard at work worth doing.” Despite the massive investment, the physical risks, and hours of hard work with no guarantee of return, I still believe farming is the most amazing profession. The pride I feel in creating something out of nothing is worth every drop of sweat, blood, and tears I shed over this labor of love. Farming isn’t for the faint of heart. It’ll test you and everyone around you. You’ll be pushed to the max, and then some—but farming is awesome.

The bittersweet end of tomatoes: BOOTSTRAP AT OLD HOMEPLACE FARM

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By Maggie Bowling, Old Homeplace Farm

This September I’m feeling the anguish that comes with the end of tomato season. Tomatoes are synonymous with summer for so many people, and they seem to be a crop that draws customers to my buying club and to my market stand, where they will then buy other items as well. This September I mourn the end of the crop that has helped fuel my sales since Memorial Day, but that isn’t the only reason I’m upset this year.

maggie and cosmos_cropFor the first time in my life, I know the joy that eating a fresh, homegrown tomato brings! Those who know me well knew my secret: despite growing up in a family that grew around 1,500 tomato plants each year, I never liked tomatoes. I’ve actively been working to overcome my dislike for years, finding ways that I liked eating them (dehydrated and roasted primarily). This summer, however, I turned a corner and fell in love with tomatoes. I found myself wishing that I had to eat more meals every day for the express purpose of making more recipes that used tomatoes. I even found myself picking and eating tomatoes in the field. While slicing our last tomatoes of the season, I lifted the cut tomatoes to my face and breathed in the sweet, sweet smell of summer one last time.

Bittersweet this fall season is. Autumn brings cooler days, less humidity, and the knowledge that some rest is ahead this winter. Autumn also brings the realization that the main portion of my growing season is ending, and it is time to take stock of what happened this year. A week in my life on the farm is full of emotional highs and lows.

There are so many small (and large) moments of joy and wonder. There are beautiful flowers to be picked and arranged, and the first harvest of any crop brings a surge of happiness through my chest. Working outside during foggy mountain mornings is a treat; I’m pretty happy with my summer arm muscles; I always have my choice of homegrown vegetables, eggs, and meat to eat; and I’m my own boss. On the days that I can see a concrete task accomplished—a fence finished or a new section of field planted, I’m having a good day. Having wonderful conversations with satisfied customers gives me the best feeling. Recently, one of the local restaurants we provide food for hosted a special supper club meal featuring our veggies and meat. It was lovely to see our food prepared for a fancy dinner, and to enjoy it with community members we had just met. I love being paid for something I produced, while working with Will and building our farm for the future. (more…)

New capital for new farmers : BOOTSTRAP AT OLD HOMEPLACE FARM

Garden March 2015 crop

By Maggie Bowling, Old Homeplace Farm

The winter before we started the buying club, we counted twenty-two deer in my future vegetable field over the course of one night. I’m sure you can imagine what we chose as our very first farm investment. Will has an off-farm job as an elk biologist (yes, there are elk in Kentucky), so luckily he already had experience building deer and elk barrier fences. One-and-a-half years later, and we still haven’t experienced any deer damage!

I should back up to the previous summer. The day we decided to purchase land felt much more like a proposal than the day that we decided to get married a few months later. Our very first investment was a piece of land a few miles from Will’s parents. While we began farming with our own land, we don’t think that it’s necessary to own land in order to begin farming. This property ended up being right for our lifestyle and farming goals, and we were able to afford it without going into too much debt. (more…)

The numbers game – Bootstrap at Furrow Horse Farm

caitlin and brandon_croppedBy Caitlin Arnold, Furrow Horse Farm 

Brandon and I started Furrow Horse Farm this year not entirely sure where it would take us, or where we would take it. We are farming on leased land, and signed a one-year lease to start out with. It is difficult to plan long-term for the farm and business when we don’t know how long we will be on this land or even how long we want to be on this land. We also both have off-farm jobs to help pay the bills, so not all of our time is dedicated to growing our farm business.

Given all of that, our business plan for this first season was fairly simple. We knew we wanted to start a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and our goal was 10 members at $500 per share ($5,000 total CSA income). I am happy to say we have exceeded our goal and are now at 14 members. However, over half of them started at some point once the season was underway, and we had to pro-rate the weeks they had missed. So, even though we surpassed our goal, we did not make the $500-per-person amount we were hoping for.

Our next piece of income was farmers’ markets. We knew we needed to do two markets a week and began applying for different markets around our area, up to an hour’s drive away. I kept my expectations pretty low for market income, and set our goal at $200 per market, per week. That works out to $1,600 per month during the market season, June-October ($8,000 total market income). We ended up in a busy Tuesday market, and a slow Saturday market. (more…)

Getting by with a little help from your friends … Plus savings and grants

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By Derek Emadi, Emadi Acres
So many stories about farming in the media feature people who left their well-paying jobs in corporate America to start a farm business. The stories always include the folks admitting how difficult their type of farming is, but conclude with how prosperous they have become in their venture. If you to want to be a farmer and are fortunate enough to have a large bank account, I can imagine things being a lot easier. The articles portray picturesque images of rolling pastures with big red barns and sparkling green John Deere tractors with equipment in tow. As great as some of these stories are and as inspiring as they can be, I’m always left asking myself the same question that never seems to be answered: How much money did they start out with to begin their farm business? This is important because, to get the tires rolling, money is the start key.

Now, I speak as someone who is still considered a young farmer with only a few years under my belt. I work by myself all day, pinch many pennies, and save when I can, just to be a farmer. If I could do what I do every day and never worry about money, I would literally have no stress, except of course for the occasional sick hen with a pasty butt. But I have to pay for the mortgage, water, electric, feed, etc. Money needs to be made. Where you start will be dictated by how much debt you have and how much money you have saved. (more…)

I wanted to be a cowgirl – Bootstrap at Willow Springs Farm


By Hannah Becker, Willow Springs Farm

One of my earliest memories is sitting on an old Paint gelding outside of Memphis, Tennessee. I couldn’t have been more than three or four, but from that moment on I was obsessed with becoming a “cowgirl”. Despite growing up on quarter-acre lots in suburbia, where the only cows I saw were on old Bonanza reruns, my passion to own my own cattle operation never wavered. Completely ignorant of all things agriculture, I knew educating myself would be the first step towards owning my own cattle farm.

At 19, I enthusiastically enrolled as an animal and dairy science student at Mississippi State University. Week one, I was informed by a seasoned Delta farmer and distinguished alum that “people don’t ‘become’ farmers—you have to be born into it.” Discouraged (I was one of the only students not hailing from a multi-generational farm), I was determined to pursue my education and find a way to make my farming dream come true.

master_cattle_Hannah__cropAs an undergraduate student I began to recognize the immense market potential many “traditional” farmers were overlooking. The agriculture industry seemed oblivious to the inevitable evolution of consumer demands, driven largely by millennials and their purchasing power. Organic and natural products, community supported agriculture (CSA) and reformed animal husbandry techniques, etc. weren’t even on “those old Delta farmers’” radars until the GMO debate began making headlines. The industry was teaming with opportunity. (more…)

My Grandpa and the New Family Farm – BOOTSTRAP AT FURROW HORSE FARM


By Caitlin Arnold, Furrow Horse Farm 

On February 13th of this year, I came home from work and played the new messages on our answering machine. My mom’s voice came across the line crying and hysterical, informing me that my grandpa had died that afternoon.

My grandpa, Richard Norton, grew up farming cherries and apples in the Yakima Valley of eastern Washington State. He witnessed the transition from draft horses to tractors and the arrival of DDT as the “farmers miracle.” After leaving the farm at 18 to serve in the army, he returned, not to the farm, but instead to college to become a music teacher.

Supporting himself by playing in jazz and big bands, he received his degree, married my grandma, and began his thirty-year teaching career.


The veggie girl marries the meat man: Bootstrap at Old Homeplace Farm

maggie potatoes

By Maggie Bowling, Old Homeplace Farm

Some of my earliest memories involve playing in soybeans in the bed of a grain truck. I thought sliding around in the loose beans was the most fun a kid could have. My parents’ transitioned from raising row crops and running a small confinement hog barn to selling certified organic vegetables, cut flowers, eggs, and pastured broilers during my childhood. My parents instilled in their children that it was possible to make a living and a good life on the farm. They always paid us for our farm work, beginning when we were very small by paying us $0.10 for every little red wagon load of corn we pulled out to the roadside stand and stacked on the table. They strove to make work fun and would reward us with a swim in the creek after cultivating a bed of veggies or playtime in the woods after cleaning a set number of garlic heads. I don’t know how they did it, but their love for the land was transferred to us, and all three of their children are now farming as adults.

Growing up in rural Ohio, I loved my home, I loved my family, and I loved the farm, but I still felt the pull to see what else was in store for me. It never occurred to me that I didn’t have to attend college as the next step after high school graduation, and so the day after my eighteenth birthday I headed off to Earlham College in Indiana. A community service scholarship (Bonner Scholars) put me through college. By graduation I knew that my heart was called back to agriculture, and I accepted an AmeriCorps VISTA position with the Grow Appalachia program, which led to a full time position assisting gardeners in Eastern Kentucky. (more…)

“Nature boy” finds his calling – BOOTSTRAP AT EMADI ACRES FARM


By Derek Emadi, Emadi Acres

As far back as I can remember, one of the only places I felt peace as a hyperactive kid was on my grandparent’s property. Their land was located in a small town west of San Antonio, Texas. The town was small enough that my cousins, brother, and I could walk unescorted to various shops to browse their candy selections. We had so much freedom when we were there. Freedom from school, television, and parents! My impatient brain was able to focus and remain calm.

I knew pretty early in my life that when I became an adult I had to have a place just like my grandparents had. There we learned to fish the creek, catch grasshoppers for bait, shoot guns, absorb millions of mosquito bites without complaining, wrangle a rouge male goose, build fires … what more could kids ask for? My family loves to tell stories about us kids trying to ride goats rodeo-style and walk chickens on a leash. “Nature Boy” was one of the names my uncles gave me that I actually liked. Nature was where I wanted to be, and that hasn’t changed.

My mom’s side of the family wasn’t my only connection to nature. My brother and I never knew my dad’s father, but the older we got the more questions we had for our dad about his family. He told us stories about the farming life he left when he came to live in the States. My grandfather was a well-known, self-made farmer in his time. He had a large orchard near the Caspian Sea comprised of more than 20 hectares that are still in production; citrus rows as far as the eye could see. The thought of being able to grow my own fruit has stayed with me. (more…)

Bootstrap at Furrow Horse Farm – Meet Caitlin


Welcome to our 2015 Bootstrap Blog series! We’ve been introducing you to our four Bootstrap Bloggers, who are all in their first or second year of running a farm. Throughout the season, each Bootstrap Blogger will write about the highs and lows, glory moments and curveballs that come with farming.


My name is Caitlin Arnold, and I am a young farmer in Washington State. This year I’m celebrating my tenth year of farming and my first year of running my own farm business! I have been working on small, organic vegetable farms in Washington, Oregon, and California since 2005, and this season my partner, Brandon Wickes, and I are launching Furrow Horse Farm, our draft-horse powered, organic vegetable and cut-flower operation.

My Grandpa grew cherries and apples in eastern Washington, and as a kid I spent many weekends with him at the farm, riding the tractor around the orchard as he did chores and making mud pies in the irrigation ditches. But I grew up in Seattle and was a total city kid, aside from my obsession with horses (as most young girls experience at one point or another).

Caitlin_market_cropI began riding on the weekends for a few years, and then resumed riding as an adult once I started farming and living in rural areas. I never considered farming with draft horses, as it seemed to add another layer of complication to an already difficult job. However once Brandon and I met and started farming together, his interest in farming with horses began to rub off on me. I agreed to apprentice for a season on a draft-horse powered farm before making the decision to farm with horses on our own.

Just a few weeks into the apprenticeship, I was hooked. Working in the field with the horses is such a unique experience, unlike any other, and now I can’t imagine farming without them. They become friends, co-workers, and partners. (more…)