Welcome to our 2015 Bootstrap Blog series! Over the next few weeks, we will be 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.
Hi! I’m Hannah Becker, founding farmer of Willow Springs Farm. Located in Franklin County, Kansas, Willow Springs Farm is a first-generation, bootstrapped startup focused on producing high quality grass-fed beef products. Our farm currently has 15 acres under operation, with another 45 leased acres designated for future development. We just wrapped up our first crowdfund campaign, and look forward to purchasing our inaugural herd August first.
Growing up outside of Washington, D.C., I did not have many opportunities to explore agriculture despite my strong passion to “be a cowgirl” since the young age of five. Determined to pursue my dreams of owning a cattle operation, I graduated with a B.S. in Animal and Diary Science, and my Masters of Business Administration (MBA). Additionally, I became one of the first female cattle producers recognized as a “Master Cattle Producer” by Mississippi State Extension, and completed the Masters of Beef Advocacy Certification.
My objective for Willow Springs Farm is to lead the Kansas City area in high quality beef production by producing enough beef in 2020 to feed 150 community members. As a self-funded farming operation, Willow Springs’ development requires innovative strategy and determination. Completing my undergrad and graduate school education required the resources of student loans.
As a young farmer currently striving to invest in a startup farm, plus paying back student loan debt, its’ my hope that National Young Farmers Coalition succeeds in adding “farming” to the list of public service careers that qualify for student loan forgiveness. The financial constraints of my loan repayment pull money away from “would be” farm investments, thus slowing the growth and scale of my operation.
I believe farming is one of the most noble (and needed) of all professions, and am honored to be afforded the opportunity to live out my dreams of producing food for our world. With the average age of a U.S. farmers topping 58 years old, and only 6% of U.S. farmers under the age of 35, the emergence of new agricultural entities, such as Willow Springs Farm, are necessary to ensure our future food supply.
We are excited to announce the farmers selected for our fourth annual Bootstrap Blog series, which features young farmers and ranchers in their first or second year of running their own farm. Throughout the season, each Bootstrap Blogger will write about the highs and lows, glory moments and curveballs that come with farming.
Farming is a capital-intensive business. Between 2000 and 2010, national farm values doubled, making it more difficult for beginning farmers to afford land, not to mention farm equipment, animals, feed, or seeds. In a 2011 NYFC survey, 78% of respondents said they struggled with a lack of capital.
Farming is also a knowledge-intensive business. Farmers are called on to be soil scientists, engineers, veterinarians, business managers, and marketing gurus—sometimes all in the same day. To keep their businesses afloat, young farmers must respond quickly to changes in climate, new marketing opportunities, and evolving technology.
Yet despite these challenges, and many others, there are still thousands of young people who are interested in making farming their life’s work. We received more than 60 applications for our Bootstrap Blog series this year, and every last one of them contained the inspiring story of a young farmer who decided to follow their passion for growing things and feeding people. We wanted to share all of them, but alas we had to select only four:
- Hannah Becker of Willow Springs Farm in Williamsburg, Kansas
- Maggie Bowling of Old Homeplace Farm in Oneida, Kentucky
- Derek Emadi of Emadi Acres Farm in Lockhart, Texas
- Caitlin Arnold of Furrow Horse Farm in Morton, Washington
The Bootstrap series will be a weekly feature on our blog for the rest of 2015. The writers will share what it’s like to be a new farmer, how they plan their businesses, what their dreams are, and how they tackle one of the world’s dirtiest, most challenging, and most rewarding professions.
Photo: Maggie Bowling planting a cover crop at Old Homeplace Farm.
Each year, NYFC’s Bootstrap Blog follows farmers starting new farm businesses, like Nate Brownlee of Nightfall Farm in Indiana and Connie Surber in Montana. The Bootstrap series is one of our most popular features, and we think it’s a critical platform for highlighting and recruiting the next generation of farmers and ranchers. If you think your farm is Bootstrap-worthy, bust out your laptop and your selfie stick and send us a few words and photos about yourself and your operation. Here are the details:
- We’re looking for three farmers or ranchers to write monthly blog posts beginning in June 2015 and ending in December 2015. The selected bloggers will receive a stipend.
- Topics will be assigned by NYFC staff and might include subjects like, “Why I Farm,” “Community and Collaboration,” and “My Student Loans.” NYFC staffers will collaborate with you on edits.
- To apply, submit a short (300-500 word) profile that sums up your life as a farmer. Be sure to tell us what type of farm you have, where you are located, the scale of your operation, what motivates you to farm, and what your hopes are for the future. We’d also love to know how student debt impacts your ability to farm, but having student loans is not a requirement for selection. Attach a couple photos, if you can, or include a link to your farm’s website.
- EDIT: In our original post we forgot to mention that to qualify as a “new farm business,” you should be in your first or second year of operating your own farm business. If you in your third-plus year, OR if you are still in the planning stage or working on someone else’s farm, we’ll cheer you on, but we won’t select you as a Bootstrap blogger this year.
- Submit applications and questions to NYFC communications director Chelsey Simpson (chelsey at youngfarmers dot org) via email no later than May 18, 2015.
So there it is—your path to fame and moderate fortune. We look forward to reading your submissions!
The Bootstrap Dairy Farmer Videos are finally here!
In 2013, five young women chronicled their experiences of starting dairy farms on our Bootstrap Blog. In the long-awaited final installment of the series, three of the women take us to their farms in short films. Watch now and see how these women overcome icy temps, broken tractors, early mornings and a tough farm sector. Films are produced by Farm Run Media and sponsored by Stonyfield. You can check out all three at NYFC’s video hub, or click below to watch each one directly.
See Sarah Chase of Chaseholm Farm transition her family’s dairy to a grass-fed herd.
Creating a community of food lovers has always been at the top of our to-do list. A community that is centered on food but goes beyond just the consumption, one that supports sustainable practices in not just farming, but day-to-day living.
Our first year of operation hasn’t allowed for much community building. In fact, it hasn’t allowed for much beyond just surviving. We realized quickly we bit off more than we could chew and decided we needed to focus on our priorities as a first-year vegetable CSA.
However, within the CSA model, and in particular how we chose to set-up Forager Farm, community is at the heart of it. Our process of pick-ups meant we met with our members on a weekly basis, face-to-face, to deliver their boxes of fresh vegetables. (more…)
As a first-year farm selling direct-to-consumer vegetables policy is not something we’ve had to deal much with as of yet. However, the overarching Food Safety Modernization Act or FSMA rules still to be implemented tend to hang over the decisions we make as a farm in the next couple of years.
We have plans of integrating livestock into our vegetable operation, including a small goat dairy as well as laying hens and pastured pork. This allows us the ability to turn waste from the vegetables into a saleable product and also provides a built-in fertility program. Not to mention utilizing the animals to manage weeds (especially perennial), clean up finished crop, and incorporate cover crops. (more…)
I’ve always viewed marketing as telling a story and there’s no better story to tell than the one of growing food and community. I feel a bit biased discussing marketing in farming. Before I decided to be a farmer, I was a marketer. I have a degree in Public Relations and Advertising and have done a lot of self-teaching on graphic design and web design.
Therefore, I knew from the beginning that we’d have to create a feeling of community via social media networks, blogging and email. It was a struggle to understand what exactly would draw people in. Ultimately, we went with approaches that would interest us if we were on the other side.
We discussed for months how exactly we wanted the CSA set up, the price points, how much we could grow for the money asked, etc. Once we decided on that, we knew we needed to create a brand that embodied all things Forager Farm. (more…)
When Jonathon and I decided to start Forager Farm, we had a combined vegetable growing experience of roughly 10 years. We also had one full CSA season under our belt from our time spent working and learning at Captain’s Creek Organic Vegetable Farm in Australia. (more…)
Unlike many other young farmers, we had access to land even before we made a concrete decision on whether to grow vegetables or not. We were fortunate enough to have family and friends willing to rent us a slice of land. Ultimately, we decided to rent land from some of our friends. This option allowed us access to some equipment as well as a place to live.
Renting versus buying, whether land or equipment, allows us to get a feel for what works and what doesn’t. We realize now after operating for a few months, that the tractor we’re renting doesn’t fit all of our needs. The wheel spacing prohibits us from using the tractor for cultivation and weeding and limits the size of our raised beds.
We realized that hand weeding and using wheel-hoes and stirrup-hoes isn’t enough, especially when you get just under three inches of rain in one night and a continual rainfall for the next 10 days, amounting to double the average rainfall for the month of June. Let’s just say, once it dried up and we were no longer drowning in water, we were drowning in weeds. With that said, going forward we’d like to invest in some sort of mechanical weeding equipment, which we feel is necessary until we can get the weed seed bank under control.
Each seed has a story. Some seeds have been passed down relatively unchanged for generations. Others have been breed for certain characteristics and traits. And others have been adapted for climates like North Dakota.