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

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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.

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Young Maggie with her mother and sister on their family farm.

While I loved my job, my heart always longed for a farm of my own, and the year after college I pondered how I would ever reach that goal. My main concern was the need for a strong support system to share the trials and tribulations of farming. I knew I personally needed a partner to support me physically and emotionally because I recognized that farming is extremely tiring and trying. I knew my parents’ would make a place for me on their farm, or thought that maybe one of my siblings (both still is school at the time) would farm with me, or that maybe one of my friends would be a part of this dream. A few years working for Grow Appalachia seemed to be the best first step for me as I worked to save money, find a potential business partner, and figure out what the best steps toward a farming future would be.

Maggie and Will Summer 2014Six months after starting my job with Grow Appalachia, I attended the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG) conference and met a handsome livestock farmer from Eastern Kentucky. We began dating later that year, and after a while I knew that I had found my co-farmer. With a few years of experience behind me, my student loans paid off, and Will by my side, I quit my job and started farming full time in 2014. As my friends say, “the veggie girl married the meat man” and we embarked on this journey.

While I hadn’t undergone any formal farm training, I felt fairly prepared to begin my venture thanks to my experience growing up on a vegetable farm and my time with Grow Appalachia. My family is always a phone call away, and I’ve met other vegetable farmers who are always willing to share stories. My brother has worked on farms across the country and has shared many different tricks and perspectives with me. Starting a new farming business is definitely difficult and full of trial and error. I’ve learned from books and conferences, but adapting practices to my own farm is a thing of its own. Will and I have been experimenting with new things over the past year and a half, with varying success. I have much to learn, and I just keep trying to improve while chalking up the mistakes to experience.

It is easy to get discouraged when it rains for weeks and my succession plantings are ruined or when equipment breaks and takes weeks to repair, but I try to stay positive and keep moving forward. I am producing food, and people are buying it. Next time I attend an agriculture conference and they ask all the farmers to raise their hands, I’ll be able to raise mine, and that’s what I’ve wanted to do for years. I’ve made it this far on the path to being a farmer, and I believe Will and I can make this business financially sustainable for the future.

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

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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.

Emadi_DerekDonkey_cropI was a kid who didn’t know what I wanted to do for the longest time. In high school, I got really into psychology and decided to purse that degree in college. I graduated with my bachelors in psychology, but that path began to lose its luster. I hit a crossroads, not really knowing what I wanted to do. Getting back to my roots on the land and owning property still resonated in my heart.

My parents were both teachers, so I decided to give it a try. I began working with students who had behavioral and cognitive disabilities. People drop like flies in that field, so I saw it as a challenge. I loved the kids. The first couple of years I enjoyed my job, but the stress of a broken educational system, broken families, and the emptiness of not being appreciated wore me down.

I owe a lot to that job and the school I worked at. I met my wife there, discovered how patient I could be, and was gifted my first chickens. A parent donated eggs to hatch for the kids. I asked if I could have a few chicks. All of a sudden, we had babies to take care of, and there began the spark of my farming flame. Raising little chicks turned into growing tomatoes and then into buying fruit trees. When most folks discover the farming bug, it’s hard for them to contain their excitement. You begin learning about all the opportunities that are out there to grow your own food. Plus tasting the very first cherry tomato you grew all by yourself is enough to start a passion. At about the same time, my wife and I watched a documentary that helped change my life and gave me the direction the universe had planned for me.

As cheesy and cliché as it sounds, the film “Food Inc.” inspired a radical change in my human spirit. Once you learn about the revolting and manipulating American food system, it’s easy to make the switch to live a better, healthier lifestyle. A particular scene in the film shows a farmer, Joel Salatin, walking among his pigs. They were happy and healthy, and so was the farmer. At that moment I was hit with the thought that farming could be an attainable profession that was everything I wanted: having land, animals, and being in nature.

Joel Salatin has written many books including one that discusses valuable points for new farmers. He advises people to not begin with a large amount of debt. Before quitting my job, I began shedding my debt. I sold my beautiful truck that I loved, paid down all my student loans, and began saving money like a mad man. I didn’t want to quit my teaching job without some sort of cushion to get me through the initial phase of starting my farm.

To start a farm without any debt is near impossible, but to not burden your new venture with its weight creates a solid foundation.

This post is part of our Bootstrap Blog series, which follows four young farmers in their first or second year of running a farm. To read all the posts in this series, including past years, click here

Bootstrap at Furrow Horse Farm – Meet Caitlin

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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.

Brandon and I spent the 2014 season as apprentices at Orchard Hill Farm in Ontario, Canada, specifically to learn the skills we needed to run a horse-powered market garden. We knew we wanted to return to Washington, so we started looking for property to lease with the help of Washington Farmlink. Eventually we found a retired couple with an extra house and acreage on their 44-acre beef cattle operation near Morton, Washington.

Although we didn’t know anyone in the Morton area, we took the plunge and began leasing in January. We were able to till up about two acres in February and get a deer fence up. Vegetables have never been grown on this part of the farm, so we went from straight pasture to garden. The grass has proven a big challenge so far, as has the lack of infrastructure. But at least our house is only 50 yards from the farm entrance!

Neither of us brings inherited wealth or land to the table of our farming venture, and we both have student loans. Funding has been tricky to work out. We applied for a Kiva Zip loan through the Greenhorns, and were able to get it fully funded in less than 24 hours. In March, we also applied for a farm grant through the Humanlinks Foundation based in Seattle. Amazingly, we were awarded enough money to buy our first team of draft horses and the basic equipment we needed to get started! Now we have begun the search for the team of horses we’ll bring to Morton.

I am looking forward to sharing my farming experiences with the greater farmer community throughout the country.! It is an honor to represent the National Young Farmers Coalition in this way.

Our farm website is furrowhorsefarm.com, and you can also find us on Facebook.

Bootstrap at Emadi Acres Farm – Meet Derek

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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.


The seed of my farm started in the summer of 2011 while I was watching a documentary that featured a farmer lying on the ground, hanging out with his pigs. I had an epiphany then that changed my life. Before that moment, I had never realized farming could be a viable career option. It spoke to everything that was true in my soul: being in and working with nature to nurture and sustain life responsibly.

At the time, I was working as an elementary special education teacher with my fiancée, but we began looking for a homestead to nourish my agricultural aspirations. We knew we didn’t want to live in a typical, cookie-cutter neighborhood, but finding land was challenging. Let me tell you, two teachers in Texas do not make very much money.

Emaldi_DerekPortrait_cropThrough relentless effort, we found the perfect place: a rectangular, 10-acre parcel of land in the foothills of the Texas Hill Country. Our back acreage is one of the highest spots in our area with 20-mile views. The front part of our property slopes eastward with a gentle valley that cuts through the middle. It also came with a huge barn, where my wife and I got married. I couldn’t care less that most of our friends have bigger houses; we struck gold with our land and the area it resides in.

By February 2012, I was dreaming big and flirting with the idea of quitting my teaching job, but there were bills to pay. I continued to teach, but longed to farm. Everyday, it’s all I thought about. I immersed myself in whatever knowledge I could acquire. I worked at a farm during the summer, went to seminars, read everything farm related, meanwhile experimenting in farm projects at home. Before the 2013-2014 school year, I decided to save as much money as I could because this was it: I was quitting my job as a teacher and following my dreams.

In the Summer of 2014, I notified my school about my resignation, a very scary but proud moment in my life, and entered my first true year of being a farmer.

Currently, I’m trying to narrow down what I can handle by myself and what will make me a decent profit. I have a pastured poultry operation where I raise broilers and laying hens, an orchard of about 35 trees, and a half-acre vegetable plot. I also have a greenhouse that encompasses my aquaponics setup with 50 tilapia. Through a recently awarded grant for young farmers from the state of Texas, I have money to purchase pigs and cows, which will be here by early summer.

I spend long, backbreaking days in the Texas sun, but I couldn’t ask for a better life. I hope to continue as a steward of the earth and a provider to my family and community.

Follow Emadi Acres Farm on Facebook.

Bootstrap at Old Homeplace Farm: Meet Maggie

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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.


I remember processing chickens on my parents’ farm and scowling. At sixteen, I sometimes resented the fact that I had to work on the farm, but these days I have only gratitude for my upbringing. Gratitude for the knowledge and love of farming that my family passed down to me, gratitude that I found a partner with the same passion, and gratitude that I made it into my second year as a farmer!

Maggie_with_Huge_tomato_cropI currently grow two acres of organic (in transition) vegetables in southeastern Kentucky. I sell my produce through an online buying club, at a farmers market, to our local hospital cafeteria, and to area restaurants. The Buying Club is a similar to a CSA, but modified to fit the needs of our area. Interested people join the Buying Club and are then sent weekly emails with a link to the updated online farm store. Customers choose which items they’d like to buy each week and how much of each item. After receiving the orders we pack the produce and deliver to centrally located drop off points.  In addition, I help my husband, Will, and in-laws with their livestock operation, raising pork, grass-fed beef, and lamb. Will and I own a 55-acre farm where I grow two acres of vegetables and we are currently working to finish the fencing and water systems in order to raise livestock there as well.

In an area struggling with the decline of coal, food can be a wonderful way to connect with others. I believe that agriculture can make an economic impact in this region, and I hope (someday) to be an example of what can be done on small-scale, mountainous farms. In Clay County, Kentucky—the place that the New York Times named “the hardest place to live in America” in a 2014 article—we are farming; we are adapting our marketing to our region, and I believe that we have a bright future. One of the best aspects of farming is the lifelong learning that comes with it. Every day there are new problems to solve and new moments of wonder.

The farm life is hard. Starting a new business is difficult. I’ve been guilty of romanticizing the farm lifestyle. Growing up on a farm I found that living with and working within the confines of the seasons invigorates me. I’m bound to changes in the light, changes in the weather. The farm is in my blood, it’s in my bones, and it’s under my fingernails. Yet, as much happiness and satisfaction as I get from working outside, eating delicious food, and meeting wonderful customers, I’m exhausted. I know I will always be exhausted. My biggest hope and dream is that I will make a living on the farm, and that family farms across the country will as well. We need more farmers, and I plan to be one of them.

Learn more about Old Homeplace Farm on our website, and follow us on Facebook!

Bootstrap at Willow Springs Farm: Meet Hannah

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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.

hannahbecker2My 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.

You can read more about my farm on our website, and you can follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Announcing Our 2015 Bootstrap Bloggers

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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:

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.

Apply now to be a 2015 Bootstrap Blogger!

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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:

  • Headshot-BlankWe’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!

Bootstrap Dairy Farmer Video Release!

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.

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Bootstrap @ Forager Farm – The Farming Community

Processed with VSCOcam with hb1 presetCreating 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…)