Capital: the high cost of getting started – BOOTSTRAP AT WILLOW SPRINGS FARM

path-uncleared farm_cropBy Hannah Becker, Willow Springs Farm

A neighboring farmer likes to joke, “You know how you make a million dollars as a farmer? Start out with two million!” While my comedic neighbor’s joke isn’t accurate, farming does take a LOT of money just to get the ball rolling. Start-up costs for a small-scale agriculture operation can quickly get into six or seven figures. Land, equipment, operating capitol, property improvement, livestock, seeds—it all adds up.

Here’s a run down on the financing options and big ticket purchases I’ve invested in at Willow Springs:

Farm Assets
Getting land was a “biggie.” It’s kind of hard to feel much like a farmer until you actually have some land to your name. Due to my student loans, I wasn’t able to qualify for traditional land financing; thankfully, I found a property owner willing to “owner finance” an undeveloped piece of land. While my property may not look like much to most people, it’s a come a LONG way since we purchased it a year ago. We cleared more than 200 bodock trees (by hand), built a barn, installed a driveway, fenced and cross-fenced, and put in a catch pen.

Hannah's barn_crop

There’s a lot of equipment we’re in need of at Willow Springs. A couple of weeks ago, I was giving a little farm tour to a local homeschool group. While I was showing them my catch-pen-in-progress (hand cut cedar posts and two-foot post holes) one of the mom’s asked, “Where’s your post hole digger?” I rolled up my sleeve, pointed to my scrawny upper arm, and said, “Right here!” She gasped; it was pretty funny. I think it’s easy for folks to forget just how much equipment modern farming requires, and that beginning farmers rarely have access to such “help.” Sometimes you just have to work with what you have. (more…)


sunflower selfie_cropped

By Maggie Bowling, Old Homeplace Farm

Will and I often throw out ideas for our farm while working; things that we can do right then, things that we can do next year, and big ideas for future years. In these beginning years of farming it seems that every year brings a few really big things to fruition. As the days grow darker and our weekly farm deliveries slow to twice a month for the winter, we work through our list of ideas and decide what will be the next big things, and we re-adjust our long-term vision. Our next big things are:

Farmer partnerships and heirloom cornmeal
We believe that farmers, even with different practices and farm types, can work together to increase financial sustainability and strengthen our farm communities. One of Will’s friends, Spencer, raises row crops about an hour and a half away. He expressed interest in diversifying his operation, and that conversation has given rise to a partnership. With his farm equipment and corn growing experience, Spencer has grown a field of heirloom flour corn. Will and I will take the corn, grind it, and sell the cornmeal. It is a profit-sharing model that we are interested to see develop. We also grew a little bit of our own flour corn in a different variety that we plan to experiment with.

Kentucky Agricultural Leadership Program (KALP)
I’m honored to be participating in this prestigious two year program. Will participated in the previous KALP class and says that he learned more during the program than during his four years of undergraduate education. I know this program will help me understand aspects of agriculture and rural communities better and will push me to be a better leader and better farmer.

Perennial crops 
We will be planting a small orchard and an asparagus patch. We’ve found that the wide range of products we offer (veggies, meat, eggs, and flowers) really play off one another and encourage customers to treat our farm as a grocery stop. We hope that providing even more variety in the future will increase this behavior among customers. (more…)

Planning for the short-term– BOOTSTRAP AT FURROW HORSE FARM

Horses Lady and Abby_cropBy Caitlin Arnold, Furrow Horse Farm 

Before I dive into this post, the farm has a big announcement:

We now have our first team of draft horses! Lady and Abby, two Belgian mares from Sandpoint, Idaho, were delivered to us a few weeks ago. So far they are doing great, and we have already used them in the garden to harrow in our cover crop. We are so excited to finally have them here and realize our dream of owning our own team. Now we can truly start making our way to becoming draft horse-powered. I can’t fully describe just how good it feels!

As for our next big plans, we have a lot in the works for the 2016 season. In September, Brandon spent a week helping our landlords take out an old, unproductive orchard at the lower end of the property. This month we will be tilling up an additional acre where the orchard was, then planting a cover crop so it will be ready to put into production next season. We hope to use it as our potato and winter squash field, to free up space in our main garden for more labor-intensive crops.

By adding the additional acre, we will have about 2.5 acres in production next year. Our hope is to double the size of our CSA to 24 members and begin selling at the Olympia Farmers Market, which is much bigger than the Saturday market we were at this year. We also want to expand our restaurant sales. Between these three areas, our goal is to double our gross income next year. (more…)

Death happens (and other facts about being a farmer) – BOOTSTRAP AT EMADI ACRES

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By Derek Emadi, Emadi Acres

We asked each of our Bootstrap Bloggers to tell us the top five things people should know about farming. This is Derek’s list:

1) Love thy organic matter
Simply put, always accumulate organic matter. If you farm, whether it’s mulch, hay, manure, leaves, topsoil, cardboard, etc, take what’s free. People are always getting rid of wonderful organic matter. It’s a great resource that is often overlooked or disposed of. Organic matter is helpful in improving your soil, making compost, managing erosion, and much more.The possibilities are endless. Even if you don’t have an immediate use for it, your farm will be rewarded in the future. Remember that the microbes in the soil are hungry, so feed them food they love!

2) “Organic” ain’t easy
Everyday, through tremendous effort, my farm moves closer to organic status. One of my end goals is to be a diversified organic farmer who only uses rainwater to irrigate. Sounds like a crazy dream, but I’ve seen it in action at a farm down the road. The farm’s owner has never pumped any water from our aquifers in 26 years. He intensively manages the organic matter and soil on his 5-acre farm and uses moisture retaining techniques like heavy mulching. It’s really impressive and something I believe we should all strive for in the agricultural community. His farm is the best example of true sustainable, organic farming I’ve seen. At an “organic” farm I worked at previously, I was taken aback by how much water the farm was constantly running on. Even during the brutally hot summer, they ran water all day. This gave me the desire to be a water conserving farmer, even in our drought stricken area.


The Best and The Worst: Bootstrap at Furrow Horse Farm

Furrow Horse veggie rows_cropped

By Caitlin Arnold, Furrow Horse Farm 

Being a farmer comes with ups and downs to the extreme. Every day we simply hope to wake up prepared for any and all situations and well rested enough to deal with what comes.

Sometimes, what comes is disaster. The story of one of the worst days on the farm this season comes from Brandon:

A few weeks ago we had an epic windstorm. Caitlin was away for the weekend, and I was all set for our Saturday market. I woke to an email on Saturday morning from our market manager: the market is rain or shine, but we will not set up if wind exceeds 40 mph. The weather report was looking iffy: 25-30 mph and steady rain throughout the day. Do I stay or do I go? Because we had harvested all of our vegetables the day before, completely unaware of the extreme weather forecast, I couldn’t just let our produce go to waste.

With an extra rain jacket in tow, I set out for the market. The weather seemed agreeable, so far. By the time I arrived, the rain had turned from a light drizzle to a consistent downpour. Just moments after our market tent was set up, the wind started to pick up. We had 25 lbs. of weight on each leg and a heavy-duty aluminum market canopy, so I wasn’t overly concerned.

Just as the next vendor arrived and began unfolding his canopy, a strong gust blew through the market, picked his canopy up, folded it in half, and blew it over the top of his truck, rendering it useless and destroyed. The next two vendors would not take the chance: they eschewed the use of their canopies, and sold produce directly out of their trucks. They kindly offered us all of their market weights, meaning I had 75 lbs. of weight on each canopy leg.

By noon, the weather was even worse. One other tent had blown in half, and multiple vendors had packed up and left. Completely soaked through to the bone and worried about the stability of the remaining market canopies, the last three vendors and I decided to call it quits. That was shortly after noon. (more…)

Weddings and chickens: A farm business plan – Bootstrap at Emadi Acres Farm


By Derek Emadi, Emadi Acres

The beauty of farming is that there are many avenues to make money, though you have to work extremely hard to get it. I have a silly dream of having all of my business commerce happen here on the farm. Not that I am necessarily a hermit, I just never like leaving my property because it’s where I always want to be. That dream is many years off, so for now I go where the money is.

In my first year of farming, I tested the waters with a small community supported agriculture (CSA), began going to the farmers’ market in our small town, dabbled in “on-farm” sales of poultry and produce, and held a successful wedding on our property. 

CSAs are consistent moneymakers. Most folks love having things delivered to them—just look at Amazon’s success. My CSA is like a farm-fresh Christmas every week, and I’m the tan, sun-kissed Santa who delivers the presents. My small CSA fluctuates between five and 10 people. Really it shouldn’t fluctuate, but I’m still working out the kinks. The demand is there, and at times I wish I could fulfill everyone’s orders, but I only have what natures gives me. I have come to the realization that I have to expand my garden plot to well over an acre of production. The half-acre I have now is capable of producing hundreds of pounds of fruits and vegetables throughout the year, but it just isn’t enough. And the prospect of using my tractor to get new areas prepped is exciting, especially for someone who has done everything by hand until now. (more…)

Top 5 Things You Should Know About Farming

chainsaw _cropped

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

red tomato_crop

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…)