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

Derek truck_crop

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

hannah_becker_on_horse_ks_crop

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

Grandpa_and_Caitlin-1988

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.

(more…)

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

Emadi_youngchicken_crop

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

 Caitlin_Cultimulching_crop

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…)

Bootstrap at Emadi Acres Farm – Meet Derek

Emaldi_tomatoes_crop

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. (more…)

Bootstrap at Old Homeplace Farm: Meet Maggie

cover_crop_planting_2014_crop

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. (more…)

Bootstrap at Willow Springs Farm: Meet Hannah

hannah

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. (more…)

Announcing Our 2015 Bootstrap Bloggers

Bootstrap_OldHomeplace_planting

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.