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.
Paying off and staying out of debt has been a major priority for Will and I, and we both paid off our student loans within three years of our respective graduations. We both received wonderful scholarship and financial aid packages from the colleges we attended. I knew while applying to college that I would need to graduate with as little debt as possible, and I set a limit for myself of less than $20,000 in debt upon graduation. Fortunately, I was able to attend the school of my dreams and achieve this goal.
While farming is a capital-intensive career to begin, I do believe that there is financial help available and ways to “bootstrap” a farm. Will holds a full time job that pays the bills while we build our farm. He jokes that I feed us, but that he pays for our “end of the day beer.”
I think that it is a wonderful time to be a beginning farmer, and I am so thankful for all of the assistance we’ve found. I have to thank everyone who has worked on behalf of farmers during my lifetime. While my parents’ struggled when I was a kid to find a bank willing to lend money for organic production, the local food movement over the past couple decades has changed the situation for farmers like me. We have found many organizations willing to lend technical and financial assistance to small scale, beginning farmers.
We’ve received cost share funds from NRCS EQIP and the Kentucky Agriculture Development Fund (KADF) through the County Agriculture Investment Program (CAIP). We’ve also received a low-interest loan from the SOAR (Shaping Our Appalachian Region) small scale farm loan fund and we’ve been able to open a revolving line of credit with our local bank, in case we need it. Utilizing these generous resources and our savings, we’ve been able to make investments a small step at a time. We started out with a list of the items we needed and items we wanted and have been working through them and re-prioritizing as we gain experience and see where our greatest needs lie.
In addition, we’ve received financial assistance to do on-farm research and experimentation through a Small Scale Farm Grant from Kentucky State University and a Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SSARE) Grant. We are also participating in a USDA Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) through the Grow Appalachia Program.
After building the deer fence, our first investments included a homemade walk-in cooler and packing shed. We were gifted a few used stainless steel tables and a sink from a family friend who had them in storage. We bought a walk-behind tractor, and have been able to hire neighbors or borrow a full size tractor when needed. I sold my 1998 Buick LeSabre and bought a used van for deliveries. We were able to get Will’s 1986 Chevy truck, “Old Blue,” up and running. When we pulled the truck out from behind the barn to work on it, Will’s mom thought that we were finally hauling it to the scrap yard, but amazingly we were able to get it started!
We’ve spent much of this year clearing out old barbwire fencing and replacing it with electric high tensile fencing for our future livestock. We are currently working to construct a high tunnel and hope to have it full of produce this fall and winter! For us, the farm is a slow build as we make a little bit of money and re-invest it for the future.