A reader recently emailed asking for advice on starting a farm. She asked:
What advice would you have if starting with nothing but a dream?
First, let me tell you: I love dreams. I am so good at dreaming of possibilities. To me, dreaming is the most fun part. Well, dreaming and actually being at the harvest. The work in between is harder. And it’s also necessary.
But sometimes the hardest part is just getting started. So, if you’re just at the beginning wondering how to start, here are three important things to do to grow from dream to farm:
Write it down
Writing down your goals automatically increases the likelihood of their fruition. Ask yourself questions, and write down the answers:
What does your dream look like? What kind of farm do you want? Do you want livestock, veggies, flowers, fruit, or a combination? Where do you want to farm?
You probably won’t know the answers to each question yet, especially if you’re dream has just sprouted. But don’t be surprised if a whole picture downloads from your heart to the paper as you write.
As your farm dream comes into vision, ask more detailed questions:
How many people do you want to feed? How big do you want your farm to be in acreage and sales. Do you want to farm solo or with others? Do you want to own or lease land? Do you want to run a business, or do you want to grow food for yourself and your family?
When you’ve gotten down as many broad strokes and details as possible, ask yourself:
Who do I have to become in order to do this?
This is an essential question. Take your time here. Look at everything you’ve just written down. What new questions arise?
What skills will you need to develop or refine? What habits will you need to shift? How will you have to act?
If this is stumping you, that’s okay. Here’s an example from my life:
I took my first farm crew job the summer I graduated from college. That summer, I kept up my party habits, staying out late, drinking around campfires, and equally prioritizing my job and my social life.
As the season went on and I took on more responsibilities, including running the farm when my bosses were gone for a week, my habits changed. I prioritized sleep so I could wake early and be ready for a full workday. I started reading books about farming, attending workshops and conferences, and creating relationships with other young farmers.
In short, I became a more responsible version of myself. I took care of my body. And when what I thought would just be a summer job turned into a calling to continue farming, I plunged back into being a student again.
For me, that meant working on all different kinds of farms. This process took me from Vermont to New Zealand to Alaska and back to Vermont again, working on 5 different farms before finding land of my own.
And all the while, I kept writing down different versions of my own farm dream. With each experience, that vision morphed, and even now, 5 years into running a farm of my own, it continues to change.
Which brings us to my next piece of advice:
Your goals will shift. Your vision will grow. You’ll gain new skills and understanding with each experience. Out of all the attributes you’ll develop as a farmer—organizing, planning, patience, persistence—flexibility is the most important.
When you’re working with the weather, livestock, living plants, there’s just so much out of your control. You’ll have your entire crop map planned out, only to have your transplant dates pushed around due to torrential rain. You’ll plan a day of cultivation only to have it gobbled up by sheep or goats jumping fence. You’ll be waiting on a specific variety to ship, only to have the seed company tell you it’s unexpectedly out of stock.
Flexibility will see you through all this.
Yes, a solid plan, good organization, and endless persistence will be necessary, but it’s the ability to flex those plans, to reshuffle and respond with humor that will keep you sane.
Take Consistent Action
The number one way to grow your dream into an actual farm is to take consistent action. Without consistency, growth will stagger. Consistent is one of those things you’ll need to become in order to farm.
Write down your goals.
Get your hands dirty.
Gain experience on other farms.
Go to farming conferences and meet other farmers.
Take a business course (because running a business requires different skills than growing food)
Whatever action you need to take next, take it.
With one caveat:
Take time to rest. You’re not so different from a plant. We all begin as seeds, be it in the womb or in the soil. Growth is natural, but so is rest. Night is here for a reason. Winter is here is for a reason. You’ll bloom, you’ll set seeds, and you’ll plant the next iteration of your dream.
Yes, you’ll need to work harder than you ever thought. You’ll hit walls of frustration and exhaustion. You’ll wonder how in the world will you ever be able to figure this all out. But just remember: consistent action is all you need. One step in front of the other. One seed in the soil, and then the next.
And take time enjoy yourself. Why grow a dream if you don’t have fun bringing it to fruition?
I’ll leave you with this quote about pursuing your calling from The Art of Work, by Jeff Goins:
“‘Say you live in Kansas. It’s not a bad place to live but you long for the beach. You dream of the waves and sand and sunsets. But you never leave home because you’re not quite sure exactly where on the beach you want to go.’
If you aren’t sure how to get started…get out of Kansas. That’s your first step. Begin to head toward water, and as you move, you’ll find the beach. Once you’re there, you can pick whatever spot you like. You don’t need a specific address to begin. The path to your dream is more about following a direction than arriving at a destination.
When you start pursuing your calling, you may find it to be more difficult than you thought it would be. And that’s okay. It means the journey is bigger than you expected. What you must do is keep moving. Don’t stand still. Don’t squander your time, holding out for someone else to give you permission to start. It won’t happen that way. No one is going to give you a map. You will have to step out into the unknown, listening for direction as you go. And when you are in doubt, just remember to drive toward water. You can always change directions once you get in the car.”
—Jeff Goins, The Art of Work
Are you just starting your farming journey? What’s your dream? Tell me in a comment below (this will give you a jump-start on writing it down!)