For beginner sustainable farmers there are multiple resources at your fingertips to successfully break ground on your farm, but often you are juggling advice between a dozen different books, articles, and magazines. I remember the stack of information on my coffee table four years ago as I planned and dreamed my way to the first planted heirloom popcorn seed. From accounting to basic soil science, there was so much to know as a wannabe farmer and I was more than overwhelmed. I remember wishing there was a basic manual to teach new farmers the first principles of having a farm.
Start Your Farm achieves exactly that. The authors Forrest Pritchard and Ellen Polishuk are not only incredible farmers but gifted writers as well. It was an honor to be asked to leave a review for their book. Let’s go over why Start Your Farm is a must-have for any aspiring or beginner sustainable farmers, and even some seasoned ones at that.
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The subject matter in this book ranges from flexing your marketing prowess to how to maintain healthy relationships while farming. No stone is left unturned for those called to the soil, so I want to hit on a few of the topics I found most valuable.
Finances, or rather, trying to make a profit on your farm, can feel scary and mysterious. In the chapter “Make A Real Profit, Secure Your Future,” Forrest takes the reigns and his advice is absolute gold. From talking over how to get a simple savings plan set up (it was a huge lightbulb moment for me) to why it is so important to start saving for retirement through farm income (again, another lightbulb moment), his knowledge demystifies dollar signs for new farmers in a way that leaves you feeling empowered and not deflated.
As someone who has owned multiple successful businesses, I realized I had this blind spot for finances on my farm because there was so much emotion attached to it. I had no structure in place for how money should be divided up for savings or emergencies. Money was just being deposited into a business checking account and left there to pay off expenses as they came up. This chapter of the book shook me awake and I am thankful for it.
For those who are struggling to get their hands on land to start the farm of their dreams, there is a whole chapter dedicated to you. Total transparency, I almost skipped this chapter because we own our five acres of farmland since it came with our home. I am so glad I didn’t. Forrest takes you through the history of owning farmland in a way that helps you understand why our food system is so broken. The stats and information provided are eye-opening and have given me a confident voice when talking about why the cheap cost of food is such an issue. If you are trying to find a way to get your first seeds in the ground, this chapter has the information you need to get access to land.
Three years in on our farm and I still feel like a rookie, whether it’s pricing a new product correctly or dealing with terrible weather. Ellen has a chapter called “Tai Chi Economics” and it was akin to a loving pep talk while simultaneously being a blow-horn wake up call. The perspective she offers farmers on how to battle external forces that feel anywhere from mildly frustrating to downright fatal is refreshing and so needed. Just last night we were met with 40 mph winds and torrents of rain. I woke up to all 200 of our popcorn plants blown over. Instead of freaking out, I’m going to calmly engage in Tai Chi Economics to find a solution.
Finally, this book is a love note to farming and farmers. What we do, or rather what we are called to do, is no small feat. Forrest and Ellen do not take this lightly. Their words are encouraging, loving, and beautifully written. There were multiple times this book brought tears to my eyes from the feeling of knowing someone else gets butterflies from that first hatched chick in June or the initial ripe tomato off the vine. While sustainable farming can leave you feeling isolated most days, Start Your Farm gives you a sense of emboldened belonging.
Thanks for stopping by Green Willow Homestead! From chicken rearing to composting, we've got our hands full and we love sharing what we've learned along the way. Follow along as we turn the 80 acres we call home into a farm that serves its community and a homestead that nourishes us throughout the seasons.
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