Eight Steps to Starting a Farm

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So you have decided to start a farm.  You have a burning desire in you that is unquenchable, filled with seed catalogues and pioneer books.  A desire to grow your own food.  Fed up with the what the government deems safe for consumption, you have decided to take matters in your own hands and will feed your family yourself.  Organic, heirloom, homegrown, beautiful produce will fill your yard and your pantry will become your grocery store.

Perhaps you also desire to feed others, share the bounty of healthy vegetables.  Maybe you want to start a community garden, or teach people to farm.

You love making $1.25 an hour, working for eighteen hours a day in the summer and fall and enjoy dirt, bugs, and cold beers after weeding.  You are in good company, my friend, make yourself at home.  Now let’s talk about how you make this a business.

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1. Find out the rules in your area.  Some of you may not even be able to have a clothes line let alone a farm.  It does not matter how much land you have or what your soil type is.  You can fix all that.  You can use containers, raised beds, and the side yard.  You can amend the soil with compost and make wonderful soil.  Here at Pumpkin Hollow Farm we are on two-thirds of an acre.  Essentially two lots in town.  Because we live in a small town, no one has thought to make a ton of rules yet.  I asked the town administrator and was given the go for farm animals as long as I don’t carried away (whoops) and the neighbors don’t complain.  Simple enough.  I can farm to my heart’s content.  We rent, but the landlord is out of the state and as long as our rent comes in regularly, they don’t care what we do.

I planned grand schemes of pumpkin festivals, a roadside stand, and folks coming over to pick up their vegetables.  That is where I ran into trouble.  I am zoned residential, not commercial.  I can grow and sell everything somewhere else, but not on my own property.  No businesses allowed.  Soooo, that takes some creativity.  Deal with what you have but in the next place, check ordinances!

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2. Choose a name and make a logo.  We did a contest on our Garden Fairy Apothecary Facebook page and a gentleman picked the perfect name for us.  Our family has always loved autumn and attend pumpkin festivals with the reverence of religion.  The movie, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is memorized and quoted throughout the year.  We even have a cat named Ichabod Crane.  We love the colors of fall and especially pumpkins.  So when Pumpkin Hollow Farm came up as a suggestion, we grabbed it!  Doug said that we don’t live in a hollow though.  No imagination I tell you.  I showed him where the ground was slightly lower in front.  Done.  Hollow.

Now, Google your name.  Make sure there aren’t two million entries for Old McDonald Farm, or whatever you come up with.  There are a few Pumpkin Hollow Farms but they are in another state.  We then checked to see if the domain name was available (more on that in a few) and if the Facebook page was available.  Pumpkin Hollow Farm was born.

Draw a logo or have someone do it for you.  For our Garden Fairy Apothecary logo I chose a beautiful and eye catching fairy from free stock photos.  The problem is that I cannot blow it up for larger advertising.  My art banner has one of my paintings portrayed on it.  When we took the photo of the painting, it was easily blown up to make a stellar banner.  I painted an Americana style pumpkin and that will become our logo on the banner this year.  HalfPriceBanners.com or your local office supply store can make banners for you.

3. Register your name.  The Secretary of State website for your state is your next stop.  For roughly $25 you claim your name.  Now, all hell could break loose and you could decide against having a farm.  That is fine, registering your name doesn’t make you have to have a farm.  It just makes sure that no one else takes your name within the state.

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4. Market your farm goods.  If you can set up a roadside stand, do it!  If not, then you may want to check into farmer’s markets in your area.  Google “Farmer’s markets in_______ (enter your town name)” and you will find the markets near you.  There should be a link to their website or at the very least their contact information.  Lately I have been able to reach prospective markets by finding them on Facebook.

You will need to fill out an application.  There is often a fee to get in ranging from $5 to $200.  There will be market fees each week ranging from 10% of your sales to $100 a week base.  Choose your markets wisely.  Just because they are more expensive does not mean they are a better market.  We are choosing one of the more expensive this year because we have some established clientele there, it is a short drive, and we are tired of driving across the state at 4:30 in the morning to set up.

Be prepared for a lot of hard work.  Folks stroll down the lanes at farmer’s markets and see the people running the booths and mistakenly think that this is easy.  Think up before dawn, harvest, finish packing the car, have your lunch ready (and breakfast, and coffee, and snacks) and after taking care of the animals, stumble over to the car.  If you don’t get there early someone will take your spot.  It is rather competitive at the markets.  Just smile and get there early.  Once everyone is set up the ugliness goes away and everyone is friendly again.

Farmer’s markets aren’t always the best way to make money because the market managers want their share too and folks that visit the market seem to think it is a swap meet.  Pick your prices, be proud of your work, and stick to your guns.  Display is everything.  Do not make people come into the booth to see your wares.  They will not venture past the imaginary line in the front of the tent.  I promise you.  Set the table up as close to the front of the tent.  Use bright colors and unique display pieces to show off your items.  Have a banner made so folks know who you are.  It is best to sign up for markets in February.  They fill up.

Also look into local festivals.  We have Elizabash and Kiowa Days here.  Most towns have a celebration that has vendors.  That is a great way to meet local people and let them know what you are doing.

There are also co-ops or selling right from the yard if the town will let you. (or don’t see you…)

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5. Advertise the farm.  Make fliers and put them around town and on community boards.

Start a Facebook page.

Get a website.  1&1.com and Go Daddy are good places to register your domain.  1&1 had great templates that make it very easy to set up and design a website.  You just fill in the text and upload pictures.  The rest is designed for you.  For $10 a month, it is worth it!

Start a blog or write articles for local papers.

SAM_0499We made brochures this year and handed them out at the market, put them in packages we shipped, and have them on community boards.  This has really increased interest.

6. Find out if the areas that you are going to be selling in charge taxes on food.  A lot do not, some do.  If you need a tax license then you can go to your local tax office and apply for a number.  Send your sales tax in quarterly.  A lot of markets don’t ask for your tax information, and most vendors, I would say, do not even claim the income.  That is your call.

For income tax, fill out a Schedule F.  Here you claim your income but also write off chicken feed, seeds, and beer!  Well, maybe not beer.

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7. Order seeds.  You probably already have.  Keep in mind that organic and heirloom seeds keep history and health alive.  At the very least farm organically.  I love Seed Savers, and other heirloom companies.  If you are ordering corn, order organic seeds!

8. Don’t limit yourself to produce.  You can sell a table full of carrots and only go home with sixty bucks.  Think eggs, canned goods, meat, vanilla extract, baked goods, homemade vinegars, anything else that you do or make, consider adding it to your list of goods.  We have an Apothecary.  We make our living from making and selling herbal medicines.  We would not be able to survive on this small of acreage as farmers alone. Variety is the key.  I will also have hand spun yarn and soy candles.  A bit of this, a bit of that.  I also promote my classes.

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Now that you have done all that, you are ready to call yourself a farmer.  So, like the rest of us, you must wait patiently until spring.  Happy Farming!

6 Comments Add yours

  1. bhoyt10 says:

    This is great advise! Thank you!

    1. Farmgirl says:

      Thank you, hope all is well on your farm!

  2. Linda Narumit says:

    You are amazing!

    1. Farmgirl says:

      Runs in the family!

  3. Laura A. Lee says:

    This is a great article! Thanks so much for writing it. We are in the process of getting started. It’s so helpful to get information from people who have gone ahead. Thank you!

    1. Farmgirl says:

      Thank you. I hope it helps you move forward on your journey. I know that there are other ways to become a bigger farmer, like registering as a USDA farm, but we are just not that big (nor do we want to be!), so this is just enough. Good luck on your farm!

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