Helping Hands for Small Farmers
In 2013 I shared an article designed to help my readers decide if a small farm business might work for them. Can You Make a Living on a Small Farm? has had quite a few readers. I wanted to expand on that post to share resources for small farmers and homesteaders (with home based businesses) who want to grow and prosper in our competitive modern world.
I’m sure that there are many other resources available that I haven’t listed here and if you have websites, publications, or services that you have found useful in growing your small business, I would appreciate if you would take a moment to leave a comment and share those resources with us.
There are many books available that promise to show you how to start a profitable small farm business. Do some research, read the reviews, and decide which books you want to purchase and which you would like to borrow from your local library. My suggestion is to borrow every book first, then purchase it if you feel it will be useful for years to come. Many libraries take suggestions for books and periodicals (magazines) for their collection, or they have inter-library loan services that allow you to borrow books or have magazine articles copied from other libraries.
Starting & Running Your Own Small Farm Business by Sarah Beth Aubrey
Copyright 2007 – Ms Aubrey’s book is a great resource for anyone serious about staring a new small farm business. This book outlines the basic business info about: how to write a business plan, research your market, finance your business, decide on a business type, insure the business, know your food safety rules, price your products, where to sell, and how to promote your business. Her book is specific enough to guide your through the myriad of business decisions that you’ll need to make, but general enough to form to your individual business and location. (Please note that you can find some of this information from US publications that are free online. See below.)
Making Your Small Farm Profitable by Ron Macher
Copyright 1999 – Mr Macher, publisher of Small Farm Today, has quite a bit of general information for small farmers. This is not a nuts and bolts kind of book with specific information about any one facet of farming. However, it may be a good starting point with helpful information on planning, identifying your market, and developing new crops and markets.
You Can Farm: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Start and Succeed in a Small Farm Enterprise by Joel Salatin
Copyright 1998 – Ok, total disclosure here…I find it difficult to read Mr Salatin’s books. I guess I want to skip the anecdotal stories and get right to the real nitty gritty. Most reviews of this book point out that the author fills the pages with his personal stories. However, some folks may need to read some of the harsh realities of farm life before they jump in feet first. I recommend borrowing this book before you plunk down your hard earned cash.
There are many wonderful magazines on farming and homesteading, but not all of them deal with the business aspects. These are the ones that offer more information for farmers, both big and small.
Small Farm Today Magazine
This bi-monthly publication has departments dedicated to: Agriculture news, small farm products, books, small acreage management, and directories for breeders, seeds, plants and produce. You might find it worthwhile to advertise or search for small farm products in their directories. You can check it out here.
The Progressive Farmer
Although this monthly publication is geared more toward large farms and chemical applications, it’s still crammed with information interesting to any farmer. They’ve been around for 130 years and have a well maintained website that can be customized to your area for info about your weather conditions and such. Last I looked, you could sign up for a free trial issue. I think it’s a bit pricey, so you might want to just follow their website for awhile before subscribing.
This page from the USDA Agricultural Library shares books, reports, articles, videos and more that are dedicated to starting and running a CSA.
Also from the USDA Ag Library, this page shares links to publications geared toward helping you plan before you start a small farm business. There are papers dedicated to Developing a Farm Business Plan, Financial and Planning Resources, Funding and Program Assistance, and more. I’ll warn you now, it’s pretty dry reading…but if you want a lot of information for free, this is a great site to visit.
One more from the USDA…of special note on this page is a link to a Grant Writing Webinar Series under Resources. If you decide to apply for grants, it is important to know how to write your proposal in the proper format.
This website shares a lot of great information from grant, loan, and cost sharing programs to resources for farmers markets, organic certification info, free crop planning software, and lots more. It looks like a great site chock full of information that will be useful for small farmers who need a little help.
There is a lot of information available on this site, with links to help you find funding, start your business plan, job offers, etc. I do have a beef with the advertising by herbicide companies…but try to ignore that and use the info that is helpful to you.
Check out this map for the Cooperative Extension Office closest to you. They will have information about plants that do well in your area, last frost dates, average high and low temperatures, and other local information. They often have low, or no cost classes for residents interested in food preservation, gardening, and other related projects. Contact them for information about Certified Kitchens in your area for preserving foods for sale at farmers markets, roadside stands, etc.
Check out this map for the Farm Bureau closest to you. They will have information about crops, livestock, and farming techniques suitable for your area. You can call and ask questions and they can often answer your questions or get you started in the right direction for researching your project.
Small Business Development Centers
The US Small Business Development website offers a wealth of information for anyone starting a small business. Start here to find your closest SBD office, look up information on starting and managing a small business, finding loans and grants, and be sure to check out their page on Writing a Business Plan.
Local Offices and Organizations
Check into the local Chamber of Commerce, Tourism Bureau, and Development and Planning Offices for your area. Find out if there are clubs, volunteer groups, churches, or other organizations that would be helpful to small farm businesses. If you are moving into a new area or don’t know many people in your community, start networking and getting to know people. Word of mouth is a great way to spread the news about your business.
Craigslist and Freecycle
Craigslist is a free way to advertise your business and products. The Farm & Garden section is a great resource. You may be able to find equipment, livestock, feed, and other items for sale to get your business started. Freecycle and the free section of Craigslist can be helpful places to either get rid of things or find useful things like pallets and plastic food barrels.
Do you own and operate a small farm business? What resources have you found most helpful through the years? Have you applied for grants or loans? Did you find the process to be difficult? I would love to hear your experiences as a small farmer or a home based business on your homestead!