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Starting Your Farm

The Small Farmer’s Journal has decided to run editor and publisher Lynn R. Miller’s book Starting Your Farm as a serial series. Below is Chapter 2.

Chapter Two

“We can lie to ourselves about many things; but if we lie about our relationship to the land, the land will suffer, and soon we and all other creatures that share the land with suffer. If we persist in our ignorance or dishonesty, we will die, as surely as those bighorns perish from not knowing where they are. We are smarter than sheep, in most respects. Seeing the danger in ignorance, we may be moved to invent or recover some of the lore that connects us to the land, and tells us how to live in our place.” – Scott Russell Sanders

Who are You? And How Much is That Farm Worth to You?

Last chapter we started a discussion on the self analyzing procedures that might go into considerations of the purchase of a farm. We discussed the important first questions including; why you want to farm, what kind of farm you want, and where you want to farm? This chapter we’ll look at how much you might, or should, pay for a farm.

Up until the late 1980’s conventional farm lenders used to be proud of the formulas and yardsticks they employed to determine the value of a given piece of farmland and thereby the lending value. Today they are not so quick and ready with the numbers. The devastating farm crisis of the 1980’s and the resultant general farm banking collapse have forced an inch-by-inch, case-by-case, re-evaluation. That’s probably the way it should have always been. Because beyond the obvious variables of proposed crop and/or livestock, prevalent weather, region, soil types, proximity to markets, and such, there are myriad other particulars which can have dramatic effect on the value of a given piece of farm property.

WHO ARE YOU

The most powerful OTHER variable is personal circumstance (and I’m not speaking of class or social position). For example; if you want to increase the size of your farm holding and the neighbor’s twenty acres comes up for sale, it is safe to “suggest” that it will be worth more to you than someone looking for an investment. How do you factor in those two variables when deciding if the parcel is worth 400$ an acre or 2,000$ an acre? Operating farms in Lancaster County Pennsylvania have sold for twice or three times their justified farmland values to Amish families who are culturally, and personally, bound to try to remain within the communities to which they belong. And at the same time suburbia spreads like a pestilence putting altogether different pressures on those Pennsylvania farmland values.

On the flip side, there are hundreds of thousands of lovely farms with attractive buildings and good soils for sale at a fraction of their real value in areas suffering from large-scale out-migration. Portions of up-state New York, the upper peninsula of Michigan, Kansas and even the Ozarks fit that bill. In every case, these cheaper farms are located in regions that are not close to large metropolitan areas. But these depressed farm regions do enjoy strong growing seasons, good soils, proximity to some markets and the well-established fabric of farm communities. YET these are the areas that, for the time being only, many folks don’t want to live in.

That’s the oh-too-simple truth of it. If lots of folks want to live in an area, the land values go up. If they want to leave an area, the land values go down. Lancaster County is a popular place for the Amish who’ve lived there for generations, for the farmers who value the proximity to the Amish communities and other excellent market realities, and to the commuters who just want an acre in the country on a good road to the city.

But let’s get to your situation. The question was something like “how much should I pay for that farm I want?”. We need to approach the same question differently for different folks because the suitable, and/or acceptable, price per acre will vary. So we need to figure out who you are. Let’s oversimplify and lump you into one of these categories:

A. Young adults, few assets, no tools (didn’t know you needed them), no cash on hand, ineligible for conventional financing, limited to no farm experience, college education or part of one, no cultural or community ties to determine location (i.e. Amish, Native America, 3rd Generation S. Carolina Tobacco), but an abundance of health, high moral fabric, enthusiasm, industry, creative intelligence and good humor.

B. Middle ages adults, some assets (including tools), money saved, access to capital, college education, limited or no farm experience, used to convenience and comfort and high rate of pay, BUT absolutely MUST get out of the rat race and onto the farm, not as strong as you once were BUT know how to work, think you have a clear fix on what’s important, long ago determination replaced enthusiasm, in search of good humor that was lost somewhere in the city environment, think “creative intelligence” is a fancy way of saying “nut case.”

C. Middle aged adults, very few assets (unless you count this year’s vegetable garden and the cellar of canned goods plus the side of home-raised beef- Oh, and I almost forgot the old Chevy pickup is free and clear), nearly a thousand saved, bad or no credit, no education worth mentioning except lots of practical hands-on working experience including farming and ranching skills, lots of good tools (thought everyone knew they were important), used to working very hard for everything (except on Sundays), enjoy good health- humor- and outlook, value many friendships, already live in country on small rented place but always dreamed of a small farm of your own.

D. Nearing retirement or early retirement age, considerable assets (including equity in home and a stocks and bonds portfolio), $100,000 in nearly liquid form, pension and/or personal retirement income plan, no tools (or calluses), raised on a farm or ranch, adult life in city, concerned about health, education too long ago to matter, in desperate search for something long ago lost, suspect a return to farm-like setting will bring back quality of life. Concerned about protecting finances as they represent old age security.

E. Middle aged or older. Used to be a commercial scale farmer but lost everything during crisis of the eighties. Slowly building back up. Assets include full range of tools and the complete knowledge to use them plus a dangerously clear fix on how not to get into the same financial mess again. Some education, strong family, good health, moderately good rate of pay working in agri-business industry. A little saved. Not much sense of humor, bitterness overrides, straight ahead intelligence wary of “creativity.” Can’t get the NEED to own your own farmland out of your waking dreams.

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Spotlight On: Farming Systems & Approaches

Cultivating Questions: Alternative Tillage & Inter-Seeding Techniques

Our intention is not to advocate the oddball living mulches we use with this single row inter-seeding system, but just to show how it is possible to utilize the between-row areas to improve insect habitat, reduce erosion, conserve moisture, fix some nitrogen, and grow a good bit of extra organic matter. If nothing else, experimenting with these alternative practices continues to keep farming exciting as we begin our twentieth season of bio-extensive market gardening.

Wild Potatoes and Calcium

Wild potatoes bring increased calcium for better tubers.Have you ever cut into a potato to find a dark spot or hollow part? Early research shows that these defects are likely the result of calcium deficiencies in the potato — and that tuber calcium is genetically linked to tuber quality.

Starting Your Farm

Starting Your Farm: Chapter 4

Assuming that you’ve found a farm you want to buy, next you’ll need to determine if you can buy it. If you have sold your property, and/or saved your money, and have the means to buy the farm you are sitting pretty. If you do not have the full price of a considered farm, in cash or any other form, you will likely have to look for financing.

Fjordworks: A History of Wrecks Part 1

Fjordworks: A History of Wrecks Part 1

I am certainly not the most able of dairymen, nor the most skilled among vegetable growers, and by no means am I to be counted amongst the ranks of the master teamsters of draft horses. If there is anything remarkable about my story it is that someone could know so little about farming as I did when I started out and still manage to make a good life of it.

Low Impact Ranching

Low Impact Ranching

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This kind of low-impact management has yielded visible results for Rose who can display flourishing pasture grasses, healthy cattle, and firm banks in his riverside pasture. “I am just a detail oriented person and one of those farm boys who always likes to have a project,” Rose said. “I am trying to get the most out of my land and efforts and I really enjoy seeing the positive outcomes of a finished project.”

Congo Farm Project

Congo Farm Project

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I was at day one, standing outside an old burnt-out Belgian plantation house, donated to us by the progressive young chief of the village of Luvungi. My Congolese friend and I had told him that we would need to hire some workers to help clear the land around the compound, and to put a new roof on the building. I thought we should be able to attract at least 20 workers. Then, I looked out to see a crowd of about 800 eager villagers, each one with their own hoe.

Cuban Agriculture

Cuban Agriculture

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In December of 1979, Mary Jo and I spent two weeks traveling in Cuba on a “Farmer’s Tour of Cuba”. The tour was a first of its kind. It was organized in the U.S. by farmers, was made up of U.S. farmers and agriculturally oriented folks, and was sponsored in Cuba by A.N.A.P., the National Association of Independent Farmers. As we learned about farming we also learned how the individuals, farms, and communities we visited fit into the greater social and economic structure of Cuba.

Russian Dacha Gardening

Russian Dacha Gardens

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Russian household agriculture – dacha gardening – is likely the most extensive system of successful food production of any industrialized nation. This shows that highly decentralized, small-scale food production is not only possible, but practical on a national scale and in a geographically large and diverse country with a challenging climate for growing. Most of the USA has far more than the 110 days average growing season that Russia has.

How To Get Into Farming With No Money

How To Get Into Farming With No Money

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Let’s assume the beginning ‘farmer’ has absolutely nothing. Nothing but a will to farm and a reasonably normal body. The very first thing you must do is search out a farmer, preferably a farmer who farms close to the way that you want to farm. You must watch him, ask questions, do as you are told and learn everything you can. Very shortly you will be on your own and you will find that the more you learn now, the better you will be when you have only yourself to rely on.

No Starving Children!

You’d never be able to harvest the broccoli or the hay or milk the cows or make the cheese if it were subject to government process. Not only are our industrial farms too big…

Mayfield Farm

Mayfield Farm, New South Wales, Australia

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Mayfield Farm is a small family owned and operated mixed farm situated at 1150 m above sea level on the eastern edge of the Great Dividing Range in northern New South Wales, Australia. Siblings, Sandra and Ian Bannerman, purchased the 350 acre property in October, 2013, and have converted it from a conventionally operated farm to one that is run on organic principles. Additional workers on the farm include Janette, Ian’s wife, and Jessica, Ian’s daughter.

The First Year

The First Year

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Prior to last year, I had felt I knew the nuances of the land quite well and fancied myself as knowledgeable about the course of the natural world. Outdoors was where I felt the most comfortable. The fresh air and endless views of fields, hills and valleys renewed my spirit and refreshed my mind. I didn’t think there was much that could fluster me when it came to the land. Until I became an organic farmer.

Cultivating Questions Cultivator Setups and Deer Fencing

Cultivating Questions: Cultivator Set-ups and Deer Fencing

We know all too well the frustration of putting your heart and soul into a crop only to have the wildlife consume it before you can get it harvested let alone to market. Our farm sits next to several thousand acres of state game lands and is the only produce operation in the area. As you can imagine, deer pressure can be intense. Neighbors have counted herds of 20 or more in our pastures.

Organic To Be or Not To Be

Organic: To Be or Not To Be

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How do our customers know that we’re accurately representing our products? That’s the key, the reason that a third party verification system was created, right? I think this is the beauty of a smaller-scale, community-based direct market food system. During parts of the year, my customers drive past my sheep on their way to the farmers’ market. At all times of the year, we welcome visitors to our farm. In other words, our production practices are entirely open for our customers to see.

The Way To The Farm

Lise Hubbe stops mid-furrow at plowing demonstration for Evergreen State College students. She explains that the plow was going too deep…

Cultivating Questions Going Single

Cultivating Questions: Going Single

Going single did not occur to us until we began receiving questions from prospective teamsters who felt it would be more manageable and economical to get started with a single horse than a team. After 29 years of market gardening with two or more horses, our impetus to try out one-horse farming was not a question of management or economy, but due to the radically diverging horse temperaments on our farm.

A Year of Contract Grazing

A Year of Contract Grazing

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Contract grazing involves the use of livestock to control specific undesirable plants, primarily for ecological restoration and wildfire prevention purposes. The landowners we worked for saw grazing as an ecologically friendly alternative to mowing, mechanical brush removal, and herbicide application.

Beating the Beetles – War & Peace in a Houston Garden

Blooming that is, unless the cucumber beetles arrive first.
And arrive they have … “At first I thought they looked like big, yellow lady bugs.” Paul said, “Then I looked…

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