Any Greenhorns out there with advice on funding & other financial matters for start-up Greenhorns?
My name is Nic Koontz and I am working towards starting a small farm of my own in the northern Colorado front range area, near Ft. Collins. I have been a follower of yours since I heard about your project from a friend whom farms in Georgia (Serenbee Farms). I think what you are doing is great and energizing and i read it whenever I can just to convince myself that I am not the only young person crazy enough to do this.
The reason I am writing is in regards to all the barriers to entry for young people to start farming and what your comment, feelings, words of wisdom are. Those barriers being Land,Water, and Capital. You must have all three in order to make it happen. I have been working towards my own farm on leased land with good water rights since just before the new year. I am encountering a problem that I am sure most young and stratup growers face. The problem seems to happen even if the water and land have been figured out(not that land and water are easy to find) as most folks that are willing and have gained the knowledge by apprenticing on farms for almost no pay, just don’t have the capital to move into even part time growing. As I plan out my materials and equipment budget just for a simple acre market farm it quickly becomes financially overwhelming even with the prospect of USDA backed low interest loans. Overwhelming almost to the point of not moving forward with the farm,as the ability of the farm to service debt is uncertain at most. What have other young folks done to get past that initial outlay, even for simple tools and structures. Especially when your profit(to live on) wont be realized till year two or three if you have your stuff together. Season extension is the name of the game here with our short intense unpredictable shoulder seasons and the possibility of season ending hail any month thus that means serious capital investment in structures. I truly dont know an answer besides big loans.
I know there are grants out there, i guess, but I believe in the value and necessity of a financially viable small farm, serving local needs, or in the attempt of the idea of it. For if it is grant driven, it is in the end actually unsustainable and unrealistic in the larger world.
Why am I writing, just to reach out to the community of young farmers and find out their thoughts and ultimately their actions against the barriers to entry. Namely Capital.
Native Hill Farm
February 21, 2009 at 5:08 am
My husband and I just started our farm east of Greeley, CO last year. We moved out here from Fort Collins so we could afford the land and water and such.
We had to take on debt (about as much as buying a new car) to get started with drip irrigation, a cooler, and other start up needs. I don’t think there’s much way around it barring the lottery or independent wealth. In order to pay for it, we both have off-farm jobs and expect to for a couple more years. When the debt is paid off , one of us will be able to stay home and farm full-time, and then a few years after that, we’re hoping both of us can. Now, the farm pays its own operating expenses, makes its annual loan payments, and whatever else it makes goes to pay down the other debt we accrued. We work until dark every night and get almost everything we need to done.
I think you just have to start small, stay patient, and grow into it (pun intended). Small scale farming, especially in Northern Colorado, is a financially viable option, but like most other businesses, it takes some time to build. And you probably can’t live on it right away, but you’ll still eat well in the meantime.
Just our own experience. . hope it helps. Good luck!
February 22, 2009 at 6:01 am
I highly recommend you forget about getting a USDA loan until you have multiple years of positive returns and tax forms to prove it. Otherwise their programs are not for you and they will throw up so many roadblocks to turn you off forever. Plus, I really recommend you don’t get loans that you have to pay back within the same year, nor that you pay much in interest. My favorite way to get money is via personal loans from friends and family, or by pairing up with an established CSA farm to provide some crops that they do not grow. Since CSAs usually get their funds up front, if you contract with them to grow specific crops, you could get money up front too. We did this with eggs and were able to get 20k up front from the CSA farmer. We also ask our customers to invest in the farm with their “interest” being product instead of cash. If you are going to grow or raise something that is unique and needed, you can often get folks to pay up front. Our distributor also had to pay up front for the “right” to gain access to our eggs, which we had in very limited supply.
good luck to you- I lived in Ft. Collins while an undergrad and I can imagine that good, locally-produced food would go along ways there!
February 22, 2009 at 6:27 am
I share much of the same concerns as you when it comes to making it happen!
How do I secure a place of being, of existence in peace, grounds for the cultivation of life and the ever present desire for untaxing fulfillment and happiness? is that what your farming goal is to some degree?
I too want to grow and share life. But not with a similar discontentment with the rigidity of “how things are dun in America.”
What I am looking to do, to keep the steps moving, is work with what I have…. I have me. I am my most valuable resource there is when it comes to manifesting what I want. I have access to various tools: work tools, communication, transportation, social networks, imagination, information and such….Often I find I do not need stringent ownership of these tools to accomplish a goal (or can not own them.) So, for myself, with these parameters in mind, I think I will be looking for others with a similar goal in mind.
The cost of an acre near Ft. Collins is considerably more than I expected. I live in Sac CA and expect all other prices outside of California to be much cheaper…. but not always the case. Other start-up cost are expected. But if you find a partner, the cost is halved. Two or three and the numbers are better and better. Even costing 10g’s, one can save enough of their share in several months or so. Feel like you are selling your soul or at least exploiting life’s resources for some dollar bills? Well, good news, in Permaculture design, it is OK to use fossil fuels as long as the end result is a sustainable system.(I happen to see the Permaculture way of thinking as the human species Saviour from self destruction((if we choose.)) ) Translation: I will view the exploitation of some of life’s resources, as OK, as long as I know the farm will serve the Earth as a regenerative ecological asset and a hub of humanity. If you had a less grand vision for your farm, I would suggest studying Permaculture (Introduction to Permaculture by Bill Mollison.)
No work paying enough huh….
At this point I would be looking for a benefactor of sorts. Someone who wants what you want, but may be missing the other end of the key. Someone who has the land or capital for investment, but not the know-how or even simply the time to take on such a task. These situations may be hard to come by or/and intimidating due to “commitment/risk” or expectations. However, I believe that more and more people want to utilize what they have available, and are willing to let it go to work given ‘terms’ are met. You may have to be flexible with location, though. With proper understanding of the parties involved, a common goal and attitude of ‘moving in the right direction’ can be found, even if projected mile stones are shorter than desired. Meaning, the parties must be willing to make it work.
I suggest ‘pounding the pavement,’ to make known what you are looking for. The opportunity does exist, the connection needs to be made.
So be creative in your mission, many routes are available when imagination comes into play.
Hopefully and hopefully helpful,
March 7, 2009 at 3:40 pm
Hey Nic, I play the powerball. That’s a little secret I never brought up in our new farmer class but am willing to share with you now.