How does someone with no experience get into farming?

August 2012

Dear Farm Aid,

Is there any type of assistance for people looking to get into farming? I am a chef and I'm raising my own chickens for eggs. I feed leftover scraps from the restaurant to some very happy (and tasty!) pigs. But, I would love to leave the kitchen for good to get closer to my food. How does someone who has no experience except butchering meat in a kitchen or growing a home garden get into farming?

Courtney L.

Well Courtney, you're not alone in your interest to start farming, and your timing couldn't be more perfect. With the average American farmer clocking in at 57-years-old, the future of American agriculture hinges on people like you who are inspired to start careers on the land.

But to do it successfully, you need to be equipped with a broad swath of resources to ensure your farm is savvy, sustainable and successful.

We know it can be overwhelming to know where to begin. Our answer is the Farmer Resource Network, Farm Aid's online searchable database built just for you and others like you. Before we dig into your situation, we'd like to take this opportunity to show off some improvements to the Farmer Resource Network that we're pretty excited about!

The Farmer Resource Network, 2.0

Since 1985, when Willie Nelson first saw the need to work to keep family farmers on the land, Farm Aid has helped farmers through our 1-800-FARM-AID hotline and email service (, disaster relief efforts, advocate trainings and our grant program. In 2008, we launched the Farmer Resource Network as a way to expand this work and make our vast “Rolodex” of partners and resources accessible to all. We strive for the Farmer Resource Network to be a place where both prospective and established farmers (and people just interested in resources for family farmers) can come to explore new ideas for growing more sustainably, find assistance during a crisis, or to look for financial or legal help. With over 500 listings the Farmer Resource Network has something for everyone.

After a few years of test-driving and tinkering, we are proud to unveil the newest version of the Farmer Resource Network.

We've added some new features, including resource guides tailored to our most frequently searched topics (Beginning Farmers, Sustainable Options for managing your farm or ranch, Financial Resources and Crisis Support). We also created a Resource Spotlight blog to highlight the best and most timely resources, tools and opportunities available for farmers. You can sign up to receive Spotlights in your email inbox and can even follow blog updates on Facebook and Twitter.

In addition, we've expanded our group of Resource Partners, key service organizations across the country offering quality services to beginning and established family farmers. Together with the Center for Rural Affairs, Farmers' Legal Action Group (FLAG), the National Center for Appropriate Technology, the Organic Farming Research Foundation, Rodale Institute, the Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA (RAFI-USA) and The Greenhorns, we are growing a new, vibrant food system by connecting farmers to the resources that help them thrive.

Whether you're looking for help writing a business plan or applying for a loan, you're interested in learning new farming methods, or you're hoping to get involved in local advocacy efforts, there's a resource in the Farmer Resource Network for everyone.

Your Network

So, to return to your question, Courtney, the short answer is yes! There's lots of assistance for people looking to get into farming—in fact, our Beginning Farmers Guide is a great place to start, with some of the very best resources assembled in one place. But, let's give the Farmer Resource Network a whirl to find other resources that match your specific needs.

First, find the Farmer Resource Network at To track down resources relevant to your needs, you'll need to use the Search Tool, the centerpiece of the Network. Select What Best Describes You? (Beginning Farmer-Organic/Sustainable is probably a good fit for you) the Location of Your Farm (Pennsylvania!), the Type of Farm you think you want to start, and the Type of Help Needed (we'd recommend selecting Resources for Beginning Farmers).

Looking through your results, we'd recommend a variety of resources for you. First of all, read up on The Greenhorns, a lively group of new and aspiring farmers, working to serve the needs of America's young farmer community. They have important guides and tips for people like you interested in getting started on the land and looking for a strong community. Before starting your own operation, it's smart to get some hands-on experience to build off your background as a chef and home gardener. ATTRA's Internship and Apprenticeship Database can point you to farm internship and apprenticeship programs in your area, and even list nearby farms looking for a farm hand for part of the season.

Living in Pennsylvania, you are also blessed with some local, strong and committed organizations working for beginning farmers. Headquartered in Millheim, PA, the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) can offer you a variety of resources on sustainable agriculture, including on-farm trainings and opportunities to learn from other farmers. In addition, they have a cutting-edge land leasing program called the Farm Lease Connection, bringing farmers and landowners together to address a huge barrier for new farmers: land access.

You may also be interested in the Rodale Institute, based in Kutztown, PA, a pioneer in developing and refining organic and sustainable farming practices in the country. Like PASA, Rodale offers coursework and training programs for new farmers, as well as a number of resources to get you started on the right foot: soil testing services, online organic accreditation trainings, scholarships and partnerships with a solid network of resource providers.

Lastly, check out and the Alternative Farming Systems Information Center, both of which provide resources for beginning farmers.

Let us hear from you!

If you hit any snags along the way, don't fret! Send us an email, give a call or fill out our Feedback Survey to let us know what's going on and we'll be happy to walk you through the tool and answer your questions. We're proud that we can back up our online tool with real people who have deep knowledge!

We want to hear from you so we know what works and what doesn't! By giving us feedback, you're helping us to serve farmers and farmers-to-be like you as best as we can.

We are amazed and inspired by the growing network of organizations that are as committed as we are to family farmers. Please give our Farmer Resource Network a spin to see what's available in your neck of the woods, and look out for additional opportunities to get involved!

Further Reading

  • Take a look at our Farmer Hero profile of Zoë Bradbury. After spending two years preparing for a life of farming, Zoë still ran into a long list of challenges that beginning farmers often encounter. With the right resources, she was able to persevere and turn her farm into the thriving, community-oriented destination that it is today.
  • Whether you're just thinking about becoming a farmer or have been farming for a few years, the resources in our Beginning Farmers Guide will help you make informed decisions concerning your career in farming.

Your thoughtful comments are encouraged, but comments may be held for moderation to protect against spam. Farm Aid does not censor or refuse comments for content unless they are spam or a personal attack.

blog comments powered byDisqus

A New Farm Economy Rises from Tobacco’s Ashes - August, 2014

10 Things the New Census of Agriculture Tells Us About Family Farmers and Our Food System - July 2014

How will the Keystone XL pipeline affect our farmers and farmland? - April, 2014

Parched: What the West shows us about our water future - March, 2014

What does Farm Aid do with the money that it raises at the annual concert? - October 2013

I live in New York and dairy farmers seem to be struggling. What can I do to help? - September 2013

I have heard horror stories about the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico this year. How can farmers better support our waterways? - July 2013

I finally got around to watching "Food, Inc." I was floored to see what poultry producers actually go through. Is this really what's behind the chicken on my plate? - May 2013

Why is it so difficult for farmers to find affordable farmland these days? - March 2013

The PBS documentary about the Dust Bowl was amazing – what a disaster of epic proportions and a reminder of how important the soil is to our lives! How do today’s farmers care for the soil? - November 2012

The other day, I came across "grassfed beef" in the supermarket. Aren't all beef cattle fed grass? If not, what do they eat? Is this something I should feed my family? - October 2012

How do I find a university that values family farmers and the Good Food Movement? - September 2012

I'm a big supporter of organic agriculture, but some of my friends say it isn't a practical way to feed the world. Is that true? - August 2012

How does someone with no experience get into farming? - August 2012

How is climate change affecting family farmers? What are they doing about it? - April 2012

Is the USDA truly supporting local and regional agriculture?  - March 2012

I'm concerned about the use of antibiotics in farm animals and would like to find antibiotic-free meat and poultry products. Any suggestions? - February 2012

How does the occupy movement relate to farmers? - January 2012

What can you tell me about family farm turkey? - November 2011

How will labeling genetically engineered food do anything for family farmers? - October 2011

Word is big cuts are in store for farmers in the upcoming Farm Bill. What is the Farm Bill and what will budget cuts mean for family farmers? - September 2011

I've been seeing a lot of farm plots spring up around the city. I didn't even realize people could farm in cities—how can I get involved in this! - August 2011

This year’s weather has been a nightmare and lots of farms in my area are struggling. What help is there available for farmers struck by disaster? - July 2011

I watched "Food, Inc." recently and was surprised by how animals were treated and meat was produced in America. This seems crazy to me. Why can’t we get meat from better sources? - June 2011

A lot of farmers in my area are leasing their land for hydraulic fracturing — is it good or bad? What do farmers say? - June 2011

What's a food hub? How can they help me? - April 2011

High farm prices are in the news — are farmers getting rich? - March 2011

I know the U.S. government just allowed a few new GE crops on the market — should I be worried? - February 2011

How can I find food from local farmers during the cold winter months? - January 2011

A year-in-review on corporate concentration in agriculture. - November 2010

Can you tell me about starting farm to school programs? I’m a farmer and I’d love to provide schools in my area with healthy food. - October 2010

No offense, but what has Farm Aid really done all these years aside from put on a good concert? - September 2010

I really want to get local meats, but they don't seem to be available. Why is that? - August 2010

Answering reader questions with our report, "Rebuilding America’s Economy with Family Farm-Centered Food Systems" - July 2010

I just read an article that anticipates 200 dairies will go under in my state by the end of 2010. Why are dairy farmers in so much trouble right now? - June 2010

How is credit affecting family farmers right now? - May 2010

What exactly is a family farm? How does it differ from a factory farm? - April 2010

What's up with food safety? Could new laws hurt family farmers? - March 2010

How can a food system that offers so much variety be constricting consumer choice? - February 2010

I keep hearing about "concentration" in farming. What does that mean and how does it affect me?  - January 2010

What’s Farm Aid’s grant program all about? Where does all the money go? - December 2009

Why are you thankful for family farmers? The Farm Aid staff responds. - November 2009

What are some ways people can get involved in farm activism? - October 2009

I've been seeing a lot of interest lately in seed saving. It seems like a lot of work, why bother? - September 2009

Are factory farms still a threat to America’s family farmers? - August 2009

Do you have any tips for how to fit a farmers market into my busy life? - July 2009

What’s the best way to get more farm fresh food into my child’s school cafeteria? - June 2009

How do I get involved in the dairy crisis at the grassroots level? - May 2009

How can we fix the food safety system without hurting family farmers? - April 2009

How exactly are GE crops regulated? And how can I be sure that I am protected? - March 2009

Dairy farmers are struggling for survival right now - why? - February 2009

Is there a reason why Farm Aid doesn’t grant more to individual farmers? - January 2009

How is the credit crisis affecting farmers and agriculture in America? - December 2008

What does the change in administration mean for family farmers? - November 2008

Where do John McCain and Barack Obama stand on agricultural issues? - October 2008

Does Farm Aid know of any programs that help young people start their own farm? - September 2008

Just how does Farm Aid decide where to host the show each year? - August 2008

Laura looks back on three years answering your questions - July 2008

I try to buy local and from family farmers whenever possible. Why is it so hard to find meat from area farmers? - June 2008

How do you decide who is and isn’t a family farmer? How many family farmers are there in the United States? - May 2008

I see raw milk from time to time at my local grocery, some folks say it’s good –others say its dangerous- what’s the deal? - April 2008

I seem to be spending more and more at the grocery store these days. Is it true that corn prices and ethanol are making my food cost more? - March 2008

I feel like I used to see a lot more in the news about GMOs. I haven’t managed to keep up to date and now I’m not really even sure what’s out there. Could you give me a little update on GMOs? - February 2008

What’s going on with the Farm Bill? Didn’t it pass recently? Is there anything good for family farmers in it? - January 2008

What do farmers do in the winter? - December 2007

What are you serving for Thanksgiving? - November 2007

How did Farm Aid replace the typical concert foods at Farm Aid 2007 and what were the criteria? - October 2007

What do Farm Aid folks do during the winter? - September 2007

Can you suggest some ways to drink locally or seasonally? - August 2007

Is it legal and humane to keep chickens in the city? - July 2007

Is it possible to compost in the city? - June 2007

Should everyone who wants to lessen their impact on the environment consider giving up meat? - May 2007

Can you suggest farm related activities for kids to do? - April 2007

Am I supporting family farmers when I purchase a product labeled organic? - March 2007

Can you help me simplify my food shopping in a way that still supports my values? - February 2007

What New Year's resolutions can I make that will support family farmers? - January 2007

How does Farm Aid help family farmers, where does the money go? - December 2006

How can I find a family farm turkey for Thanksgiving? - November 2006

Is it possible to shop locally on a budget? - October 2006

Why can't I get any of this "delicious food from family farmers" at the Farm Aid concert? - September 2006

Do you have any advice for developing classroom activities involving good food? - August 2006

Who are the farmers in the United States? - July 2006

What kind of work is Farm Aid doing with biodiesel? - June 2006

When will tomatoes be available in farmers markets? - May 2006

Are factory farm birds safer than outdoor birds? - April 2006

Could you tell me a little about the food in New Orleans today? Can you even get local foods in the city? - March 2006

What is biodynamic farming? - February 2006

Why do different companies promote different kinds of pasteurization for milk? - January 2006

How can I eat seasonally year-round if nothing is growing in my area? - December 2005

With all of the devastating elements that farmers have to face, who can help them when a disaster comes? - November 2005

Why is it so hard to find fresh, locally grown produce in my area of Staten Island, NY? - October 2005

What is a "family farm food system"? - June 2005

How can I find a farm near me? - May 2005

What does April on the farm mean in different states? - April 2005

Who are the corporate players in the meat industry? - March 2005

What questions can I ask my grocer? - February 2005

An Introduction to Ask Laura - January 2005

What is grass roots organizing? - August 2005

Where does school food come from? - July 2005