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?

Thanks!
Courtney L.
Pennsylvania

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 (farmhelp@farmaid.org), 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 www.farmaid.org/ideas. 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 BeginningFarmers.org 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.

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