How to Farm Successfully

As Bren Smith recently explained in his heartfelt editorial for the New York Times (Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Farmers), making a living at farming is hard. No, scratch that. Farming for profit is more than just difficult; statistically, it’s almost impossible. The reason so many small farms fail, Bren explains, isn’t due to a lack of enthusiasm by the farmer, or support from the customers. Rather, it’s an economic witches’ brew of under-capitalization, barriers to entry, and a paucity of organized representation. For small farmers wanting to make a living growing wholesome, authentic food, the challenges can almost seem insurmountable. My own farm teetered on this precipice for decades. From the late 70s to the mid 90s, our family farm treaded water through off-farm salaries. My parents worked city jobs to cover farming debts accrued each passing day. When I returned from college in 1996—determined to single-handedly rescue our failing farm—an entire year of work yielded me a paycheck of $18. Eighteen dollars of profit, from five tractor trailer loads of corn. I was humiliated and ashamed, and doubted whether I could ever make a living from farming. Twenty years later, and a thousand farmers’ markets under my belt, our farm now makes enough profit to pay ten full-time salaries. But I’m fully aware that our story i

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