Want To Start An Organic Farm? Answer This One Question First.

Farmer harvesting organic spinach in the hoop house.  If you want to start a farm business answer this question first.

Yesterday I presented to the NOFA-VT Farm Beginnings class on holistic decision making, using the Holistic Goal & Management framework.  

While I spoke about the evolution of Good Heart Farmstead and how we approach decision making, it really got me thinking about the core of our farm.  There’s one thing above all else that keeps us rooted and growing through every challenge. If you’re thinking of starting a farm, or are in the first few years of running your farm, there’s one question you need to answer in order to increase your success as a farm and business.

It’s not what kind of farm do I want?  

Vegetable, flower, herb, livestock, egg, dairy?  

Diversified or focused? 

Community Supported Agriculture, Farmers markets, or wholesale?

The answer to this question will likely change. 

The #1 question you need to ask before starting a farm is: why do I farm?

Specifically: why does your farm business exist?

To own a farm is to run a business.  It’s not enough to be an amazing grower.  To be successful, you also have to sell your products and do all the behind-the-scenes work that comes with running a business.  

When you consider all the environmental challenges of farming along with the statistic that only half of small businesses make it past the 5-year mark, and only one-third survive for 10 years or longer — you have to expect many days of asking, “why am I doing this?”

For the days (or weeks/months/seasons) when challenges crop up and you’re not sure how or if you’ll keep the farm going, the most powerful force that will keep you planting, seeding, and harvesting is your “why.”

Why does your farm and business exist?

Why do you wake up and do this work?

Why does your work matter?

At the heart of it, humans are makers and we want what we do to matter.  Money without meaning will buy you things, but it won’t feed your soul. And if your soul isn’t in it, eventually you’ll burn out.

When we first met, Edge and I both had dreams of owning our own farms.  

Edge had been working at Calypso Farm & Ecology Center for 4 years and was feeling ready to buy land and create a farm of his own.  I’d just finished my first season working on a farm, followed by traveling and volunteering on an orchard in New Zealand, and already had a vision of the farm I wanted.

Edge and I both felt a draw toward running our own business.  It was a feeling, a pull in that direction that I didn’t question at the time.  We wanted to be able to plant and make decisions without asking for permission. We wanted to work for ourselves, to create a specific lifestyle and live in balance with the land.  Though we didn’t realize it at first, we were infusing our why into our business from the beginning.

In his book Start With Why, Simon Sinek writes, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe.”

Our why is how we connect with customers — and how we energize ourselves.

This is so important that it’s worth saying again:

When you’re up to your neck (or over your head) in fieldwork, office work, all the work, having a strong sense of why you’re doing it will help keep you going.  

Running a farm business isn’t easy.  There are countless times over the last 7 years that we’ve questioned how we’re doing things, and even an entire summer I stepped back to regain my sense of purpose while Edge kept the farm running.

What I came back to after a summer off was my why: 

To increase access to fresh local food, because everyone deserves to eat well. And to grow a life and business rooted in balance and connection. 

For us, balance and connection means living close to the land, living in an active and supportive community, and taking care of our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.  Farming reinforces all of these things.

Creating a farm that increases food access while cultivating balance and connection is the North Star we’re constantly heading toward.

Our why informs our how and our what:

Because we believe everyone deserves access to local food, we look for ways to decrease barriers like offering subsidized CSA shares and working with our local food shelf.

Because we believe everyone deserves to eat well, we use organic practices to produce the healthiest vegetables.

Because we believe balance includes healthy bodies, we eat well. 

Because we believe balance and increased food access includes our community, we invest in supporting our community and working to make fresh local food accessible to everyone.

Because we believe a connection to the land is an essential aspect of balance, we invite customers to the farm so they can develop relationships with the land, too.

There are times the “what” changes — we no longer raise sheep, for example.  But the why remains constant, rooting us to the soil through every season of pruning and growth.

As you start your own farm, ask yourself why.

Write it down, share it with your customers, remind yourself of it every day.  

You can start right now — in the comments below, let me know why you farm.  What draws you to the land, what lights you up, what do you believe in?

And for more on the WHY, check out Simon Sinek’s TED Talk Start With Why.

2 thoughts on “Want To Start An Organic Farm? Answer This One Question First.”

  1. Roberta McDonald

    I finally answered that question and realized owning a farm was not going to be for me. That’s ok. I realized I wanted to farm but in a smaller setting . I have been researching and can have a diverse amount of fruits and veg in my back yard.

  2. Pingback: The One Thing Every Organic Farmer Needs To Grow. - The Good Heart Life

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