The Urban Farmer: Small Scale Farming on the Cheap – What’s the least you could spend to start a farm? – Part 1 – The Base Principles (FSFS61)

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Farming… is it expensive to start, or not?

A lot of people want to get into farming, but they stall out when it comes to the money side of things.

The common cause of that stall out is land. Land is expensive to purchase. So most people immediately dismiss the idea of farming because they can’t afford land.

But people like Greg Judy, Joel Salatin, and us on this show, have shown that you don’t need to own land to farm.

There’s a lot of land available to farm. Land you don’t need to own, and land that you can gain access to through options like leasing..

If you can lease land either for free or inexpensively and if you are in a market where you can move product, then the potential upside to small scale farming is pretty attractive given the low start up costs and low infrastructure requirements?

How low?

Very low compared to other businesses.

In his book Curtis gives an initial start-up estimate for a 1/4 acre farm at $7k to $17k.

Curtis started his farm with just $7k.

That’s $7k that buys equipment and infrastructure which is portable and resellable.

In good markets, the risk reward of small scale farming is usually favorable because small scale market farming startup costs are very low compared to many business out there.

Yet, despite the minimal start up costs, the costs are still prohibitive, or at least perceived to be prohibitive by some people.

Given that we’ll dig into the farm start up numbers and see where costs can be cut and what costs are just unavoidable.

And we’ll also bring in some rationale to these numbers discussing why certain items are worth the cost, and why others aren’t.

Today we’ll begin a multi-part series discussing the minimum that you could spend to start a farm, and we will begin with the base principles, what are the things that you need to think about before you spend any money, that’s coming up on Season Two Episode 22 of The Urban Farmer.

The Base Principles of Farm Startup and Equipment

  • You are starting a business, have realistic expectations.
    • You are going to have to spend money to start a business, that’s just reality
    • For a business that could generate $30k or more per year, spending $10k once, isn’t a huge deal.
  • How committed are you? 
    • Are you sure that you want to do this full time?  Or no?  
      • Spend accordingly.
      • If you aren’t sure that you want to do this full time, then spend a small amount of possible, get growing.  See if you like that, then buy as you get more serious.
  • Is it just you?  Or do you have help?  
    • Tools can help change the nature of the work depending on labor availability.
  • How much time do you have?  
    • Tools can save time.  So the trade of is money for tools for time.
    • You can do something buy hand with time or buy a tool with money to save that time.  
  • Do you own land or lease land?
    • Own can go with more permanent.
  • The tools should never hold you back.  It’s never going to be the tools that make you successful.
    • Good tools can make you hit the ground running, can make job easier.
    • Good tools do have a bit of a “I’ve made it” effect which can have some psychological positive effects.
    • Tax break and write off for starting out.
  • Just because you think you need it, doesn’t mean you actually do need it or will needed.  
  • Danger of buying too much too fast. 
    • You skills, operation, interests, and setup will evolve as time goes on.  
      • So buying for need, as needed, or building for need as needed, could be a big win.  
  • Think about spending holistically across the business.  Don’t blow it all on a truck or a BCS.  
    • The non-sexy tools might not get a lot of love, but the are needed – i.e.  the farmers market setup.
  • Buy as with everything on the list – can buy used or can buy new.
    • You can do something buy hand with time or buy a tool with money to save that time.  
  • One start up cost not quantified on here as tools or equipment is living expenses.  If you are doing this full time, then every dollar that you take from the pool to buy stuff, is one dollar less for your runway living expenses.
  • Tools are one leg on the stool in terms of what you need.
    • Need to be able to grow effectively.
    • Sell effectively.
    • Keep records and manage costs.
    • Mental – overcoming challenges, dealing with rejection and bad weeks, adapting, problem solving
    • Need to have right holistic context.  Why are you doing this, what are you dong it for, make sure expectations align.
    • Be able to adapt…
      • If you can adapt and problem solve then you can work with these different tools to start out and then change along the way.  Adapt as needed and as resources allow.
  • Try to build confidence early.
    • If you are more confident then it makes taking the investment risk easier.
    • Start in your own front yard and just start growing some stuff.
    • Fake it till you make it.
    • Start by selling or giving away to the relationships that you already have: co-workers, neighbors, friends.
      • That will allow you to start producing and building confidence with little risk of rejection.

Learn More from Curtis Stone:

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