5 Guides for Beginning Farmers

Photo © Patty O'Brien / www.summercrowphotos.com

Photo © Patty O’Brien / www.summercrowphotos.com

If you’re thinking about starting a farm, there are many groups who do work with beginning farmers. Some have published free guides that provide lots of information that will be useful as you get started. Here are a few of our favorites:

  1. The Greenhorns’ Guide for Beginning Farmers is designed to help young people develop careers in agriculture. It highlights helpful readings and resources about land access, financing farm businesses, and building technical skills.
  2. Penn State Extension’s Starting or Diversifying an Agricultural Business walks you through all the steps of starting a business, from analyzing business opportunities to getting off the ground.
  3. The Northeast Beginning Farmers Project at Cornell has a Getting Started guide that focuses on identifying your goals, skills, and resources to build an enterprise.
  4. New Entry Sustainable Farming Project’s guide on How to Begin Your Small Farm Dream is a plain language guide that provides a clear overview of the benefits and challenges of owning a farm, as well as the resources to realize those benefits.
  5. ATTRA’s Start a Farm in the City Guide walks you through starting an urban farm, touching on soil testing, finding markets, and resources specifically for urban farmers.

To find beginning farmer guides specific to your region, use our search tool to find an organization that provides the specific assistance and resources you need. Our online directory contains more than 750 organizations all over the United States that work directly with farmers on a variety of issues.

On-Farm Water Stewardship Resources

Water conservation practices hold incredible potential for reducing farmer’s use of increasingly expensive and precious water resources.

The Ecological Farming Association’s Water Stewardship Project provides education and outreach materials about implementing on-farm water conservation measures, including a variety of resources, and videos case-studies.

The California Agricultural Water Stewardship Initiative also offers a variety of resources for water stewardship practices, including a helpful overview of different water stewardship approaches and practices and an extensive library of publications, technical services agencies, organizations and policy papers on the topic.

We also recommend checking out the USDA’s California State Natural Resources Conservation Service YouTube videos, providing a quick glimpse into some of the Agency’s most popular conservation opportunities.

New Farmland Succession Guides from Land for Good

Three new (free!) publications from Land for Good are designed to help “senior” and “junior” farming generations get the farm succession process going, from setting goals to understanding legal and financial terms used in farmland and business transfers.

Farm Succession and Transfer: Strategies for the Junior Generation focuses on the beginning farmer’s side of land transfer. The guide walks you through the entire process, including technical information like the types of transfer, legal issues that need to be resolved as a contract is worked out, types of agreements to use, and how to develop contingency plans.

The second two guides complement the “Junior Generation” guide, with one for senior farmers and one for service providers who will have a role in the process.

All guides available for free. Land for Good has a variety of resources for those looking to lease or acquire farmland, including an online course in Acquiring your Farm. Visit the Land for Good website at http://www.landforgood.org.

New Guides for Organic Operations

To describe the relevant organic requirements, provide best practices, and further explain the certification process for certified organic farmers, the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) has partnered with the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) to provide the following detailed guides:

These guides provide helpful information for both beginning farmers and current organic operations looking to adopt new management approaches. Digital downloads of all guides are free, and print versions are $3.00.

Veteran Careers in Agriculture

The Farmer-Veteran Coalition recently published “Veteran Careers in Agriculture: A Resource Guide,” available on their newly revamped website. The guide contains information for U.S. veterans interested in sustainable farming, covering training opportunities, farm organizations, agricultural employment, and farm business planning, as well as stories about veterans who have successfully transitioned into farming careers.

The mission of the Farmer-Veteran Coalition is to mobilize veterans to feed America. Learn more at www.farmvetco.org.

The 2013 New Farmer’s Almanac from The Greenhorns

The Greenhorns have released The 2013 New Farmer’s Almanac, full of “advice and entertainment for those dealing practically with the unknown.” Written for new and young farmers working to build a more sustainable food system, the almanac includes more than 300 pages of essays by young agrarians, useful illustrations, historical excerpts, lunar information, poems, and more. An ‘audio almanac’ of worksongs, farm lectures, interviews and other content accompanies the hard copy.

Order The 2013 New Farmer’s Almanac using Etsy, Paypal, or by sending a check or money order. The almanac will also be available at farmer conferences, feed stores, and independent bookshops. For information about bulk ordering, email audrey@thegreenhorns.net.

The Greenhorns’ mission is to promote, recruit and support the growing movement of new and sustainable farmers in the country. Learn more at www.thegreenhorns.net.

“Field Journal: A Beginners Guide for Young Farmers,” Available for Free Download

The Northeast Beginning Farmer Project and The Greenhorns have released the beautifully illustrated, full-color Field Journal: A Beginners Guide for Young Farmers for free download. The guide details the history and future of American agriculture, information on learning to farm, starting a farm, going to market, and a multitude of resources from funding opportunities to land access to business education for aspiring farmers.

Field Journal is both a basic primer for the future farmer and detailed guide for the serious grower. Woven throughout the pragmatic resources and information are “Stories from the Field,” first-hand accounts and advice from young farmers across the country and a section for your own notes, inspiration, ideas and planning.

Download your copy and visit The Greenhorns and The Northeast Beginning Farmer Project for more resources.

Farmers’ Guide to Navigating Organic Contracts

In response to the growing use of written contracts in the booming organic sector, the Farmers’ Legal Action Group (FLAG), one of our Resource Partners, just released the Farmers’ Guide to Organic Contracts. The guide was created to help USDA-certified organic farmers make informed decisions and offer solutions when negotiating with organic buyers about their contracts. The guide assists farmers in evaluating offers, negotiating contract terms, managing performance, and finding solutions to contract disputes.

The guide is organized into the following sections:

  • Overview of Contract Laws Relevant to Farmers
    A basic overview of contract law helpful for farmers, including creating an enforceable agreement and successfully changing formal agreements within a contract period
  • Practical Contracting Toolkit
    A primer on contract basics, negotiation strategy tips and advice to manage an agreement
  • Explaining How Organic Regulations Interact with Contracts
    How contracts may affect farmers’ compliance with organic regulations, and how regulations can affect farmers’ ability to satisfy contracts
  • Examples of Unfavorable and More Favorable Contract Language
    A detailed examination of 100+ types of organic contract provisions from price to GMO testing
  • Information About Solving Common Contract Disputes
    How to enforce an organic contract against a buyer and tips for finding a qualified contract attorney and handling a lawsuit, including ten common contract dispute situations

To access a free download of Farmers’ Guide to Organic Contracts and for other FLAG publications and agriculture contract resources, visit the FLAG website.

Learn the Basics of Sustainable Farming and Holistic Management

The National Sustainable Agricultural Information Service (ATTRA), managed by the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT), offers two publications for farmers interested in integrating environmental, economic and social sustainability on their farms.

Applying the Principles of Sustainable Farming provides practical examples of how to apply new sustainability principles on the farm. Holistic Management: A Whole-Farm Decision Making Framework helps farmers establish long-term goals, detailed financial and biological plans, and monitoring programs for their farms by incorporating Holistic Management principles.

For more resources on sustainable farm management options, visit ATTRA’s website and the Sustainable Options Resource Guide from Farm Aid.