The Organic Farm Fantasy Meets Reality

| 6/15/2009 5:48:58 PM

Organic farmerMore than a few daydreaming co-op shoppers have entertained the notion: When we get fed up with the rat race, we’ll move to a sweet patch of land in the country and start up a small organic farm. After all, people are paying good money for organics, and the market share for this segment is growing every year—what a great cottage industry for a newly minted back-to-the-lander.

Hold on just a minute there. Before anyone gets too far into their modern agrarian fantasy, they should seek out the May-June issue of In Good Tilth magazine (not available online) and read all about the nitty-gritty details of organic farming. In a series of articles grouped under the cover headline “Fresh Young Farmers,” the magazine profiles people who’ve actually put their hoes to the humus and arrives at an inescapable conclusion: It’s really, really hard work—but it’s also very rewarding for those who’ve got the right stuff.

In the leadoff article, “Want to Farm?” Katie Kulla, who runs a community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm in Oregon with her husband Casey, writes that “going from the early dream to today’s farming reality has required more work, money, and time than we ever anticipated.” In the spirit of helping others follow their path with fewer obstacles, she offers advice that she wishes she and Casey had gotten before they started: “Pay off debt and start saving money,” “Get in the best physical shape of your life,” “Learn about the reality of farming,” “Know yourself (and your partner),” “Set goals and persevere,” and “Stay open.” Having doled out these hard truths, Kulla offers encouragement by noting that “our life is richer and fuller than I thought possible.” (Read more about that life on their farm blog.)

In “Cross-Roads Generation,” Erin Volheim writes about an influx of young farmers in the Applegate Valley area of southwest Oregon who “wanted something different for the future, beyond the McJob,” and started farms in the 1990s. These Generation Xers had to learn a lot on their own, but they persevered and now are positioned to provide help and advice for the next crew: Generation Y, or the Millennials. As one of them, “Mookie” Moss, says, “The longer you farm, the more you learn from this dialogue with the land.”

In “No Stone Unturned,” newbie farmer Zoe Bradbury writes that “anyone who has the passion for farming should have a fair shot at it.” She guides prospective farmers through some of the resources available to them, noting that she didn’t always take full advantage of them. Still, her story is instructive: “Considering that I was relatively well prepared to take the leap into independent farming, it was still a tough go,” she writes.

So go ahead and dream—but make sure you do your homework before you buy the farm.

julie kate hanus
7/17/2009 2:08:20 PM

Here's a happy coincidence! For people interested in becoming farmers, Alison Rogers, assistant editor at our sister publication Mother Earth News, recently fielded just such a question in their "Ask Our Experts feature. Rogers has information about finding internships and apprenticeships, a link to a new homesteader's blog, as well as links to resources from the Mother Earth News archive.

Libby Comeaux
6/19/2009 11:30:55 AM

Thank you for the realistic tone and information. Does anyone know where I can get statistics on the rate of return to the land for either small family farming (and/) or organic farming? What about conversion of industrial farmland to organic (and/) or small family farms? If you can help answer these questions, I would very much appreciate an email me at

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