“Farming requires you to work and think in long time lines. You start looking at farm management as a generational timeline. So if it would take me 20 to 30 years to really understand all the wisdom that my father had and then also to realize that in order for our daughter to understand the dynamics and really learn the lay of the land will take her 20 years to 30 years.” –David Mas Masumoto Masumoto Family Farm
As more and more folks turn to small farms as a lifestyle choice they often don’t think about the bigger picture. It’s a wonderful notion to help preserve America’s farmland now, but what about the future? Who will take over the farm when you pass away or retire? Farm succession planning is a really important part of modern farming and something every grower needs to think about and deal with no matter their acreage or what crops they grow. America’s farms must become multi-generational to survive. Are you prepared?
Nothing is impossible - so says a rock climber with his head pitched back staring up an ugly face of granite, a kayaker caught in a squall, a skier pointing tips down a sheet of black ice – or a man who has done all of this and then taken up farming Down East where topsoil is barely deeper than the pine pollen on windowsills in May. After chasing adventure in the guise of a Spanish literature scholar with a taste for Chilean deep powder, cliffs and white water, Eliot Coleman got himself some acreage.
Of course a lot happened in between, but the story of Four Season Farm and how it came to be began with Coleman turning his quest for adventure away from situational adrenaline surges to another sort of challenge: to extract sugar carrots from a fir wood rooted on ledge.
It was late 1960’s when Coleman came back down to earth. A decade earlier the back-to-the-land how-to book, ‘Living the Good Life’, by Helen and Scott Nearing had emerged and became something of a bible among the younger set.
The Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) Organic Farmer of the Year award has been a long time in the making for Johnson Farms of Madison, South Dakota. Charlie Johnson and his brother Allan, along with their cousin Aaron and a handful of farm laborers, manage 2,800 acres of South Dakota farmland growing the ingredients for organic animal feed. On his way to pick up the award, Charlie Johnson shared a few insights into organic farming from the ‘long haul’ perspective.
It was Charlie and Allan’s father who started the farm in Madison. “My dad was a different kind of character,” explains Johnson. “He was kinda half hippie half profit.” Bernard Johnson had toyed around with the idea of chemical free farming for decades. He converted to a 100 percent organic production in 1976, years before the organic movement really began the paradigm shift from fringe obscurity to national awareness.
When Khrysti Smyth first started keeping chickens in her urban yard in Somerville Massachusetts, it was not only for the fresh eggs, but to reconnect with nature.
How does a Los Angeles-based techie completely disconnected from food and agriculture end up a passionate sustainable farmer? It’s really quite simple. The techie-turned-farmer in question, one Nathan Winters, strikes out on a 4300-mile bike ride across America’s rural landscapes to find inspiration. He works on a number of farms along the way and ends up with a passion for organic “bootstrap” agriculture that leads him to start Relly Bub Farm in southern Vermont.
I recently spoke with Winters to learn more about his embrace of agriculture, how his cross country trip shaped his philosophy on farming, his words of wisdom for new farmers, the challenges he faces and more.
For many sustainable agriculture entrepreneurs the point at which their ideas become ‘real’ is the one at which they must confront the decision as to whether to patent their technology or process. This decision point frequently comes even before pilot projects are established or target customers identified. Unless you’re fortunate enough to work at a university or research facility that is willing to cover the cost of patenting, it will typically involve spending anywhere between $5,000 and $20,000 in legal fees in addition to using team time, at a stage where time and funds are scarce; so the decision is rarely taken lightly.
With Focus on Pasture-Raised Livestock, Two 1st Generation Farmers Forge Sustainable Path in the Ozarks (Part 1)May 24, 2012 | Hana Lurie
From 40 acres to 250. From $5,000 to $189,000 in sales within its first five years, Falling Sky Farm, a grass-based livestock farm located in the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas about 100 miles outside of Little Rock, has been working to develop a sustainable farming model that it hopes to leverage and share with other like-minded farmers seeking to create economically viable operations.
Falling Sky Farm is helmed by co-owners Cody Hopkins, age 32 and his wife Andrea Todt, age 27. Both are first generation farmers who come from non-traditional farming backgrounds. Cody, a former high school physics teacher, has a Bachelors of Arts in Physics, and Andrea has a BA in Outdoor Education and Biology. They are largely self-taught.
For a startup, the odds of obtaining venture capital funding are lower than one in 100, likely less for a sustainable agriculture startup as I’ve covered elsewhere. The odds of securing a federal grant on the other hand are more like one in six , and they rise if you’re a student or university researcher. Yet, most agriculture startups spend a disproportionate amount of time chasing venture capital, and comparatively little considering grants as an option.
In the not too distant past, startups developed using government grants as opposed to equity investments were considered less hip than their venture capital backed brethren; the rationale being in part that those receiving grants would be less apt to move their idea speedily towards commercialization.
It’s March and spring is just around the corner. As communities begin to thaw out, and regional farmers markets prepare to start offering their first spring crops, it’s a great time for farmers’ market managers to start planning their season. Farmers already have a lot to do, and market managers can play an important role in unifying and promoting the market.
It’s no secret that farmers markets are becoming more and more popular. According to the USDA, as of mid-2011, there were 7,175 farmers markets operating across the US. This is an increase of 17% from 2010. A new local food system is growing, but it needs a boost of more robust marketing and promotion to compete with the industrial food system. Many market managers come to the job through a love of food and farming and a desire to be part of a new food movement.
The following post is part of a new column by real assets investor Nicola Kerslake that will focus on topics related to investment in sustainable agriculture. Sample topics will range from venture capital investment in sustainable agriculture and what VC investors look for in a startup to advice for entrepreneurs on obtaining government funding for agriculture projects and the benefits of joining an incubator.
A couple of times a week, I get a call from an agriculture startup with the same complaint: “We have a brilliant idea and customers ready to go, but no venture capitalist invests in agriculture”. By and large, they’re right. Despite mainstream media reports – notably in the New York Times – that predicted a wave of venture capital (VC) investment into sustainable agriculture, only $6.4 billion was plowed into the entire food and agriculture sector by private equity investors in 2011. This amounts to a mere 3% of total investment.
Branding and Marketing Advice for Sustainable Food Entrepreneurs: A Farmer’s Guide to Working with ChefsFebruary 23, 2012 | Alisha Lumea and Polly Legendre
Farmers and chefs have a lot in common. They both work long, often uncomfortable hours. They both suffer the whims of weather, from ruined crops to cancelled reservations, and they both depend on delivering a stellar product and pleasing others for their livelihood.
To make it in food — from the field to the kitchen — you need passion. To make it in the food business, you need communication.
Thus far, in our three-part series on DIY press savvy for sustainability-minded food entrepreneurs, we’ve covered how to put together your story to resonate with the media, and how to tell it to the right people. In the final part of this series, we look at how to leverage the press you get for maximum benefit.
Last week in our branding and marketing advice column for sustainability-minded food entrepreneurs, we kicked off our three-part series on DIY press savvy by providing advice on how to put together a story that will resonate with the media. This week’s column is all about how to get your story in front of the right reporters.
So let’s begin with the pitch.
While it’s perfectly acceptable to make a phone call to make your pitch, email is generally the best first approach. With email, you won’t catch someone at a bad moment, and you can craft your pitch without worrying about getting flustered mid-sentence or going off-topic.