The Female Farmer Project™

documenting the rise of women in agriculture

ask a farmer: what is the biggest barrier to new farmers?

Originally published: September 23, 2015 

breakout discussion at FarmAid 30 Conference

breakout discussion at FarmAid 30 Conference

I was recently in Chicago, IL for the Farm Aid two day conference that led up to the concert on Saturday. The first day was dedicated to looking back at the past 30 years of family farm advocacy and honoring the many accomplishments of the folks who worked so hard to save so many farms and farmers. The second day was spent looking forward to the challenges. One of the many recurring themes in my work and the discussions that day revolved around how do we grow new farmers? I had the privilege of moderating the breakout discussion on that very topic at the end of the conference, and then I turned to  Instagram for instant feedback. Their terrific answers are below. Lots of great input, thank you to all of you. 

What do you think is the biggest barrier to becoming a farmer?

·       thepurplecoop Equipment.

·       chimacumcorner Land acquisition!!!

·       littlebighorn_ Land value - drought - competition - sustainability - profitability - resources - education - organic status red tape - lack of peer support 🌳 🚜🌈

·       jaredncFinancing and land

·       insta_grammyskiAll of the above for sure.

·       revolutionfarmMaking a profit enough to make it thru to next season...

·       katgoldinHere, it's land. The waiting list for crofts is decades and to buy a normal farm is hundreds of thousands.

·       saltrivergarlicEquipment cost, cost of land, and lack of adequate labor when harvest arrives.

·       fullcircle_csaStart up costs.

·       maddieherndon_Cost of land, water issues stemming from the drought.

·       buh_bexFor me it would be the unpredictability of weather/ natural "events," the stress of having to adapt or change plans every time something didn't go as planned. Faith that it would all end up ok.

·       themullfarmNot in America but in Kuwait : availability of better paying jobs ( oil sector ) and lack of interest in farming ( a desert country ) , weather ( heat ) and finally the land and farming is , ironically , only done by the rich ones .

·       andreabemisLand and the proximity to markets!!!

·       doctorspocksbackupbandNot being informed enough. I am interested in farming but can't help but think I'm so behind all of the kids that grew up on farms and learned all about it as they were growing up. This makes me not want to be a farmer because there is always a more informed teen.

·       startafarm$$$$$$! land, equipment, supplies, animals/fencing/hay/feed. basically just the cost of doing it all. thanks to decades of unrealistically cheap food, small organic farmers get the short end of that stick. profit margins on food are slim, the costs of daily maintenance and production are huge. you can spend the majority of your money on land, and/or go deep into debt for land, and it's usually hard to see profit until after a couple years. we're 6 years in and still scraping by, figuring it out. hard to make progress when just barely making ends meet.

·       queensheereenThe costs seem so enormous and the financial return seems so small. The time spent growing food is a hugely satisfying endeavor but making a living from it is daunting at best.

·       aiyanayuki@mollyadshead stuff about farming. And follow this woman!

·       lifewith3girlsHaving enough money/equipment/land/knowledge to start and SUSTAIN. Passion for farming doesn't pay the bills.

·       sugarcookiecottageMy mother and I are trying to start a farm and we need grants to start out! We have the land and some animals, we need the rest!

·       runawaygoblinBeing able to give all of your crops the attention they need. It's not just plant seeds then come back in a while to profit. You need to be smart about your soil and all other factors that contribute to your plants health. But most of all I feel the biggest obstacle is to truly have the passion for farming, not everyone can be a farmer

·       grocefamilyfarmI honestly think it's grit and attitude. In most places, there is some little bit of land you can get access to cheaply, if you're willing to look/ask/pay/work for it. Capital for Americans can also be overcome if you're willing to learn and start small. Start with a yard full of egg layers or a porch full of microgreens. Try stuff. Fail. Learn. Adapt. Find customers. Produce value for you and your customers. It's not easy. But it is fun.

·       _under__the__sun_Isolation and long hours with potentially no days off or holidays.

·       kentjones76I go to farm actions , and don't see anyone under 40. Hard work for long hours and little pay, may not be enticing to the next generation. I think a shortened attention span created by a mix of TV/ social media/ gaming where the youth of tomorrow are entertained and not shown the values in a days labor.

·       innorcalloveI'm a farm intern in my early 20s. The biggest issue seems to be money and motivation. You have to be willing to spend a lot of grueling hours hashing things out and planning just right to even get a toe on the mat of the door. Farming is so much about making mistakes, you have to be poor and work endlessly before you get very far. That's certainly not true for all but for many that's the reality. A lot of people want that though, I know I do. You have to also have the right people behind you or you won't make it through. Support is so important.

·       crush_lab@paulatabalipa @bryallisongood one

·       cwelpmanI just graduated college with a degree in environmental science and have been volunteering at a small farm to table program for the last two years. I think the core of the problem is agricultural subsidies that are granted to large monocrop productions. I feel that without the subsidies, food prices would increase giving farmers a larger margin to operate. Also, food needs to be produced in our populations centers using best available technology. This would reduce the distance food travels to market, reduce the urban heat island effect and reconnect out population with its food source. Although I am not making any money doing this, I currently work at a educational garden that is less then 3,000sq ft. and sell produce to 4 restaurants. I love farming and believe with the right political support a new area of sustainable farming is beginning to germinate.

·       sustainabledishLand

·       peaceandcarrotsfarmIn Southern NY, it's the cost of living. Land prices are high, but taxes and rent on a place to live if there's no house on your property are through the roof.

·       mountainmeadowsfarmLand price, then when you begin finding labor.

·       warrenwood_manorFear of failure and lack of work ethic. All of the other obstacles can be over come. If you're not willing to just go for it and work daylight to dark making farming a lifestyle (AKA you're whole existence) you will not be successful in our industry. We went for it and never looked back, but finding labor has been a huge issue for one wants to work hard anymore.

·       providerfarmerLand access. Here in CT, large plots of tillable land are around 1 million and we compete with wealthy New Yorkers who want there hobby farms as tax shelters and use land preservation dollars to purchase them. We lease which is fine for now but presents major barriers for growth in terms of infrastructure development so while leasing is good in that we have started a good business,is not a panacea.

·       danielpwolf@startafarm I agree with you, I'm farmer from Brazil and over here we have the same problem. We visit Nebraska, Texas and Kansas everyone said the same. In my opinion sucession familiar is another point. The yunger people doesn't want to work on the farmer family bussiness.

·       sandrakaymillerFor anyone raising livestock it's access to USDA processing

·       lyndsey_keeganI agree with@startafarm

·       alisha.lovesNot a farmer, but want to be in the next 2-3 years. I think there is a lack of interest in farming/there needs to be greater understanding of how to farm sustainably like the market gardener

·       farmer_danthemanI think the biggest obstacle is the desire to work hard where I live I can't even find someone to hire because most of America is afraid to sweat and get there hands dirty.

·       b_thistleFirst: Affordable land and equipment and, Second: access to mentors willing to pass on knowledge to the next generation. The internet and books and conferences can teach a farmer so much. But someone to come alongside every now and then is hard to find. It has been my experience that you CAN learn by doing. But it's hit or miss and can make or break a farmer in some instances.

·       cheraleesWhen we started out, I talked to every "failed" farmer I could find, asking them where they thought things went wrong. They were uncomfortable conversations, but I left with a) have realistic expectations b) buy land that fits your plan or change your plan - don't waste time and effort trying to make something succeed where it naturally won't c) take your time - we have our first product after 3.5 years... What I have encountered is that fellow new farmers buy the wrong land for what they want, throw 4 species they have no experience with together and need to succeed, like, yesterday!

·       beccuhfox$$$ and access to affordable, good quality land!!

·       julzhipaI think that one of the biggest barrier to become a farmer is working hard necessity. Every day the farmers need to work with their hands looking over the dale. Not all the people ready for this because this kind of work takes more time and strength than usual work. Plus when they are used to be among the different people who care about how they look like, don't lift the heavy things every day, have a great education degree they don't understand how they can change your life and become a farmer.

·       lrn2wardjusticeYes, @cwelpman! The majority of consumers are disconnected from their food sources and have little knowledge about actual investment in supporting farmers. Subsidies have created a facade of food production dependant on that ignorance. More people need to know about food production and the efforts it takes, as well as know about the exploitation of land and people that occurs. Physical labor needs to be dignified in this country and farming recognized as a valuable profession.

·       ashleylprMoney - equipment and land costs can be prohibitive. Lack of access to relevant business planning advice. The possibility of never getting time off. No matter how much you love something....everyone needs a break sometimes!

·       celli67Besides the finances and money of course, is the know how. There is a deeply concerning divide in the aging old time farmers and the next generation. In that gap a lot of wisdom and know how will be lost!

·       amyofarmsBurnout.- You work very, very hard for very, very little money. After awhile (11years in my case) you just run out of gas. Labor- I agree 100% with@farmer_dantheman. Very difficult to find and keep good people. Again, hard work for little money. I'm still going because I don't know how do anything else and frankly, I don't want to do anything else.

·       elmlongCapital, land and knowledge.

·       rachy_131Knowledge and experience.

·       sweetpeafarmandorchardLand cost and capital required is obviously one of the first barriers encountered but if you manage to overcome those there is the overwhelming lack of support and training.

·       whiteflintfarmCan be very expensive to get land and equipment. Income potential very limited and it's hard work. Real estate taxes hurt too. You work very hard for little money. It's got to be a labor of love.

·       smcqWe have a small farm. We manage to feed ourselves from large gardens while raising all our own meat. That was our initial goal. We now sell a small part of our grass fed beef and meat chickens to help cover some costs. Taxes are high, non GMO feed is expensive, plus animal expenses, farm expenses (new fencing this year) etc., It costs more to do this than it should.

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