As we’ve now been in the agricultural world for some time, we’ve been to quite a lot of agricultural workshops. I swear, one common thread running across all of them is how difficult it can be to make money from a farming endeavor, and that’s not by accident. The physical labor of farming – growing produce, tending to livestock, and stewarding a piece of land – can be extremely strenuous, but if you truly love the work, it can feel like second nature to perform farm tasks like weeding or feeding the animals. This is not so true for the business end of things. I’ve met many farmers who feel like they would die if they couldn’t get their hands in the dirt who would be incredibly grateful to never crunch numbers again (myself included!). It’s really easy to get so caught up in the nitty gritty of field work that you never write down the nitty gritty of your sales numbers or figure out where you’re profiting.

That’s why I was so grateful for the focus of our last field school workshop, on Farm Business and Financial Planning. Before class, we’d all been asked to do some preliminary market research into the viability of various farm enterprises we’re thinking of pursuing. It was incredible to hear the deeply varied responses from all of our classmates – a great reminder of how vast and unique the farming world is!

We’ve been putting a lot of our focus in this class into figuring out how we might develop a small on-site rare plants nursery, but other classmates are looking into hemp production, raising lamb, beginning new CSAs, building horse retirement centers – it’s all so exciting!

Adam Hopkins from UT Extension gave a very thorough presentation on how one can best determine which enterprises are right for your farm. One thing he consistently reiterated was how important it is to make sure that you are choosing the enterprise that suits the type of person you are. There are plenty of ways to run a profitable farm, but if you’re doing work that you don’t enjoy or that goes against your core values, you won’t be able to be successful because your heart isn’t in it.

Adam gave us tons of great tips about how to assess the viability of our business plans, like making sure we have a defined customer base, and determining what that customer base is seeking. The more specific we’re able to be, the better we’ll know how to get our products out there. He told us that if we’re not having someone complain that our prices are too high then we’re probably overselling us. I found this to be relieving – I always begin to deeply question my marketing when I get complaints about my prices!

After Adam spoke, we got to hear from Duane of Gibson Berry Farm. He’s had an incredible career full of lots of different farming experiences. I loved getting to hear from someone who so clearly didn’t shy away from different crops and strange farm experiments and still managed to translate that into a profitable business! It seems like he’s grown a little bit of everything, and sold it every which way, even though he has a very straightforward model of selling an acre of blueberries at a truck market that carries the rest of the enterprise.

Becca & Joe