Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Making Your Small Farm Profitable :: Chapter 1 Book Report

Earlier I gave you a little preview of the first chapter in Ron Macher's book "Making Your Small Farm Profitable" on this post. Today I'm going to give my full on chapter book report. As I mentioned in another post I have heard mixed reviews of this book, but I must admit that after reading the first chapter and browsing through the table of contents I'm pretty interested to see what I will find.

The title of chapter one is, "Deciding to Farm". On one had I have already "decided" to farm, but on the other hand it is never to late to change my mind! Really, this is a good overview of some things you need to think about as you make the decision to farm, and why people want to farm.

One interesting nugget from this chapter is a report on why people chose to farm. In the 1950's the top three reasons were: 1.) I like to work outdoors; 2.) It's a good place to raise my children; 3.) I'll always have a place to life and food to eat (Mr. Macher points out that isn't true if you have a mortgage). At the time the 14th of the 15 answers provided by most farmers was because, "it provides a good income". Fast forward about 40 years and you will find that the first three answers were similar as the 1950's survey because they were all about lifestyle, but you will also find that a "good income" moved up to seventh place. Mr. Macher writes that income should be your number one goal ... but probably that isn't why you farm.

The chapter also gives some definitions from the USDA, IRS, and the author himself as to what a "small farm" really is. According to the definitions small farms make up 79% of all the farms in the US today, so small farmers are not alone. In fact small farm numbers are one the rise (possibly because big farmers are having to become small farmers due to the rising costs of farming?). Mr. Macher also throws out some definitions for "family farms" and "sustainable agriculture". I think almost everyone has different view points on these terms ... so, I'm not even going to touch this!

Another interesting section of the chapter was the pros and cons of full-time versus part-time farming. Let me sum it up for you... starting out as a full-time farmer (no off farm job) is really hard and starting out as a part-time farmer gives you a little bit of both. Jumping in whole hog to full-time farming is especially difficult (put totally possible) if you don't have much experience or capital. And, I would say that having capital is really the key because you need money to begin things, pay for mistakes, and buy food for yourself as you get things going. If I had capital I would be all over it ... But, there is something to be said for part-time farming. In the words of the author you can, "have your cake and eat it too." Of course when you are part-time farming you often have to tailor your farming schedule around your "town job" schedule. Oh ... so much to think about!

Overall, I think the best thing about this chapter is that it makes you think. I have been doing a lot of reading lately about the process of farming. Things like raising livestock, managing pastures, choosing forages, and raising crops are really good to help get a sense of the practical knowledge needed, but really it is good to take a reality check from time to time and take off the romantic farming glasses. Mr. Macher throws out some good things to think about without trying to spell out a step-by-step process. It is important that beginning farmers work things out for their specific passions, desires, and reality ... I think this book will be a good reality check.

Remember to check back regularly as I will be posting a book report for each chapter!


Anonymous said...

I've heard that Gardening for Profit by Peter Henderson is an AMAZING intro, more helpful than Macher's book. The interesting thing is that Henderson's book was published in 1867! I'll be reading it over the next few weeks and I'll check back in to let you know how it is.

If you get the chance, check out Steve Solomon's soil and health library:

Ethan Book said...

Thanks for checking out the blog and for the recommendation. I'll have to look into that book and check out the website. Hope you stick around!

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