Saturday, March 21, 2015

Tips For Young Farmer Success

A decade ago, Joel Salatin had already earned a reputation as a controversial farmer, author and speaker, advocating for turning pastures into “salad bars” for livestock and avoiding chemicals and growth-enhancing hormones to produce good food. Still farming in Swoope, Va., on land his father purchased in 1961, Salatin and his family have come a long way in the past 10 years.

Back then, he farmed 500 owned and leased acres. Salatin was proud of making the equivalent of about $40 per hour. Today, he manages a 2,000-acre organic farm that grosses $2 million a year. It supports 20 full-time salaries and offers a paying internship program for young, would-be producers.

Years ago, when Salatin and his wife, Theresa, started out, they were convinced of certain failure. “We really thought we wouldn’t be able to make it,” the former newspaper journalist says.

But in 1982, the couple leaped into full-time farming with enough money squirreled away to live on for a year. Living in Salatin’s parents’ attic, driving a $50 car and growing as much of their own food as they could, the young Salatins subsisted on $300 per month. #1. TURN OFF NETFLIX(forget TV) His advice to beginning farmers isn’t surprising, given those experiences. Tipping his wide-brimmed hat farther down over his brow and looking at me closely through horn-rimmed glasses, he advises: “Get a nest egg. Don’t jump foolishly. Turn off Netflix. Don’t go out to dinner, and sell your second car. Establish self-reliance first,” he adds.

The Salatins began their farm with 10 beef cattle, which they direct-marketed to friends and neighbors. They sold six the first year as freezer beef in quarters, halves and wholes. They grossed $20,000. The next year, they added chickens to the operation and came up with the idea of building portable chicken shelters they could move from field to field.

Again, they marketed to neighbors and local establishments and restaurants. “If you grow chicken for Tyson, you need a $400,000 chicken house,” Salatin says. “We had 280 chickens and a $100 portable shelter.” Even though Salatin's Polyface Farms earns the majority of its income from beef and pork today, chicken remains its signature piece. Sit down at a farm-to-table restaurant in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley or even Washington, D.C., and you’ll find references to organic chicken from Polyface. (The name Polyface has interesting roots. The Salatins call their operation “the farm of many faces” because of all the products they produce — thus, Polyface Farms.)

I never followed Joel but he made agricultural news as he started his ideas and they were reported to work.  I am guessing that was in the 90's.  Then I started watching Farm Kings a couple of years ago and enjoyed the one King son Daniel try an internship at Joel's farm and it became as educational as it was entertaining.

There are lots of tips for success for young farmers but you have to make or receive an opportunity somewhere and grow it.  A few people have that old entrepreneurial knack in America but most people don't.

I thought this was a good story worth sharing with my readers, especially you young, budding farmers.  I keep trying to clue you in what I learned, what I did wrong and how to do better than I did, at least quicker!  My email is always open and I enjoy helping you.

Ed Winkle


  1. I followed that show for a while and enjoyed the parts about Polyface Farms. Small farmers today need to offer something different to their customers; you can't compete against agribiz.

  2. These are inspiring farmers to me, same as Jean-Marie Fortier in Qu├ębec. This CSA farm makes over $100,000 with 40+% of profit on about 2 acres of land. This kind of enterprises also has a huge economical impact, with a much higher jobs per acre ratio. Now animal and produce farming is not the same as row crops, but that's the beauty of farming, it literally feeds and clothes people.

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