Should I move to my family farm?
December 14, 2016 10:17 AM   Subscribe

My partner and I are very seriously thinking about moving to my family farm once our lease is up here in the big city next May. In short, we want to homestead/farm. We are not preppers. We enjoy animals, nature and working hard with our hands. We have savings. Yes, I know how hard farming is. I'm experienced. My partner is a carpenter. We are growing weary of life in the city, find ourselves to be somewhat reclusive and disenchanted with our daily routines. We would also like to be closer to our families.

My partner and I have been weighing the option for about a year now. We worry about being isolated and missing being in the midst of so many people and so much culture. While we feel like our current routines are slowly killing us here, we are used to it and could just maintain momentum. We also know that homesteading/farming is lots of backbreaking work and isn't guaranteed to succeed. However, we feel that we are not able to invest meaningfully in our own futures here in the city: we have no hopes of making enough money to own property here, and our jobs do not offer benefits or retirement savings. We don't plan on having kids.

I grew up on and off the farm, I've made hay, fixed tractors, taken care of animals and bees, etc. I've kept a garden everywhere I've lived ever since I moved away. I know how to dry and can food, I'm great at inventing little contraptions, fixing things and making do. I spent last summer at the farm helping my aging grandparents keep the place running, and I kinda didn't want to leave. My partner has experience building and is the hardest working person I know next to my mom and my grandparents!

My family owns the farm and there is a cabin for us to live in while we build our own home. We have a good chunk of savings, and could both find part time work in our current professions. We would not have to buy land, as my mom owns 75 of the 200+acres (includes a barn, silo, two fields, two ponds and a forest). She and I have a good relationship and common vision for the future of the farm. She will eventually inherit another parcel of the farm that includes the big house, shed, shop, barn, 3 fields and two ponds.

My partner and I want to build our own small house with our own four hands from as much salvaged material as we can. We both have experience doing various aspects of construction. We are also good at researching and we get along famously. In our own words, "we want to do something that we don't have to convince ourselves to be proud of."

We would also like to be closer to our families. I'm expecting a niece in a month, my sister will be moving nearby with her husband and my partners family is a short drive away. My grandparents are getting old, they live on the farm, and wehave a lot to learn from them.

Right now the farm is not generating a whole lot of income. Some comes from renting the fields on my grandparents parcel, some from selling honey and beef share . My mom usually participates in a farmers market but it is a pretty small scale operation. I like to think that with me and my partner there, we could start ramping up production in the next year. Instead of raising one cow, start a small herd; set up a roadside stand in our triangle at the intersection, etc. with the goal in mind of eventually being in several farmers markets and maybe even starting a CSA with some of the other farmers in the area.

If the adventure turned out to be a complete failure, we could always go back to city life, just maybe not so far away. Worst case scenario, we build ourselves a little off-grid house on the farm that we get to visit on the weekends.

Dear and wise MeFites, what I'm asking is: do I sound like a crazy person? Is this a total pipe dream that I should forget about? Do you know anyone who has done anything like this, or have you yourselves? Should we do this???
posted by chimeling to Grab Bag (45 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I could just say "yes, you should" and leave it at that.

You want to do it, you have a good idea of what "it" actually is, and it's personally and financially low risk.

My parents left high-paying jobs to move to the middle of nowhere and reconstruct what the woman from the mortgage lender, on seeing the photographs, described as "a ruin". There was an immense amount of hard work involved, lots of compromise with temporary jobs and no money, and I spent the best part of 3 years living in a tent. That experience, and its successors, have left them financially better off and, more importantly, more peaceful and happy about themselves and their lives than anyone else I know. They took a massively greater risk than the one you are contemplating, and they would have been fools if they had not.

If you want to do it, do it. What's the alternative? Spend the rest of your life wondering whether you should have?
posted by howfar at 10:27 AM on December 14, 2016 [29 favorites]

I'm not really seeing a downside here. You're not some naive person with silly fantasies of farm life: you know what you're getting into and have solid reasons for wanting to do it again. You're aware of the risks and seem to have plans for if it doesn't work out. What's causing you to hesitate?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:28 AM on December 14, 2016 [49 favorites]

Best answer: You've done the work, you like the work. I like this idea. You don't mention how far this will be from where you currently live and how much of a culture shock but I'd be saying go for it. Considerations...

- can you afford to do this safely? So not just "hey we can live in the cabin" but can you afford health insurance, pay down debt, maintain vehicles you'd need to get around, pay taxes etc?
- how open are your parents to adjusting the family business? Can you be in business with them? You say there isn't a lot of income being generated, would you be able to make these changes?
- are you sure about all the succession plans? Are you sure people won't go broke and give stuff to the bank instead of other family members? Are you and your sister both on board with this plan?
- it's not really just the work but the primacy of the work. How okay are you not going on vacations, spending less time online and spending holidays and weekends doing this? You may be totally into it which is great, but you may also want to keep up with friends online and go places which is also valid
- can you culturally get along there? find enough to do, people to get along with, deal with neighbors who may have different ideas from yourself?
- does this work if you are not with your partner? How do you deal with stresses and change as a couple? Are you both on board with this in roughly equal amounts?

Honestly from your brief description it sounds like you're ready and this will be ok.
posted by jessamyn at 10:31 AM on December 14, 2016 [24 favorites]

This sounds absolutely awesome.

If you do this and want to ramp up production, you could also consider taking on WWOOFers, who you pay in room and board and experience.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:46 AM on December 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: To add a little info:

I'm one payment shy of paying off my student loans. My partner and I both have enough savings to last a good while. I freelance, and could continue doing that from the farm if we needed more income.

There is some risk of the inheritance not working out in my moms favor, but she already owns a big parcel of the land, so it wouldn't be devastating.

I don't have many friends here anyway, and even if I did, I don't have time to see them. My two best friends don't even live here, so I just talk to them on the phone. I work a lot just to pay the bills and try to put away some savings. My partner doesn't get vacation time as it is. The last time we went anywhere for fun was almost 2 years ago. It wouldn't be a huge social shift other than just not interacting with the city dwellers anymore. I do worry about clashing culturally, but my family has lived in the area for 6 generations, and I know a lot of the neighbors.

The one thing that gives me pause is that No Way would I be doing this if my partner wasn't keen on it too, or wasn't in the picture. I don't quite know what to think about that.
posted by chimeling at 10:51 AM on December 14, 2016

Where in the world is this?
I mean sure, sounds fun, you seem to have met most/all of the pre-reqs. Go for it if that's what's calling you!

But I'd think a little bit differently about say rural VT compared to rural IL vs rural IA or KS, and GA or WA would each be very different too.
I'd think a little differently about places with no hard freeze.
I'd think a little differently about a place 6 hours from the nearest town worth mentioning, compared to a place 2 hours from the nearest town.

If you grew up there, you surely know a lot about it, but not all farming areas have the same prospects on the 1-3 decade outlook, IMO.
Just some specific things to consider other than the generalities of "city vs. farm life".
posted by SaltySalticid at 10:55 AM on December 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

This sounds like something the two of you have thought out for a long time, and yeah, if you can see yourself living this type of lifestyle -- and it sounds like you know what you're in for -- I don't see any real problems with it.

My only question is how you'll make money to accomplish basic everyday tasks like feeding yourselves, keeping the lights on, etc. since it sounds like the farm isn't bringing in income that would trickle down to support the two of you. This is a problem that a lot of farmers have. My grandparents also have a farm, but both of them had full-time jobs in addition to farm chores until retirement age (as did all of my great-grandfathers, who were also all farmers). I spent some time a few summers ago working on another farm, and they earned ready cash to keep themselves afloat by running a B&B on the property. Very few people are self-sufficient farmers. It's very common to have some kind of day job or side income from a non-farming source. It sounds like your boyfriend's construction skills might fit the bill for that, but if the area is so remote that it will be difficult for him to get regular work, that might be an important factor to consider.
posted by Sara C. at 11:04 AM on December 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I know plenty of people who have done this in my area. It comes with big challenges and no guarantee of success, but it sounds like you know plenty about that, you're planning on finding part-time work to supplement the farm income, and you and your partner have many of the skills you'll need. I think you should go for it -- you sound a hell of a lot more prepared and well-supported than some other folks that I've seen succeed!

The only important skills I see missing from your self-description are on the business/marketing side. To make the farm produce a sustainable income, you will have to approach it as a business and think about who your market is and how to reach them, as well as keeping a handle on costs. Your slow-build-to-CSA idea sounds like a good one, so long as there are enough potential subscribers in the area. Another trend I've noticed lately among the small-scale farmers of my acquaintance is that they're doing a lot of work to develop value-added items -- think cheese, yogurt, pickles, charcuterie, dried fruit, hard or soft cider, and so on. These sell for a higher price point and take you one step away from the harsh reality of commodity pricing on items like milk, meat, and vegetables. They also seem to help with developing a brand name and a loyal clientele. Still another possibility: specialty items like fresh ginger and fancy mushrooms, which seem to bring a little extra revenue to existing farms. I think your business plan will depend a lot on the specific area you are moving to -- just so long as you have a business plan (adaptable as needed, of course), that will help increase your chances of success.

If you want more specific help or advice on the feasibility of farming in your area, you should reach out to your local Cooperative Extension -- I bet they have a lot of info and could hook you up with people who have done similar things. It might put your mind at ease a bit to know you're not the only one.
posted by ourobouros at 11:04 AM on December 14, 2016 [18 favorites]

I wish I were in your shoes right now. This all sounds heavenly. You sound like you have a good grasp of the situation and going into this with your eyes wide open. I think it's ok that you wouldn't do this without your partner being on board. There would be a lot of things I wouldn't do if my husband wasn't into it. But they like the idea, so embrace it!

Best of luck if you choose to go for it! I hope your next AskMe is, "What kind of goats should we get for our farm?".
posted by Nutritionista at 11:06 AM on December 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

By the way, that farm I spent time on a few summers ago? That was WWOOF. So if you have questions about that, feel free to reach out. Off the top of my head, I'd say that you should keep in mind that there are as many downsides to using WWOOFers as farm labor as there are upsides. I'm very much in favor of the program, but it's best to think of it as a tool with certain uses rather than a solution for all your farm labor needs.
posted by Sara C. at 11:07 AM on December 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: The farm is in TN between Nashville and Chattanooga.

My mom and I are planning to sit down and work through a business course book that we got from the SSAWG conference... This is admittedly my weak point. My mom is tapping into a lot of local resources and knows way more than I do. I have a lot of ideas about reaching niche markets, but that's a long way in the future.

WOOFers are a good idea. I am also thinking about doing Airbnb once we get the house built. Bonnaroo is nearby.

Also, you guys, thanks. You're already making me feel more confident about this! I've been having so much self doubt!
posted by chimeling at 11:14 AM on December 14, 2016 [8 favorites]

It sounds like you've thought through so much, and it really seems like a good idea. I'd probably also want to make a plan to stop at a fixed moment in time and assess if it's working. Like, at the one-year mark. That way it may be easier to transition -- "We're going to do it for one year and see if it works for us" rather than thinking that you're making your life's biggest choice "ZOMG right this second" and putting so much weight on it now. So, is this what you'd like to do for one year? Or two years? Or whatever time period feels like it would allow you to really explore it? If yes, go for it!
posted by BlahLaLa at 11:19 AM on December 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Yes, do it! Do it, do it, do it!

Suggestion: take some online classes in Sustainable Farming and Agriculture from the Stockbridge School of Agriculture. You don't need a whole degree, but they offer very very pertinent classes both on the horticultural side and the business side of running a farm/serious homestead.
posted by lydhre at 11:19 AM on December 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

Sounds like you're a good candidate for this. If you still have doubts, maybe explore whether you could dip your toe in the water - string together time/work/etc. to do this for a month or two and see how it fits.
posted by craven_morhead at 11:22 AM on December 14, 2016

Response by poster: I am extremely grateful for any and all resources and advice!
posted by chimeling at 11:24 AM on December 14, 2016

I did something similar to this several years ago: dropped out of a disenchanted life, moved to a homestead way out in the boonies and started a farm, now certified organic, (slightly) profitable, popular and busy at the market. It's hard and tedious and heartbreaking and grimy but I don't regret it ever. It's the most meaningful life that I've known. And we didn't have a lot of the resources (family land, infrastructure, equipment, etc) that you seem to have. You'd have a few years' head start on where we started.

There's some important things you haven't mentioned that are worth considering, including off the top of my head: the amount and quality of your water for irrigation, the equipment and ascertained need for said irrigation, and the resilience of the operation and community to climate change. In general though you have your head on straight.

I say do it.
posted by Rust Moranis at 11:28 AM on December 14, 2016 [8 favorites]

If you do go for it, or even if you don't, the UT Extension service may be your new best friend. Use their online resources, attend classes, heck even give them a call or email!

Extension services are struggling around the country, and by letting them do their job to help you, you are also helping keep that system intact.
posted by SaltySalticid at 11:28 AM on December 14, 2016 [7 favorites]

Another possible revenue stream is supplying locavore/high-end/farm-to-table restaurants with specialty produce and herbs.
posted by rtha at 11:30 AM on December 14, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: We have a small farm in a region that's pretty similar to yours in terms of size and distance from a major city (though it's not our full-time job or even a significant portion of our income) and my partner's career is in training and supporting small farmers. The three things that have been especially difficult for the farmers we know--and that have caused some of them to quit farming--are medical expenses, lack of retirement savings, and family dynamics for multigenerational farms. It sounds like you have a lot more going for you in terms of skills, land/assets, social support, etc. than most beginning farmers, as well as the ability to do some off-farm work to make ends meet, so you can make this work. I would just recommend getting a very solid handle on your finances--including knowing what health insurance really costs and how you can get it, factoring in savings for retirement, etc.--before you make the leap. It's awesome that you're already working on business planning, and the Extension office in that area should be able to provide some guidance on that, too. We live in a region with expensive, hilly land and a short growing season, so it's probably unusually difficult to farm here, but it's common for a family farm to gross $40,000 per year here, and they usually need a fair amount of paid labor to make even that much. Solid business planning can help with family dynamics, too, especially if you spell out as much as you can about the labor each family member contributes, the division of expenses and profits, etc.
posted by xylothek at 11:31 AM on December 14, 2016 [9 favorites]

Response by poster: Water, yes. We have a couple of streams and a couple of springs and many ponds. However this year we had the drought of the century. Therefore, we have been drawing up plans for water catchment. We don't have a large scale irrigation system in place. That is something we have to work on.
posted by chimeling at 11:40 AM on December 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

There are interesting resources for family farms that may have some very helpful information. Regarding finances, the USDA has a library that includes planning worksheets and also links to many kinds of resources including sources for types of funding.

I just searched "resources for family farmers". I got a better mix of sites using bing than google.
posted by Altomentis at 11:47 AM on December 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

WWOOF upsides (in my experience):

- Usually younger people full of energy and enthusiasm

- Most people who are drawn to this type of thing have a specific interest in organic farming and the types of projects you mention wanting to do on your farm.

- Appalachia, especially the less remote eastern Tennessee areas within an easy drive of "civilization" like Atlanta and Nashville where you're located, is definitely an attractive location for WWOOFers. It can be a lot harder to attract this type of labor if you're in a remote area, or a part of the world people who like to WWOOF have never heard of/aren't interested in.

- Free-ish labor, often with likeminded people who are curious to know more about your way of life, yaaayyyy!!!

WWOOF downsides (in my experience):

- It's a lot of college kids and people who are taking a break from work to "find themselves". Almost none of the WWOOFers I worked alongside had specific farm work experience, and the tolerance for hard physical labor was pretty low compared to hiring someone who does this for their living. It's probably more efficient to pay farm labor.

- You MUST be operating an organic farm, or doing something like permaculture, biodynamic agriculture, etc. Conventional farms are strictly not allowed in the program, and, yes, they WILL bust you for breaking rules. There are also strict rules about what types of work can be undertaken, what types of tools can be used, etc.

- Somebody needs to supervise the WWOOFers. I can't stress enough that most WWOOFers have zero agricultural skills or experience doing physical work. Many see it as a way to get a free vacation.

- Similarly, I saw a lot of listings on the WWOOF site for people who don't actually have organic farms yet, are building their house, are thinking about trying X or Y style of farming. You really can't expect that you'll put out a shingle for WWOOFers and get people who are going to know more than you or have sought-after skills you don't already have.

- Remember that you will have to feed and board your WWOOFers. In my experience the better the food and shelter, the better and more committed WWOOFers you'll attract (word gets around), and the longer folks are likely to want to stay.
posted by Sara C. at 11:51 AM on December 14, 2016 [5 favorites]

Also, I found this article that I like because it outlines the steps to plan for farming as a business and in the first paragraph advises that you "choose opportunities that you are passionate about."
posted by Altomentis at 11:55 AM on December 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Instead of raising one cow, start a small herd; set up a roadside stand in our triangle at the intersection, etc. with the goal in mind of eventually being in several farmers markets and maybe even starting a CSA with some of the other farmers in the area.

Talk to people who know about it about the economics of a small herd and about the economics of farmers markets and CSAs.

Do you guys have good, employer-sponsored health insurance now? I might not bring this up if you were talking about a family farm in upstate NY, but you'd be living in moderately-red Tennessee. But if you have good coverage now, I would put these thoughts aside until you know with one billion percent certainty what's going to happen to health care in TN when the Republicans are done fucking it up. Until then, you simply can't know whether you could afford to do this. Like, even if you know that you could be making $35K net, you just have no idea whether $5K or $20K of that is going to be eaten by health insurance.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:33 PM on December 14, 2016 [5 favorites]

Oh my god, do it, this is an amazing opportunity. One thing jumped out at me -

The one thing that gives me pause is that No Way would I be doing this if my partner wasn't keen on it too, or wasn't in the picture. I don't quite know what to think about that.

I wouldn't worry about that - there are just so many more things that are easier to do, and way more fun to do as part of a team, and you and your partner sound like a great team who could really make a go of this. DO IT!
posted by Jon Mitchell at 12:55 PM on December 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

I just wanted to tip you off if you don't know already that there's a lot of veterans looking for farm experience right now - and they're already used to pretty hard physical labor. You could probably get at least some help that way.

Good luck, this sounds amazing!
posted by corb at 1:02 PM on December 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

No one ever thinks their partner could die or become disabled or they could divorce... I think you should do this, but you should also discuss how you would handle these situations.
Also one advantage to kids is their labor. Family farms depend very frequently on kids pitching in regularly. Not that you have to have kids...
Good luck to both of you! Farming is important work.
posted by SyraCarol at 1:02 PM on December 14, 2016 [4 favorites]

Another vote for sounds amazing. Hard work, but amazing. A remedy for the city.

Also, if you do end up WOOFing or AirBnB'ing it, please contact me. I have family out that way and a visit would be a good way to spend more time in the region. Some beautiful country out there.
posted by mochapickle at 1:05 PM on December 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

A lot of people I know are farmers like half or more. I'd say you will have to have one person work off the farm for health-care benefits and cash flow. That's just how it is, it's the rare farm family who doesn't. Popular jobs are things like teaching or medical technology or flight attendants who have chunks of time off while keeping full time benefits. Carpenters and freelancers may make better money but the benefits and things like sick pay and disability policies are pretty critical.

I'm going after work tonight to help on a friend's farm because her hand quit and she is due for a knee replacement soon in fact. Farms are very unforgiving of disability or disease. Right now you have your grandparents to work trade with but down the road you might need to balance one of you working full time with no help or unreliable help.

If I had the advantages you have I'd do it in a heartbeat but I'd plan in one of us working off farm.
posted by fshgrl at 1:05 PM on December 14, 2016 [8 favorites]

One other thing, if the land is in hay alreaday you can make good money on that as a part time farmer. Yes you can make more money with organic cheese but its correspondingly more work and more investment. If you have a hay business already it's easy to scale up or down by leasing land plus it's pretty steady income. I'd start with what you have and not jump into a super labor intensive workplan right away.
posted by fshgrl at 1:11 PM on December 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

You know what it entails, you have the resources and help, you've thought and planned for a year--GO FORTH AND FARM!!

There are so many people that would love to be in the situation you are in. Plus you already have a freelance business in place, and that would be the ideal scenario to give you a little extra cake for now or later, and also supply you with a safety net should you decide not to stay on the farm in the future.
posted by BlueHorse at 1:35 PM on December 14, 2016

The one thing that gives me pause is that No Way would I be doing this if my partner wasn't keen on it too, or wasn't in the picture. I don't quite know what to think about that.

For anything larger than sustenance farming, Smallhold farming is a family business. It always has been. It can be done as a co-op, but it cannot be done realistically on your own. There's nothing wrong with approaching this as a joint, family decision. There is also no shame in recognising that two more things that cause farms to fail are death and divorce.

I would want a financial plan for what I would do in either of those instances. Shit happens; that's why it is shit.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:38 PM on December 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

I can see all of the advantages for you (you grew up there, your family is there, you love it), and it sounds great. Just make sure your partner has a similar list of advantages. As long as your partner is confident that this lifestyle is for them, and leaving behind their friends and (potentially) their family is ok, then I'd say jump in with both feet!
posted by clone boulevard at 3:38 PM on December 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm in the middle of this, but I am doing the transition much more slowly than you, because I'm single, and because I don't have the combined skills you have. I need payed help and I need to invest in the part of this I'm good at.
First of all, do it! You are in a much better position than me, and I'm loving it.
Second, this takes time. Sometimes I despair because I feel nothing happens even though I work all the time. I took over my grandparents' farm 3 years ago, and though my friends and family are impressed with what I have achieved, I feel so behind schedule. Then I visit my neighbor and see he is in the same situation and I calm down a bit. Because I still have my full time job, economy is not an issue, it's more about motivation - I sometimes feel sad that the garden isn't up and running yet, or that I mostly gave up on berry-picking and preservation this year.
About the healthcare issue, which is really important, I was planning to do some bed and breakfast, but as it is, my family and friends visit a lot during the season. I really enjoy this, because I was worried I'd loose contact. So now I've bought a small cottage on the edge of my property, just for holiday rental. Here, a local business will manage it, but I could have done it myself with a few hours extra work. For the first many years the income from letting it out will cover the mortgage and taxes, and not much more, but that is OK. The point is that in the current economic situation, this is a better way for me to save money up for potential catastrophes than putting the same money in a savings account every month. If something happens, I can sell, if nothing happens, I'll work myself out of the mortgage and have a nest-egg for old age. I can do this because I have construction skills, and I can improve the cottage right away so it is much more worth than what I gave and I can uphold the new value. You seem to have those skills as well. I feel it is in many ways a better plan than the original B&B plan. Of course you still need insurance.
As you know, if you think about it, farm life is more social than city life, in many ways. I work closely together with my neighbor and for you, that would be your family. This year, my neighbor raised free range pigs. I'm teasing him, saying it was my idea first, but he was the one who did it. The thing is, I bought one of them, and resold 1/2 of it to some of my city friends in city friendly packages. We both benefitted from the deal, and I'll probably be selling two next year: farm to table is huge, and everyone I sold to was really excited about it. It was a great way of connecting with those friends. My pork mail list this year was just 10 people. My city network is more like 300 people, but I needed to be able to manage the packaging and delivery, and next year maybe also curing and other forms of preservation and preparation. (I found my great-great gran's recipe for liver paté, and it's amazing).
The farming skills I have are very particular and not compatible with part-time work, they also need heavy investment. So right now, I'm building the foundation and saving up for the investments. But It seems you can go right in, so you have a better starting point than me. Still, prepare for the start up to take time - again I look at my neighbors, and they are all still working at least part-time on other stuff, it's not just me.
Alternatively, if you have a good business plan, you might look for an investor. Some people I know are delivering specialities to gourmet restaurants, and they got start-up money. I often think my other neighbor who does amazing organic beef could have done this, but he wasn't ready to involve others. (Next year, I'm going to sell his produce as well). Another inspiration I'm looking at now is the Italian culture of agriturismo The way you describe your family farm sounds ideal for this.
I really want to start a supper-club style restaurant, but I'm a little scared of the logistics, and again, that can't be before I go full time. Long story short: there is a life out here, if you are entrepreneurial, and I think there are a lot of possibilities our parents didn't see.
I feel this is already a very long answer, and I still have questions of my own, but I'll repeat: do it! I keep going around telling folks that farming is the new Williamsburg NY, and I see a lot of smart innovative people doing this successfully right now. I think part of it is that people who have lived in the city have a better perception of that market, and can make far better results out of smaller farms than their parents could. I wasn't selling that pork at the end of the road, I was telling a true story about happy pigs wallowing in mud to city dwellers, and delivering it in packages that matched urban kitchens and skills. The rural butcher was appalled at the number of pork-chops I had him make, but I was right.
posted by mumimor at 3:41 PM on December 14, 2016 [13 favorites]

I am one of the people BlueHorse is talking about - we have experience and want to and work well together, but no stash or family land.

I'd go for it. My one piece of advice is that though it's family, do things "officially" and on paper - keeping business separate actually really helps preserve the family relationship. It keeps things clear. I worked with one farm where the farmer was using some of his dad's land and he had an acre or so he'd been weeding a composting for over a year to prep it - woke up one morning and his dad had planted new vineyard in the whole thing (!). He took it gracefully, but that was when we pulled out as partners.

The Greenhorns is pretty hipster, but their resources list is great. The website I've found most useful is ATTRA (Appropriate Technology Transfer to Rural Areas) Sustainable Agriculture. Definitely get in touch with your local university extension office and the local organic growers association.

If in a few years you want to lease some of that land to a complementary small farm business, memail me. We may be in a position to.
posted by jrobin276 at 3:59 PM on December 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

Do it.
Both Farm Show (I can't recommend this publication enough) and Backwoods Home have/do run series on imaginative ways of making money on farms.
posted by 445supermag at 4:02 PM on December 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Speaking of awesome ideas for farms and restaurants and agriturismo -- check out this amazing pizza night at a small family farm. In the height of the season, they're serving 250 pizzas a night, featuring food from their own farm, out of stone ovens they built from the stones from the fields. You can see how much work it takes, but it looks amazing!
posted by ourobouros at 5:55 PM on December 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Late to the show, but I'd say go for it. I've done this, except it was an even wilder jump into the unknown because we had never farmed before when we started.
It has been fantastic.
But more than any plans about marketing, building, etc, I would STRONGLY, STRONGLY encourage you to spend several dozen hours educating yourself on setting up appropriate arrangements with your mother/other family members so that it is crystal clear who owns what, who inherits what, how existing and future revenue will be shared, how taxes and expenses will be shared. Research different business structures (corporation, partnership, etc) and their pros and cons. Spend the time to find a lawyer and financial advisor you trust and pay for some of their advice.
Do not procrastinate on doing this, even if you foresee that you will not generate much income on farm. You know from experience how busy it gets on the farm, even without trying to build a house and expand your business. You won't have the time a year or two from now.
I have seen so many families split apart because maybe everyone was friends at the beginning, but people change and circumstances change. I'm all for professionals giving up their careers to head back to the land, but you also have to realize that you are giving up not only your professional salaries, but also your future earning potential (how easy is it going to be to resume your careers if you're out of them for 10 years?). That's cool, and I wholeheartedly encourage you to do your big move, but make sure you cover your ass so you don't lose your home and business in addition to your earning potential.
(Sorry this sounds so negative. I'm really excited for you, but this is important stuff!)
posted by bluebelle at 6:48 PM on December 14, 2016 [6 favorites]

I have a friend who moved out an hour away from the big city to a farm she bought with her husband (she, unlike you, has no family nearby). Her income from the farm is not much but the land and house are paid in full and her living expenses are small. I dont know what she does about medical insurance though. Everything was fine until she split up with her husband and then it became way too much. There is too much work, and she feels extremely isolated. She has had to learn to kill rattlesnakes and butcher chickens and fix the well pump when it breaks. She's a bad ass now, but she wishes she didn't have to be. As soon as she can figure something out so that she can sell the farm, shes going to move back to the city.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 10:59 PM on December 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

First, thanks for asking this question, I didn't realize how many mefites were small farm people, and there's been so much useful information from the responses (I recently bought a small farm upstate, and I'm spending the winter fixing up the house, but researching what to produce in the future).

I just wanted to second the suggestion to go to your local coop extension. They are so so helpful, and really are searching for ways to be useful. I'm lucky enough to have a Cornell extension a few miles from me and they are giving me advice on everything from soil testing to potential markets.

Also want to strongly second everything that mumimor writes. You have a huge advantage in understanding the types of products and markets that will appeal to the locavore/farm to table city people having lived amongst them. From what research I've been able to do, that seems to be a very good way to move forward, at least in my case (smallish farm, single person relying on some paid help), possibly yours too.
posted by newpotato at 4:10 AM on December 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I'm starting to think we need a "farming" AskMeFi for all of us to keep in touch when we need a little help! This has been such a thorough and helpful discussion, with so many great ideas. I can't believe how many MeFites are farming! Very encouraging, but I have a lot to think over. Financial and legal stuff are probably the biggest hurdle right now. Thank you all!
posted by chimeling at 7:13 AM on December 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

Banking and farming are pretty different too, everything from loans to buy property to loans to operate. More family farms have probably gone under due to poorly understood or managed farm loans than anything else. I'd get whatever education you can on that topic, it's killed a lot of otherwise profitable farms!
posted by fshgrl at 10:21 AM on December 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

About the healthcare issue ... The point is that in the current economic situation, [having and improving property] is a better way for me to save money up for potential catastrophes than putting the same money in a savings account every month.

I really don't mean to be Captain Downer, but you can't realistically save up for health care catastrophes unless you have so much money it's just falling out of your butt. The most you can realistically save up for are "serious problems that go away," like the bills for falling off a ladder and breaking your legs. Without good insurance you're still totally, completely, utterly fucked if you or someone in your family develops an expensive cancer or chronic condition like MS.

And it's easy to say that in a case like that one of you would just go back to office work and employer insurance, but you don't know how insurance is going to shake out. If Ryan \& Co. get their way, it might end up being the case that, for example, being married to someone with MS will make you effectively unemployable since no firm will want to deal with the premium increase associated with you being in their risk pool.

Sorry. I think about shit like this because I have MS in my family, and you couldn't pry me away from state-employee health insurance unless I had millions in the bank.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:03 PM on December 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

I really don't mean to be Captain Downer, but you can't realistically save up for health care catastrophes unless you have so much money it's just falling out of your butt. The most you can realistically save up for are "serious problems that go away," like the bills for falling off a ladder and breaking your legs. Without good insurance you're still totally, completely, utterly fucked if you or someone in your family develops an expensive cancer or chronic condition like MS.

OMG that was a misinterpretation, but certainly my bad - first of all, I have socialized healthcare, so that is not my worry. And I have an insurance on top of that for if chronic illness or an accident leaves me unable to work. What the savings are for are co-payments with that insurance, and for things like mental illness that are poorly covered by both healthcare and insurance. (Actually I wrote that comment while I was waiting for a visit from the guy from the insurance company so I could make sure I am sufficiently covered. I do this every five years). I agree that it is essential to plan for contingencies, and be on the safe side of that planning. That was the intent of the savings part of the comment: you must be able to save up as well as being insured.

Still - because I have inherited the farm and my only cost is taxes and maintenance, I can afford better insurance and more savings - in the city, if I bought even a modest apartment, there is no way I would be able to pay into those savings and insurances on top of the mortgages. So it is all a balance of things.

Just a few months ago, I was so ill with stress from my work because I had been bullied and abused by co-workers and a boss, my union thought they'd have to sue my workplace for repairs because they thought I'd never return to any job. Luckily, the farm is helping me recover much faster than I would have otherwise, and all is good again. I'm looking for a new job, closer to the farm, because I'm not ready for the risk of full time homesteading yet. But that episode has made me even more determined to secure myself.
posted by mumimor at 2:17 PM on December 15, 2016

Fair 'nuf. I was thinking of the US context.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:47 PM on December 15, 2016

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