“How to Start a Farm with No Land and Little Money”

Jason Bradford, The Oil Drum: Campfire

I am the parent of two boys who attended Brookside Elementary School in the town of Willits, CA. On the first day of school in August 2005 I wandered to the back of the school yard and noticed that a one acre grassy field was essentially unused behind preschool buildings on the grammar school campus. From my knowledge of soils in the area I knew I was standing on a balanced loam, and within minutes decided it was an ideal site for a school farm specializing in vegetables and fruits.

A non-profit administering the adjacent Head Start preschool agreed to be the farm’s fiscal agent, and a local master gardener agreed to help me make sound decisions. I wrote a proposal to the school board for establishing Brookside Farm and the project was approved January 2006. The land was essentially free, but I had nothing else other than some ideas, a lot of friends, and interest in learning how to become a farmer. Not wanting to go into financial debt or spend a lot of my own money to do this, I started raising funds within the community. Local businesses helped with supplies. Local service clubs and individuals gave money. By December 2006 we had a very sturdy fence and cover crops sown. An orchard, berries, and table grapes were planted that winter. Following a CSA model, in early 2007 and 2008 we sold farm shares as our primary income. This year two of the twelve shares were bought by the preschool, with the rest going to private households.

… The substitution of fossil fuels for labor in agriculture has created an abundance of cheap food and a dearth of farmers. Part of my struggle at Brookside Farm is employing more labor intensive, but ultimately more sustainable, practices while still keeping the food in line with price expectations…

As a new farmer of course I have learned a great deal about the predilections of various crops and their pests. But what interests me more to consider is how my character has changed. As a farmer I am viscerally aware of my dependence upon forces beyond my control and at great scale. I now face the world with greater humility. When I plant a seed or a tree, I know that it will take time to bear fruit and this imbues me with greater patience. My body is required to get up and work day after day, and because I have a responsibility towards the farm I must maintain my health. Therefore, I have learned to work at a pace that is steady and earnest, not quick and exhausting. And although each winter I make plans about how the season will unfold and what my schedule will be, no year is average and I have learned to deviate from my path when appropriate, knowing that survival requires adaptation to reality. These lessons are as good as anything I learned while still in school.


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