by Hugh Maynard, courtesy of Farm Credit Canada
Swimming against the tide is not always the easiest way to succeed, but that’s just what some small farms in Canada are doing.
One trend has been to get an off-farm job to stay in business. Farmers in some developing countries are leaving the land in droves. In fact, 2007 was the first year in human history when more people lived in an urban rather than a rural setting.
The contrarians are a new breed of urban and semi-urban farmers who have jobs or retirement packages and are taking on farming as a sideline or as a developing business opportunity. Postmedia News reports that women now make up 30 per cent of organic farmers. They often cater to families through community-supported agriculture and report sales of under $50,000 a year.
The urban agriculture venture Sandy Aberdeen of Calgary, Alta., started with his son began after he was given the bronze parachute by his company. They convince developers with unused land to let them turn it into vegetable gardens. The developer gets goodwill from being community-minded and green, while they get free land. From rooftop gardens to back porch greenhouses, small-farm entrepreneurs can be found across the country.
There are, of course, limits to this trend. The largest 20 per cent of farmers will continue to produce 80 per cent of the food for the foreseeable future, and these types of small farms are not going to thrive without access to a committed and reasonably well-paid urban clientele. Yet there’s lots of potential for agriculture ventures in niche markets such as tourism and specialized restaurants.
Women now make up 30 per cent of organic farmers
Despite the contrast with a typical small farm – 50 head of cattle on an open range – the same rules for any small business will apply: get up early, keep a sharp pencil (actually a good computer would be better) and plan before you plant. Make allowances for the weather, use debt for investments rather than expenses, and get as much good advice as you can.
This last point is particularly important given that there’s not a lot of expertise out there to support these new farming entrepreneurs. Make sure your venture has a chance to succeed before you make it your only job.
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Learn how to succeed by leaving the past behind, watch Kevin Gangel explain how leaving the past can help you build the future in farming:Building the Future: Leaving the Past
Do you have any secrets of success? Please feel free to share any tips you might have to help farmers succeed.