Friday, February 3, 2012

Farm School

Hobby or viable career?

Tough road to reap: Farm school teaches students to grow in many ways (Boston.com)

The Farm School: Growing Organic Farmers (Miller-McCune)

Note this comment to the last article:

I am a very educated and experienced scientist and engineer. I have 40 years of farm life experience. I also spent 25 years as a very well compensated consultant. My wife is an executive who manages 75 professionals world wide that produces $1.5 million in sales a day. We have tried the organic farm life with very deep pockets, a wide range of skills and a scientist's approach to planning, collecting information and analyzing the data and a management and sales background.

My experience with all the advantages lead me to believe that The Farm School will be a waste of time and money for their students. Dreams are nice, but they are dreams. To make them a reality will require much more than a single year playing in the dirt and eating at a communal table.

Over the years, I have watched as very established farmers have succumbed to the weather, the economy or simply fatigue. I have also watched quite a few fairly well off families try to make a go of the farm life. Most only survive to the first real financial test. Almost no new farmers understand the commitment of capital, time and labor required to produce even moderate income. None really understand the cut throat economics of farming. The organic approach only exacerbates the pressures.

While we have kept our farm working for 22 years, it has only been with the addition of very good income from other sources. Moreover, we have explored specialty niche markets and still have very lean years. Neither my wife or I have gone on vacation during that time. We often average 50 hours a week on farm work alone. Quite a bit of our equipment is wearing out. Several of our best suppliers have gone out of business. We have had to abandon our most profitable crop (rainbow trout) because of rising fuel costs for delivery of the fingerlings, shipping of high quality organic food and processing costs. Not for the faint of heart. It is becoming more difficult as we age.

Statistics show most small farmers rely on another source of income. And see this:

Many Wisconsin farmers forced to find new careers (JSOnline)

They're truck drivers, police officers, nurses and cabinetmakers.

And not that long ago, they were full-time farmers.

Increasingly, farmers are switching careers as the agricultural economy sinks to one of the worst levels since the Great Depression.

Farm foreclosures are on the rise, forcing career changes even as off-farm jobs are scarce.

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