How to cultivate your best resources of farming friends
When you are trying to enter the farming world I’ve seen two types of people. The first being the “I’ve done my research and I know exactly what I’m doing” group and the “what did I get myself into, oh my god, someone help me” group. In my opinion, no matter how confident you start out, we will all end up in group two at some point. Lucky for us there are a ton of great resources out there, from youtube videos, to blogs, to fantastically written books. Information is so readily available to all of us it’s a wonder how we used to get by 100 years ago. Well, 100 years ago if you were a struggling new farmer you relied on other kind hearted farmers to lend you a helping hand or, better yet, some great advice.
I’ve found there is no greater resource than another farmer when you are struggling with a project or problem. First hand advice is second to none and you’d be surprised what you can learn in a short amount of time. The problem for most new homesteaders is, where do I find such farmer friends to help me? Well this can be a bit tricky but not every farmer is going to want to help you. That’s right, you may find that promptly upon announcing at your local farmers market that you will be selling non-GMO, free range, farm fresh eggs that the other egg farmers aren’t too keen on you. This is simply a rule of business. Farmers work very VERY hard to accumulate a customer base and even when they are selling out of their product they are usually still just barely making enough to get by. So it’s quite likely that your entrance into the market will be viewed solely as a competitor in which case it may be hard to make friends. You should also keep this in mind if someone who is obviously a competitor of yours really wants to give you advice. I hate to say it but that may be a red flag and you might want to watch how much information you give out to such people as they may have sinister intentions of leading you down the wrong path. It’s also important to note that you may receive the “cold shoulder” from some farmers. This isn’t because they’re terrible people. There are often wannabe farmers that seem to materialize out of no where, have a ton of money, claiming to have big plans, and then a year later they disappear. The farmer who has been at it for 50+ years is going to be skeptical of a new person, with no farm experience, entering their territory.
So how do you find a reliable farm friend resource? Step one is to identify other farms that are doing the same thing you’d like to do or similar. There is no point in confiding in a farmer who raises their animals in barns on concrete if you are looking to do pasture raised livestock. Step two is identifying the customer base of that farm. Ask yourself if you’re competing for the same area and make sure to breach this subject with the farmer if you aren’t sure. Even if there is a bit of overlap of customer base, the farmer may be looking for somewhere to refer their customers when their product runs out. The best farmer friend is someone who is following the same practices as you but is far enough away from you that you aren’t competing for customers.
Once you’ve identified your potential friend, reach out to them and be as open and honest as possible. Try to convey that you are humble and be open with the amount of research you’ve done and how much you’d value their mentorship. Farmers work really hard perfecting their processes and given the right audience they’d love to tell you all about what they’ve learned over the years.
Once you’ve established a relationship try to be as considerate as possible with your new found gold-mine of information. Offer to help them with projects on their farm and openly express your gratitude often for their advice. Even if you decide to go against some of their advice, be open about your intentions and why you chose a different path. Every farmer knows there’s a fair amount of trial and error in most things and sometimes you just have to learn things the hard way on your own.
It’s fine to have multiple friends but be sure to identify whom you trust the most. There are several basic farm practices that every farmer is going to know but beyond that it’s all different. Every farm figures out what works best for them and at their own pace. Farms come in different sizes and follow different mindsets on quality, animal husbandry, and food tastes. Having too many friends that you are confiding in will no doubt leave you unsure of what to do. I will also likely piss off the farms that are providing you with hard earned advice only to find out that you’re comparing notes with others farms. It’s fine and actually wise to keep in contact with multiple farms in your area but only have one “mentor” farm as your advice bank.
Finally, make sure you are open to becoming someone else’s mentor. You will be surprised how quickly you accumulate information and before you know it someone will be asking you for advice. This recently happened to us and I was surprised by my own feelings towards it. I LOVE telling people about what we are doing on our homestead but when we were recently approached regarding sitting down with a friend of a friend who wanted to start raising some meat chickens, my first reaction was no. Specifically I thought, “no, we don’t want anyone else raising chickens around us and competing for customers”. I was shocked by my own knee-jerk reaction. Luckily, I had kept my reaction inside my head, not blurting out “NO”. I instead asked what exactly this guy wanted to accomplish? how many birds? did he want to sell them? After I took my guard down a bit I was able to see that this was a great opportunity to share some knowledge and hopefully inspire someone else to live the homestead lifestyle.
So, go out there and make some farmer friends. Their knowledge will be worth more than any podcast, blog, or book you’ve ever encountered.