This tutorial contains several worksheets designed to help you begin the planning process of starting a farm or adding a new enterprise to your farm. Completing all worksheets at Plan Your Farm will give you most of the components of a business plan, which you can build on to create a full business plan if you choose. Each worksheet you fill out will be emailed to you, and from there you can choose to copy the text into a Word document, print it out, or just save the email for future reference.
1. Inventory Your Resources
What resources can you use for your farm? Imagine if I asked you to build a house, and presented you with a big warehouse full of unlabeled, disorganized supplies. Before you could do anything, you’d need to go through and write down what was there, so you’d know what you had available to work with.
A helpful step when starting a farm is to organize your thoughts about your resources. Who needs to be involved as a decision-maker? Who do you know who can help you? What money do you have available?
Many new farmers focus solely on financial capital, their lack of it, and their inability to do anything without it. They waste time seeking grants to get started, which is not a viable strategy. You may be short on money, but this is a good reason to exercise your creativity and resourcefulness. Think about what other types of capital you might be rich in:
- social capital (networks),
- material capital (machines, buildings),
- biological capital (trees and animals)
- experiential capital (old-timey know-how)
- intellectual capital (book knowledge)
- spiritual capital (faith & karma)
- cultural capital (community, song, story, ceremony)
This is not to suggest that you can run a farm on any one of these forms of capital alone, or that you can run a farm without financial capital. The point is simply to realize that you may bring more resources than you realize to your farm operation, and that if you have a wealth of one of the forms of capital above, you may be able to generate financial capital from it.
Click here for a worksheet to start Inventorying Your Farm’s Resources. Submit it and we’ll email you a copy of your responses! Send us feedback and report bugs using this form.
2. Evaluate Your Skills and Track Your Progress
It’s important to make an honest assessment of the personal skills that you and other key people bring to the business. Continuing the house analogy from above, if no one on your small building crew knows how to build foundations or hang a door, you’re going to have a tough time building a livable house. But if you are aware of this when you get started building, you can plan ahead to bring in people who do have these skills, so that you get a quality home built on time.
Much like building a house, the process of starting a farm can feel overwhelming. You can use the worksheet below as a kind of blueprint to guide and track your progress. Return to it over time to see how many more items you’ve completed.
Download a PDF of the Beginning Farmer Skills Checklist.
This worksheet may help you focus your learning, and figure out the division of labor for the farm business. By going through this skill/progress assessment exercise with everyone involved in the farm, you may learn that one person is better suited to handle marketing duties than another. This is not a complete list of the skill areas needed to be successful in farming, but these are important to the operation of a farm.
There are no right or wrong answers. This exercise is intended to help you understand where your strengths and weaknesses lie, and whether you might want to consider recruiting outside help or seeking training to strengthen your own skills in a particular area. Business plans typically include a section outlining the skills of the management team–if you’re ready to start writing a business plan you can summarize what you learned from this worksheet and start entering it into a Basic Farm Start-up Plan or Full Business Plan template.