Start a Farm Off Right!
Whether your intent for starting an urban farm is for-profit, non-profit or strictly for personal benefit, a taking the time to prepare a business plan when you start a farm is a key component to the success of your operation. The process of preparing the document forces the farmer to think carefully through the reasons that the farm will exist and its specific goals and mission. Although these can change over time and the business plan is not set in stone, a mission statement and written goals can help the farmer to stay on track. It helps everyone to focus on what is really important to the farm, and avoid distractions that will certainly come along.
As for public farms, the business plan gives credibility to the farm, articulating clearly what the farm will look like and how it will be sustained financially. Expressed clearly in writing, the document serves to bolster confidence in customers. It also assures volunteers, donors and financial institutions as they consider whether to invest their time and money into the enterprise.
Help to Start a Farm Business
The prospect of preparing a business plan may seem daunting. But there is help available and free resources for farmers. The U.S. Small Business Administration has resources on its website at SBA.gov. It also has offices in every state that provide mentors to entrepreneurs to help prepare business plans. They can also guide entrepreneurs in other aspects of running a business. Depending on their pool of volunteers, there may be someone who can guide you specifically through the aspects of how to start a farm. Or, they may simply be able to guide you through general business planning.
Online and Print Resources to Start a Farm Business
There are many resources in print and online, as well. Here are a few that I have used:
AgPlan is a free online resource to help urban and farm businesses to develop a business plan. Tips and questions help you to develop each section of the plan. Sample plans and links to resources are also provided.
The EPA’s Urban Farm Business Plan Handbook is a wonderful resource for anyone who wants to start a farm business. It provides guidance and printable worksheets for developing a business plan to start and operate an urban farm. The PDF booklet is designed to assist both non-profit and for-profit businesses. The handbook has a focus on food as well as non-food agriculture.
The Beginning Farmers website has an extensive list of tips and resources for farm business planning page.
The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook: A Complete Guide to Managing Finances, Crops and Staff – And Making a Profit by Chelsea Green Publishing is a fantastic book. It comes complete with computer programs to assist planning activities (get the book and companion DVD here.)