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Have you ever dreamed about being an organic farmer?

This lifestyle is not for everyone, but since we set up the Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op on our farm, we’ve wondered if there are people out there like us.

We’ve suspected there might be a groundswell of people who would love to do what we’re doing. Running a slightly too small (by commercial standards) organic farm for profit or love.

To test our theory, we wrote a post inviting comments from people who want to be organic farmers or live a self-sustaining lifestyle.

We got some very surprising feedback!

Some of the original farmers in the Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op
Some of the original farmers in the Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op

The passion to be an organic farmer

We got a huge response!

There was an outpouring of people’s passion and desire to be growing their own food. Many also expressed in equal measure their frustration and disappointment at how hard it can be to make it work.

We were interested in two things.

The first is why they are attracted to being an organic farmer in the first place.

The second question was about what is stopping them. What are the biggest barriers that get in the way of realising your goals and living the dream?

Here’s what people had to say.

Farmers at a Facebook workshop
Farmers at a Facebook workshop

Dreams and aspirations

When we asked about people’s farming dreams, we got a huge range of answers.

Some people are looking for self-sufficiency and being able to live sustainably. Others want to go bigger and make a living. Here’s a sample of them:

  • To become semi self-sufficient and trade with others nearby.
  • Just for home use…I would like to be able to supply family.
  • I want to set up an organic/permaculture veggie garden and orchard, integrating traditional fruit and veggies as well as bush tucker foods.
  • I want to start my own organic market garden, buying land and a house somewhere cheaper. I think I know what I need and have the funds to do it, I just need help with a business plan and would love a mentor. I know what to do, just need support. I love growing organic veggies!
  • It’s a dream to one day have a patch that we can live off sustainably.
  • Implementing food garden and chooks, animals.
  • I want to make a living out of my farm – but I don’t know how.

Small-scale organic farmer Penny Kothe at her farm shop
Small-scale organic farmer Penny Kothe at her farm shop

The challenges and barriers to becoming an organic farmer

When we asked about challenges and barriers, we expected the results to be mainly about the cost of buying farmland.

That certainly showed up. But the answers went so much deeper! We obviously tapped into a group of well-informed, farm-ready enthusiasts.

In many cases, people were very clear about which specific things they still need to learn. Here are just a few of the barriers they told us about:

  • lack of infrastructure
  • lack of machinery
  • lack of TIME
  • having to work full-time to pay for the farm
  • knowing what you want to get out of it
  • knowing what you need to do to get the best return from your soil type
  • understanding how to use organic principles
  • the skills to be water-wise and know how to improve an old, outdated, inefficient irrigation system
  • weed control
  • pest control
  • compost making
  • setting up networks for support and marketing
  • planning and working with what is there with a progression plan
  • structure, fencing, water
Lydia learning how to plant cherry trees
Lydia learning how to plant cherry trees

Questions wannabe farmers need answering

Even though we didn’t specifically ask if people had questions, many people included them.

  • what can we produce that there is a demand for?
  • how do we know if there will be a market for what we want to grow?
  • how to develop a small farm into a profit-generating enterprise?
  • how do I engage neighbours in productive conversation re spray drift and chemicals in waterways?
  • how do I improve soil as quickly as possible?

There were also some really specific items on the wishlist of what people need to help them realise their dreams.

  • I need a business plan and a mentor
  • being able to read the wisdom of weeds
  • the money to buy the farm
  • designing farm layout (keyline principles)
  • I need a basic design

Finding answers

Wow. Basically, these folks wrote our life story. We have shared these dreams, asked those questions, and felt frustration at all those barriers.

But when we look back over the time since we started farming, we’re also fortunate that our experience has answered so many of those questions.

We’ve done courses, read books, and found mentors. We’ve worked with business consultants, done farm planning courses, and undertaken market research. Much work has gone into establishing marketing supply chains and networks. We’ve learned to value and understand our weeds. At the heart of everything else we do, we’ve learned the wisdom of continuously working on improving our soil.

Not that we would ever claim to know it all – far from it!

After all this time, we’re still learning and evolving. But what we do have is many years of experience, lots of runs on the board, and the successful experiment of enabling a group of young farmers to get started in their own farming enterprises.

It’s opened our eyes to a whole new way of farming. We can use our land, resources, and experience to provide a pathway for a new generation of farmers and food growers.

And soon, we’ll be creating a whole lot of resources to share our co-op stories. We hope that our stories of how we’ve realised (some of) our dreams and overcome (some of) our barriers might help other wannabe organic farmers to take the next step.

Victoria doing her internship on our farm
Victoria doing her internship on our farm

Are we speaking to your hidden farmer?

Does this sound like you?

We’d love to hear about your farming dreams and aspirations, as well as the challenges and barriers.

Add them in the comments below, and let us know if you’d like to be kept in the loop as we develop some resources to help new farmers get started.

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