Whole Farm Management: Growing A Sustainable Business

As you probably already know, the GROW BIOINTENSIVE (GB) Sustainable Mini-Farming method I developed with Ecology Action over the past 48 years of research and fieldwork is designed primarily to grow a complete diet, along with soil-building compost crops for sustainability. But it also provides a small area for growing vegetables that are tasty but not as calorie or carbon-dense, or for growing income-generating crops (a maximum 10% of the planted area, 2% preferred in the case of income crops to ensure closed-loop sustainable soil fertility by limiting the quantity of minerals and biomass being exported from your soil).

Over years of teaching people to use GB, one of the questions I get asked over and over is: “How do I make money from my mini-farm?” No matter what farming method you use, that’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it? It’s one thing (a big thing!) to be able to farm successfully, it’s another to be able to successfully market your products to generate income. While there are many books and courses out there that address this topic exhaustively, it can be hard for a beginner to know where to start–a little like trying to drink from a fire hydrant.

If you are thinking about starting a farm business, my recommendation is to begin with Whole Farm Management: From Start-Up to Sustainability  from the Center for Small Farms and Community Food Systems at Oregon State University. A comprehensive guide based on the OSU extension program curriculum and real-farm examples Whole Farm Management “… provides a complete program from starting, growing and maintaining a farm business. Drawing on the experience and insights of 12 contributing authors and 16 farmers from across North America, it offers a holistic approach to farm management, addressing the interconnected element of the farm system and emphasizing sustainable, organic methods.” The Center “is an alternative agriculture program at Oregon State University that focuses on small-scale organic and sustain able agriculture through its Extension Small Farms Program.”

Filled with color photos, tables, charts and lists, the contents are divided into categories so you can easily choose the parts that are most useful for the type of farming you are pursuing:

  • Introduction: Growing a Farm
  • Dream It: Strategic Planning
  • Do It: Farm Infrastructure, Labor and Energy
  • Sell It: Markets and Marketing
  • Grow It: Managing the Whole Farm Ecosystem
  • Manage It: Business Management for the Farm
  • Keep It: Entrepreneurship, Family Business Dynamics, and Managing Risk
  • A Very Useful Index

Andrew Mefferd, farmer, author and editor of Growing for Market, calls Whole Farm Management: “An indispensable resource, just as valuable for the beginning farmer learning how to produce a crop at profit as for the journeyperson who is already in business, looking to avoid burnout.”

While no book is going to cover everything, this isn’t just a “big picture” overview. I think it does a good job of “drilling down” into some of the more detailed topics small farmers are interested in. A small sample of the topics covered include:

  • Accounting
  • Agritourism
  • Annuals
  • Aphids
  • Bacteria
  • Balance Sheets
  • Bed and Breakfast On Farm
  • Berries
  • Biological Pest Controls
  • Budgets
  • Buffer Strips
  • Capabilities
  • Carbon Cycle
  • Certification standards
  • Climate and Microclimates

I think the most unusual thing about this book is that, unlike so many publications (especially those from mainstream ag schools) covering agricultural business operations, Whole Farm Management really focuses on the small-scale farmers aiming for sustainability and building community food security, something our world needs more of. It’s nice to see the support for these important farmers from a “mainstream” school. For all of you budding commercial farmers out there, I hope this excellent book helps you grow a sustainable and profitable business model for your farms (and the planet)!

P.S. if you are interested in learning about GROW BIOINTENSIVE sustainable mini- and micro-farming, check out Ecology Action’s publications including:  How to Grow More Vegetables, and Fruits, Nuts and Berries, Grains and Other Crops Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land With Less Water Than You Can Imagine, and The Backyard Homestead Mini-Farm & Garden Log Book. You can find all of our print and electronic publications online at: http://www.growbiointensive.org/publications_main.html and http://www.growbiointensive.org/ePubs/index.html.



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