It’s been raining for weeks, the weeds are strangling your crops, it seems like there are fewer customers at the farmers market every week, your landlord just called to say your rent is going up, your summer helpers decided they would rather work indoors, and on top of it all that unrealistic Extension Agent keeps bugging you to write a business plan.
Does any of this sound familiar?
If it does, you’re not alone. Surviving the day-to-day challenges of farming can be overwhelming, leaving you exhausted and struggling to remember why you started in the first place.
As Extension educators with a combined 96 years of experience working with farmers, we have seen a lot of farmers struggle with this paradox. We want to see farmers succeed, and we’ve seen too many burn out or go out of business. That’s why we wrote this book, to help you figure out how to move from reactive crisis management to proactive risk management.
Risk management is proactive planning so that you can make the most of opportunities and minimize the impacts of threats.
For example, adopting preventative pest management strategies can reduce the impact of pests when they do occur, reducing the impact of a threat. Conducting market research can enable a grower to identify which crops and products are in high demand relative to their supply, enabling the grower to take advantage of an opportunity.
We also recognize that, compared with rural farmers, urban farmers face unique challenges. Urban farmers often produce a dizzying number of different crops at multiple small locations; draw income from alternative enterprises like agritourism and value-added crops; and want to use their farms to achieve diverse financial, social, and environmental goals.
That’s why it was important to take the time to listen to urban farmers about what has worked and what has not worked for them. In focus groups, we asked urban farmers what financial success looks like to them, what strategies have helped them achieve their goals, and what strategies did not work as well for their urban farming realities. We incorporated that input, as well as results from surveys and interviews of urban farmers in Maryland, outcomes from learning activities at Urban Farmer Field Schools, and input from urban farmer on the rough draft of this guidebook, to craft the tools and information you’ll find in the following pages.
The purpose of this guidebook is to help current and aspiring urban farmers move from crisis management to proactive risk management. As an urban farmer or urban ag entrepreneur, it’s easy to spend all your time putting out metaphorical (or literal!) fires, triaging your To-Do list and chasing that fabled big grant or trendy new crop that you hope will solve all your financial problems. But by investing the time to clarify your goals, and what steps you need to take to achieve them, you will be better able to achieve financial stability and prevent yourself from burning out.
If you’re new to urban agriculture, please read the “What is urban ag?” section next.
But if that sounds too introductory, please skip to the Goal Setting exercise, which will help you make the most of this guidebook.