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If you were to gauge the state of the American small-scale farmer based on what you read in major publications, financially, things may appear, well, a little rough. But for every “your farmer can’t make a living” article that comes out (and there have been more than a few), there is a book that says, “Wait, yes we can!”
Indeed, plenty of good farmers out there are figuring out not only how to make a living wage off the farm, but a respectable, consistent income. And lucky for us, they also find a little time to write books about it. So if you’re looking at your garden, wondering how to get a little more out of it, these guys may be able to help.
The New Organic Grower
By Eliot Coleman (Chelsea Green Publishing, 1995)
If you are truly hoping to make a living selling organic vegetables this is perhaps the first book you should purchase, and in the 20 years since its release it’s become a market gardener classic. Elliot Coleman not only puts together a comprehensive and extensive guide to vegetable farming, but an excellent and easy-to-use resource for planting, cover crops, light tillage and the rest.
The Market Gardener
By Jean Martin Fortier (New Society Publishers, 2014)
When you’re a vegetable farmer, it’s not uncommon to earn somewhere between $20,000 and $40,000 per acre, per year—that’s a fair average. But when you’re that same vegetable farmer and you hear of someone making $100,000 per acre, working only 40 hours a week, no less, your ears certainly perk up. Well, get ready for it, because that person is Jean-Martin Fortier, whose book The Market Gardener details how he does it through the use of semi-permanent raised beds, intensive cropping systems, and lots and lots of good planning. For anyone dealing with small acreage, or anyone just hoping to make a living in this business, this is a must read own.
The Lean Farm
By Ben Hartman (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2015)
If you already see the value in organization, this book is for you. If you don’t, well then this book is definitely for you. In The Lean Farm, farmer Ben Hartman takes us through an idea applied all around the world—in factories, stores, and beyond—called “lean.” Lean is a bit like it sounds—it’s about cutting the fat. By adapting this generally factory-based set of principles to his organic farm, removing things that didn’t add value, organizing his equipment and eliminating waste, Hartman has turned his small farm into a clean, productive and profitable business. And luckily for us, he was willing to share how he did it.
The Urban Farmer
By Curtis Stone (New Society Publishers, 2015)
“Urban Farms Fueling Idealism. Profits? Not So Much” was the title of a recent NPR piece that doesn’t need me to tell you what it was about. So it’s refreshing to flip through the pages of Curtis Stone’s The Urban Farmer and see an urban farm that is making a profit. Scratch that—this farm is downright thriving. In fact, Stone has figured out a way to make more than $70,000 on 1/3 of an acre selling to restaurants, retailers and at a farmers market (though, in a recent interview he told me it was more like $100,000, he just didn’t think people would believe it). If you’re not an urban farmer, don’t skip over this read—farms of all sizes can learn something from this guy.
Crop Planning For Organic Vegetable Growers
By Frédéric Thériault and Daniel Brisebois (Acres USA, 2010)
When you’re beginning to get into the nuts and bolts of farming profitably, crop rotation plays a big role. So although this is a bit of an obscure recommendation, as it’s actually published by the Canadian Organic Growers, Crop Planning for Organic Vegetable Growers is an essential guide to planning your garden and will help you turn your garden into a productive and well-executed business, because success starts with a good plan.