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Home > Local and Regional Food Systems > Beginning Farmer

Beginning Farmer

Man in field, courtesy of

Sustainable agriculture and the local food movement offer some of the best opportunities for beginning farmers — defined by USDA as those who have been operating a farm or ranch for less than 10 years. Beginning farmers fit no easy stereotype. Compared to established producers, they are more likely to be female and non-white. They may be young, retired, or working on a fourth or fifth career. Many of them did not grow up on a farm. They could be at almost any stage of learning and commitment — from merely considering farming as a career, to hands-on learning or internship, to the early years of running their own farming enterprise, to fine-tuning a well-established farm business.

If you fall somewhere along this continuum, you've come to the right place. The publications, success stories, and links within this page will help you find an internship program, learn practical farming skills, evaluate farmland, choose a farming enterprise or business structure, develop a marketing plan, write a business plan, and get the financing you need.

NOTE: Some of the following documents are available as Adobe Acrobat PDFs. Download Acrobat Reader.

Arrow Icon ATTRA Resources to Help New Farmers

Arrow Icon Beginning Farmer Case Studies

Arrow Icon Non-ATTRA Resources

⇒ ATTRA Resources for Beginning Farmers

internship directory icon

Sustainable Farming Internships and Apprenticeships

A directory of on-the-job learning opportunities in sustainable and organic agriculture in the U.S. (and some in Canada) has been published since 1989 as a tool to help farmers and apprentices connect with each other.
Anyone can browse the listings for free. As a subscriber, you can build a personalized listing to connect with internship seekers. The listed farms are primarily seeking interns/apprentices from North America. Go »


Self-Instruction Courses


ATTRA'S Sustainable Agriculture Tutorials
We've put together the following online courses that allow you to delve more deeply into these topics through self-guided and comprehensive multi-lesson tutorials. These courses are designed so that you can take them at your own pace, and they include calculators, worksheets, resource lists, and other tools that you can download and print as you go. Successful case studies are also featured.

Farm Business Planning & Marketing for Beginners
Are you a beginning farmer? Do you want to expand your markets? Do you want to add sheep, goats, or poultry to your operation? This "beginner" online course will help you develop a basic business and marketing plan for your operation, and provide you with information and worksheets to help you meet your farm goals. There's lots of information about small livestock production, too. Most information is available in English and Spanish. The resources from this project were developed with funding from USDA and provide information in visual and audio formats.

Getting Started in Farming: an Introductory Course in Farm Business Planning
Intended for people who have already decided to start farming, or who are very close to making this decision, this course helps you anticipate personal and financial challenges and plan a viable and successful farming enterprise. The course will be useful to anyone who is seriously interested in farming but does not yet have a fully developed plan. "Getting Started in Farming" was developed with funding from the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, grant #2010-49400-21733.

University of Arkansas?Division of Agriculture Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program
Despite the pressing need to rejuvenate rural populations in this country, few new and beginning farmers and ranchers have adequate farm, business and marketing skills to initiate and maintain viable agricultural operations. To address this need we have created a modular learning program that provides information on poultry, small livestock and agroforestry operations, as well as information on business development and farm safety.

Agricultural Risk Management - English and Spanish Curriculum
There are three sections (trainer's manual, participants manual, and reference materials) to this detailed, user-friendly curriculum that guides the trainer and participants in six risk management lessons. These focus on 1) identifying farm family goals, 2) marketing, 3) managing money (individual cash flow budgeting), 4) planting for multiple markets, and 5) contracts and regulations. The last section (6) covers developing an action plan to implement changes on the individual's farm. The trainer's manual is in English, but the participant's manual is available in Spanish and English, and it is divided into six lesson sections, which follow the trainer's manual. It contains handouts and worksheets that pertain to each lesson.


ATTRA Publications

An Illustrated Guide to Growing Safe Produce on Your Farm - IP382

PDF Price: $3.95 for non-members

 • Summary • Buy PDF  • Buy Print Copy
Bringing Local Food to Local Institutions - IP242


 • Summary • Download PDF  • Buy Print Copy
California Guide to Labor Laws for Small Farms - IP467


 • Summary • Download PDF  • Buy Print Copy
Case Studies and Fact Sheets for Labor Laws on California Small Farms - IP469


 • Summary • Download PDF  • Buy Print Copy
Direct Marketing Lamb: A Pathway - IP518


 • Summary • Download PDF  • Buy Print Copy
Financing Your Farm: Guidance for Beginning Farmers - IP420

PDF Price: $1.99 for non-members
Kindle Price: $1.99

 • Summary • Buy PDF  • Buy Kindle • Buy Print Copy
Finding Land to Farm: Six Ways to Secure Farmland - IP349


 • Summary • Download PDF  • Buy Print Copy
Getting Into Farming - A Workbook for Beginning Farmers in North Carolina - IP462

 • Summary • Buy Print Copy
Market Gardening: A Start-up Guide - IP195

PDF Price: $2.99 for non-members
Kindle Price: $2.99

 • Summary • Buy PDF  • Buy Kindle • Buy Print Copy
Moving Beyond Conventional Cash Cropping - IP201


 • Summary • Download PDF  • Buy Print Copy  • View Now
Start a Farm in the City - IP350


 • Summary • Download PDF  • Buy Print Copy
Understanding Organic Pricing and Costs of Production - IP441


 • Summary • Download PDF  • Buy Print Copy

ATTRA offers many other publications with production and marketing information useful to beginning farmers. Consult ATTRA's Master Publication List for titles related to your interests and specialization.


⇒ Beginning Farmer Case Studies

If you are thinking about farming as a career, you've come to the right place. The six case studies listed below will guide you through the process of imagining and planning a successful farming enterprise. These farmers have made their dreams a reality. We hope these thought-provoking presentations will provide the inspiration to get you started.

Abanitu Organics ~ Roxboro, North Carolina - 14:08
Ayrshire Farm ~ Pittsboro, North Carolina - 6:02
Edible Earthscapes ~ Moncure, North Carolina - 8:37
Fickle Creek Farm ~ Efland, North Carolina - 12:28
Root Down Farm ~ Orange County, North Carolina - 9:25
Tumbling Shoals Farm ~ Millers Creek, North Carolina - 12:08


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⇒ Selected Non-ATTRA Resources

USDA Programs:
USDA's Start Farming portal offers a personalized discovery tool to help beginning farmers access support and resources. It offers step-by-step assistance for beginning farmers, as well as links to other sources of information.

Largely through funding provided by USDA's Beginning Farmer & Rancher Development Program, there are hundreds of new support programs for beginning farmers around the country. These projects are active in at least 46 states, and they are exploring a wide range of approaches to land access, financial and business training, mentoring, leadership training, and other topics. The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program has made available a clearinghouse of information for new and beginning farmers,

USDA Farm Service Agency targets a portion of its loan funds to small and Beginning Farmers and Ranchers. Many different loan programs exist, including farm ownership and operation loans, microloans, emergency loans, and guaranteed farm loans.

General Resources:
FARMDATA Open Source Records Management System for Produce Farmers. (FARMDATA Manual)

National Young Farmers Coalition supports practices and policies that will sustain young, independent, and prosperous farmers now and in the future. NYFC represents, mobilizes, and engages young farmers to ensure their success.

Beginning is a comprehensive compilation of information resources on farm financing, finding land, business planning, agricultural production and marketing, with a constantly updated blog providing the latest information and news on farm policy, farming jobs and internships, agricultural research, and the changing face of American agriculture.

The Greenhorns is a non-traditional grassroots non-profit organizationthat seeks to recruit, promote, and support the new generation of young farmers.

A Few Outstanding Training Programs:
Land Stewardship Project sponsors Farm Beginnings classes each fall in Minnesota, Illinois, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wisconsin. In the winter participants learn goal setting, financial planning, marketing, and sustainable farming techniques from established farmers and other professionals. In spring and summer participants work with specific farmers and attend farm field days.

The Intervale Center of Burlington, Vermont, offers two programs for new farmers. The Intervale Farms Program leases land and facilities to small organic enterprises and provides technical support with other more experienced farmers. Success on Farms works one-on-one with state farmers to strengthen their businesses.

Agriculture and Land-Based Training Program (ALBA) offers bilingual farmer training, business incubation on organic farmland, and collaborative marketing opportunities.

Northeast Beginning Farmers Project operates an informational website and has developed resources, online courses, and how-to videos on production-oriented topics for new farmers.

The California Farm Academy runs a 7 month beginning farmer training program that teaches production, marketing and business planning. Located at the Center for Land-Based Learning in Winters, CA, this intensive program combines classroom time, farm visits, and field work on their 1-acre plot. Classes are held in the evenings twice a week to accommodate working individuals, and two Saturdays per month. Graduates are given the opportunity to enter into the incubator program, in which they can lease land for up to 3 years and have the Center's support starting their own farm business.

Farm Incubator Programs:
Farm incubators are educational farms where new growers can lease a parcel of land and gain access to equipment and advanced knowledge without having to buy it.

The New Entry National Incubator Farm Training Initiative maintains an interactive map, Farm Incubator Projects in North America, showing all North American locations that are currently operating or planning to operate a farm incubator project.

Finding Land:
International Farm Transition Network supports programs that foster the next generation of farmers and ranchers. Links to network participants are available by state.

Land for Good helps farm seekers acquire farms and farmland, farm families transfer farms from one generation or owner to another, and landowners make land available for farming. Land for Good focuses on six New England states.

Women Starting Out in Farming:
Empowering Women in Agriculture is a Beginning Farmers & Ranchers Program project of Holistic Management International in the Northeast and in Texas. The objective of this program is to educate and empower these newcomers so they are positioned to apply Holistic Management principles and practices in order to build successful businesses.

Women, Food and Agriculture Network, based in Iowa, is a national network of women involved in sustainable agriculture. WFAN exists so that women can give each other the information, connections, and encouragement they need to be effective practitioners and supporters of sustainable agriculture and healthy localized food systems.

Growing Places, from the Vermont Women's Agriculture Network, is a non-credit course designed for people who are considering starting an agricultural or natural-resource-based business.

The Pennsylvania Women's Ag Network Farmer-to-Farmer Online Information Sharing is an educational program for farm women designed to enhance peer learning, mentoring, and networking.

Immigrant Beginning Farm Programs:
New Entry Sustainable Farming Project helps immigrants and others with agricultural backgrounds to begin commercial agricultural enterprises in Massachusetts.

New Farmer Development Project educates and supports immigrants in New York City with agricultural experience to become local producers and establish small farms in the region.

Minnesota Food Association's New Immigrant Farmer Project provides training for new immigrants and aspiring farmers in gardening, micro-farming, production farming, marketing, and land use planning.

RAPP: Refugee Agricultural Partnership Program listserv shares tips, success stories, and more information about agricultural projects with, for and by refugees.

Programs for Veterans:
Farmer Veteran Coalition aspires to lead the national effort connecting veterans to agriculture.


Arrow Icon For an extended list of local food resources, please visit ATTRA's Local Food Resources Section.


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This page was last updated on: November 23, 2016