After a nice week of celebrating our son and his bride’s wedding I sat back down at my computer to write the next in my series of articles about how young people can start a career of their own by turning to the land and considering farming when on another page I come to learn that a significant grant has been given to Kentucky to help with that exact thing. So I escaped the lingering euphoria of the marriage celebration and got back to work.
When we last got together I was recounting my wonderful visit and interview with Kevin Evans at Evans Orchard just outside of Lexington. What I wanted to add about Kevin’s business plan is how he has found that farms are places where you can diversify to take advantage of various seasonal demands and different markets throughout the year.
Kevin has planted a very sophisticated crop of blueberries working very hard to keep the other animals on the farm from consuming the delicious fruits before he can get them to market. Kentucky is very well suited to growing blueberries and there is an increasing demand for the berries themselves as well as berry products like jams and jellies. Also, blueberries keep very well frozen and unlike some other fruits, the process of freezing them is as simple of starting them out on a cookie sheet then transferring them to a freezer bag. For this reason it wouldn’t be hard for a young Kentucky farmer to sell all the berries he could raise.
But beyond the diversification available in raising a variety of crops the agri-tourism business has a very rich potential. This time of year a corn maze, a haunted hayride, a pick your own pumpkin patch and a steaming hot serving of cocoa, spiced tea and apple cider with cinnamon can turn an ordinary little farm experience into a profit center very quickly with little preparation.
One of the greatest reasons for young people to consider farming as a business, whether primary or as a secondary income is the current low price of farm land. With interest rates so low and land prices very favorable, the cost of starting a business in farming sure beats the cost of buying or building a facility for businesses in a city or a suburb.
In addition there is a ton of help available through the local agricultural extension offices in each county where highly experienced extension employees can deliver a virtual college degree in everything from developing a business plan to finding a market for your products.
I moved to the country 27 years ago and didn’t know the first thing about farming. But with the help of our county extension service I was able to enhance my education, learn the basics to get started and then move on to more advanced study all with the help of the University of Kentucky’s agricultural program. Think about it. What other potential business pursuit comes with such readily accessible expert advice, for free?
As I looked at a variety of opportunities I learned how to build fences, renovate pastures, where to rent equipment, buy seed, mix fertilizer and how to buy and raise a herd of cattle. For many years I ran a cow/calf operation and in the process gathered a lot of knowledge about how to best use the acreage I could afford to maximize profit.
Over the years I have tried a number of farm related business opportunities and am now making plans for a retirement business totally based right here at home. With the addition of a larger orchard, a vineyard, fruiting vines, and the production of consumable products grown on my own farm, I am preparing to not only feed and provide for my family, but help our community by providing locally produced food, of high quality in contrast to the large amount of imported food currently sold in super-stores.
If more young people took a look at the rewards of owning their own business, working at home, setting their own schedule, the availability of help, the low startup costs when compared to many other businesses and the good they would be doing for their community, it wouldn’t be long before the demand for locally produced goods punched a big hole in the import business and in a combination of small ways, helped to strengthen our nation.
Soon I will be traveling to some other states to report on some interesting “organic” operations which have started to find it hard to keep up with the growing demand for healthier foods. In the meantime, I’ll be collecting eggs, pressing juice, planning next year’s crop and gauging what the public seems to want.
As all farmers will tell you, when the harvest is over, the planning begins.
Marcus Carey is a Northern Kentucky lawyer with 32 years experience. He is also a farmer, talk radio host and public speaker who loves history and politics. He is a prolific and accomplished writer whose blog, BluegrassBulletin.com, is “dedicated to honest and respectful comment on the political and cultural issues of our time.” He writes a regular commentary for KyForward.