photography by Natalie Jeanne
Starting a small-scale food farm is a leap of faith, and it never hurts to have advice from the experts. Guy and Sandy Ashmore, proprietors of That Guy’s Family Farm in Clarksville, OH, have weathered just about every circumstance imaginable since starting their business in 1988. The Ashmores host seasonal apprentices, with whom they share the wisdom they’ve learned. The Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association, the state’s organic certifier and sustainable farming advocacy program, recognized the Ashmores with its 2019 Stewardship Award. Here is their advice for new farmers:
It’s tough to be the grower, the seller, and the marketer. So find a mentor you can share challenges and brainstorm ideas with.
Start small and avoid taking on debt. When you have the option, put in the labor instead.
Farmers’ markets aren’t for everyone. Consider sharing a booth with another grower while you figure out if it’s right for you.
Raise something you actually like to eat. If you hate rutabagas, you’re going to be a terrible rutabaga salesperson.
When you can, can. There’s always waste in produce, so don’t be alarmed if you grow more than you can sell. If you raise tomatoes and they don’t sell, can them.
Color outside the lines. The farm is a living thing throughout the season or years. You have to be able to go with the flow and be ready for changes.
Adapt, but don’t adopt, somebody else’s motto. Don’t be afraid to do something that works for you, even if someone told you it didn’t work for them.
Avoid letting new things become an addiction. You start to think, “Oh, if I had this machine or that bigger cooler I could produce more.” But then you get the new thing and it reminds you of something else you wish you had.
Limit your investment in anything that rusts, rots, or depreciates. Invest in seeds and other things that can give something back to you.
Remember that farmers live poor and die rich, because we invest everything we have.
Hannah is a graduate of NKU's political science program and a freelance creative who writes extensively about development in Greater Cincinnati. She doesn't like to fly, but she loves to travel. Her favorite books are A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Love in the Time of Cholera.