Considerations of starting small

Whether you’re bootstrapping, testing out the feasibility of a farm, or limited to a certain space, there are several good reasons to start small. Farms that start small and scale up take a different approach to the startup process than farms that start big. Kieran Foran knows that well.

Kieran Foran co-founded Fresh Farm Aquaponics with Spencer Curry several years ago. The two use aquaponics to teach schools and non-governmental organizations how to grow their own food. Kieran has a unique look into managing a small startup business and joined us a few weeks ago to discuss that.

Looking back on the founding and growth of Fresh Farm Aquaponics, Kieran has two pieces of advice for small farmers.

1. Don’t be afraid to take risks.

While risks are usually seen as a bad thing for businesses, Kieran thinks that he could have spared more of them in the early days of the business.

“I would tell myself—if I was starting over—to take more risks.”

The reason? Every farm has a learning phase, and a small farm is a perfect place to learn. Many of a new farmers lessons come from trial and error. Kieran says that failures make up for the bulk of Fresh Farm Aquaponics’ learning curve.

start small

The advantage of the small farmer is that they have a bit more freedom to experience those mistakes; the costs are limited to the size of the farm. The smaller the farm, the easier it is to come back. Which brings us to Kieran’s second piece of advice:

2. Start small and work toward your goal.

If you know what your goal is, it doesn’t matter where you start. Starting small can even have benefits. Kieran advises starting small to new farmers.

“Know what you want your end goal to be and then what’s the minimum to reach that goal,” advises Kieran.

Kieran and Spencer, for example, wanted to be a full-fledged commercial farm. They knew they couldn’t start at their goal size, so they started as a backyard farm and used the profits to scale up.

How to start small

This scaling approach is common among small farmers, many of whom start with limited financing. We advise a 50/50 capitalization strategy (50% down payment on a loan to avoid exorbitant monthly payments down the road). This means that if you only have $10,000 to fund your farm, you’re limited to $20,000 in start-up costs.

Interested in learning more about starting and funding a small farm?

Just because you’re starting small doesn’t mean you aren’t a business. You still have to do feasibility studies, business planning, and financial planning for your business. Research your markets and choose sales models. These may determine your ability to scale up in the future!

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