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Patrick Bonneville
Posts: 10
Location: Virginia
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Hello all, long time lurker, first(?) time poster...
I'm Patrick, 36 from Virginia

I have been interested in the idea of a micro-farm (perhaps some niche cash crop as well as my own food) for some time.
I have a great number of obstacles to overcome and right now, I am just hoping someone can point me in the right direction.
I've grown up in the DC area so I'm a city boy but I have a passion for learning and decided a while ago agriculture seemed like
a nice, wholesome thing I may be able to do from home.
One of the reasons I'd like to do things from home, is because I am disabled. I am physically capable (out of shape, but that's changing slowly).
I deal with some PTSD and I have panic disorder- but really I try to be a nice guy and I am quite interested in getting started on something on my own.
I have looked at various grants, loans and lack of programs (well, I haven't found many) and recently I have started looking into USDA farm loans that would
allow someone who is disabled like myself to get up and going. I don't know if I can do it all on my own though and ideally I'd rather work with others in
a co-op or be a part of something larger than me. I do like technology, am interested in renewable energy so I don't want to live in a hippy commune for
vegans, but I don't think I could bring myself to butcher an animal (city boy, sorry).

Where can I go from here? I am not ready to get a small home loan and move across the country near the Rockies, but one day that's what I'd like to do.
Being in Northern VA, I live near a number of places people have mentioned on here. If I was more prone to traveling, I'm sure I'd already be involved in
the wwoolf'ing movement, but my disabillty (which I am slowly 'fixing') has prevented me from being as involved as I'd like to be (or travel as much).

I think I would like to volunteer somewhere and learn from someone else. I don't want to live off of disability and not have a more wholesome job.
I do want to be involved with something bigger than me and preferably learn hands on from experience, but I'm really not sure where to start other
than my own attempts at backyard gardening.
I think I'll be moving away from Northern Virginia in about a year and I'd like to be prepared to move onto my dreams- not feel stuck simply thinking about them.
Any ideas? I have plenty of my own ideas and I don't know which ones of them are feasible, but I think I should get some hands-on experience and start forming
a plan now.
Thank you for your time
 
Su Ba
pollinator
Posts: 988
Location: Big Island, Hawaii (2300' elevation, 60" avg. annual rainfall, temp range 55-80 degrees F)
124
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I suppose the first thing I'd do if I were in your situation is to discover what niche crop I liked and develop a passion for it. I'd learn everything possible, reading every book and article, participating in any organization that focused in my crop of choice. I would start growing it as a hobby so that most of my learning mistakes were on the small scale.

I know of many little niche crop hobbyists that eventually went commercial, supporting themselves off their little businesses. They became successful not only because of practicing, but they worked to make a market for their crop plus lived in right location for their customers.

One business I knew of back in NJ when I was younger was growing fresh culinary herbs. They family supported themselves on a three acre mini farm. The majority of their customers were the local high end restaurants. Another business was growing miniature roses, which retailed primarily via mail order. They lived on only one acre and not all was devoted to the greenhouses. I don't know how many square feet of greenhouse space they had. When I was far, far younger than I am now, I grew African Violets, retailing via church bazaars, weekend markets, etc. I didn't make enough to be my only support, but I did ok. At that time I knew a young man who focused on raising and retailing fresh turkeys for Thanksgiving. He paid his college costs with those turkeys. Another young person in one of my college classes earned all his college money by growing just sweet corn and watermelons.
 
Patrick Bonneville
Posts: 10
Location: Virginia
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Su Ba wrote:I suppose the first thing I'd do if I were in your situation is to discover what niche crop I liked and develop a passion for it.


I agree, if I could manage to settle on a couple of things I'd be happy but then that isn't sticking to the ideals of diversity.
I have plenty of theory and have done my homework in many areas. I really enjoy the idea of growing a cash crop like bamboo (lots of uses) and focusing on mushrooms.
After following paul stamets work I destroyed a small amount of used motor oil with blue oyster mushrooms (my little cult, hehe).
I began a small hugelkultur bed in my backyard with native plants I like and a number of medicinal herbs.
There's still plenty to learn and nothing beats hands-on experience, I'd rather learn from someone who knows more than me, helping each other in exchange than being
an armchair gardener who knows everything about everything but has no experience. Since I live so close to a big, polluted area, I'm not comfortable with growing
food here, but my backyard garden has been a good teacher so far.
Thank you for your advice, I'm looking for more than just reading on my own though
 
Su Ba
pollinator
Posts: 988
Location: Big Island, Hawaii (2300' elevation, 60" avg. annual rainfall, temp range 55-80 degrees F)
124
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Sounds like you're interested in putting your book learning to the test.

So how did I learn about African violets before starting my mini business? I read the few books that were available, joined the national society and got their newsletter, bought all the back newsletters that were available and attended the Philadelphia flower show in order to ask questions and look for a job. I landed a job as the lowliest grunt laborer in the African Violet department of a large greenhouse firm. I worked, kept my mouth shut but my ears and eyes open. I was careful to show moderate interest but not be real eager. I didn't want to look competitive for the section manager's job. Sure way to get fired! I asked questions occasionally but basically just offered to work at any and all work stations, kept my mouth and eyes open. I offered to help out on weekends and holidays. After about a year the manager took interest in me and started training me for the more advanced work. Of course I already knew about hybridizing but I didn't let on, I just let him assume I was a fast learner. But I picked up lots of inside tricks and information. I was taken along on acquisition trips to other big greenhouse operations. And I was introduced to the production of other house plant species although I had little interest in them. But I did it anyway. It was all a means to learn the inside info for African violets. After a couple years the greenhouse decided to down size. I offered to be one of the employees eliminated, claiming to be homesick (which actually was true. I really missed home!). I then went back home and opened my own small greenhouse.

Thus I invested two years of intense training before stepping out on my own. I equated it to two years of going to ag school and getting paid for it rather than me paying tuition. I gained enough knowledge and experience to succeed. The trick, as I see it, was to be willing to be a grunt laborer at minimum wage offering to do everything and anything, and keeping mouth shut/eyes & ears open.
 
Patrick Bonneville
Posts: 10
Location: Virginia
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Still interested in advice, or especially an open (RESPECTFUL) dialogue about the prospects of micro farms focusing on permaculture.
I need to get out of the Northern VA area to a place that has a more steady climate and is less polluted. I'll likely end up in South Texas, so I have been doing a lot of reading about native species and as much as I think I'd hate the heat/humidity, a longer growing season sounds nice!
 
Melissa Swartz
Posts: 7
Location: Greenville, VA 24440
bee chicken rabbit
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Patrick I know this post is a year old but if you are still looking to chat about it let me know
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://stoves2.com
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