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Starting up Start-Ups from Scratch  RSS feed

 
William James
gardener
Posts: 1014
Location: Northern Italy
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I was wondering if anyone had some ideas on "starting from scratch". Or, alternatively, knew of some good posts on the forum or elsewhere that discussed that.

My own problems (and I'm pretty much here at "scratch" center around

1) Obtaining land for rent or own
I currently garden my friend's yard and a 120 or so square meter plot that my other friend's family owns.
I'm going intensive on the first (close to a hose) and light on the second (corn, beans, pumpkins + cover crops + root veg)
My strategy is to arrive at a huge bounty to feed myself, wife, and friend and then think about renting further land to do cash cropping.
I have had thoughts of buying or renting larger swaths of marginal woodlands for permaculture projects, but they would be too far away and owning land and paying taxes scares me.

2) Creating a network
I'm currently trying to work for a non-permaculture farmer with tons of resources, tons of waste, and not much money to pay workers (typical).
I really doubt there is any way to force permaculture on them when they look at me as a pair of arms and legs to do their work.
Is there any better way to create inroads with people other than becoming their slave or establishing an economic relationship with them?

3) Time and strategic planning (when to do what)
Trying to build something sustainable inside my own life is taking a reeeeeally long time. I've been mentally preparing for at least 3 years and only now have started to have some small gains.
I'm getting too old (33rd birthday yesterday) to start something that even my wife has doubts about (what the heck is an english teacher doing with plants, right?)
It would be nice to know how I could make gains a little faster.
Then, there are the seasons to wonder about: I just learned that If I want salad to come up in April, it has to be planted in the fall and overwintered.
I think that timing of things could be a whole subject worth attention. When do you have to start the leg-work for any project to make sure it works?

Okay. Sorry for talking so long. Hopefully you'll have some ideas.

Thanks,
William
N. Italy
USDA Zone (?)8
 
            
Posts: 77
Location: Northport, Wash.
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Hi,
Thought I would throw some ideas at you, we just started our own operation here in Washington state, USA.

We first formed an intentional community comprised of family members, we limited the community to family members as we were having difficulty finding others we were compatible with.  Later, we will again look for others to join us, but not for some time.  We did it this way as it lessened the risk for all of us and the original start up costs associated with getting the land, plus it makes sense to have many hands to do the work instead of just a few.  Also, there are some legal considerations in regards to passing on the operation to descendants and some benefits going this route and inheritance taxes, etc.

We bought our land on an owner contract, and avoided all the hassles of dealing with a bank, it was much cheaper.  We preferred to buy as we wanted control of what we were doing, and did not want to put a lot of work into something that someone else would ultimately get most of the benefit from.

We read that it takes 4,000 square feet of land to totally feed one person for one year, so you could start with enough land on a small scale for just food production.

In regards to renting, we think it would be okay to start that way, but ultimately owning would be better, I would think it scarier to rent land than to own, as you are at someone else's mercy, if they decide to sell, you are out, with little recourse.  Land taxes are just a part of doing business, once you start to sell, you pass on that cost to your customers, it is how everyone does it.

I am not sure what you mean by creating a network, but working for a "normal" farmer could be pretty frustrating if your are into permaculture, and if they are entrenched in their way of life, they probably will not welcome much input from you on how they do things.  A better choice might be to find friends or family or both and create some sort of intentional community yourself.  Not everyone needs to live on the place, some can be absentee, if they want, you just need to make sure everything is spelled out and put in writing, and everyone agrees to the plan.  You don't have to be a commune to be a community, but you do need to be able to stand a closer relationship with those you get involved with.  I don't know of a better way to do this, it is working great for us so far, and the economic relationship makes it even better, we all share the risks and rewards, so it eases the stress a lot.  If you get involved in some other peoples community or operation, you are really nothing more than their "human resource", and will be used as such until you are no longer useful to them.
Look at farming just like any other business, you will be providing a product for someone, who is that someone, what are they looking for, can you obtain the resources to provide it, that sort thing.  I read about one guy who was trying to get into market farming, but couldn't find anyone to buy what he had grown, which was the normal veggies everyone grows.  One day while he was talking to a buyer for restaurant produce and trying to pitch what he had, the buyer interrupted him and said what he really wanted and needed was chives.  The guys wife had about a tenth of an acre of chives growing that the guy had been trying to kill of for the whole year by mowing them down.  He ended up selling the chives to the buyer, and by the end of the year had made 5,000.00 off of them, and he planted more for the next year.

Your third question is something you have to decide for yourself.  My wife and I were 51 when we started our community and farm, we have been living as sustainably as we can wherever we are, this can be accomplished in several ways, but it depends on your situation.  Just learning to live frugally is one way to start living sustainably.
So far as being an english teacher and playing with plants, I think playing with plants and making a living from farming is a far more interesting life style.  I am about to end my 30 some odd years of working in the excavating industry, and start playing with plants full time.  A much more satisfying lifestyle, I think.
I don't think there is any such thing as fast gains when plants are involved, everything takes time to grow, but the great thing is something like a market farm is very attainable even with another job, you have considerable extra work at various times (planting, harvesting, etc.), but it could be done if you are willing to put in the extra work.  This is what we have been doing, still building roads but farming on the side.

So far as when to start doing the leg work for any project to make sure it works, well... really, you just do the leg work, research what you think you need to know, knowing that you won't learn it all before you start, that process goes on forever, and then get started.  Be prepared for mistakes, set backs, problems, etc., they will happen, but you just work through them and move on, learning from those as you go also.

Don't know if this ramble helped or not, but good luck if you go ahead with it.

Kurt
 
William James
gardener
Posts: 1014
Location: Northern Italy
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I'll try and respond to this wonderful post of KurtW's a little later.

Forming a group of interested people was my first idea. It failed miserably. I spent a few weeks coming up with a document where I outlined a possible project with an idea of the costs involved.

Nobody wanted to make any type of investment or take on any kind of responsibility. So, it looks like I'll have to do it myself in one way or another. 

Perhaps if it looks as if it has a future or is going somewhere, I could get people to latch on afterwards. Nobody wants to be the leader here.

By creating a network, I mean doing things that form relationships with people who could eventually help you out. For instance, I now get free straw from a farmer. I take him a bottle of wine every now and then. There's no economic relationship here, just people helping people. This was for the most part a great relationship and the fact that they own lots of cows and lots of milk means that I would go to them for any cheese-making or manure needs as well.

Now I'm turning to someone else for straw because it's way too difficult to organize "Straw-getting" with the previous farmer. I'm going to buy 2 big bails of straw. This is a less-good relationship.

Working on a conventional farm is something I see as an intermediary step, something to get me into the world of agriculture and an initial learning experience, even if it's trying to figure out exactly what they could do better, while getting paid. They have access to lots of flowers and plants at bulk rates, so it could come in handy too.

They want to turn their farm into something "didactic," but right now it just looks like a zoo. After a while, there is some very slim possibility that I could help them move things toward permaculture which would have something to teach kids and their parents.

As far as the "timing" is concerned, yeah, that's probably far too vague. Just skip that. OR perhaps we could discuss when is the best time to buy and install something on a piece of land.

thanks for now,
William
 
                                    
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out of curiosity and interest, what were the costs and outlines of your plans?
 
William James
gardener
Posts: 1014
Location: Northern Italy
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Well, it's a little difficult to quantify.

The idea was to create a base of people who could invest money or work in a project. It was like a pre-launch, just to see if there was any interest in making some kind of investment in the first place.

The initial survey brought back negative results, because nobody wanted to invest anything in any kind of project outlined. The projects were:
--Buy property and a house that could hold as many people as it needed, plus a couple rooms for guests.
--Start with sales of vegetables and move toward forest gardening.

The problem is that most of the money everyone has is tied up in the place they're living, so selling and uprooting everything didn't seem appetizing to anyone, I don't think. Also changing work or moving toward work with more responsibility attached didn't go over well.

Like I said. Someone needs to construct something and then others may or may not latch on for a bigger project. Since nobody is up to the task, it falls to me.

Right now, I'm looking to make a small investment like rent or something, plus a little money for solving irrigation problems and mulching needs. There is a very friendly local organic farmer who said he would be able to lend a hand in navigating the various problems connected with reaching a market.

William
 
William James
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Posts: 1014
Location: Northern Italy
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As for buying:
The price of land where I live is extraordinarily high. The whole region is set to become 60% urbanized. Most pieces of land are being sat on, waiting for zoning regulations to change so they can sell for building houses.
We talking like 15 euros for 1 square meter.

That's why moving and getting other people involved was part of my plan. Need to find a place with lower prices for land.

That's why renting at this point doesn't scare me. It's kinda like something is better than nothing.

William
 
            
Posts: 77
Location: Northport, Wash.
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wmthake wrote:
As for buying:
The price of land where I live is extraordinarily high. The whole region is set to become 60% urbanized. Most pieces of land are being sat on, waiting for zoning regulations to change so they can sell for building houses.
We talking like 15 euros for 1 square meter.

That's why moving and getting other people involved was part of my plan. Need to find a place with lower prices for land.

That's why renting at this point doesn't scare me. It's kinda like something is better than nothing.

William


Isn't that silly about people sitting on land hoping for some event to happen that will make them money?  Over here, people still think there is lots of money to be made speculating in the housing market, even though so many people have gone broke recently doing just that. 

Of course, this could be an opportunity in the making for an enterprising person such as yourself.  While all those other people are building houses, you can be growing food for all those new people to eat.

You are probably right, renting would be a good way to get started, at least, then work towards buying.  Even 1 acre (not sure what that converts to over there) of land can grow a considerable amount.  Not long before we acquired our current land, we rented 3/4 of an acre, and grew a large garden, a dozen chickens, 9 turkeys, and 7 Nigerian Dwarf goats on it.  The land was gravely, poor ground, and by the time we left, all the manure and compost we left behind had made fertile ground out of what was basically a gravel pit.
We had to buy most of our feed, but we found sources for cheap organic feed, we just had to look around.  We found one guy that raised organic grains, and he sold us pretty cheap grain so long as he didn't have to clean it real well, leaving the chaff on, and some weed seeds in it.  Our animals didn't care one bit that the grains weren't super clean, and the chaff is good for them anyway.  All in all, even with buying feed, the products we raised were still considerably cheaper than buying from a store,  and were better all around.

Your networking idea is just what a small farmer needs.  People working with each other, trading materials, labor, etc., can sure simplify things.  For instance, we know of a gal who raises some goats, and while talking to her about possibly buying some does, she mentioned that if we didn't have a buck, she farms hers out to people who don't have one.  What she does is loan it to people to cover their does, and all she asks is that they feed it.  This way, at least part of its upkeep is done by others, and they get a stud service just for the price of a few days feed.  Of course, the risk of disease is an issue, but it illustrates the point that what you say is a good idea.  Bartering services and goods makes good economic sense.

One thing to maybe consider so far as land goes, around here a lot of the larger farmers only plant the areas reached easily with their large tractors, sometimes leaving large parcels in corners untended.  Perhaps you could find parcels of this sort in your area, and possible use an existing irrigation system they may have for your crops.  You may even be able to work out a sharecropping sort of thing with them, trading some produce for use of land they are not using anyway.  It might work out and the cost could be minimal, or nil.  Lots that others are sitting on waiting for the zoning change might be another option, maybe the people who own them would be willing to rent them for a time until the change happens.  Another might be some sloped ground that someone else views as unusable.  Our land here was considered unusable for farming, being mostly sloped ground, and the guy we bought it from thought we were weird when we said we were going to farm it, but he was probably thinking conventional farming using tractors and such.  Fruit trees will grow on this sort of ground just as well as conifers, along with anything else, so long as the farmer doesn't mind doing a lot of hand work, then any ground you can walk on will grow something.

One permaculture principle is "Use edges and value the marginal", so taking advantage of others unused land might be a possibility.

I am sure you will find something that will work for you, it took years for us to find an affordable situation, we just kept looking.
 
William James
gardener
Posts: 1014
Location: Northern Italy
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Thanks for your reply.
I'll keep at it and let you know about any progress.
W
 
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