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A Conversation with 3 Flat Acres Farm: Success through the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program

With a busy season coming to a close, Angelic Organics Learning Center's Farmer Training team has been pouring over evaluations and surveys from the past several months. In reviewing our fall CRAFT survey, we noticed the success of many Stateline Farm Beginnings® graduates and asked several to share their stories. Here is what Bill and Angie Mitchell of 3 Flat Acres had to say.

Angelic Organics Learning Center (AO): How did you get into farming as a career?

3 Flat Acres (3FA): First we must note that farming is not our only career.  Angie maintains a full-time non-farm job, Bill runs a design and furniture business (ReAdapted.com), and together we own and manage two 3-flat apartment buildings in Chicago.  (The 3 Flat Acres farm name is homage to our 3-flat buildings.)

Our desire to farm began about 8 years ago when we were in our late 30’s. Prior to our farming dream, we had always anticipated doing something radical in our mid/late-40s but had envisioned it being geared towards a collaborative artist space, keeping in line with Bill’s artistic endeavors and our urban Chicago lifestyle.  One day we stumbled upon the new generation of back-to-the-landers and the homesteading movement.  We are longtime backyard gardeners, so this idea originally motivated us towards subsistence farming.  As passionate home cooks we enjoy farm fresh, local and organic ingredients so the challenge of growing and raising all of our own food was intriguing to us.  Our original farming plans involved us selling our Chicago 3-flats and quitting our jobs/businesses to farm exclusively.  Luckily, before rushing headlong into anything, we wisely chose to explore farming options, which led us to Stateline Farm Beginnings®.

AO: Have your farming, marketing, or business practices changed as a result of Upper Midwest Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training (CRAFT) or Angelic Organics Learning Center programs? If so, how?

3FA: Our farm plan changed radically after participating in Angelic Organics Learning Center’s Stateline Farm Beginnings®.  Angie especially had on rose-colored glasses when it came to farming.  Stateline Farm Beginnings® forced us to sit down – paper and pencil in hand, and talk to each other realistically about finances and how this dream might work.  It showed us the costs behind things like health insurance and market insurance; we explored customer profiles, marketing, competitor’s pricing, and P&L’s.  All of that made us realistically look at farming as a business instead of a lifestyle.  We realize that we can eventually have both but certainly not in the first year!  We are easing into farming and concentrating on slowly building our farm’s reputation.   Our goal is to be the premiere garlic grower of the Midwest.  Our future plans involve heirloom dried peppers and value-added products.

AO: What, if any, measurable improvements in your farming knowledge, ability, or skill have resulted from your participation in Angelic Organics Learning Center programs or Upper Midwest CRAFT?

3FA: Networking.  The relationships with Stateline Farm Beginnings® classmates and other CRAFT farmers are invaluable.  We have forged relationships that we would never have dreamed possible had it not been for Stateline Farm Beginnings®.

AO: What is your most significant accomplishment as a farmer?

3FA: Taking 8+ years to dream, explore, and analyze - from the initial idea of moving to a farm, to the 3 Flat Acres first garlic sale - with all of the doubts, successes, and frustration in between - has proven to us that we want to farm and we want to farm in Southwestern Wisconsin.  Keeping our other jobs and small businesses, while starting this farm business, routinely stretches us thin but diversifies our financial risk and provides a good base for our farm business success.

AO: Is there anything else you would like to add about the success or struggle of your farm business or farm career?

3FA: Farming continues to be an adventure.  Every day is a challenge – some are frustrating and others are more rewarding than we ever dreamed possible.  Growing 30 garlic varieties of which we are incredibly proud, the challenge of learning about soil and cover cropping, being outside, and turning a rundown farm into a productive, vibrant farm is a vision that we embrace everyday – even if we are at our non-3 Flat Acres farm endeavors.

Visit the AOLC's Farmer Training website for more resources and to learn more about Stateline Farm Beginnings® and CRAFT!

This project was supported by the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA, Grant #2009-49400-05943. To find more resources and programs for beginning farmers and ranchers please visit www.Start2Farm.gov, a component of the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program.

Angie Mitchell