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Starting Small With Farming

In Baraboo, Wisconsin, a short walk outside of Devil’s Lake State Park, lives Little Society Farm, a farm started in 2017 by Brad Wissmueller and Eleanor Johnson. Inspired by the ending of Voltaire’s Candide--which concludes with a small group of people realizing life is better with 20 acres and cooperation among everyone--Brad and Eleanor bought 20 acres and began work on making their dreams of being full-time farmers come true.

Neither Brad or Eleanor grew up around farming or studied it in college. It was an interest they picked up later in life. Brad’s former workplace had an office garden that he worked in, and they both had an interest in farming. After having spent some time participating in CSAs and participating in World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), they decided they wanted to take farming more seriously. But they needed to learn how farm business worked, so they enrolled in Stateline Farm Beginnings (SFB). “SFB forced us to think deeply about many facets of our proposed business, from our values/mission statement to the nitty-gritty of enterprise budgets of specific crops. We don’t always look at things this granularly on our own, so SFB was helpful in this way.” 

They learned that they needed to stay grounded in their farm goals, so they’re intentionally keeping things small for now in an effort to focus on increasing the quality of their skills and products. Their only business portion of the farm is a CSA, which they limit between five and ten shares. This year they are growing for nine shares. Even limiting themselves to the number of shares they produce for, they occasionally find themselves stretched, but they’re thankful for the farmer connections they made through SFB, which allows them a chance to collaborate and ask questions to more experienced farmers.

 Of the 20 acres, 18 were previously conventional soy/corn. They are managing the land through lightly grazing sheep on a clover and perennial pasture mix as well as maintaining no-till practices. With a team of two people, the work is tough but still rewarding. “There are moments when I’m outside and I feel the sun and the wind and hear the birds singing, and I just feel in the moment the beauty of nature and being outside. It also feels good when I see our CSA members go through their newly delivered box and share their excitement for its contents.” 

Their advice on learning to farm is to just start farming, but, Brad says, “...start small. It is easy to get overly excited. For us at least, we don’t want to end up in a position where we are burnt out, in debt, and give up on farming. So we want to make sure we never overextend ourselves. We’ve learned a lot from just starting a farm business, even if it has been really small. There were things we learned that we wouldn’t have even known enough to ask about previously.”

Are you thinking about starting a farm business and looking for in-depth education and guidance? Stateline Farm Beginnings might be right for you! Applications are being accepted until September 22nd, 2019. For more information on Stateline Farm Beginnings and to apply, click here.