Recently, a reader emailed me and asked if I could do an article for some recommended reading on farming. Being that there is a daunting amount of resources out there from which to learn, I’m happy to provide a list of suggestions for you to consider.
For subscription based reading, there are really two main sources that I would suggest based on my personal experience. The first is Stockman Grass Farmer which is run by a gentleman named Allan Nation who has also authored several books on grazing beef cattle. SGF is the pre-eminent source for all things grass and grazing related. I don’t care if you want to raise 100% grassfed and finished beef, dairy, sheep or milk a goat, SGF is your best source that I have found to date. Most all of the articles are written by actual farmers who practice what they preach and are simply sharing their experiences with you. Authors have included the likes of Joel Salatin, Greg Judy and many others. If you are serious about grazing, you should be subscribing to SGF.
The second magazine is ACRES USA and is always an entertaining read no matter what your area of farming or homesteading interests are. The neat, or disappointing thing depending upon your perspective, is that each issue of ACRES will focus and place great emphasis on one specific area of farming. One month might be veggie production and the next dairy followed by pasture based meats. That being said, there is something to learn in each issue no matter what your bent is. ACRES also has a great bookstore and publishes many of the authors you’ll hear me talk about later. You can also order audio copies of previous conferences (more on that later in this article) and learn from some of the best minds in the business of organic agriculture.
An optional third source, which is definitely more of a homesteading publication, is called Countryside Magazine and Small Stock Journal. This magazine is a great read for a variety of ideas on a variety of subjects and do it yourself projects around the homestead.
Each of the above magazines will send you a free copy to read and see if it is for you. You have nothing to lose by doing this, and all kinds of wisdom to gain!
For books, there are a million directions we can go so I’ll focus on pasture based meats for the purpose of this article with a couple of honorable mentions in the areas of veggie production and the agrarian lifestyle. First is no shocker and most likely is already on your radar if you have spent at least five seconds researching pasture based meat production: Joel Salatin. Joel is, in my opinion, the godfather of the back-to-pasture based meat production movement. The great thing is that his books are completely useful for both the aspiring professional and the homesteader alike. If you haven’t read anything, I would suggest starting with “You Can Farm” and quite possibly “Family Friendly Farming”. You get exactly what the titles suggest with each book! If you are interested in beef or poultry follow those up with “Pastured Poultry Profits” and “Salad Bar Beef”. Moving on, I also really like Greg Judy and his book “Comeback Farms” is a great read which really focuses on one thing: Grass, soil and the how-to of mob grazing. If you don’t have land, or don’t have much land and are thinking you want to farm full time, then check out his first book titled “No Risk Ranching” which teaches you how to lease property and operate a business without much startup capital. Another farmer also hailing from Missouri is a man named Cody Holmes. His book “Ranching Full-Time on 3 Hours A Day” is another great read on the how-to of a grass based enterprise as well as a holistic, whole farm approach to farming. Cody is also a CPA and brings a great “bean counter” mentality to farming. As an aside, Cody also does farm consulting in a manner similar to myself and if you need help with setting up your farm books and record keeping, you will not find a better teacher. I had the fortune of attending a pre-conference two day workshop at the ACRES USA conference in 2010 when it was held here in Indy. Cody is a great teacher and has lots of real world experience and success to back up what he teaches. From a marketing and business standpoint, the other book I suggest in addition to “You Can Farm” is titled “Making Your Small Farm Profitable” by Ron Macher. This is a good book which really helped me to tweak my thinking when it came to everything from marketing, enterprise selection to placement of permanent infrastructure on my property. One lesson that Ron talks about which is still etched into my mind today is that “you can’t un-buy a piece of equipment”. This is a guiding principle with any large purchase ($250+) that I make.
If you are at all interested in veggie production with greenhouses check out a man named Elliot Coleman. Back when I first began to investigate farming for profit in 2004, I was convinced that I would be a veggie gardner (God had different plans) and I was fortunate enough to meet and listen to Elliot speak at a small conference here in Indy that Purdue University put on. Elliot is the Joel Salatin of greenhouse based, organic veggie production and is half-farmer and half-scientist. This guy was experimenting with high tunnels back in the 1960’s and to my knowledge was one of the first guys to develop and use a large, portable greenhouse allowing for soil amendments on a production scale. Elliot does till (which is anti my personal philosophy) but he gets results and lives off of his farming venture using just a couple of acres. The man makes a living farming in Maine – from September thru April! That’s results.
Finally my favorite book, which is more akin to a collection of short stories, is a book about faith, family and farming titled “Writings of a Deliberate Agriarian” by Herrick Kimball. This book covers everything from raising garlic and strawberries, to raising boys and giving them their first rifle, to a struggle with a family members battle against cancer. It isn’t so much a farming book, as it is a book about a farmers life and experiences. You can find it, as well as several other books on how to build your own whizbang chicken plucker or cider press on Herrick’s website “Planet Whizbang”.
Lastly, my final suggestion has nothing to do reading books or magazines. If you really want to learn from some of the best teachers in the industry, you should attend farming conferences. The magazines listed above usually have a great list of upcoming events by states and months that you can look into. Two of the larger, better conferences you can attend are the ARCES USA conference held in December of each year and the MOSES organic farming conference held in February. Each of these will also offer pre-conference classroom style workshops with various teachers like a Cody Holmes or Greg Judy in any area of farming imaginable. No matter what you want to learn about, you can most likely get training for it at one of these conferences (Cody and Greg also do on farm workshops, see their websites linked above). If you are serious about farming, these workshops and conferences are a very wise investment.
You can also find some great smaller conferences as well if you will look around. Here, one of our NRCS offices puts on the Southern Indiana Grazing Conference each February. I’ve met Greg Judy and Gabe Brown at that conference the last two years as well as other great speakers and teachers. It’s small (600-800 people), very inexpensive to attend and is a one day gig. Look around and see what’s available in your neck of the woods and get out to a conference soon. November-March is conference season and will be a great use of your time in addition to the reading list mentioned above.