New Farmer

I'm interested in farming. Where do I start?

Take a class. Educational institutions such as colleges and universities, some community colleges and vocational ag programs at high schools offer formal learning settings. It is not always necessary to be enrolled as a student to take a course. Non-profit farm education and support organizations provide many kinds of informative programs.

New farmers cultivated by GoFarm Hawaii: GoFarm Hawaii, a new program at the University of Hawaii Community Colleges is growing something extremely vital at Windward Community College—commercial farmers. The program is part of C3T Hawaii--Community College, Career Training--and is funded by a $24.6 million workforce development grant from the U.S. Department of Labor. Click here to view on Vimeo.

Surf the internet. Information on all aspects of sustainable and organic agriculture is abundant. Become proficient with computers and the internet ~ they’re an integral part of agribusiness today. Start-2-Farm and ATTRA Beginning Farmer are two examples.

Read sustainable agriculture farming newsletters and other publications. Acres, USA, Stockman Grass Farmer and Small Farm Today are well respected sources of this type of information and many carry a large stock of books on related topics.

Attend sustainable agriculture field days, workshops and conferences. Focus on programs that feature farmer panels and farmers as presenters. While there, take advantage of your time by connecting with the speakers and other farmers attending. They can help encourage and support you.

Join farming organizations. There are farmer organizations for most agricultural commodities and for many niche products as well. Connect with them for sources of information and to attend annual conferences and workshops.

Talk to successful farmers. You should not expect free advice - pay for their time or offer some form of compensation (your labor, etc.). Schedule your request for times when the farmer is not as busy. Farmer mentorship programs which connect beginning farmers with experienced ones may be locally available in your area.
Work on a farm. There is no substitute for hands on training and experience in this career. Check into apprenticeship programs with successful farms which you think you’d like to own. Click here for information about apprenticeship programs

Where do I buy land?

After you have thoroughly researched, planned and finally determined what the market wants, what you want to produce, and how you prefer to market your products, you can begin the process of selecting property. For example, a vegetable market gardening enterprise will require a different resource base from a dairy or cattle operation.

Purchasing farmland is not necessarily the best option, especially for beginning farmers. Rental, long-term lease, lease-to-own, or other tenure arrangements may make better business sense. This allows new farmers to gain experience as a farm manager or herdsman before committing to a piece of farmland.

Where do I rent or lease land?

Large land-holding estates such as the Campbell Estate and Kamehameha Schools lease land for agriculture, but not in small parcels. Some of their tenants may be willing to sub-lease small acreage. You can locate these farmers and approach them. Perhaps the land owners will assist you with contacts.

The Hawaii Department of Agriculture has an ag lease program with parcels of various sizes from small to large. Contact HDOA to learn about the possibilities and requirements for leasing. There are state ag parks on all islands for potential leasing.

What kind of property do I look for?

Sometimes people commit to a farm based more on a romantic vision than a realistic assessment. If you are not 100% sure of how or where you want to farm, it may make sense to rent or lease, to see if this is the right place for you. Farming visions, goals and preferences can change, so make sure that the property you select offers an appropriate degree of flexibility, too.

Once you have determined what type enterprise you want, consider the following factors when looking for farmland.

Location: How accessible is the property? How close are you to neighbors? How close are you to your markets and your suppliers? What zoning restrictions are there? If you’ll be direct marketing through a farm stands or ag tourism, will you have adequate site access and parking?

Natural Resources: Consider how suitable the size (acreage), topography, soil types, field sizes and layout, and water bodies (ponds, streams, wetlands) are for your planned agri-business enterprise. Consider sensitive cultural and environmental features as well (endangered species, cultural sites, etc.).

Climate: Elevation and precipitation, the length of growing season, and micro-climates will help dictate what you can grow.

Housing: Do you require housing on the farm or nearby? Can you build?

Farm infrastructure: Evaluate the farm buildings, fencing, roads, water supply, utilities, and equipment. Can you build or place new infrastructure?

Farm history: What were the prior uses for the property, specifically chemical use and storage, non-agricultural uses, liens and encumbrances? NOTE: If you wish to go into organic production, this information is vital.

Community Resources: What kind of agriculture is already present in the area? Are there farming neighbors for support and advice? Are there agricultural service providers serving the region?

Security: Agricultural theft can be a problem. Consider how you can protect your tools and crops.

For more information on marketing, see: The Business of Agriculture: Agri-Entrepreneurship Topics

What should I grow?

Grow products that people will buy. Unless you are independently wealthy, if you require an income from your farming endeavor, your first step is to conduct some basic marketing research, take a good hard look at your target markets, and then decide what you will grow or produce. In today’s business climate the importance of marketing cannot be over-emphasized.

For more information on marketing, see: The Business of Agriculture: Agri-Entrepreneurship Topics

How do I ???

CTAHR Ask the Experts Database contains hundreds of questions and answers to a great variety of topics. It includes access points for:

Where can I get technical assistance?

The University of Hawaii’s Cooperative Extension Service has offices statewide to assist farmers, ranchers, nursery owners, landscapers, food processors, and other agribusiness people. Locate the extension office nearest to you.

Professionals at the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service provide information about soil, water, plant, and animal resources. Find your local service center by visiting their website, or calling their Pacific Islands Area Office at (808) 541-2600.

Where are the farmer markets?

Do I need a grading permit?

Grading (more than 3’ elevation change, or 50 cubic yards), stockpiling (more than 100 cubic yards), grubbing (removing any vegetation on 15,000 square feet or greater), and trenching require permits for soil disturbing work. A Special Management Area permit is required if the planned work is in the Special Management Area, this is mostly work near the coastal areas and is tied to Coastal Zone Management program requirements. Each county is responsible for issuing this permit.

Do I need a permit to work on a stream or wetland?

The DLNR Commission on Water Resources Management is responsible for issuing the Stream Alteration and Stream Diversion Permits. These permits may be required even if a Corps of Engineers' permit is not required.

Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, Commission on Water Resources Management: Phone 808-587-0249

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for issuing Clean Water Act Section 404 permits for discharges of fill into streams, wetlands and other waters of the United States. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Phone 808-438-9258.

Are permits required for discharges into streams or the ocean? for wastewater, solid waste, hazardous waste, and burning?

The Dept. of Health Clean Water Branch is responsible for issuing the Clean Water Action Section 401 Water Quality Certification, which is needed when a Section 404 permit is required. The Clean Water Branch also issues the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit for point discharges into streams, the ocean, and other waters. Other branches within the Department of Health issue wastewater, solid waste, hazardous waste, burning, and other related permits.

Hawaii Department of Health, Clean Water Branch Phone 808-586-4309

Where can I find a copy of the federal organic standards?

The federal organic standards and copies of the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances can be downloaded for free at the National Organic Program Homepage:

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These webpages were originally generated under a grant program from Western SARE entitled "New Farmers: Choosing the Road Less Traveled" EW03-002 (2004-2006). Toward Sustainable Agriculture (downloadable .pdf)