Book Review of Farms with a Future: Creating and Growing a Sustainable Farm Business

Farms with a Future: Creating and Growing a Sustainable Farm Business

By Rebecca Thistlethwaite

Chelsea Green Publishing


284 pp

With the rise of interest in farming, there are more farming books than ever to choose from. Rebecca Thistlethwaite’s Farms with a Future is one essential book for the beginning farmer. As Richard Wiswall notes in his introduction to the book, “Rarely does a book effectively encompass all the facets of the whole farm and how to map it out in a clear and concise fashion.” Farms with a Future covers such topics as Identifying Your Market Niche, Finding and Securing Land, Financing the Dream, Farm Planning for Success, Equipment Infrastructure, Soil and Water Management, Harvest and Processing, Marketing and Relationship Building, Record-Keeping, Accounting and Financial Management, Human Resources, and Value-Added Products. The writing is clear and concise and comes from Thistlethwaite’s knowledge as a farmer and as a farm consultant. She traveled the country to find and write case studies from farms around the country that give more specific detail to each of these topics.

Thistlethwaite has also studied Holistic Management and references it as a key tool for growing a sustainable farm business. It comes up in Farm Planning for Success and in the Accounting and Financial Management chapters. She clearly demonstrates how this type of whole farm planning is a critical component of strategic planning which must be a living document and adapted to the realities of working in one of the most challenging of industries—farming. She notes that your holistic goal is used to help you determine key business strategies at various points in a farm/ranch development including: growth, stability, downsizing, succession, and exit.

The case studies are both educational and inspirational with a wide range of farm operations and geography. I was particularly intrigued by the subsidized CSA in which low-income families pay half-price for the food with the farm raising donations to over one quarter of the cost and a non-profit, Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) Vermont covering the other quarter. The CSA also offers $10/hour food credit earned from work trade opportunities. Likewise, the case study of a farmer who raises meat goats and then sells the meat through a food concession trailer at fairs and earns $36/pound of meat from this value-added product also makes the reader think outside the box on just about every aspect of a farm or ranch operation. Even for the experienced farmer, this book will update you on some of the new opportunities for financing including references to,, and

Thistlethwaite consistently encourages the reader to stay focused on the reality of the farming challenges and opportunities that you are faced with. Without the systems and information necessary to make informed decisions, farmers can’t sustain their businesses. She encourages readers to know what they are capable of and what they need to source to others. If $36/pound excites you but you aren’t a people person, find the people person that will be able to sell the meat at that price. These concepts may seem obvious to people who have already learned those lessons, but Farms with a Future helps those who haven’t hopefully reduce their learning curve. Little nuggets like, “If you always sell out early, your price is too low,” are good tidbits to get early in your farming career.

If you are looking for a book that gets you to solidly focus on building a sustainable agricultural operation, Farms with a Future will provide you that focus and some inspiration to encourage you to take your farm to the next level.

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