Title: Small Farm Success Australia
Authors: Anna Featherstone & Andrew Campbell
Favourite part: The case study of the farmer in Tasmania who rents tiny plots of land to farm organic rhubarb
Favourite quote: ‘Though wineries sell romance to customers, we’re not a romantic industry. We’re in agriculture and you need a strong business mind. If something’s not working, get rid of it or do it differently.’ (p. 95)
If you’ve ever wondered about trying farming, from a vague inclination to a definite decision, this book is the place to start. I spent all of my pre-adult life on farms, going to school with other farm kids, and generally being surrounded by different kinds of farming in the region my family lived in. But this book has taught me things I’ve never even thought to consider, such as the positives and negatives of value-adding, the risks and benefits of agritourism, and information about farming products one might never consider, from saffron or seaweed to rhubarb or turf.
Small Farm Success Australia is divided into six parts, beginning at the beginning – ‘Why farming?’ – and continuing through ‘What to produce?’, how to learn more about your chosen farming field (both literally and figuratively), how to market your farmed product in order to reach your buyers, ‘Agritourism’, and, finally, the impact of farming on family life. In each part there are interviews and case studies with farmers that demonstrate the importance of that aspect of farming. For example, in the section ‘What to produce’, farmers Jenny and Eric Semmler are interviewed about the importance of research and marketing when setting up a vineyard. Their farm, 919 Wines, produces certified organic wines in South Australia, a region rich in vineyards and wine producers, so it is imperative that they maintain a high standard for their wine or they will be swallowed by the competition in their region. In their own words: ‘Though wineries sell romance to customers, we’re not a romantic industry. We’re in agriculture and you need a strong business mind. If something’s not working, get rid of it or do it differently.’ (p. 95).
The authors also go into a lot of detail about practical ways to make a farm profitable, such as the importance of value-adding, i.e. how to make a product worth more by processing it further, such as selling vegetables in pre-cut soup packs, or selling honey both creamed and raw, or selling meat as jerky as well as fresh. It is this information and attention to detail that makes this book such a useful place to start. Other highlights of this work include: how to educate oneself and find information sources to research everything you’ll need to know if you’re thinking of farming; interviews with a chef and a greengrocer about the best way for growers and producers to approach and build positive relationships with them to sell a product; attracting daigou shoppers from China as an informal overseas export strategy; and the importance of working farm life in and around personal and family life, particularly families with children.
Again and again the authors and their interviewees stress the importance of going into farming with a clear focus and no illusions about the reality of the work required. Farming is a business that happens to be a lifestyle, not the other way around, and it demands an incredible volume of work at all hours, passion to remain inspired, diligence to keep up with the competition, and perseverance at all turns just to keep afloat. In other words: farming is not easy, and it is never a get-rich-quick scheme.
A huge amount of research has gone into this book, providing a balanced approach that is both informative and practical, i.e. what constitutes a business or a hobby, and more personal and anecdotal, i.e. the authors’ personal experiences and the experiences of other farmers around Australia. This is a very informative and interesting book, one that will apply and appeal to the growing number of people who are interested in connecting with the land, producing their own food, and running their own business on the land.
This book was provided free of charge to Underground Writers by the author for the purposes of reviewing.