Farming is business, and Rebecca Thistlethwaite shares all she has learned in Farms with a Future. She tops off her experience as a beginning farmer trainer with the State of California with a year travelling throughout the United States to visit successful farms in order to determine what makes them so. She aims to help establish sustainable farms (ecologically, socially and financially) because, in her opinion, the world and its food systems desperately needs them.
Thistlethwaite covers everything from market analysis, to physical and financial fitness, pricing, land acquisition, equipment purchasing, human resource management and strategic planning. Her chapters are divided into easy-to-read sections covering basic vocabulary relevant to that topic (working capital and long-term capital, for example), key points to consider (energy consumption and efficiency, for example) and extensive lists of questions, advantages and disadvantages to help that process. She also incorporates plenty of examples to illustrate these points along with charts and diagrams.
Short case studies of the farms she visited highlight each section. Growing a variety of crops (meat, vegetables, grains as well as dairy) and using a diversity of environmentally friendly methods, some farmers have been farming only a handful of years while others have spent more than thirty years in the field. All are creative and flexible, practising what Thistlethwaite calls ‘holistic sustainability’, or what some call the ‘triple bottom line’: economic viability, social justice and ecological soundness. She emphasises that “without any of these legs, the foundation of the business will not be sturdy enough to weather the ups and downs of farming.” Descriptions of honor-system farm stores, creative financing, social media savvy as well as old-fashioned word-of-mouth marketing and the creation of new products make these sections fascinating reads.
Thistlethwaite’s frank and amiable voice make Farms with a Future as engaging as it is practical. Topics that could put even the most passionate of growers to sleep (financing and regulatory compliance, for example) are discussed in detail with the same compelling voice as all her other subjects. Sure to become required reading for new growers everywhere, the book has more than enough to offer experienced growers as well.
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