Ethical InvestmentVillage Development

Start Growing! Part 2: You Don’t Need Money to Buy a Farm

In Part 1 of the Start Growing! series, we explored how you might buy a farm debt-free with as little as $10,000 in savings. But what if you’re young and don’t have any savings at all? How can you become an independent, self-employed and profitable farmer when land is so expensive?

It’s easier than you might think. Let’s take a look.

Where to start

I will assume you have taken a Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) course or have enough farm experience to know that you want to be a farmer. Perhaps you’ve done some WWOOFing. Great. If you’re going to be a successful farmer, you’ll to need to be hungry to eat up all the material you can find on modern sustainable agriculture. I’m talking about articles like this and reading a book a week, at least.

“I can’t” does not exist in your vocabulary.

You’re also going to need a can-do attitude, because you will face challenges. You will make mistakes. There will be times when it seems all hope is lost. You must keep going and know that you can’t have success without failure. So fail early, fail fast and fail often. Learn from it. "Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again", as the song goes. This will be easier if you’re still young and flexible.

You’re going to need a bucket load of self-discipline too. It is nice to fantasize about being your own boss, but that means you’re going to have to kick your own ass. It’ll be easier if there’s no plan B, if you have something to lose. Your chances of success are much higher when your own investment is on the line.

Trim the fat

But you won’t need any money in the bank. There isn’t a person reading this article that doesn’t have something they can’t sacrifice to pursue their dreams. This should be pretty easy in today’s age of consumerism. Sell or downgrade your car, sell your smartphone, your iPod, auction off designer clothes on ebay (but keep your laptop, you’ll need it later). Do odd jobs to scrape a few extra bucks together. Cut all the fat, all the excess in your current lifestyle.

Trust me, you’ll feel much better for it. In 2007 I sold everything, from my car to my phone, and went ultra-low budget traveling all round the world for 5 years. It’s not about money, it’s how badly do you want it? All that stuff is just slowing you down anyways. If you dream big, you can’t afford to keep it. Get rid of it.

Start small, start now!

Ok. You’re living lean, your head is bursting with ideas from all the farm and permaculture books you’ve been reading, you’ve got a few hundred to a few thousand tucked away under your mattress. You’re chomping at the bit.

Now you need some real honest-to-god hands-on experience. Parents got a backyard? Permablitz it. Does the old lady next door have a garden that looks like a jungle? Make her a deal she can’t refuse. Are there any flat rooftops in your area? Be creative. You have a lot going for you. But you need to start somewhere. Anywhere. Don’t dilly-dally. Do it now!

Mistakes are great!

Everybody has a learning curve to go through. When you start small, you are free to make mistakes without the whole world watching you. Small mistakes are cheap mistakes, valuable mistakes. Did you just lose $300 worth of young fruit trees to predators or drought? No worries, you probably just learned more than on a $1000 course in horticulture. Good. Be happy. After all, it wasn’t a $30,000 mistake and you don’t have mortgage payments to worry about.

When you start small, you grow organically and learn as you go. If you keep putting one foot in front of the other, you will get to where you want to go. It’s much better than complaining at the start that the journey is too long, or zooming to the final destination by artificial means with zero experience and huge debts.

Think for yourself

Oh, and be prepared to ignore all the people who tell you can’t along the way. Be a contrarian. In the finance world, it’s the contrarian that’s selling when the whole world is buying and buying when everybody’s selling like mad. Guess who ends up with all the money? The guy who went against the crowd. It’s not easy, but with practice, you’ll get used to it. I personally start getting nervous when too many people start agreeing with me, but that’s another story.

Farming 2.0

By now, you’re well on your way. You’re lean, agile, gaining valuable experience and knowledge every day. You’re probably already gardening in most backyards on your block. Maybe you’re running chicken tractors, keeping bees, or you’ve come to an arrangement with a neighbour to tend and pick fruit off their neglected trees? You’re probably having a great time and bringing the community closer together too!

So what if you don’t own a hundred acres. In my books, you are a farmer, a steward of the land. Keep at it. Maybe one day you’ll outgrow your little urban farm and move into the countryside. If not, who cares, if you’re having fun! If you do move, great! You’ll be taking your experience and customers with you. I’d rather start up on 1 acre with a 100 customers than on a 100 acres with 1 customer.

Let your customers buy your farm. Unlike banks, you can pay them with food.

Next week we’ll get into the nuts and bolts to Start Growing! your farming business, big or small.

Read Part 3 of this series here!


  1. It is amazing how many people who will use the ‘can’t’ word. Plant an apple tree and the feedback will be, ‘I have an apple tree and it has never fruited or some other negative feedback. I put in a frog pond and was told that frogs ‘don’t come to my pond’. I just smile and think, ‘we shall see what happens’. If my trees bear no fruit then I have planted a tree! A beautiful thing to look at whether it bears fruit of not. At the very least it is putting out oxygen.

    1. Yup. “I can’t” or “impossible” is easier to say then acknowledging mistakes or shortcomings. Happens all the time…

  2. This is great Fraser,
    Can’t wait till you get to the “I’ve already bought the farm and got a mortgage, (dooh) both still working and planning a 3 year transition to self employment for one of us” section.
    Have just fixed home/property loan for 3 years and started paying bigger payments fortnightly. Tractor and vehicle will be paid off in 3 years, so will only need one wage then.
    Property should be paid off in 14 years. Without any input from property, less if it can have financial input.
    Have plans for swales, food forests, etc. so will have fruiting trees in 3 years.
    Already have own turkeys, geese, ducks, chooks, alpacas, horses and cattle.

    1. Fantastic! And no worries, it’s also possible to hit the ground running in your situation too by leveraging the knowledge, tools and experience of others in addition to your own. We’ll be getting more into this soon.

  3. Love it! My husband and I are a couple of years away from buying land and we are learning as much as we can and making lots of little missteps now. You just inspired me to really savor those false starts and the time/energy/resources they are saving us down the road when the stakes are higher. Good stuff.

  4. thank you for this second part .
    i think in my country the major problem that we have is about that part ^^think of yourself^^
    big luck of people who encourage each other regardless permaculture or farming.
    can you suggest other articles or books in the same subject.

    1. One of my heroes is Reinhold Messner, the most accomplished mountaineer of all time. He has written many inspiring books. My first introduction to him was when I picked up “Moving Mountains: Lessons on Life and Leadership” in a secondhand bookshop in Kathmandu, Nepal.

      He was told by doctors and the world that climbing Everest without oxygen was impossible. It was suicide – that his brain would explode if he tried. But try he did, without oxygen, solo, on the treacherous Northeast ridge, total free-climb, and he succeeded.

      And the funny thing is that Messner himself rejects any claim that he is physically more capable than anyone else. It is only a question of self-determination and willpower.

      He retired from mountain climbing to become an organic farmer in the Italian Alps. :)

  5. The book “No risk ranching: custom grazing on leased land” by Greg Judy (USA) describes how he used leased land to graze other people’s cattle. The book has examples of the numbers and lease contracts.

  6. I’ve also decided to give permaculture a go in my small backyard in Brisbane with great results!

    Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.
    Theodore Roosevelt

  7. I subscribe to a newsletter called Live and Invest Overseas, created by Kathleen Peddicord and her husband Lief Simon. They are real estate investors, not farmers, and that also describes most of their audience. They recommend – as an investment – buying farmable land and working with experienced farmers to develop it into a working farm. They are based in Central America, and recommend neem, coconut and mango, for example, as good crops for investment. They also urge their readers to create self-sustaining farms in case the world economy collapses. So…why not let these folks know if you are interested in working with non-farming landowners in creating permaculture farms, and explain to them the advantages of permaculture over other kinds farming? I think it’s a win-win. Here’s their site:

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