Farming as an Encore Career?

I was interviewed yesterday by a delightful journalist named Betsy Levine. She writes for the AARP Bulletin, the info-packed newspaper sent to its gadzillion members.


She asked lots of great questions, but the one that slowed me down was this: Many people in their 50s are retiring from their primary careers, and are looking for what’s being called an ‘encore career.’ Apparently farming is proving to be a popular encore career. “What advice do you have for these people?” Betsy asks.


Here’s the first answer that popped into my head: “Are these people insane?”  Luckily I bit my tongue and  managed to come up with a decent answer, and we moved on.


But I think it’d be good to start a list of tips for people who’re interested in farming as an encore career, since calling them ‘insane’ isn’t all that helpful.


So here’s the beginning of the list, and if anyone has anything to add, please do so!


1. Don’t put it off. As the saying goes, you’re not getting any younger. Find a way to get started sooner rather than later.


2. Start small. Don’t bite off so much that you risk losing your savings.


3. Join farming organizations. Research the sorts of things you’d like to do. Visit those types of farms.


4. Ask for help. Melissa’s great at this, but I won’t ask for help unless death is imminent. Hire people, get friends involved, offer to help neighbors in exchange for a little help on your place.


5. Make sure you have a market for your goods before you actually start. Know where you’ll sell and to whom. As yet, there isn’t a book called “Marketing your Farm Products for Dummies,” so you’ll need to piece it together with research and reaching out.


6. Be realistic about money. Nearly all small farmers need off-farm income, so don’t expect farming to fund your retirement.


7. Become part of the community. Listen. Don’t swoop into a farming community with all the answers. Let people give you advice, even if you know you likely won’t take it, because you might find a gem buried in there somewhere.


8. Be kind to animals, but don’t turn them into pets unless you’re interested in running a retirement home for cattle, sheep, and hogs.


That’s all I can think of for now…. feel free to add to my list!

10 thoughts on “

  1. Be realistic. A farm is a lot of work and a lot of sacrifice. Make sure you are ready, both physically and mentally. Then follow your dream…where it will take you.

  2. Good list! My addition was going to be along the lines of Michaele’s . . . Be able AND willing to do a lot of hard, physical work. And be willing to do it in ALL kinds of weather, year ’round. Be okay with getting dirty. If you’re squeamish about blood and guts, don’t include animals in the picture. There will always be unfortunate accidents, injuries and death.

  3. LOL – I signed up for a northwoods dogsledding expedition (including 3 nights sleeping on the ice – not a touristy dog sled ride) about 10 minutes after my husband pointed out I wasn’t getting any younger.

    This is all great advice. And all reasons I don’t have any real farming plans in my encore career thoughts.

  4. I would also add, “don’t sever all ties with your old professional contacts”! I remember my dad having to take on smaller software jobs to augment the income of our sheep farm and he was very thankful he had kept up to speed and in contact with his “original career” LOL!

  5. Great list!! The biggest thing for us was start adding new things slowly…get one idea comfortably under your belt before trying something new. It always sounds easy coming from someone else – reality is a different story.

  6. Here’s my big two:

    1. Diversify. Diversify. Diversify.

    2. Accept that sometimes you’ll fail, farm life is unpredictable and things “happen.” Learn from your mistakes, but don’t dwell on them…

  7. Everyone has great advice! Mine is for anyone thinking about including animals in their plans. Only have as many animals as you can readily feed & water at all times of the year. If you live where there is winter, water, and that would be kept unfrozen water, is huge! And getting feed to them can be tricky after a snowstorm has left drifts in front of barn doors and/or gates. So easy to load up with a variety of critters when weather is pleasant, quite another when it’s not.

  8. Crazy is what crazies do…and boy do we wonder about our sanity as we grow older.
    I grew up on a large farm. We 2 kids were slave labor and all were slaves to the animals and the land.
    Hard work…ohhh, yeah.
    Chose to leave that way of life.
    But here I am in my 50’s, and the love of the country and animals has never left.
    Encore?…a few sheep and some chickens will most definitely be back in my future soon.
    They call it subsistence farming now adays… Sounds better than the dreaded “Hobby Farm”.
    My inner farm girl would never stand for that designation.

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