Farming meets social media: How one local farmer crowdfunded her first season

Rebecca Bloomfield of Almonte turned to crowdfunding to get her vegetable farm, Bloomfield Farm, up and running.
Photo: Craig Cardiff, courtesy of Bloomfield Field

 

Starting a farm not only takes work, it takes money. Exactly how much money depends on how big the farm will be, and what and how much food it will produce, among other considerations. When you factor in the cost of land, irrigation, tools, infrastructure such as barns and hoophouses, as well as any help you hire, you’re looking at a major financial commitment.

Even a small vegetable farm can cost $30,000 or more to start from scratch, says Almonte farmer Rebecca Bloomfield, who launched Bloomfield Farm, a quarter-acre organic vegetable farm, this spring. While she didn’t have to worry about buying land or a hoophouse (she was offered both by a local couple who grow their own food and believe in local, sustainable farming), she still needed money for tools, plants, seeds, and the promotional costs of selling her produce at the Almonte Farmers Market.

Trouble is, bank loan and government grant programs are usually more receptive to bigger farms. “I couldn’t find financial help for a small-scale farm like mine,” explains Bloomfield, a U.S. native who moved to Ontario a year ago. “Besides, many grant programs have long timelines for approval. I wanted to start in March and build on my experiences managing an organic farm training program and teaching farming to middle school students.”

Crowdfunding with Indiegogo

That’s when she turned to crowdfunding, an Internet-based strategy for raising small amounts of money from many people. Although she didn’t consider herself an expert in social media, Bloomfield recognized its power and felt she could harness it to her strong network of friends and family with connections to farming. “I thought if I could create a really interesting campaign, there was a good chance it would grow exponentially.”

To achieve her goal of $25,000, Bloomfield put together a five-minute video called “How to Start a Farm in 5 Minutes” and launched it on Indiegogo, a top crowdfunding platform. She kept her campaign interactive with thank-you notes to her supporters, regular updates on Facebook and her website, and offers of secret gifts for different funding levels.

The campaign took off, gaining enough traction to be featured in USA Today and the Ottawa Citizen, and bringing Bloomfield nearly $14,000. While the total fell short of her goal, it was more than enough to pay for a deer fence, as well as various tools, seeds and the services of an apprentice.

Would she do it again? Yes, but not for a while and only for a special project. “I want to create a viable, self-sustaining farm first. I might consider crowdfunding later, for a project like building an educational space to teach about food and farming.” In the shorter term, her plans to make the farm financially viable include starting a small CSA.

Crowdfunding tips for new farmers

For Bloomfield, crowdfunding was a positive experience she’d recommend to other farmers.  Here are her tips for running an effective campaign.

  1. Do plenty of research. What do your really want from your farm? From your crowdfunding campaign?
  2. Develop a good business plan. Hammer out all the details: What will you grow? Where will you sell it? What’s your income likely to be, factoring in things like crop losses, hiring help, and paying yourself a salary? Make sure whatever you’re embarking on is something you can live with over the long term.

The knowledge and commitment you’ll gain from research and planning will come across to people and make your campaign more meaningful.

  1. Create an engaging, personal campaign.  To attract people who aren’t connected to farming, develop something they can relate to and feel excited about. Bloomfield says her video worked because it gave people a stronger sense of the project and the person behind it than text and photos would have done. Many of her donors had no connection to farming but responded to her passion for the farm. “They supported it because they could see it was important to me,” she notes. “They felt confident their money would be put to good use.”

Do you think crowdfunding is a good way for small-scale farmers to self-finance? What other options should be available?

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