Turn Recreational Farming Into A Business

New Sprout Organic Farm's founder, Michael Porterfield, gives our readers tips for starting a successful farm like he did.
New Sprout Organic Farms Business
Michael, Michelle and their three children with produce they’ve gathered in this field, one of several that New Sprout leases in the Asheville area. |Photo by Thomas Kirchen

I originally had no thought of ever farming because I didn’t grow up in a farming family. I thought, like most people probably do, that you farmed if you were a ‘farmer’, almost as if you were born into it.

FUN WITH THE KIDS: In 2006 my son was four and my daughter was seven. A good friend suggested I start a garden with them so we could do something together. I was a bit hesitant because I knew absolutely nothing about growing vegetables, but when I realized that my children didn’t either, I decided to go for it. 

That year was a major life changing experience for me. Things grew! I worked with my two children (I now have three) and was astonished at how much the earth produced. When the growing season was over, I knew deep down inside that there would never be another year when I didn’t plant and grow vegetables. 

I started out with just $2,000 and bought a used tractor and other used equipment. Keep in mind that I never intended farming to turn into a business—I was simply growing food and having fun.

New Sprout Organic Farms

Michael and crew leader, Juan Tecam. One of Michael’s goals at New Sprout has been to have enough work to keep his crew on full-time, one of the reasons the company is looking into more value-added products.

THE SURPLUS: The second year I was growing, I planted almost two acres. At that scale I quickly found that I had a lot more produce than  my family and friends could consume. It was then I went to stores and started to ask if they would be interested in buying. There was a steep learning curve, especially for the wholesale market, but I adjusted quickly and gave customers what they wanted, how they wanted it and when they wanted it. It was from that foundation that my vegetable business grew. 

GROW SLOW & STEADY: My advice to those who want to get into farming is to go slow, grow slow and always make sure quality is at the top of your priority list for your customers. 

Leasing land is a way to get land at a fraction of the cost of what it may be valued at for commercial sale. Despite the recession, landowners want top dollar for their land in our area. If a deal can be struck, it may be better for everyone—the landowner potentially gets tax breaks while the farmer gets great land for an affordable price. 

Concerning the business plan, I think that the opportunity was ripe here to grow local/regional produce for the wholesale marketplace. I think that’s true nationwide. Much of the fresh fruit and vegetables in this country are shipped thousands of miles from California, Mexico or beyond. The market is demanding local and regional and organic, but few farmers are taking the opportunity to capitalize on that demand. 

GO REGIONAL:  My long-term goal is to do my part to repair what I see as a broken regional food system. The Southeast is growing in population as is the demand for organics. We want to be able to farm sustainably in our region and get fresh, high quality product to stores in a timely fashion. With water shortages in California and fuel prices continuing to rise, it makes sense to build local and regional food systems that are based on growing food close to where it will be distributed and consumed. Local and regional farming also create local jobs and boost the regional economy—that is truly sustainable. 

To learn more about Michael Porterfield and New Sprouts Organic Farms visit, newsproutfarms.com

This article was originally published in THE NEW PIONEER #167 2013 magazine. Print and Digital Subscriptions are available here.

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