It’s not an easy decision to make, but it is one we dont regret for a moment! Here is a breakdown of Cane’s journey transitioning from his stable 9 to 5 to diving full on into farming full time.
My partner and I have been farming for the last 3 years, and she has helped me along the journey of becoming a farmer. And it was a hell of a journey because when you start, you start with the bare bones of the land. But once you get going, things move fast. Once you set things up such as irrigation things start to make sense. You have to learn about the land, so expect a lot of mistakes in the beginning.
I initially became a farmer because I really care about the natural environment, and if we want to feed ourselves, and rely on countries outside of Malta, there is a lot of energy, packaging, and fuel miles involved. Being an environmentalist, it made sense for me to become a farmer, so I can reduce the impact I have on nature and biodiversity through the way I grow food. Of course with this reasoning, we use organic, regenerative and permaculture methods to try and improve our natural environment.
I used to work at University, and I had a routine where I would get up and spend 45 minutes in traffic, to and from work. To get to work, to do my job as efficiently as possible, then sit down and wait for the time to pass, it was quite monotonous. Becoming a farmer was a great leap because it was scary to quit this comfort of my job, and get my fixed paycheck and fixed schedule. Becoming a farmer meant I had no certainty, but after a season, it quickly became clear what I needed to do.
We don’t do a monocrop and take to market, we are constantly sowing so that we have a continuous supply of veg. At first it took some time to get to this routine. There are challenges, for example, if you want to go abroad you need to plan really well and ensure someone is trained to take care of things for you whilst you are away, and automate things as much as possible. You need to get your rhythm down, because its one thing in the summer and another things entirely in the winter. For example, in the winter watering may not be an issue, but weeding is, and vice versa in the summer. When you get into these rhythms you learn when, what, when, and how of sowing and crop care. It is a bit intimidating to start, but things will fall into place.
We grow veggies and fruits, but the business is very diverse, and many sectors you can get into. Livestock, mushrooms, microgreens, seedlings, etc. We suggest choosing one to start with, and building on that and creating a holistic approach.
Speak to the locals for transferred knowledge, but don’t get disheartened either if you want to do things differently from the generations before you. We have technology and methods that didn’t exist then, or didn’t have the same awareness on. This is dependent on the system you want to follow. Do your market research. You not only need to grow the food, you need to sell it too. Direct to clients, markets, restaurants? Have a plan, know your target market and competition. You need to earn almost double what you would in your previous day to day to job to ensure expenses are covered as well as accounting for taxes and N.I. Speak to an accountant and be well informed.
Get some work experience beforehand, ideally in the type of set up you plan to run yourself. Get some experience in all seasons. Don’t go full-time right away, get your hands dirty and try things out first as a hobby, then part-time, then go for it.
What does the area your working with offer? Maybe consider a niche market of a specific product that you know your soil and environment is ideal for. e.g. making tomatoes into kunserva or sundried tomatoes. Get a feel of where you are and what you’re capable of. Every situation is slightly different. Don’t assume that if you are well read and have a vast knowledge that you will just go and start growing successfully. Soil and environments vary greatly. From year to year and variety to variety things will change, keep reading and observing, everything has its own needs and benefits. See everyday as a learning curve, nature is ever changing.
If you don’t make any money in a certain month don’t give up. Farming is seasonal and great swings up and down, just ensure you account for these swings when you are budgeting and financing – do get too caught up in the highs and lows and save for a rainy day. Should you lose everything to a storm, you need back up finances to repair and survive. Make a cash flow forecast and keep track of where you are on average.
Make sure to look around at who is doing what in your sector, to mitigate risk you need to work together, not against one another. Consider forming a co-op or making some kind of deal to increase your level of security, and share knowledge. Build relationships and respect one another, as this can only help you in the future, it’s important to get out there.
Whilst we may not be turning over millions of euros, we have a high quality of life and freedom which feels to us, invaluable.
Lastly, dont be afraid to get out there and try different things!
If you have any questions or any of your own experiences you wish to share we would love to hear it 🙂