Side gigs have always played a role in my farming career. When I first started my farm, I was working a 40-hour-a-week day job at another farm, and I worked at my farm in the afternoons and on weekends. Once I was confident that I could grow and sell my crops, I took a part-time job with CCOF managing inspectors. Later, I became an organic inspector myself. Both positions allowed me to farm during the daylight hours while managing clients and writing reports in the evenings.
If you are still figuring out how to farm and make your business successfully support you, it may be a good idea to add a side hustle to the mix. By doing so, you can continue to learn what it takes to run a farming business without being stressed out about money. This is especially important if you live in an area where living expenses are high.
I still have a few side jobs that I really enjoy and challenge me intellectually, which increases my growth as a farmer. My side jobs allow me to pay for farm operating costs without having to go into debt. However, I wouldn’t be able to do most of my side jobs without farming experience. If you have farm experience and think a side job might be beneficial to you, there are many options. I’ve known farming friends who have worked in nurseries or landscaping, worked for the USDA agencies, served as on-farm food safety consultants, and taught gardening at a school. Here are some side gigs that I’ve had over the years.
Farm and Garden or Marketing Consultant
To successfully farm and sell your produce, you have learned many skills such as organic crop production, pest control, marketing, and personnel management. This experience sets you up to be a great farm consultant. As an outsider to a farm, it is easy to see solutions to issues without bias or emotion involved. Often these types of jobs will fall into your lap once people learn you know how to grow crops or raise animals.
If I had access to a consultant or knew where to find one when I was starting out twenty years ago, I would have gladly paid them so I wouldn’t have to learn the hard way! As a consultant, you can download a lot of information to clients in a short amount of time. All that time you spent making mistakes on your own now pays off as you can earn income helping your clients avoid those same mistakes.
As a consultant, I recently worked for a farm that sells 99 percent of their products wholesale but also likes to attend their local farmers’ market. They made very little money at the market, barely enough to cover the cost of the worker and the stall fee. I had to figure out if it was worthwhile for them to go to the market or if it was time to cut their losses.
I analyzed their supplies, their pricing, their market setup. I learned that the person doing the market had never been trained. They also did not have a scale, which is helpful to sell certain things that can’t be sold by the unit. In addition, their stall needed some sprucing up—they were in desperate need of new tents, tablecloths, signs, baskets, and packaging. They also were not indicating that they were certified organic, which could have increased sales.
I did a complete market stall design reset. I picked out new tablecloths, baskets, and other supplies, and bought a “certified organic” sign. The new tablecloths were clean, bright, and showed off the color of the fruit. I improved their flat display by using adjustable tables and crates to create three tiers of product. New, reusable wood baskets replaced old, weathered paper pulp ones, and the flowers looked amazing in galvanized metal buckets instead of ugly plastic buckets. I designed the stall using color blocking, breaking up the green produce with flashes of yellow and purple fruit. I put signs in front of each product instead of using one chalkboard sign. We priced each item more accurately, with incentives to buy larger amounts, which sold more product. Our new look was so gorgeous that we earned a spot on the market’s Instagram page and received positive feedback from customers!
As I mentioned earlier, working as an organic inspector was one of the first side jobs I had when I transitioned from full-time employment to a part-time job to focus on my farm business. Working as an organic inspector allowed me to make my own schedule. Organic farm inspections typically take a few hours on-site during the day, while the reports can be written once the sun goes down when you can’t work in the fields. Another benefit was that in the winter and early spring I could take on more work when I had more time and my farming funds were lower, though I also conducted inspections during the summer growing season. Working as an inspector has helped me tremendously. I still appreciate the work and have met many wonderful farmers over the years.
If you are considering becoming an organic inspector, it is best to get both farm and handler certification because you are more likely to get work if you can do both. In order to be an inspector, you need to pass a week-long training course and mock inspection hosted by the International Organic Inspectors Association (IOIA). The training course only happens a few times a year and moves around the country. Once you have passed the IOIA course, you will need to train under an experienced inspector a few times before you are able to go out on your own.
If you are good with words, writing is another side gig that you can work around your farming schedule. As a farmer, you are more knowledgeable than most about raising crops and animals. You are probably good at preparing and cooking them too! Reach out to publications that may appreciate your food and farming insight and send them a writing sample. If research is your thing, there may also be jobs in technical writing for various publications.
For a couple years, I was a food critic who wrote under an alias. I was able to try out all the new restaurants on the newspaper’s dime and get paid to write the review. It was a really fun thing to do. The practice of writing on a weekly basis improved my writing skills. This gave me the confidence to pitch a column to a quarterly food publication, and I’ve had a regular column for the past 10 years.
Agrotourism Activities and On-Farm Stays
Creative use of your farm space can increase income and may even generate more than what the farm brings in!
If you have extra living space on your farm, you might consider farm stays. This could be as simple as allowing campers to set up tents or park their trailers for a fee, or it can be renting out a yurt, trailer, or barn you already have. Many different platforms, such as AirBnB, Hip Camp, or VRBO, can advertise your farm stay.
You can also offer add-ons to a farm stay, selling your food and farm products to guests or hosting farm tours or farm experiences like milking goats, learning how to make cheese, or goat yoga, for example. Many people want to immerse themselves in a farm experience, so think about what your strengths are and what you can offer without much extra work. For example, if you already milk goats and make dairy products daily, it would be easy to charge for the experience and take a little extra time with visitors to teach them how to do it.
There are various legal and regulatory considerations when offering on-farm stays and activities as well as additions to liability insurance, so be sure you are in the clear by checking with your state and county first to understand what you will need to be in compliance. If you are hosting through AirBnB, Hip Camp, or VRBO, make sure you understand the requirements of the contract and the liabilities of being a host. Farm Commons supports farmers in running legally compliant operations. Check out their agrotourism webpage that highlights some legal considerations related to on-farm tourism activities.
By diversifying your farm with other income, you introduce more people to your farm who may become regular customers. However, agrotourism requires working with the public, so it might not be the best fit for introverted folks. But you can consider hiring someone who enjoys engaging with community and getting the public excited about farming.
Farming is a tough business. Some years are good, some are bad, and most are just okay. Having a side job or two in your back pocket relieves the stress of covering costs and allows you to live the farming life you want with less financial strain. Personally, I love all my side jobs and have a hard time saying no to things that come my way. They are all opportunities for personal growth, and I love a challenge!
This blog was written by Jamie Collins.
About the Author: Jamie Collins, owner of CCOF certified Serendipity Farms near Monterey, California, has farmed organically for two decades. She sells produce via farmers’ markets, CSA, and other direct-to-consumer outlets. On the side, she works as an organic inspector and farm and marketing consultant and writes about food and farming for various publications.
Funding Acknowledgement: Funding for this blog post was made possible by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service through grant AM180100XXXXG055.