Starting at Square One (BF 101)

Creating a Farm to Match Your Values, Goals, Skills, and Resources

Carefully defining what you want to do and what you have available to work with are key elements to a successful new farm enterprise. This course will help you take the first steps toward setting goals, assessing the resources you have available for farming (physical, financial, and personal), and exploring what enterprises are the best fit for you and your land.

“While there is no by-the-numbers guide to farming, this course has provided me what I think of as mental infrastructure to organize and move forward, and also access to great resources both online and human.” -John P, Burlington, VT

Target Audience

This is a very introductory-level course for people who have decided to make some or all of their livelihood from farming, and those who are actively planning how to approach farm start-up. Each participant will be gathering information about their own resources and will begin to create a Farm Start-up Plan. NOTE: This course covers some of the same material as BF 202: Business Planning, but at a much more introductory level. We recommend taking BF 101 first to prepare for the more advanced material in BF 202.

Course Objectives

At the end of this course you will have:

  • Developed a written statement of your values and motivations for farming that will guide your farm decisions into the future
  • Developed a written compilation of the physical, financial, and social resources and skills that form the resource base for your farm
  • Developed a clearer sense of enterprises that might be a good fit for you, and how to evaluate future enterprise ideas
  • Begun developing a Farm Start-up Plan (pre-business plan) to guide your first few years of the farm business (The Farm Start-up Plan can be completed by taking BF 102: Markets & Profits, which touches on marketing, enterprise budgets, pricing, and feasibility issues not covered in BF 101)
  • Identified next steps in a learning or training plan to help you continue your journey into farming


The bulk of the course happens on your own time, with discussions, readings, and assignments in MOODLE, our virtual classroom. To add to the experience, webinars will be woven into the online interface of the course to allow you to meet on a weekly basis to learn from outside presenters, ask questions, and collaborate with other participants and the instructor to address your farm issues in real time. If you miss one, they are always recorded and posted for later viewing.

Qualifying for Loans

If you are considering applying for a low-interest beginning farmer loan though the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA), completing this course may help you qualify, if you meet other eligibility requirements. For farmers in NY who have already applied for an FSA loan and been told they need borrower training credit, all of our courses are pre-approved to provide you with this credit, if you complete all course requirements. For more information, visit the FSA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Loans website.


Erica Frenay, Northeast Beginning Farmer Project Coordinator with the Cornell Small Farms Program and co-owner of Shelterbelt Farm, and
Dianne Olsen
, retired Cornell Cooperative Extension Educator in Putnam County, NY


BF 101 will next be offered in Fall 2014, specific dates TBD.

Course Outline

  • Week 1: Getting Started – Resource Inventory and Skills Assessment
    Topics covered: intro to the course, expectations, how to use Moodle, New Farmer Hub, AND overview of farming as a business, how to get started farming, and discussing some of the most frequently asked questions. Begin work on identifying personal skills and resources for farming
  • Week 2: Getting Started – Values, Mission and Goals
    Topics covered: Real-life example of one farm’s start-up process, and how the farmers’ values and resources shaped their decisions and goals. Begin work on farm mission, vision, and goals
  • Week 3: Finding a Farm; Evaluating Land for Agricultural Potential
    Topics covered: Land access options and resources for further exploration, site evaluation (with Web Soil Survey demonstration), including soil type and basic soil science, climate, water, markets, location
  • Week 4: Learning How to Farm – Ways to Acquire the Skills you Need
    Topics covered: Real-life examples of farm start-up and how the farmers acquired the skills they needed. Develop your own customized plan for on-going learning.
  • Week 5: Choosing What to Produce
    Topics covered: Real-life example of how one farmer decided what to grow and which new enterprises to add over time. Generate and evaluate your own list of enterprise ideas.
  • Week 6: Putting it All Together
    Topics covered: Review course topics, learning plans, and farm start-up plans

Cost and Registration

Fee for this course is $200. The course will be offered again in Fall 2014.

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Need Small Farms Info?

Visit our sister Small Farms Programsite, the Cornell Small Farms Program