Skip to main content


Starting at Square One (BF 101)

Bf101SquareOneCreating a Farm to Match Your Values, Goals, Skills, and Resources

This course helps new and aspiring farmers take the first steps toward setting goals, assessing resources available (physical, financial, and personal), and exploring enterprises that are the best fit for you and your land. Carefully defining what you want to do and how you will do it is a key element of any successful new farm enterprise.

“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

BEGINNER – This course is for who have decided to make some or all of their livelihood from farming, and those who are actively planning the start-up of a farm in the next few years. Each participate will be assessing their own resources and will begin developing a farm start-up plan. You do not need to have land or know what you will grow – just that you want to explore the possibilities and learn about the steps you need to take to begin farming.

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

During the course, you will:

  • Develop a written statement of your values and motivations for farming that guides your farm decisions into the future
  • Compile a written list of the physical, financial, and social resources and skills that form the resource base for your farm
  • Determine a sense of enterprises that might be a good fit for you, along with methods to evaluate future enterprise ideas
  • Begin developing a Farm Start-up Plan (pre-business plan) to guide the initial steps you need to take (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)

Identify 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 presenters and ask questions in real time. If you miss one, they are always recorded and posted for later viewing.



Erica Frenay, Beginning Farmer Online Course Manager with the Cornell Small Farms Program and co-owner of Shelterbelt Farm

Steve Gabriel, Agroforestry Specialist with the Cornell Small Farms Program, author of Farming the Woods, and co-owner of Wellspring Forest Farm & School



September 29 – November 3, with webinars each Thursday evening from 6:30 8:00pm Eastern time.  Course is FULL and will next be offered in Fall 2017.


Course Outline

Week 1: Getting Started 
Topics covered: Course overview and expectations. What is a Farm Business? How to get started, and frequently asked questions.  Students identify 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. Students develop farm mission, vision, and goals.

Week 3: Finding a Farm & Evaluating Land
Topics covered: Land access options and resources for further exploration, Evaluating a site for farming including soils, water, distance to markets, and other considerations. Students work on a site assessment activity to define characteristics for existing or desired land base.

Week 4: Learning How to Farm
Topics covered: Real-life example of farm start-up and how the farmers acquired the skills they needed to succeed. Students develop a 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. Students generate and evaluate a list of enterprise ideas.

Week 6: Putting it All Together
Topics covered: Review course topics, learning plans, and farm start-up plans. Presentations by student volunteers who are willing to share their farm start-up plans!


Cost and Registration

Fee for this course is $250. This course is currently FULL and registration is closed until Fall 2017.

Sign up for any of our courses a month or more in advance of the start date and receive $25 off. Sign up for three or more courses and received $50 off your total.