Success in Farm Start-ups in the Northeastern United States


  • Gilbert W. Gillespie Cornell University
  • Sue Ellen Johnson North Carolina State University



Farm Start-up, Farm Exits, New Farmers, Beginning Farmers, Management, Mentoring, United States, Northeast


On one hand, food system analysts have been concerned about many topics: the rising age of farm operators, declining farm numbers, lack of adoption of practices and systems supporting greater ecological sustainability, and interest in increased food production for local markets. On the other hand, many energetic and enthusiastic people express interest in farming and producing more community-based food. Many of these people also claim values related to sustainability. Despite prospective and new farmers’ strong interest and enthusiasm, most face numerous challenges in their start-up phase and many do not continue, even those showing considerable promise. In this paper we focus on the results from in-depth interviews with current and former start-up farmers in the Northeastern U.S. We illuminate four sets of factors related to “success” in farm start-ups: social context, personal characteristics, business characteristics, and luck. We then make three recommendations for the consideration of policy-makers, farm start-up advisors, and beginning farmers: advising and mentoring, conceiving of farms as parts of a larger food system, and focus on playing to strengths.


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Author Biographies

Gilbert W. Gillespie, Cornell University

Development Sociology, Warren Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853 USA.

Sue Ellen Johnson, North Carolina State University

Crop Science, North Carolina State University, 2413 Wms Hall, Campus Box 7620, Raleigh, NC 27695 USA.



How to Cite

Gillespie, G. W., & Johnson, S. E. (2010). Success in Farm Start-ups in the Northeastern United States. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 1(1), 31–48.



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