Before You Begin

Before you even put a seed in the ground, take a look in this section. These resources will help you think through your goals for selling the food you grow, whether you are an individual, group, or business, and evaluate the best direction for the future.  

Defining values and goals
When starting a garden or farm, or even just starting to sell the vegetables you grow in your backyard, it is a good idea to think about your goals for this venture. For example, the reasons for growing and selling food could be any or all of the ones listed below:
  • Increasing food security and making more fresh food available
  • Creating an additional source of income or new business
  • Increasing personal fruit and vegetable consumption, improving health
  • Providing education
  • Improving the environment, creating habitat
  • Promoting local food
  • Getting your community involved in a collective project
  • Increasing economic/employment opportunities 
  • Sharing your culture and traditions
There are two sources that can help you think through defining your goals and values. Grow Pittsburgh gives you some questions to ask yourself or your group to create a vision statement. Penn State Extension also has some advice for creating a vision and mission statement

Picking a Structure
It is important to establish your legal structure for your organization before you get too far. Your organizational structure impacts your legal and tax liability. The first step would be deciding if your operation will be for profit or nonprofit. The resources below provide more information about organizational structures:
For Profit
Tips About Farm Business Structures: This tip sheet, geared toward those starting farms, summarizes the different for profit business structures, as well as their advantages and considerations. 
Part I & Part II: An Overview of Organizational and Ownership Options Available to Agricultural Enterprises: If you are looking for more detail, this document published by the National Agricultural Law Center thoroughly describes each structure, going into tax and liability status.  
Nonprofit Urban Ag: This page on lists different models of non-profit urban agriculture and goes in-depth into the requirements for a 501(c)(3) and other types of tax exemption. 
An Agricultural Nonprofit Still Has to Make a Profit: Farms can be non-profits and this blog post discusses the government requirements to be a 501(c)(3) including a board of directors and fundraising plan. 

Learning through Classes
Whether you are just beginning to garden or are starting an urban farm, it may be helpful to take a related class, such as the Small Farm Dream course or A Garden Primer. The Exploring the Small Farm Dream course is taught by Penn State Extension and is great for people thinking about starting a farm business. Over three classes, it will guide you through the decision making process with creative exercises and discussions. Check the course listings to see all the other classes offered, such as Food for Profit. Run every February and March, A Garden Primer is a course for beginner growers taught by Grow Pittsburgh. Everything you need to know to start your own garden from tools to harvesting is covered over three sessions. 

Gaining Experience 
Before you start your own community garden or farm, it is useful to get some hands-on experience, learning from others who have been in your shoes. See if you can volunteer at a nearby community garden (find one here or here) or with Grow Pittsburgh. They also offer Urban Farm Apprenticeships, which requires more involvement and training than volunteering. For those looking to apprentice in the Greater Pittsburgh area, Penn State Extension has two helpful resources and the following organizations have apprenticeship listing that you can browse: PASA, ATTRA,and Beginning Farmers.

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