The Farm Business Development Center (FBDC) prepares beginning farmers to meet the demand for locally-grown organic food in the Chicago region. We provide new farmers with a head start by beginning their business in an incubator setting with affordable access to certified organic land near the Chicago-area customer base, and access to experienced mentor farmers. Demand is high for locally-grown organic food, and the Farm Business Development Center is successfully launching new farm businesses to meet consumer demand.
Launching a farm business requires capital. A traditional startup would entail purchase of land, infrastructure and equipment. The FBDC is designed to stagger those investments by allowing farmers to lease those resources as they start their business.
Land access is the biggest obstacle for a beginning farmer in the Chicago area. Most beginning organic farmers do not already have access to land, and need secure short-term access to farmland to begin their farm business.
Farmland is generally priced for residential or commercial development, and it’s unrealistic for beginning farmers to purchase land to begin their business. Additionally, much of the available farmland does not contain the necessary infrastructure for diverse vegetable operations – irrigation, greenhouses, hoophouses. If farmers intend to become certified organic, they must follow all organic practices for 3 years during a conversion period before they can become certified and market their produce as “organic”.
The FBDC was designed to address these challenges, and allow aspiring farmers a proving ground to begin their own farm business alongside other beginning and more experienced farmers. FBDC farmers are interested in professional farming and need to gain experience managing their own growing operation, marketing their products through different types of distribution channels, and building financial records so their farm can access financing as their business grows and transitions to a permanent location in the future. The proximity to other new and experienced farmers including mentors such as Sandhill Family Farms creates a unique, informal setting for networking, problem-solving, and professional development opportunities that are invaluable. The FBDC is a launching pad for farm businesses.
Through the FBDC, new farmers lease small parcels of certified organic farm land, have affordable access to the necessary equipment and infrastructure, and gradually scale up their farm business. Rather than purchasing a tractor or renting one for the entire season, FBDC farmers can rent a tractor by the hour so they only pay for the tractor-time they need. Similarly, instead of erecting a greenhouse, they can rent space in an existing greenhouse. Farmers gain hands-on farming experience and continue to build their capacity during their time in the FBDC. They gradually expand to farm approximately 5 acres in the FBDC, and are expected to “graduate” to a permanent location within 5 years.
Grow your farm business with the FBDC! As a farm incubator program, the FBDC allows entrepreneurs to begin their farm business with:
Typical applicants have 2-3 years farming experience and do not own land. Beginning farmers need to have the practical knowledge through training, apprenticeship and/or a previous farming background to develop a multi-year business plan with the goal of entering professional farming.
If you are looking for a farm incubator program outside of the Chicago region, the National Incubator Farm Training Initiative (NIFTI) has created this interactive map of farm incubator projects in North America.
The FBDC is a launching pad for farm businesses, and does not provide formal classroom training. If you are looking for a classroom experience about sustainable agriculture or continuing education, we encourage you to investigate the following programs in our area:
The following resources are helpful for FBDC applicants, as well as organizations that are beginning their own farm incubator program. The Liberty Prairie Foundation has been operating the Farm Business Development Center since 2005, and has been recognized as being a leader in providing hands-on farming and business experiences through the incubator model.
Beginning Farmer resources:
Beginning Farm Business Development Center resources:
The Liberty Prairie Foundation assists FBDC graduates to obtain longer-term land access for their growing farm operation, though some graduates locate land independently.
Land access continues to be challenging, and the Foundation has taken a more active role in helping farmers to secure land in recent years. Through an innovative partnership, the Foundation is the leaseholder of Casey Farm in Libertyville, comprised of farm parcels owned by Conserve Lake County and the Lake County Forest Preserve District.
The Foundation plans to use this pilot project to help create more opportunities for FBDC graduates to transition other public and privately owned agricultural lands in the region into local food production to meet the demand of the Chicago region.
Click here to learn about our Land Access Pilot Project, in partnership with Openlands. The project is generously funded through Food:Land:Opportunity–Localizing the Chicago Foodshed, a multi-year funding initiative of The Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust.
The number of FBDC farmers varies each year as farm businesses graduate and launch to more permanent locations, and existing farmers gradually expand the amount of land they are farming. Each farm is an independently operated for-profit business, and is responsible for their own farm operations and product marketing.
Collectively, the FBDC farmers and Sandhill Family Farms are the Prairie Crossing Farmers. Click here for more information about all the independent farm businesses currently operating at the Prairie Crossing Farm in Grayslake. The FBDC benefits greatly from the on-site presence of Sandhill Family Farms, a successful for-profit organic farm who serves as a mentor to beginning farmers. While FBDC farmers are expected to graduate within 5 years and transition to a permanent home for their farm, Sandhill is located at the Prairie Crossing Farm for the long term.
The Farm Business Development Center also has many distinguished alumni who continue to farm in the region. Click here for more information about these FBDC alumni who have successfully launched their own farm businesses at more permanent locations after their start in the FBDC.
Learn more about the Farm Business Development Center with this interview and video tour, courtesy of Jim Pfeiffer and the Urban Food Chain.