By Jimmy Dula, NFU Intern

Among the many alternative agricultural economic models that have cropped up in recent years, farming for a paycheck has become increasingly common. Unlike traditional farming models, in which a producer’s self-generated income is contingent on crop yields and sales, in this arrangement, a third party guarantees producers a fixed salary independent of sales or yield. Nonprofit farms, edible landscaping businesses, church farms, and hospital farms all offer producers the means to farm while also ensuring a steady income, regardless of market fluctuations or unpredictable weather. This system spreads economic risk among several stakeholders, rather than placing the onus solely on the farmer.

Nonprofit farms, designed to meet the needs of an under-served population or to provide educational opportunities to aspiring farmers, usually fund the farm manager’s salary through grants and donations. Edible landscaping businesses, on the other hand, bill the property owner hourly to grow their food, and often maintain landscapes for multiple clients. Conversely, church and hospital farms provide on-property land for producers, who are backed financially by the congregation or hospital administration.

The farming for a paycheck model has both benefits and drawbacks. Although it offers farmers a reliable source of income, the contract terms can limit management freedom, which, in turn, can hinder the farm’s growth. Furthermore, production improvements and yield growths are not monetarily rewarded, removing some incentive for innovation and hard work. However, farming for a paycheck can provide an important safety net for beginning farmers. Should a farmer not have the confidence to take on a solo farm project, a position on a nonprofit or church farm can provide invaluable experience before going it alone.

Are you a producer who farms for a paycheck? What has your experience been like? Share your thoughts in the comments, and stay tuned as we explore farming for a paycheck in its various forms and discuss its role in land access from the perspective of beginning farmers.

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