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Up by their bootstraps

Agriculture.com Staff 07/07/2010 @ 9:10am

The Up By Their Bootstraps series, as featured in Successful Farming magazine, features young or beginning farm families that are following a business plan to achieve a dream -- raising their family on a full-time farm.

If Aaron Sturges didn't track the costs and returns of every type of flower, fruit, and vegetable he grows, Sturges Orchards might not exist today. And if his wife, Tracie, wasn't so thrifty, they might never have had the down payment for their farm.

Even though he spent a good deal of his growing-up years living in the city, Michael Fritch's heart never left the farm. Now he's working hard to make a future as a full-time farmer, but he's not forgetting the lessons of the past.

With a four-year master's degree in divinity, Greg Wirtjes answered a call to be a youth pastor in his hometown of Forrest City, Iowa, in 1998. Three years later, he found himself answering a call to farm -- and he hasn't looked back.

Most traditional farmer-cattle feeders in central Iowa are history. But Mike Kalsem loves history, is big into effort, and believes cattle, as well as other enterprises, are his family's ticket to a sustainable future in agriculture.

Farming is a family affair for the Rulons of Arcadia, Indiana. The secret? There are no junior partners and senior partners. This father, sons and cousin are all equal partners.

Chris Stingley rented his first "farm" when he was in the sixth grade. It was only 2 acres, but that's when he decided he wanted to farm and, symbolically at least, when he started.

David Zuckerman and wife Rachel Nevitt grow organic vegetables and strawberries on about 10 acres in Vermont. They grossed about $80,000 last year through a CSA and direct marketing.

Dustin Shoemaker (here with wife Kari) works for Leroy Scott as part of a long-term plan to take over Scott's Illinois farm. The two are not related, but have complementary goals.

Keven Dearing moved back to his hometown to farm after working in food processing for 14 years. His family has been a big help, allowing him to trade labor for the use of machinery.

Michael and Carolyn Thomas have been ranching on their own for eight years. Three years ago, they returned to Salmon, Idaho, where his parents ranch. Michael supplements income with custom baling.

Lee and Cam LaBree started from scratch, and thanks to lots of hard work, now have 250 Angus cattle, 75 bred heifers and 130 heifer calves on the Montana ranch they rent, but hope to buy.

Kenna and John Hutto grow 2,000 acres of crops and feed 500 cattle and 4,000 hogs a year from their Kansas farm. They became full-time farmers when John lost his job after 9/11.

Sweat equity kept start-up costs low for Ted and Melissa Miller of Pennsylvania, who contract finish 10,000 hogs a year and milk 60 cows in their grass-based, seasonal dairy.

The Up By Their Bootstraps series, as featured in Successful Farming magazine, features young or beginning farm families that are following a business plan to achieve a dream -- raising their family on a full-time farm.

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