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Top 10 Books for Organic Farmers

10 useful books for organic farmers

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Organic farming isn't a hot topic for authors apparently, because I haven't seen too many great books out there focused specifically on organic farming. I've seen even fewer books focused on large-scale organic farming. That said, there are some books that make sense for organic growers which I've listed below.

NOTE: It's very important to check books out from the library (if you can) before you spend your hard-earned money on them because not all books work for all growers or operations. Also, people have varied tastes. It can help to browse online reviews of books before you buy.

1. The Organic Farming Manual

The Organic Farming Manual by Ann Larkin Hansen
Photo courtesy Storey Publishing

There are very few comprehensive organic farming books, which is what makes the The Organic Farming Manual such a unique read.

This handy guide covers most everything you need to know in order to start and manage a certified organic farm of any size. While I did feel the organic certification section was a bit light, considering this was a book about organic farms, the book does offer tips and advice for new farmers and experienced farmers as well.

Growing crops, soil management, marketing, animals, machinery and much more are covered. Overall, this is a great read and it's one of the few organic farming books I actually felt like I had to buy vs. simply checking it out at the library - i.e. it's worth your money.

2. The Organic Farmer's Business Handbook

The Organic Farmer's Business Handbook: A Complete Guide to Managing Finances, Crops, and Staff-and Making a Profit, is a decent guidebook, though not, in my opinion as good as the Organic Farming Manual.

This book offers a nice introduction for someone who already has an organic growing background and who is looking to further expand their success by heading to market. Topics covered include better crop production techniques, help for managing farm employees, basic farm operations, and various office systems an organic farmer might want to use. Finances are not ignored and the book looks at streamlining business spending, investing, and even the often overlooked topic of planning for your retirement. I felt the book did a good job looking at hidden costs of organic farming plus provides you with ideas for calculating expenses and costs overall.

The book also comes with a CD with that includes self-calculating spreadsheets for creating crop budgets, plus tools for hiring and payroll.

3. The Small-Scale Poultry Flock

The Small-Scale Poultry Flock: An All-Natural Approach to Raising Chickens and Other Fowl for Home and Market Growers is a good book, but you should know that while the book covers a lot of ground when it comes to raising chickens, it slacks somewhat with regards to other farm poultry.

The book is casual, reading more like short magazine pieces than a large book, which is to be expected considering author Harvey Ussery has written for magazines such as Backyard poultry and Mother Earth News. Still, the casual style is a nice change and the book is comprehensive if you're looking to raise all-natural/organic poultry on a small-scale. Information includes sourcing, the best feed for small scale operations, making homemade feed, using your chickens as pest control or to enhance soil fertility, brooding, and even looks at some interesting bare bone basics like bird anatomy and behavior. The book also includes recipes and a poultry butchering guide.

4. Sepp Holzer's Permaculture

If you're newer to permaculture and need a good book, Sepp Holzer's Permaculture: A Practical Guide to Small-Scale, Integrative Farming and Gardening may be just what you're looking for. With information on how to design and set up a permaculture system, produce varieties that work well with permaculture growing, building shelters for some farm animals, cultivating mushrooms and how to construct various spaces such as ponds and terraces.

The downside of this book is that sometimes the information could be more detailed. Also, the book may not be advanced enough for folks experienced with permaculture. In fact, I believe it's meant as a beginners book. Also good to know is that Holzer's experience is based across the pond, not in the U.S. so not all the information translates to U.S. production, but a lot does.

5. The Rodale Whole Foods Cookbook

The The Rodale Whole Foods Cookbook is not a book about farming, but it is great if you're looking to expand your farm business with value-added products and treats like pies, breads, salsas, jams or other marketable foods.

The revised edition has almost 1,400 recipes included that can be used for home or for creating products to sell. There's also a healthy slant in this cookbook, and the recipes are made with whole ingredients. More than a cookbook, you can use this book to learn how to put up jams and preserves, how to choose proper cookware, how to best sprout seeds and get vegetable canning tips too.

6. Starting & Running Your Own Small Farm Business

Be aware going in that this book covers the business end of farming far more than the practical side of farming. If you're looking for a how-to farm book, this isn't what you need. If you want a decent farm business book though, this is a good choice. The book covers start up costs, tips for launching your farm business, business plan design, how to follow USDA guidelines, gaining financial aid to help with costs, selling farm goods and much more.

7. The Flower Farmer: An Organic Grower's Guide to Raising and Selling Cut Flowers

Organic cut flower farms are rare and books about them are rarer still, so The Flower Farmer is a treat. I think this book is especially good for growers who want to add flowers into the mix as a value-added crop.

You can tell author Lynn Byczynski really knows her flowers and how to grow them successfully. Included are tips about which flowers to grow and how to grow them well, how to cut flowers, how to preserve, dry and store flowers, information on woody shrubs and trees and much more. There's a ton of helpful marketing ideas for growers that include where and how to sell, tips for farmers' market sales, flower arranging, wholesalers and more. Lastly, the book features many successful flower farmers in different areas of the country.

8. Organic Dairy Production

It's rare to see an actual book (not leaflet) dedicated to organic dairy production, yet here it is. Now, this is a book I haven't read, but I've heard good things about it from a couple of pals. Plus, it's a part of the well-known NOFA guides. The book includes information on manure management, grazing, pasture management, all-season feed requirements, milking, habitat, marketing, selling, record keeping and more.

One thing to note is that being part of NOFA, this guide features some info that's more specific to the Northeast, but I have a friend in Oregon who feels the book is still almost 100% applicable to operations in the Northwest.

9. Wind Power: Renewable Energy for Home, Farm, and Business

Lots of people consider the Real Goods Solar Living Source Book the bible of all things alternative energy, and they're not totally wrong. Real Goods is a great book, but it often reads like a catalog, more so than a guide. If you are looking for a guide about one alternative energy option you can implement on the farm, then Wind Power: Renewable Energy for Home, Farm, and Business, is an excellent choice.

This book walks you through setting up your own wind generator in a way that anyone can understand - this is not just for people who really get science. It discusses which wind generators to buy, which you don't want to buy and safety information too. Plus it covers mini systems all the way up to full scale systems. It's true, this book is a little older, but much of the information is still relevant, especially since you can use this book to get an overview, then visit author Paul Gipe's website for updated info.

10. The New Organic Grower

The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener pushes the fact that small-scale growers can make a decent living on 5 acres or less, so this book is perfect if you own a smaller organic farm.

Topics covered include the bare basics like how to find land, building healthy soil, composting, rotating crops and green manure, but also gets more in-depth with topics like the benefit of animals on a small farm, hiring employees, marketing farm products, season extension and much more. I also like that the author is big on reuse and recycling to conserve resources. Overall an excellent greener organic farming book.

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