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14 General Farming Principles to Follow

Author Michael Abelman

Michael Abelman, author of Farm the City: A Toolkit for Setting Up a Successful Urban Farm, has been a commercial organic farmer in both the city of Vancouver and on Salt Spring Island, B.C. In today’s excerpt, he distills his knowledge into 14 general farming principles which work equally well for the home gardener!

Excerpt from the book Farm the City

Our farm on Pacific Boulevard in Vancouver

The following are some of the ideas and basic principles that I have adopted over the last 40-plus years I have been farming. Add your own as your career progresses, and refer to them regularly, using them as simple guides or reminders. Though they were originally created for rural farms, they apply almost equally to an urban setting.


On a small farm, it’s not the big ideas that make things successful; it’s all the little things done really well.


Grow only those crops you or your family like to eat.


Be early and be late with your crops.


Maintain a consistent supply of a small body of signature products.


Be clear about why you want to do this work.


Design, plant, and harvest your farm on paper before a single seed is ordered.

Harvesting radishes


The smaller the farm, the higher the value of every leaf, every fruit, and every root.


Crop diversity can be a form of financial security—it allows you to ride through changing climates, conditions, and markets.


The more diverse your crop mix, the more skill you require. Start with simple crops and narrow crop diversity, then expand and diversify as you improve your skills.


Become intimate with the land you will farm: know how the light, air, and water move throughout the year. Learn the unique characteristics of every field, the subtle changes in soil, climate, exposure. Know your land as intimately as you know a lover.

Transplanting tomatoes at our farm on Hastings Street


Understand your land’s history: Who came before? What were they doing?


If you want your kids to farm, don’t raise them on one.


Stay debt-free, or at the least, limit your debt.


Know your market before you plant the first seed.

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