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Second Life Farming

The age old question of, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is typically directed towards children, but has been coopted by a much older population these days.  There are many factors influencing the decision to pick up all that you have known and choose a second career.  Corporate loyalty gave way to massive layoffs breaking the unwritten cradle to grave job contract.  Industries disappeared as others materialized; forcing one to rethink their path to retirement.

For Joe Pustizzi, owner of Pustizzi Farm in Boscawen, NH, it was just time to get out of the rat race. An entrepreneur at the early age of 21, Joe started a textile manufacturing business in Lawrence, MA.   Over a period of 17 years, he acquired a successful business with global distribution, registered patents and trademarks, and all of the headaches associated with the continual pursuit of corporate growth.  “You just get tired,” Joe said with a long sigh.

Thinking about farming as a second career? Here are three places you can start your research:

Local: Visit local to the region you want to farm. Different regions provide different opportunities and challenges from regulatory to market to growing conditions.

• Volunteer: Spend a weekend on a farm in each season of the year so you get a better understanding of the changing needs of the farm as well as start to establish your network.
• Cooperative Extension: Hands down the best resource for any first time or long time farmer. Every state has one.

The Northeast has some of the best educational resources for those wanting a jump start in farming. UVM, UNH and Cornell all offer education for the beginning farmer. The Northeast Organic Farming Association ( www.nofa.org ) also has a beginning farmers program in every state in our region.

When it was time to consider a second career, there was no doubt in Joe’s mind he “wanted to be or do something outside.”  This urge familiar with many of us wanting to be closer to the land led to the purchase of a 227 acre plot of land, of which only 7 acres was immediately farmable.  The rest was either wooded or not properly drained.  “My grandfather was in the produce business and my grandmother and mother always had a garden for the household table.  However, that was the extent of my farming knowledge or experience.”

When asked why he picked New Hampshire, Joe simply stated, “It was close to family and that was important to me.”  With his work cut out for him, he knew a close support network would be needed as well.  The most difficult tasks he anticipated were land clearing and soil management.  Turning 7 acres into 13 productive acres of fruit and vegetables with an additional 10 plus acres into hay crop took approximately 6 years.

He adopted online marketing awareness trends by building the farm website, www.pustizzifruitfarm.com, and creating a Facebook presence.  Now into his third season of selling, Joe hit an unanticipated challenge.  “People have a lot of choices ranging from their own gardens to supermarkets.  I needed to give them a reason to make the visit out to my farm.”

The challenge of attracting more farm stand traffic led to his ever growing agri-tourism business.  It isn’t enough to provide someone with a fresh off the vine tomato; they also want an experience to go with it.  Joe considered the ever popular corn mazes and outdoor sporting events. By networking with a local goat farmer, he came up with the idea of a haunted goat hike:  You hike up the hill to the pumpkin patch where you pick your pumpkin and have the goat haul it back for you.  Along the way there are fun and educational stops.  Everyone has a good time, including the goats that get loads of petting and treats.  Pustizzi Farm now has 3 goat related events a year, a haunted farm event and maple sugar weekends.

Signs of an Expanding Farm Business. Courtesy of Mason Donovan.

Joe realized, “The local market demand for fruits and vegetables is not financially at a long-term sustainable level.”  Agri-tourism allows Pustizzi Farm to acquire a bigger share of local purchasing power while reaching out to a larger geographic base.  “Diversification is key.”  People are willing to travel more for an event than a pint of blueberries.

Asked for his advice for other second career farmers, Joe quickly answered, “Do your homework!”    He easily invested more than twice what he expected.  The work is “strenuous on your body and you don’t get sick days.”  Joe suggested volunteering on farms and getting to know your local farming organizations.  The Cooperative Extension became one of his biggest resources for information.  He currently works with four separate organizations in an average year for knowledge, support or assistance.

Ask him about next year’s crops and Joe’s eyes light up.  “There is nothing like looking at a freshly planted field on a nice spring day.”  The work is hard, but rewarding.  Instead of the chair at the end of an executive board table, Joe now sits up high in his John Deere thinking “this is what I want to be when I grow up.”

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Rachel Whiteheart

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