Farmer asks public to help save his farm

The biggest challenge for innovators and entrepreneurs is usually money. The same goes for charities, not-for-profits and pretty much anyone who runs a small to medium sized business.

A solution that many opt for these days is crowdfunding – turning to the Internet to ask the general public to help with anything from launching a new venture, publishing a book or paying vet bills to raising money for victims of illness, disaster or tragedy.

The idea – and hope – is that if everyone gives a little, that “little” will eventually add up to a lot.

A crowdfunding website was recently used, for example, to try to raise enough money to buy the now-infamous Rob Ford video. The platforms are many and so are the causes people are being asked to support.

Agriculture is now also on the crowdfunding bandwagon: a farmer in Massachusetts has launched a campaign to keep his 300-cow dairy operation going.

It’s far from a regular dairy – Doug Stephan farms in a mostly urban setting selling raw milk and raw milk products directly to consumers from cows that are retired at the end of their productive cycle instead of sent to slaughter – so turning to a far-from-regular funding source is not a stretch.

Eastleigh Farm was established in the early 1900s, operating as a dairy farm until the early 1980s, when a new owner converted it to beef production.

Stephan started converting the farm back to dairy eight years ago, which he describes as a dream come true – he originally worked on the farm as a kid. But that dream isn’t all sweet, which is why he has turned to the public for help.

“I have in a suburban setting a farm that I bought to save from a developer and the only way it exists is by selling our product straight from the farm,” he explained when I asked him what had led him down the crowdfunding path. “The mortgage is too high on it so the only way to survive is to find an angel investor or to get crowdfunding, which is a new, novel approach to getting help in various fields.”

Stephan’s campaign, aptly named “Happy Cows”, offers ten different perks people can choose from in return for their support.

A $10 donation nets you an ice cream cone when you visit the farm and $50 entitles you to a 12-month Eastleigh Farms calendar.

A 100-square foot plot of land is yours for a year for a $100 donation, complete with regular photos and updates of what’s happening on “your” land – an option that is billed as helping you take the step from virtual Farmville-style to real farming.

There are bigger ticket items too, all of which include some measure of name recognition and information via email about what you’re supporting.

A cow can be sponsored for $1,000; $2,500 supports maintenance of farm buildings, and $5,000 will pay for equipment repairs.

So far, over $7,000 has been raised and Stephan says not everyone is interested in the perks.

“Most people so far are just offering money to help the farm exist and survive, which is a good sign,” he said. “We set a small goal to be sure we cover what the costs are of doing the campaign and all the excess will be used to help benefit the farm, like caring for the animals, putting roofs on the infrastructure, re-seeding the pastures and that sort of stuff.”

The easiest way to spread the word about a crowdfunding campaign is through social media.

Stephan is active on Twitter and Facebook, as well as hosting “hangouts” on Google Plus to help encourage people to take an active role in preserving local food production, saving farm land and doing the right thing when it comes to caring for livestock.

Many of his supporters so far are people who customers of his on-farm store or have visited his farm to take advantage of educational opportunities, but he says generally the interest is fairly broad, both demographically and geographically.

Each crowdfunding campaign is valid for a set time limit and Stephan says he’ll likely re-launch his project on a different site once this one has expired.

There are many different options to choose from – you can see his existing campaign efforts at

Note: this story was originally published as a commentary in Ontario Farmer on July 2, 2013.

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