After three years of running our flower farm, Moonshot Farm in East Windsor, New Jersey, and simultaneously working a full-time, off-farm job, I finally made the big decision: I quit my off-farm job and now farm full-time with my husband. It has been about eight months since going all in. Our farm has never been more successful, while our stress levels have never been higher. 


making-the-leap-farming-fulltimeThe author thought quitting her off-farm job would mean more family time and less stress, but the reality is a bit more complicated.


The vast majority of small farms rely on off-farm income to support their families, according to the USDA. What does going full time on the farm really look like? I caught up with a few other farmers who also recently made the leap on both the emotional and financial realities of going full time on the farm. 


The big decision 

For me, the decision to quit my decade-long career in cybersecurity was a long time coming. I had always dreamed of owning a small business. After starting our farm in 2019, I quickly yearned to switch careers and farm full time. But with two small children and a spouse already working on our farm, I couldn’t afford to be impulsive. 

Instead, we spent those initial years using my off-farm income to invest in the farm. We built greenhouses and coolers, developed a market for our product, and hired employees. We bought a delivery van and saved as much as we could. 

A maternity leave in 2022 gave me a taste of farming full time. I loved it. Later that year, we were accepted into a huge weekday farmers market in New York City. I knew there was no way I could continue to balance my off-farm career and grow enough product to meet the demands of this new market. We set a date, I gave notice at my job, and a week after my last day we started at the new farmers market. 


making-the-leap-farming-fulltimeGetting accepted into a major NYC farmers market was the main factor in my decision to quit my job and farm full-time.


For other farmers, however, the decision to go full time is forced by external factors. Erin McMullen and her husband, Aaron Gaskey, started Rain Drop Farms in Philomath, Oregon, over 20 years ago. The couple grows specialty cut flowers, largely for the wholesale markets in Portland and Seattle. For most of their farm’s existence, Aaron worked an off-farm job in the restaurant industry. 

Like many farmers, he balanced a busy schedule working full time while dedicating many hours a week to the farm. When COVID hit, Aaron lost his job in April of 2020. He transitioned to full-time farming. “The biggest silver lining that came out of losing his job was that we were forced to figure it out,” Erin explained. “We still work that much, but we only work for ourselves. It feels a lot more fulfilling.”

Pandemic-related changes in the construction industry also gave Joe Kincade of Southern Wisconsin Organics the opportunity to go full time. Joe farms around 40 acres of pasture plus 10 acres of mixed vegetables. He previously juggled the farm along with running his own flooring company. When the local food movement boomed during the COVID crisis, Joe saw an opportunity to leave his flooring company and go full time on his farm. 

For others, land access might provide the impetus to go full time when a dream property finally becomes available. This was the case for Noah Poulos of Wild East Farm in Marion, North Carolina. Previously managing an organic vegetable farm for several years, he was inspired to start his own farm with his wife, Lyric, when a 44-acre property became available for lease. “We both always knew we wanted to start our own enterprise,” Noah said.

Maggie Taylor of Delight Flower Farm worked as a reference librarian while building her flower farm in Champaign, Illinois. She was driving to her farm property before work, going to the library all day, then, going back to farm after work each evening to get more done. 

“It didn’t feel sustainable to have that kind of lifestyle, but the financial leap felt really scary,” she said. Her brother, a business savvy owner of several bars, advised her to take the leap of faith. “Get skin in the game,” he told her. “Put pressure on yourself to make it succeed.” This advice still drives her to take risks on her farm.


How the farm changes

All of the farmers I spoke with told me that the impact of going full time was an almost immediate jump in revenue. With more time and energy to dedicate to the farm, they were able to grow their markets, improve their product, and develop new sales outlets. The pressure of relying on farm income also encouraged this growth.

“Quitting my job forced growth at a more rapid rate,” Maggie said. “The growth of this project had initially been very slow and intentional, but after quitting it just escalated quickly. It sped up when I quit my job because there was that pressure to have sales to pay for my life.”

Joe explained that making the farm his top priority caused immediate positive effects. “I’m able to grow my farm easier and keep up on it versus constantly falling behind like when I was part time,” he told me. “When I was doing construction work, I would be stressed, for example, that my beans were overripe, and I couldn’t go harvest them because I had to go work. Now when I wake up, I can go right out the door to my farm.”

By paying closer attention to the farm, he notices and fixes issues faster. “Being full time, you learn your farm better and what crops work for you,” he said. “I’m better able to manage pests, pay attention to the plants and notice problems.” 

Our farm growth has been exponential. Our sales have doubled. Our farm and flowers have never looked better.


The stress of full-time farming

In addition to enormous growth, most of the interviewed farmers cited being more stressed out after quitting — a surprise to some. When I quit my off-farm job, I expected to be less stressed and have more free time to focus on my family. Instead, I find myself working more hours than before to make our farm a viable business. 

“There are peaks and valleys,” Maggie said about farming stress. “It’s not like this year-round.” 

Winters off, taking vacations, and simply getting away from the farm for a few hours were all suggested ways of coping with the stress. Several of the farmers I spoke with also mentioned therapy, including couples’ therapy if farming with a partner, as a way of learning to deal with stress. 

Having employees both eases stress and puts more pressure on the business to succeed. On our farm, employees help share the workload and cover for us when we need to step back. But as Erin puts it, “Providing not only for your family but for other families is an incredibly daunting thing to do.” 

Maggie gives her full-time employees — including herself — an extra stipend each month for health and wellness. They can use it toward a gym membership, massage, or similar expenses. “Farming full time involves a lot of physical stress, and it’s important that we take care of our bodies,” she said. 


Financial realities

Many of these farmers work with professionals to better understand their financial situation. Before quitting my job, I hired a farm business advisor (Ellen Polishuk at Plant to Profit) who helped me tweak our books, understand our numbers, and set a realistic budget. Almost all of the farmers interviewed for this article have accountants to help organize their taxes and payroll. Erin hired a bookkeeper to help her stay financially accountable. 

She said that for years they tried cover costs plus a little extra. “But when we started hiring people and needing to pay everyone, it made it more important that the farm was financially stable and able to support itself,” Erin explained. “The numbers informed where to focus our energies, and the importance of efficiency and logistics. Those have helped the farm stabilize.”

Perhaps counterintuitively, financing and grants can be more accessible to full-time farmers. In the past when we tried to obtain Farm Service Agency (FSA) loans, we were denied due to off-farm income. Now that we are full-time farmers, we have been able to secure low-interest loans to build more infrastructure, like a new greenhouse we are constructing this fall. Likewise, some USDA grants, such as the Rural Energy for America Program, are limited to individuals who make over 50 percent of their income from farming. 


making-the-leap-farming-fulltimeQuitting an off-farm job can unlock opportunities for farmer-only grants and loans, like FSA financing to pay for high tunnels.


Diversification was another common financial theme. Diversifying products and income streams can help the farm provide more consistent income for the farmer. 

Noah has added multiple income streams as he builds his farm. In addition to a market-garden-style vegetable farm, he is planting fruit trees, raising broiler chickens, and pasturing pigs. “Risk is spread out across the enterprises,” he explained, making the farm overall more likely to succeed. Joe is taking a similar approach, mixing vegetable production with pastured layer hens and fruits like strawberries. 

Diversification can also mean multiple sales outlets for the same product. Erin focuses primarily on selling flowers in wholesale markets, but also sells bouquets to grocery stores. When their wholesale sales dipped during the pandemic as florists were purchasing fewer flowers, having grocery stores as an alternative outlet helped her farm’s financial stability.

Similarly, Maggie splits her sales 50/50 between retail and wholesale. A 75-member flower CSA also helps to provide consistent, predictable income for her farm. 

Having savings before making the leap to farming full time was advice offered by several farmers. Especially during the winter months and times when farm income may be lower, savings provide a cushion and shield farms from catastrophe. 


Farm-adjacent side gigs

Many farmers also rely on farm-adjacent side gigs to supplement their income. Both Erin  and Noah have YouTube channels where they offer farm advice and stories. The channels are monetized through ads, an income stream that is also available on other social media tools like TikTok and Instagram. Noah’s wife also works part-time managing a local farmers market. 

Maggie mentors other farmers for a fee and also rents out space in her farmhouse, providing additional income especially for the winter months when farm income is lean. Joe does custom farm work using equipment he already owns, like tilling up his neighbors’ fields. Through these small side projects, farmers reinforce farming skills while earning a little extra income. 


making-the-leap-farming-fulltimeDiversification is a key factor in financial success, with farms adding additional income streams like eggs.


As for me, I’ve been enjoying writing for Growing for Market Magazine as a side gig this year. It has been a great way to reflect on my farming experiences and connect with other farmers while earning extra cash.


Health insurance

Many off-farm jobs provide health insurance for part-time farmers, so getting insurance can be a scary prospect for those looking to quit their jobs. Yet, for all five farmers in this article, across five different states and regions, it turned out to be no big deal. 

“Health insurance should be the least of your worries,” Joe said. “There are lots of options out there. You pay for your auto insurance, and this is no different.”

Everyone, including me, is insured via the marketplace. Premium costs are tied to family size, income, and location. Newer farmers reporting lower net incomes can expect to pay less than established farmers with more money coming in. has tools to estimate insurance and healthcare costs so that you can work it into your budget while making a plan to go full time.

Health insurance premiums for the farmers I spoke with ranged from $1.88 a month for a single person to over $700 a month for a family of five. Here in New Jersey, my family of four pays around $350 a month after subsidies for a high-quality health plan. Our copays and prescription drug costs are actually less than they were when I had insurance through my off-farm job. 


Final thoughts

In 2022, when I was debating quitting my off-farm job, I sought the advice of many farmer friends and mentors. Resoundingly, their advice was the same: go for it. The farmers I spoke with for this article expressed a similar enthusiasm. Despite the stress and financial complications, all of them reported being happier and more fulfilled than before they were farming full time.

If you’re thinking about making the leap to full time, Noah recommended visiting as many farms as possible, and even better, working on other farms first. He worked as a manager on a vegetable farm for three years before starting his own. He credits this experience as the best way to prepare to run a farm. It gave him heightened responsibility without the financial stress. “Managing someone else’s farm is a lower stakes way to learn the physical and personal mistakes that can be made,” Noah said.

Maggie provided a great reminder that full-time farming doesn’t have to be a lifelong decision. “Give yourself three years of going all in before you decide it’s not for you,” she said. “I think some people jump ship too early. Seasons can vary so much. Give it time to work. If you’ve set that time period and three years seems to be right, and you decide that farming isn’t for you, there shouldn’t be shame or stigma around making the best choice for you. And if that means not farming, then that’s okay.”

Happily, it’s going well for me and all of the farmers I spoke with. No one plans to quit any time soon. As Joe put it, “My heart is here on the farm, and I want it to stay where my heart is. That’s the most beautiful thing.”


Rebecca Kutzer-Rice owns Moonshot Farm, a specialty cut flower farm in East Windsor, NJ. She grows flowers year-round including in a geothermal greenhouse, for retail markets in and around NYC.