A course for beginning farmers helped Greg Hodapp get his start.
Hodapp, 38, now farms full-time on 5 acres in Lewiston, Idaho, running a small goat dairy, market vegetables and an acre of strawberries. He made the switch Dec. 2.
He hopes to eventually purchase the 12 acres next door, “but we’ll see how that shakes out.”
He worked as a park ranger at Hells Gate State Park for 3 1/2 years and previously worked as a groundskeeper at the University of Idaho.
Hodapp said he grew up on acreage, keeping chickens and ducks and gardening, but he did not farm.
After college, he worked on fruit and berry and vegetable farms in Wisconsin, but had always wanted to do it on his own.
He is also a certified master gardener. Because he worked at the University of Idaho, he could take courses for free.
Participating in UI Extension’s Starting Your Sustainable Small Farm in Idaho course helped Hodapp figure out where to start.
“It takes an idea and a dream and provides you a framework to apply the most realistic prospects within the idea to real-world situations, everything from budgeting (and) planning to information and advice from area farmers on what works well for them,” he said.
The course helped him figure out that strawberries made sense and would provide him the best income. He planted them in the fall and expects to harvest next summer.
“It helps you recognize the resources you have on hand that are going to be most beneficial for you in the short and the long term,” he said.
Hodapp decided to refinance his mortgage and cashed out his retirement — “which is not something the class would have recommended,” he said with a laugh — to buy the farm.
His next steps are organizing advertising. The class has helped provide a framework to do so, he said. He’s putting together a website, blog, Facebook page and brochures.
He’d like to start raising blueberries and husk cherries. He also has 100 grape cuttings, and hopes to eventually offer pre-picked and pick-your-own seedless table grapes.
“It’s just me, and I can’t possibly harvest a half-acre of grapes on my own,” he said.
Hodapp recommends aspiring farmers first work on a farm to make sure it’s what they want to do, for at least a full turn of the season.
“Farming has become a popular thing to want to do or to be interested in, and it’s not all rainbows and sunshine and acres of beautiful things growing and a gentle breeze,” he said. “It can be tough, backbreaking and bloody. You need to understand both sides of that. It’s also awesome. It’s also really, really hard.”
Hodapp also cautions against listening to naysayers.
“There will be a lot of people who will tell you it can’t be done, but all you need to do is look around, and you will find so many success stories,” he said. “You just have to go into it with a good plan. That’s it.”