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Bridgman proudly displays a specialty crop she selected to market cooperatively to a wholesale market.

New to Full-time Farming

Bridgman Shares Her Wisdom.

If you are committed to farming, know that you can become profitable but that this will not happen by accident. Profitability takes a huge amount of work both in and out of the fields. You must plan profitability and constantly evaluate where your actions are taking you and if that is the right direction. Profitable farming takes a 24/7 commitment.

Mary Bridgman of Bridgman Farm in central Ohio thinks her future as a farmer is bright, which to her means she can farm profitably using sustainable production practices. This is the opposite of what she thought just a short time ago. Mary offers evidence of the results of applied new learning. In June 2007 after earning only $179 after two trips to the farmers’ market, a considerable distance from her farm, Mary felt desperate. One year later in June 2008, Mary earned $1,121 and was selling at four farmers’ markets. By the first Saturday in August 2008, Mary surpassed her 2007 income from farmers’ markets, and as the heirloom tomatoes are just starting, she will far exceed this 2007 benchmark.

Mary changed how she thinks about farming. She expanded what she thinks about. She used to be a grower and now she is a farm business operator. She used to despair when confronted with a farm crisis and now she meets them head on and does what she has to do to recover. She also anticipates problems and takes action to minimize or avoid significant damage. Mary is confident that she will do the right thing, while months ago she was full of self-doubt.

Through her participation in a program for beginning and transitioning farmers, Mary gained knowledge and skills. More importantly she now knows whom to call when something isn’t working. Rather than behaving like a lone farmer Mary is far more likely to ask people for the help she needs.

To increase the sustainability of her farm, Mary made many changes that result from her participation in Wisdom in the Land.

Resources. To improve the tilth and fertility of her soils, Mary has expanded her use of cover crops during the winter of 2008 and now plans a wheat-hay-corn-soybean rotation. This she accomplishes in partnership with a farmer who will rent acreage for corn and soybeans and share half of wheat and hay grown on other acres. To ensure the farm reaps the desired benefits of seasonal employees, Mary more carefully selects whom she hires and refuses to tolerate poor performance. A recent termination resulted in a re-hiring of an employee that she now trusts to be productive while working independently as well as by her side.

Production. Strategic use of equipment and a change of behavior now allow Mary to increase the productivity on her soils. She has improved her irrigation system, uses a disk filter and aerometer. She has become a vigilant observer of her plants, constantly walking her fields. Mary is in the process of developing a new production partner relationship which will allow her partner to grow livestock feed at a reasonable cost and add new product lines to Mary’s farm, namely organic straw and hay. During an operational crisis when black plastic was coming off raised beds, a kind neighbor offered advice and help which Mary accepted. He used his moldboard plow to throw dirt on the plastic which secured it. This saved Mary lots of time as manual labor was the alternative.

Business. Mary now has a new mental model for herself and credits Wisdom in the Land with helping her become a business woman. In the past she strived to be a better farmer by which she meant producer and now she also strives to be a better business person, by which she means to have a business mindset when making decisions and taking action.

Mary purchased a transplanter specifically to accomplish her business goal, allowing her to expand production and increase income. In order to have more income during June, Mary planted much more lettuce and is going to market earlier and with more produce. She now keeps better financial and marketing records, weighing both what she takes to market and doesn’t sell. When she decides to add equipment, she refuses to immediately buy but rather searches for the best deal. Expanded production and greater product diversity requires earlier and more marketing. Mary now sells at three farmers’ markets, up from 1.5 in the previous year. A participant of Wisdom in the Land who lives near Mary and who wanted experience with farmers’ markets is now a marketing partner, selling Mary’s produce at a market to which Mary is returning after several years and at which this second farm hopes to bring their meat and eggs in the following year. Conventional farms surround Bridgman Farm, and Mary plans to continue taking her products to the nearest metropolitan area. As acreage in produce expands and becomes more visible to her neighbors, Mary has begun selling to some neighbors and is beginning to develop this local market. She plans to put up a sign to market fall pumpkins and may try a self-serve stand for her produce. Mary looks for opportunities of mutual benefit. She bartered a first-ever CSA share in exchange for a logo design by a graphic artist. She sold baskets she no longer needed to another produce marketer. She initiated a conversation with another grower to explore a co-operative approach to marketing, which will likely begin with a specialty product focus in the following year, opening up a wholesale market for Mary.

Contact Information:

Mary Bridgman

Bridgman Farm
5411 SR 753 SE
Washington Court House, Ohio 43160

Fayette County


Mary retired August 2006 from a full-time professional career. She had farmed part time for the previous 15 years, owning one and then a second farm for 10 years, and selling product since 1993. In 2007, Mary put 5 acres in organic vegetable production, leased 48 acres of her 67 acre farm, and started farming full time.