Building a Sustainable Business

The Building a Sustainable Business publication was conceived in 1996 by a planning team for the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture (MISA) to address the evolving business planning needs of beginning and experienced rural entrepreneurs.

This Guide was developed over a period of seven years by a team of University of Minnesota faculty and staff, individual farmers and consultants. It incorporates recommendations on content, language and organization from the review process as well as examples from five of the review team’s business plans.

MISA followed one of the farm reviewer families, Cedar Summit Farm owners Dave and Florence Minar and their family, throughout their planning process. The Minars’ planning experience—their initial exploration of values, brainstorming of goals, and research into on-farm milk processing, markets and financing—is incorporated throughout this Guide’s text and Worksheets. A completed business plan for the Minars’ Cedar Summit Creamery is attached in Appendix A, at the end of the Resources, Glossary, and Appendices section.

We hope this Business Planning Guide will assist today’s alternative and traditional business owners alike with the creation of a holistic business plan rooted firmly in personal, community, economic and environmental values. With a business plan in hand, today’s farmers and rural entrepreneurs will be able to take that first step toward the creation of a successful and sustainable business.

2024: The Building a Sustainable Business guide was reprinted with updated Resources. Otherwise the text has changed little from the original 2003 edition or the 2010 or 2013 editions, so if you already have an older copy of the book, we suggest you just print off the new sections to update your copy!

Fair Use of Materials:

You are welcome to adapt and use these materials as needed; and to download, print, and distribute any portion of this toolkit. Please do not charge recipients more than the cost of printing and handling. Please give the following credit:

"This publication was developed by the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture in cooperation with the Center for Farm Financial Management, with funding from the Minnesota State Legislature; and co-published by the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, under a cooperative
agreement with USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA)."

In Sections:

Front Cover (PDF)

Preface and Table of Contents


Planning Task 1: Identify Values – What's Important to You?

Values Worksheets:
Printable Version (PDF, 70 kB)
Fill-In Version (PDF, 95 kB)

Planning Task 2: Farm History and Current Situation – What Have You Got?

Farm Assessment Worksheets:
Printable Version (PDF, 413 kB)
Fill-In Version (PDF, 553 kB)

Planning Task 3: Vision, Mission and Goals – Where Do You Want to Go?

Vision, Mission and Goals Worksheets:
Printable Version (PDF, 130 kB)
Fill-In Version (PDF, 178 kB)

Planning Task 4: Strategic Planning and Evaluation – What Routes Can You Take to Get Where You Want to Go?

Strategic Planning Worksheets:
Printable Version (PDF, 926 kB)
Fill-In Version (PDF, 1.14 MB)

Planning Task 5: Present, Implement and Monitor Your Business Plan – Which Route Will You Take, and How Will You Check Your Progress Along the Way?

Implementation and Monitoring Worksheets:
Printable Version (PDF, 84 kB)
Fill-In Version (PDF, 118 kB)

List of Footnote References

Resources, Glossary, and Appendices