So you’ve purchased a few acres of land, steered clear of deed restrictions,obtained the permits to start a farm, andyou’re inches away from living off the land, what’s next?
Running a farm is often the endgame for many nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. There’s just nothing more rewarding than growing your own food and raising livestock to feed the family.
Butstarting a farm is no walk in the park, let alone keeping it afloat. It’s also the ultimate test of skill, patience, and perseverance.It will take years before you get the hang of it and truly live off your yields.But to get to where you want to be, and that involves starting small.
A hobby farm can serve as your first step to getting your dream farm life going. It lets you try your hand at farm activities while keeping your day job.During these transition years, you’ll be learning the ropes while enjoying the safety of a stable income. You’ll learn to work the soil, start bringing in a few chickens and pigs, and learn to grow a succession of crops.You won’t be making any profit, but you can set aside the money you save from not buying food for your future farm plans.
Follow these proven and tested tips to throw the agricultural ball into your court:
The Cardinal Rule of Subsistence Farming: Research
No one goes into farming without an arsenal of knowledge and resources. Never plant or introduce any feature on the farm on impulse. Read all the farming books you can get your hands on or watch videos on YouTube to get a glimpse of how hobby farms look like.Consult the old pros for more hands-on, practical information. Old generations of farmers have plenty of wisdom to share. After all, they’ve lived through their farm’s ups and downs. They understand the needs and temperaments of each animal, the diseases in crops and livestock and how to treat them, which crops grow suitably in your “terroir,” down to the smallest details. There’s no strict rule to farming, but it pays to learn from other people’s experiences to cut your losses.
Start Small but Think Long-Term
A lot of first-time gardeners fail during the first few months of hobby farming for doing grand things all at once. The thing about farming is that big projects warrant more time and advanced skills. It’s easy to till a big plot and broadcast seeds; the hard work starts when those seeds germinate and become exposed to the elements and all sorts of diseases and pests. If you’re going to buy ten piglets, make sure you have the fences and pens in place, and all the information you need to keep them healthy and happy.
Ideally, a five to ten-acre plot for produce cultivation can feed a family of five. Grow a succession of crops in a small piece of land to introduce just enough variety to your meals. But never overdo it. Leave the rest of the land for pasture. If you don’t have animals yet, grow a variety of native grasses. By the time you’re ready to raise cows, sheep, and pigs, you’ll have a green, healthy meadow and get to enjoy tasty, free-range meat in a matter of months.
Get Friends and the Community Involved
You can’t run a successful farm without help from friends. If you’re a newcomer in your area, take this opportunity to make new friends and learn from the community. Visit nearby farms and old pros for some advice or an extra hand on your farm. You’ll be surprised to know how helpful and supportive other farmers can be. Fat Pig Farm owner Matthew Evans was able to hone his skills and turn his small farm in country Tasmania into a profitable venture by immersing himself in the region’s growing culture.If you’re building a coop, pen, or fence for your livestock, get friends and family to volunteer. You’ll not only save on labor costs, you might even inspire them to lead a similar lifestyle.After completing a project, make sure to thank everyone involved or invite them over for dinner featuring the fruits of your labor.
Find a Specialty, but Keep on Experimenting
Since the ultimate goal is to live a farm-to-table lifestyle, hobby farmers have free reign over the food they want to grow. But there will come a point where you’ll realize you can capitalize on your skills in the future. On top of managing a vegetable patch and essential livestock, allot an area in your farm for experiments. You can use it for anything – an apple orchard, olive grove, turkey pen, or a bed for lettuce and salad greens –the only limit is your imagination.
Go Natural and Organic
The trick to effortless organic farming is to keep the soil healthy and crops diverse. Soil rich in nutrients and microorganisms produces lush and delicious produce without the need for synthetic fertilizers and herbicides. To keep bugs and pests out naturally, plant chamomile, chives, chrysanthemums, and other pest-repelling herbs across your vegetable beds. Throw in household and garden waste into a compost put for fertilizer and use wood chips, chopped leaves, peat moss, or other organic mulches for weed control. After harvest, leave the roots and debris to soften in the soil and till lightly, just enough to loosen up the topsoil for new plantings. Keep in mind that overworking the soil will disrupt its structure and quality, accelerating runoff and erosion. As much as possible, useno-dig farming techniques to keep the nutrients and soil structure intact.
Don’t Try to Make a Profit
It’s called a hobby farm for a reason. Don’t get ahead of yourself by thinking beyond the food you eat and making a profit out of your land. This will only overwhelm you. Instead of trying to increase your yields quickly, save up on equipment and stock up on knowledge organically. Don’t spend money on your farm if you can’t bring in money from your farm. When you’re ready to give up your day job to be a full-time farmer, that’s the only time you should think of turning your small farm into your primary source of income.
People start hobby farms for many different reasons. Whether it’s your way of leaving the consumer rat race or building a foundation for a future business venture, you’ll encounter similar challenges along the way, so it pays to start small and know the basics first.