Are you someone who has always been intrigued by the idea of having your own farm, albeit a small one? Or perhaps you already have one and are wondering if you’re “doing” it right. Farming is labor-intensive but rewarding beyond measure, and having a successful small farm is within everyone’s reach. However, tried-and-true advice is invaluable when running a small farm to make it as successful as possible. Read on below for some of the best advice on how to start and run your own small farm.
Make a Plan
Like most things, you should have a well-drafted plan of what your farm will look like. How big do you want your small farm to be? Is it on land you already own, or will you need to purchase acreage? What do you want to grow and when? How many people do you want to feed with your farm? Will you raise livestock? What materials, tools, and resources will you need? You must clearly identify how you want your farm to look and operate before you’ll really know where to start.
Estimate Your Finances
Farming isn’t exactly a cheap endeavor, and most farmers have to take out a loan to get started. After all, land, equipment, and labor sure aren’t free. The size of your farm and what you plan on growing/raising will determine your financial needs (and anticipated income), so you can have a lot of control over the costs by controlling the size and capacity.
For example, if your idea of a small farm is not more than 5 acres, then you may not need some of the larger equipment that is required for 150 acres, and you also will not need to pay for as much labor.
Another financial aspect to keep in mind is what will make you money (an important aspect of having a viable farm). Know your community and your clientele—or at least how to market your products appropriately—if you want to make any sort of living off your farm.
Familiarize Yourself with Your Environment
A good farmer will understand the weather patterns, seasons, and soil conditions surrounding his/her farm. A Farmer’s Almanac is a handy tool if you don’t know where to start. Also, dedicate some time to learning everything you can about your local climate, whether that means research online, some visits to the library, or shadowing a local farmer and asking him some questions.
Decide What You Will Farm Based on Your Terrain
Terrain and climate are two crucial factors when it comes to deciding what you will grow or raise on your farm. For example, if you own 50 acres of tree-covered land, a good bet is for you to focus mainly on raising and grazing livestock, with perhaps only a small area dedicated to growing produce. Otherwise, you’ll be looking at spending a lot of time, money, and resources on having those trees removed if you wanted to solely focus on produce. For your small farm to be successful, you’ll need to know what you can grow and where.
Once you’ve done the appropriate background work and determined what your farm will look like (knowing your climate, terrain, market, and financial realities), you’re ready to get started. If you’ve never farmed before, allow yourself some growing pains and don’t expect immediate success within the first year.
If you’re having trouble with your spinach or tomatoes or whatever it may be, don’t be afraid to ask for advice from a fellow farmer or even visit your local ag extension for help. Also, keep in mind that if you want your products to be “organic” there are very specific guidelines you must follow.
Get Your Livestock
If livestock will be a part of your small farm, now is the time to bring them home. You must have a clear understanding of what types and breeds of livestock are natural for your environment and will be able to thrive in the space that you have available. Also, consider which livestock will be financially beneficial.
Chickens are always easy to raise, and there are so many breeds that you can always find one that will thrive in your climate. Their eggs will provide a reliable (albeit small) source of income if you choose a sturdy laying breed, and chickens raised for meat are low-maintenance and a guaranteed sell.
For larger livestock, such as pigs, goats, and cows, be sure that you have a market for these products (whether it’s meat, milk, or cheese) and know how to properly prepare the products for sale.
People do not decide to farm because of the guarantee to become rich quickly, let alone ever. Have patience with your crops and your livestock, and be patient with yourself and your progress as a farmer. It will take time for your chickens to begin laying, for your pigs to be slaughtering size, for your carrots and potatoes to be ready for harvest. Enjoy the process.
Never Stop Learning
Even for a seasoned farmer, it is important to never stop learning. Always reevaluate your farming plan and your finances; always take a second look at your market and what’s selling and what isn’t; always be familiar with new and best practices, etc. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of your neighbors and other farmers. There are plenty of resources out there for farmers with farms of all sizes and ages—utilize them!
Farming is difficult work and takes a lot of dedication and determination. However, every community needs local farmers, and the personal satisfaction that comes from providing good, wholesome food to your family and your community cannot be understated. There will be many challenges, no matter how experienced you may be, but the reward will always be worth it.