Can You Make a Living on a Small Farm?

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can you make a living on a small farm

For more information, check out my article Resources for Small Farmers and Homesteaders.

Can a Small Farmer Make it in Today’s World?

There is no easy, one-size-fits all answer to this question. You might think that small farmers are a thing of the past, but many new small farm businesses make a start in today’s world. Some of them succeed, while others struggle.

This post contains affiliate links for products you may find useful. Please see disclosure below.



I recently read a heartbreaking account of a family faced with the decision to sell their small farm and move to the suburbs. The husband needed to go back to a full time job to support their family because they couldn’t survive on the profit from raising all natural pork and poultry for market.

This is not an unusual story, in fact it takes place all too often. We hear the call to ‘buy local’ and ‘support your farmer’ from all over the media. Good news about new farmers markets starting up with gaggles of shoppers attending have given hope to small producers. Many people would like to return to a simple farm life with a fair price paid for the milk, eggs, meat, and produce they can raise in accordance with nature. Good food from small farms, raised by honest, hardworking people…what could go wrong?



What could go wrong? Big agriculture, farm subsidies, and the ‘low price leaders’ of our day make it difficult for small farmers to compete. Because a chunk of our tax money goes to fund big agriculture, rather than small farmers, they are able to raise food at a much lower price than the 10 acre farm. In addition, many small farmers are so busy with day to day operations that they don’t have enough time to form detailed plans, do cost analysis calculations, and create solid marketing plans. You need to be part business person and part farmer to make a living in this field.



However, it is possible to make a living with a small farm operation, but it’s not an easy life. There are a myriad of things to take into consideration before embarking on this back to the basics lifestyle. If you are considering the possibility of quitting your day job to start a small, independent farm, here are some things to do before you make the jump.

 

Can you make a living from a small farm?

You might be able to sell homemade Cottage Industry products from your farm.

 

Do Your Research

Before you take out a mortgage for a property, put your life savings into improving your current farm, or quit your day job, you need to research your market, expenses, and the regulations in your area. When you are investing your time and money into any kind of business, it is paramount that you get these details first.

Regulations

Look into the local and state laws pertaining to your farming venture. Is the sale of raw milk legal? What regulations dictate the storage of farm fresh eggs? Can you sell meat at a farmers’ market? What are the property codes for the land where you intend to farm? Do you need a license or certification to carry out your business? If you intend to allow the public to visit your farm, do you need to have rest rooms and handicap accessible facilities? Are there regulations dictating the distance between animal pens and public facilities? You’d be surprised at some of the laws that health departments enforce, so be sure that you can do what you want to do…before you start doing it. Start by calling your local Health Department for a copy of the rules and regulations for your area. You should also call the Extension Office or Farm Bureau in your area and make an appointment with a staff member knowledgeable in these matters. If they don’t have the answers you need, they will likely be able to point you in the right direction. You should also have a copy of the local property codes on hand and read through them before you get too far into the planning stage of your business.


Make a Plan

Having a note on the refrigerator to remind you of your business goals is a nice start, but you  need something more before you take the plunge. Sit down and write a Business Plan, complete with Mission Statement, Short Term Goals, Long Term Goals, Start Up Costs, and Expected Outcomes. Be realistic as you hash these out. Don’t list arbitrary goals such as “Make $10,000 in first year.” For each goal you set, work out the steps necessary to reach that goal.

There are resources online to help you determine your business goals. Find the closest Small Business Development Center and make an appointment to discuss your plans with them. They will give you a packet of information to get you started. You can call them for follow up questions when needed.

Can you sell farm fresh eggs?

 

Location and Clientele

Before you buy, make sure you’ll have a customer base to buy your products. This seems like common sense, but it’s easy to get caught up in the mentality that ‘If I build it, they will come.’ Look carefully at the customer base in the area and determine if the income levels and public interests will support your venture. For example, if your future farm is going to provide organic meat and poultry, but the biggest employer in the area is a ‘Wally World’ store, you will have a serious disconnect between supply and demand. Like it or not, small farm products will cost more than similar products in the grocery store. You will need customers who are looking for a superior product and are willing to pay the extra. If you don’t have the right customer base within a short commute, you may have to rethink your plan. Can you raise a product that will ship long distances? Can you sell products online? Or is your product perishable? Making a 2 hour drive to a major city will cut into profits considerably.



Do a survey of the area to see where your products will sell. Visit the farmers markets and watch to see what people buy. Are they dedicated to local produce or are they going for the lowest prices? If there isn’t a local farmers market, would you be able to invest the time to establish one? Are there small grocers with a thriving business? Talk to them to determine if they are interested in the products you want to sell. If you find that the products you wish to raise are unlikely to sell well in the area, you need to go back to the drawing board.


IMG_4875


Tourist Attractions

Perhaps the area you’re considering has tourist traffic during the summer. Can you capitalize on this customer base? Remember that these customers may only purchase from you once, and only during the tourist season. Will the sales from the busy season offset the slow months?


Small farm (or farm related) attractions that may be profitable in tourist areas include:

  • Pumpkin patches and corn mazes (if tourists visit in autumn)
  • Orchards and pick your own patches (plus picked and ready to use)
  • Cider, donuts, fudge, and ice cream stands
  • Fresh flower bouquets
  • Wine, craft beers, or homemade ginger ale and root beer (not necessarily a farm business, but you could raise the ingredients and contract to have the final product made)
  • Straw bales, corn stalks, and other decor items
  • Bird houses, lawn ornaments and furniture, or other handmade products
  • Jams, jellies, preserves, relishes, pumpkin butter (check into health department rules…do you need a certified kitchen?)
  • Eggs, milk, cream, meat (sausages and brats might do well in a tourist area – again, check into regulations)
  • Country Store or General Store – you could sell a combination of your own goods and other locally produced crafts and products.
  • Petting Zoo and picnic area

The possibilities are limited by your imagination, budget, and what the customers want. Look around to see what other local businesses provide and see if there is a niche that hasn’t been covered. Take a careful look at your location. Is it highly visible? Do tourists drive right past the farm? Or are you off the beaten path? If so, you may need to put up signs, send out brochures, put your name and location on every place mat and tourist sign in the area to get the customers to come to you.

*Note: Remember that having a large indoor area can be pricey to build and maintain, but if the weather is bad, an outdoor only business will suffer. Having a covered picnic area, indoor market, or other protected space may be your only salvation in a wet, rainy season.

 

Buying equipment may require borrowing money.

 

Start Up Costs

If you are starting from scratch, there may be a large start up investment needed. The costs involved will depend on your business plan, what is in place already, and what you need to purchase to make it all happen. For new farmers in the market for a rural property, there will likely be a mortgage to take out, insurance costs, barns to build or remodel, equipment to purchase, feed for the animals that you need to raise or buy in.

Make a list of all expected expenditures, and then add a cushion to that amount. Everything costs more than we think it will! Be realistic and look at cost of materials in the hardware and feed store. Look up the cost of seed online or through the local dealer. Add on extra because prices seem to always go up, never down. So by the time you get the plans in motion, you may be looking at a hefty increase in your investment.

It is advisable to look into the loans and grants available to small businesses in your area. Check for state and federal programs to see if there is start up money or grants for new equipment available to help fund your project.

Let’s get to work!

 

Setting Your Plans in Motion

Once you have determined that your plans are feasible, you’ll be chomping at the bit to get started. Look into the possibility of keeping one salary from outside work coming in to help cover your expenses until your farm business takes off. If this isn’t possible, due to the location of your farm or the work load needed to get the project up and running, consider taking some part time work or working online to keep a steady cash flow. If you are hoping to make money blogging about your project, start ahead of time and build up your readership. Having some advertising on your blog will help bring some money in too. And don’t forget the promotional power of a website that is updated regularly to keep potential customers interested in your project.

If one person continues working while the rest of the family works on the farm, it will give you a chance to start out more slowly and build your customer base, learn the ropes, and decide if you have made the right decision to switch to a farm based income. Jumping in head first can be exhilarating and could very well pay off, but it will also leave you without a steady income until your farm is producing a return on your investment.

 

 

Diversify

You know the old saying “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket”…I can’t think of better advice for a small farmers just getting into business. Plan to have more than one product to sell, just in case the first one fails or doesn’t sell as well as you hope. Let’s say your plan is to raise grass fed beef. If you purchase a herd of breeding stock you will have to wait two to three years before you can sell any beef. While you’re waiting for that first batch of steers to reach market weight, there should be another source of income to rely on. The same goes for pick your own berries, orchards, and other long term projects.


Some ideas for products you can sell to help supplement your income include:

  • Firewood
  • Vegetables
  • Flowers
  • Hay
  • Grain and straw
  • Handmade products (health & beauty, crafts, baked goods, etc.)
  • Services (can you mow lawns, plant flowers, clean house, or otherwise supplement your income?)

Having additional products and services will also help protect you from a catastrophic failure due to flood, fire, or drought. Plan for the worst and hope for the best is a good motto to live by when you farm for a living.

 

Keep more money in your pocket!

Saving Money

They say you have to spend money to make money, but sometimes you should be stashing your cash for a rainy day. The small farmer who watches the outgoing funds as well as the incoming will be better prepared for tough times.

Can you raise your own grain, do your own repairs and maintenance, grow and preserve your own food, butcher your own meat, learn some veterinary skills, and scrimp to keep your hard earned dollars in your own pocket? The farmer who buys all the hay, straw, and grain necessary to feed the livestock will have a lower profit margin than those who have the land and equipment to raise their own.

Always keep a cushion in the bank account. If you get down to the bottom of your savings, you may need to go back to an outside income. Keep the option open and watch to see if there are job openings nearby or if you can find a viable option for working online.


Build a Network

You can’t always go it alone in this world. Join the Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Board. Get to know your neighbors, community, churches, local politicians and leaders. Having friends in a multitude of clubs and organizations could be your ticket to improved sales. If you sell flowers, get to know the folks from your local flower arranging club. Selling beef? Make friends with local chefs. Brush up on your public speaking skills and give talks to groups that might be interested in what you do. Are there cooking clubs where you can arrange to speak about the benefits of a local food system? Maybe the opportunities will be a bit harder to find, but if you look hard enough you just might find a great new customer base to buy your products.

Promote your business with interviews on radio, TV, newspapers, and local events. Send out press releases when you have a grand opening, or start selling a new product. You can start a website for free or a small fee if you are able to do the work yourself. Set up a mailing list or an email list for newsletters and promotions. Let people know what you are doing and why. And don’t forget to give something in return. Have giveaways or parties to celebrate milestones or a great year of sales. And don’t overwhelm people…they need to know you as a person, not just as a promoter of your business.


Keep America Strong with Small Farms

Our country was built on the small farm and we need them to keep in touch with our roots and our food. Without small farms, we have fewer choices in the products we purchase. Not everyone can produce their own food. But you also need to keep in mind that small farms will have to charge a premium for their products. It is paramount that you determine if your market will support those costs before you start. Otherwise, you will be better off working a regular job and living somewhere that chickens and gardens are allowed. There’s something wonderful about growing your own food for the dinner table and maybe that in itself is enough to keep you happy.

This is by no means a complete list of things to consider if you are want to go in to the small farm business. But it gives you a starting point. If you have trouble making it through this list, you may want to reconsider the work necessary to be successful as a farmer.

This site is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. You will not pay any extra for these products and I’ll earn a small commission to help support this blog.


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61 comments on “Can You Make a Living on a Small Farm?

  1. Tammy

    I enjoyed your post, very informative. We are in the process of paying for a 24 acre farm (15 years now) and are both working full time jobs, however, my passion is to one day make a living from our farm with fresh eggs, vegetables, herbs and flowers.

    Any advice on how to start off small?

    Your help will be much appreciated:-)

    Reply
    1. Lisa Lynn

      Hi Tammy,
      I think the most important thing to consider is whether or not you have enough clientele in your area who are willing to purchase your products, and how much money they will spend on those products.

      If there is a lot of competition from other farms, or if there aren’t very many people in the area who are interested in buying your products, you may want to consider other markets or products. For example, if you wouldn’t be able to sell fresh eggs and veggies for a profit, could you raise non-perishable items and ship them? Some product ideas include everlasting flowers, fertile eggs for hatching (ok, not a non-perishable item!), and heirloom seeds.

      Read as much as you can about how to market and price your products in advance. And make sure you know the regulations for selling in your area. Don’t forget to keep track of expenses so you know how much to charge. Organize everything now so you are used to keeping up with this once you begin selling.

      I hope this helps 🙂 Best wishes!

      Reply
  2. Amanda

    I already have a farm, well it’s my parents. My father does mostly crops but, he is getting older and I don’t know the first thing of doing that. Also right now we are losing money I want to keep the farm and make it profitable just hard to decided how to do that.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Lynn Post author

      Hi Amanda,
      That’s a tough situation to be in. You will need to do a lot of research to see what will make money in your area. I can totally relate to your desire to keep the family farm, and the necessity to turn it around into a profitable venture. I will someday inherit land from my family…but it is in an area that will be extremely difficult to make an income that will pay the high property taxes and cost of living.

      Best wishes…do a LOT of research!

      Reply
  3. Grace

    I like to have poultry project (eggs) but I don’t have fund for that project, my aim I like to start 300 egg poultry can you please help me how can get?

    Reply
    1. Lisa Lynn Post author

      Hi Grace,
      I would suggest starting out small and building up. If you start out by looking for a rooster and adult hens that are already laying, buy just a few and incubate the eggs…this way you can increase the size of you flock for less money. It will also allow you to learn more about the process before you have so many chickens. Best wishes!

      Reply
  4. Dan Lauerman

    I would love to someday be able to make money via a small farm. It seems overwhelming to come up with a plan but I like your ideas. I’ve been thinking about ways to make profit through hands on or experience opportunities for people. I think a lot of people would enjoy knowing more about what it takes to grow their food. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Lynn Post author

      Hi Dan,
      Thanks for sharing your idea! My husband and I have thought about doing something like that after he retires and we (hopefully) move to a larger homestead. We’ve tossed around the idea of an educational center for renewable energy and self sufficient living. We have at least 4 years before he retires, and longer if the economy takes another downturn. But we are hopeful that someday we’ll be able to teach people (in person) about living more lightly on the earth and raising your own food.

      I hope that you can do the same! The more people teaching others how to grow their own food, the better off we’ll all be!

      Reply
    1. goldenrodbeenursery

      Hi Lisa ,Been a while since I have posted anything,Just dropped in to see whats new. Spring is here and getting geared up to start my garden here in Michigan..I had a lot of damage to berry bushes and small trees I planted last year..Not cold damage but rabbits and such…Made me think about something for your folks …Farming is not just thinking about what you need to do ,But when ..I knew I needed to protect those trees last fall..But I got side tracked on something and didnt do it…Every season ,we have to be doing something ,that preps for the following season.Gardening really should start in the fall…A little story my Dad used to tell was about a traveling book salesman..He sold books on How to farm better..But Dad never bought the books..His reason was that he wasn’t farming as good as he all ready knew how to do..

      Reply
      1. Lisa Lynn Post author

        Hi Goldenrod Bee Nursery…
        love your Dad’s story 😉 I think we can all learn a few new things, I try to learn something new on a pretty regular basis. And, quite frankly, I don’t homestead as well as I ‘know’ how to either!

        Good points and thanks for the tips on sweet potatoes and starting plants. 🙂 Hope your berry bushes and trees come back from the bunny damage!

        Reply
    2. goldenrodbeenursery

      Couple of garden tip,,Sometimes we think to big..Some think you must have a greenhouse to grow starter trays of plants.I do sweet potato starts in a little box in the basement..The real trick is the temperature and slightly moist potting mix..The light comes later after the shoots start popping up..This requires a heating pad underneath the box..Another great plan is a 4by8 sheet size of plywood,out side,,you make a box out of it.Now string 3 light bulb sockets .Small bulbs will be enough..Now just flip it over..Attach a railing around the top to hold the top soil ….Now plug it in and ajust the heat by changing bulb size or quantity.This is just the basics ,so use a little common sense when you build this.It will provide room for enough starter planting or 2 or 3 gardens…Also ,corn,potatoes and things that require warm soil to grow…Dont plant to early .you will only stunt the plant.And sweet potato starts ,have soil ready but do not ferilize them ,,You want sweet potatoes not vines,I plant them shallow ,then pull soil up against them as the grow,till I have a nice mounded row..Makes digging them out a lot easier too..When you have a spare minute,go make some storage bins in the basement..Be sure to make them mouse proof with screen mesh and air flow..

      Reply
      1. Tess

        what I have learned about starting seeds is the temp of the soil is as important as the outside temp…Stressing the seedling by not giving it warmth will only kill off your yields later. If your soil is not staying warm, you are killing your harvest down the road. Soil temp for success needs to be at 65 or above for the amount of days to maturity…so if the soil temp is not sustaining that warmth, you are in for a lousy crop…I learned this at a sustainable garden seminar, I wish someone had bothered to SHARE this info earlier…because it would have explained WHY my gardening efforts weren’t as successful as they could have been.

        Reply
        1. Lisa Lynn Post author

          I learn something new every time I start seedlings and grow a garden, Tess. It can be frustrating to have problems, but I try to find out what is going on and turn it into a learning experience. I’m glad that you were able to do the same!

        2. goldenrodbeenursery

          Hi,Lisa,,Been a long time .I was just outside admiring my sweet corn I have growing out in the field,,All around me is farm land .They grow the GMO stuff .When we have a breeze it cross polinates into my sweet corn.At least that is what happened to it last year.Sometimes they grow soybean and my corn will be ok that year.There are many other things to contend with on a small farm.Crop spraying for pests by larger farmers for one.But so far it seems they have sprayed late in the evening when my bees are mostly back into the hive.Not much I can do about any of this because the real truth is that there is not enough people around that care about these things.So I say this not so you will feel sorry for me,But so that you will get to know your area before you buy into it.Now I hate to give people disheartening news .So I will end with some good news.Not all is lost..You can grow nursery stock.Trees,hedge bushes.fruit trees.Flowering bushes,There are a thousand things you can grow to sell that so far are not really affected by what your neighbor does..And most of these things can be easily propagated.So dont give up on your dreams.Dont have your small farm yet? Start your plants on the back porch.Learn how to propagate them,graft them,etc.You will learn a lot about what you are good at and what you are not.Also it will keep your dream ALIVE till you get that small farm.I hope this will encourage some of you.It is not going to be easy.Keep up the good fight.Your friend Bob at Goldenrod Bee Nursery.

        3. Lisa Lynn Post author

          Hi Bob,
          The issue of what is done on the land around you is very important, thanks for bring that up. We have had issues with gmo crops and spray drift here, but not as much as many people. If we move, we will do our best to find a spot where we can keep a lot of windbreak trees around our growing area. But honeybees don’t know about boundaries!

          Best wishes and I hope you don’t have too many issues with those neighbors. Thanks for sharing!

        4. goldenrodbeenursery

          Bees? You are right ,bees dont have boundaries.They can travel for up to 3 miles.But that said there is still things you can do to keep most of them close to home,A nicely mowed lawn is kinda useless for a bee.But if you allow it to grow a bit so all the clover blooms,That is a good thing.Couple years ago when we hade that really dry year.I tilled up a half acre I guess and just sowed it with sunflower seed.Cost me like 4 dollars for the seed.It was so bad that a bale of hay was selling for like 16 dollars if you had any..Now this was kinda like a old dream I had of just planting a whole field of flowrs and just let it go.It turned out that the bees thrived on them when other bee keepers were losing bees..Some people dont realize that just because there is a flower there that there must be some nectar in it.But that flower needs water to make the nectar.Well that worked so well that it got me thinking.What else could I do that might be helpfull.In my reseach I found out about many plants that bees use that are like medicine to them.On most properties you can find a thousand differant plants.I am turning into a regular Yule Gibbons.LOL. I found out that some weeds are really good things and are pretty when the bloom..Watch your bees and soon you will see what they like.Next question is Why do they like it?Your first thought is nectar but a little research into a plants properties you will be surprized what the history is.Anyways short story is I hoped if I could make there home a pleasing place that they would not wander as far away and stay here where it is safer.It must be working to some extent because I have had some other bees that are not my bee strain just move here.And whats more is that I have never treated my bees with anything at all.Not in the 7 years I have raised them.

        5. Lisa Lynn Post author

          That’s great that you have had such good results with keeping your bees close to home with so many good food sources for them! A diverse property is so much better for all of us in the long run! And your bees know this instinctively when so many people can’t get it through their heads!!!

          I hope that you have a wonderful honey harvest this year! Thanks so much for sharing your experience with us. 🙂

    1. goldenrodbeenurseryBob Fortner

      Just for the Fearfull among you…I would like to share a short story…Years ago we lived in the city..Good paying work was scarce ..I had a chance to buy a run down house and 5 acres of land petty cheap with small amount down..But I had to act fast..I had 2 grand in my pocket that I wasnt sure what to do with..anyways I nailed it..Then I told the wife ,who had been a city girl all her life that I just bought a house in the country,start packing..I tell you she was not to happy about it.But as time went by and we overcame all the hardships of rebuilding and making this place our own..Somehow she changed from city girl to country girl..We look back at it now and laugh sometimes …And I ask her,Honey do you ever regret that I dragged you out here to the country?? She says that now she couldn’t imagine ever going back to city life..You kinda got to have a pioneering spirit sometimes to go after a dream.Thats been 30 years ago now and I still love to hear about people doing it.

      Reply
      1. Elise Stockwell

        Hello, I love ho you went for it! I grew up on a fie acre farm and loved. I had to live in the city for various reasons and always wanted to have a farm of my own.now my boyfriend and I arebuying ten acres and doing it!

        Reply
  5. elisestockwell

    Hello, I just got done reading this article and some of the replies. My boyfriend and I are buying ten acres in Texas and are planning on doing a lot of the things that the article talks about and decided to do it before I even knew about this article! It just reinforces what we have talked about doing and that we should go for it! We both know that it will be hard for awhile, but we are willing to do it because it beats the alternative of living in the city and buying fruit and vegetables that we don’t know what chemicals that have been put on them and all. He is working right now and I am going down to get things started. We have gone over the possibilities and are going to do it small scale with a few things that we “think” will go over, but want to find out if they will work there before we do them in a larger scale. I think this article is great!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Lynn Post author

      Thanks so much, Elise! I’m always happy to hear about people following their dreams and moving to the country. 🙂 Check out my article about resources for small farmers too! Best wishes and I hope you’ll stop back and let me know how things are going!

      Reply
    2. goldenrodbeenurseryBob Fortner

      Sure Elise,Just go for it,,,Wish I had your energy…..You will have no problems that will amount to much as far as growing for your own needs.That part is easy ,fun and educational……Growing for profit on the other hand ,gets into things like marketing…Do you have a market??? are you sure??? Or are you telling yourself what you want to hear ,Things like ,”Oh my goodness ,these are such beutifull tomatoes.I just know everyone in my neighborhood will rush right over to buy these…”. This happens to all of us .we who really care about what we eat cant understand so many people will go to the store to buy stuff of lesser quality. So I suggest what ever you want to do,just do it and enjoy it,else why do it..Just be carefull not to jump in to big and it doesnt work out for you. I can promise you this…You will never run out of ideas of things to do…Keep a journal of Ideas so you dont start forgeting stuff as fast as you think of it.lol

      Reply
  6. goldenrodbeenurseryBob Fortner

    Hi Folks,I read the whole article and most of the replies..I own 5 acres of land with decent soil that im trying to improve upon every year.I retired 3 years ago and was determined to make my land pay off.This is what I have learned after busting my butt for the last 3 years.It seems there are many ways to get a lot of money and time into things that you can never get the same back out of it..Example.I had about 60 chickens I raised from bitties.Cost about 120 dollars.Feed was around 16 dollars for 50lb sack.So I had 320 dollars in feed at 5 months old.W e were so happy to get our first eggs.They were beutifull.We bought another fridg to keep them in.We ask 2 dollars a doz. No one bought any. We calcutated cost for feed to egg ratio to be $1.65 to just break even on feed.Long story short after couple months we was down to just a dollar and then we sold a few. truth is that people wont drive a couple miles out of there way to buy your eggs.when the local grocery store sells them as a loss-leader for 98 cents just to get you into there store.I planted an acre of sweet corn.I avertised it in the paper ,free just come out on pick it.We had 3 or 4 people came out and picked a trunk load.. really nice tomatoes too,and many other veggies.The rest rotted in the field.But before that I to box of produce to the food bank down town.They were really pleased with the quality of it.So I said,look,I have a whole field of this stuff,It is free if you just come out a pick it.They was all happy and was sending 2 people out right away..But they never showed up…So winter is here now.and I dont know if I will try to grow more than Just enough for the wife and I this year..

    Reply
    1. Lisa Lynn Post author

      Hi Bob,
      It is very frustrating to put your time, energy, and money into raising food and then have trouble even giving it away! It’s great that you took some in to the food bank to share, I commend you for your efforts.

      I remember my Dad picked several feed bags full of apples and took them to the food pantry. They looked at him like he was nuts for bringing them in. He figures the whole bunch got tossed. My experience has been that many people going to the food pantries are looking for boxed and canned goods that take no preparation. I’m not saying it’s everyone…but it seems to be the majority.

      The sad fact is that many people in our nation are looking for ready to eat foods that take no thought or effort. They want to open a box of cereal rather than make scrambled eggs and toast. There are places where more people want to purchase locally grown, healthy foods fresh from the farmer…but you need to find the sweet spot in order to make money doing this. If you live in a poor area, or an area where the majority of people are in a two income family with no one having time to cook, it can be next to impossible to raise and sell local foods at a profit. I think that larger, more affluent cities are the place to sell locally grown foods.

      You might want to try putting an ad on Craigslist to advertise your vegetables and eggs. Look for farmers markets where you can set up a booth for the season without paying an arm and a leg for the rent. Check to see if there are chefs or stores looking for locally grown veggies. Consider the possibility of setting up a pumpkin patch for a pick your own pumpkin event in the fall. Put the word out to your local scouting groups, church groups, or other youth groups. If they start to come for the pumpkins, you can add other products…gourds, Indian corn, corn stalk bundles and straw bales.

      Whatever you do, start with an experimental plot or crop and see how it goes. You can always expand your efforts if you find something that does well. I hate to see people invest a ton of money in cropss, only to find that they don’t sell.

      I hope you find some of these ideas helpful. But I can certainly understand if you decide to grow enough food for your family and forget about selling to the general public. They can be a very fickle group!
      Best wishes!

      Reply
      1. Tess

        I would have picked the tomatoes, made salsa or dried them, and sold them on craigslist or something like that. I would NEVER have let that food be WASTED…as far as the eggs…surely some church or some soup kitchen or something similar could have FED someone…Or I would have driven a few miles in town and found somewhere accessible to sell my produce/eggs, and not expect someone to drive out to me. It works both ways is my take. Back to have a plan and a back up plan

        Reply
        1. Lisa Lynn Post author

          I think maybe he had more than he could handle, and he offered the food free if someone came to pick it…all they had to do was drive out. So I understand that. I would do my best to try and preserve it too, perhaps they did.

  7. Caitlin | The Siren's Tale

    What a great, informative post! I am currently saving the down payment for a home/farm land in Vermont. I have so much information to research and trial crops to run, but sometimes I feel lost on where to start. These considerations are so important… thank you for sharing!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Lynn Post author

      Hi Caitlin,
      Thanks so much! I’m glad that it was helpful. 🙂 I hope that you are able to start your farm and make a great living on it! Best wishes and thanks for stopping by!

      Reply
  8. David and Susan Brooks

    I enjoyed your article very much. We are trying to make a go of our small farm. I have no reservations about applying for monies through that State Ag programs if they are offering something that would help develop the plan that I already have. There are often cost share programs available that are very beneficial. However, you must be able to finance what you are wanting to do, then get a reimbursement for a percentage, generally 35-50% after the work is completed and inspected. After that the things I have used, I never heard from the Grantors again. So I am not sure what if any involvement by the government anyone would be concerned about. The only requirements so far have been That it is for a targeted program, creates an improvement, no contains used materials and built to a minimum set of specifications. You are also not allowed to dispose of or sell it for a specific number of years, even if you have stopped using it.

    Our home run in terms of a profit have come from St. Croix Sheep. Over the years I have raised many different animals with varying degrees of success or failure. But the St. Croix sheep are by far the easiest and most rewarding. They are a hair sheep developed for meat so,No shearing, no hoof trimming, they are very easy to fence, and the most resistant to parasites of all the hair sheep breeds. I have raised them for going on 7 years now and continue to be amazed at how near the perfect animal for a small place they are. In addition to being easy to raise they are also very much in demand. We sell out every year and have people reserve lambs for the next lambing season. This year about half of next years lambs were spoken for before the ewes were even bred.

    So, to all who dream and are willing to work hard, find a niche that works for you, continue to plan for improvement. Raise the highest quality you possibly can, and always be prepared to promote both what you raise and yourself. You will not sell much if no one knows who you are or what you have.

    Our biggest obstacle is having enough time and labor available at the time we need it.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Lynn Post author

      Hi David and Susan,
      I’m so glad you stopped by and shared your experiences with us! I’m glad that you haven’t had any issues with being overburdened by bureaucracy after receiving grants. I have heard of people who had a great deal more involvement from the state.

      Your sheep sound like a great livestock animal to keep! I’m so glad that they are working out so well on your farm. Best wishes with all of your farming goals!

      Reply
  9. artfuldodger101

    Jeez! Come live in South Africa and and all these “issues” become moot! When you live in fear of becoming a farm murder statsitic or live in anticipation of the government taking your farm and giving it away and to visit it 3 years later and see a deserted run down weed filled vista…Where a government can ….I cannot go on…You all live in paradise and to bitch at someone who is writing a helpful and informed and interesting blog as if she were a political activist that must answer to every word that comes out of her mouth…fills me with sadness….you have so much, you have so much.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Lynn Post author

      Wow! Artful Dodger 101…It makes me so sad to hear about what life is like in your part of the world. Of course, I am aware that things like this go on in the world and that I am so very blessed to live somewhere that I don’t have to fear for my life or my livelihood like you describe.

      Thank you for your comment. I hope that the conditions improve where you live and that you are safe. Many Blessings!

      Reply
  10. Lisa Lynn Post author

    Just a last comment in response to Delainie…
    Although I disagree with taxpayers’ money being used to support big agriculture, this does not mean that I am opposed to using that money to support small farmers. So I really do not feel I am ‘playing both sides of the field.’

    I am opposed to taking taxpayer money and giving it to large corporations that are already making a lot of money by spraying gmo crops with dangerous chemicals, then selling it at a hefty profit to those taxpayers who help fund their business. They are causing damage to our water sources, soil, wildlife, and our health. You don’t have to agree with me on this, but this is how I feel.

    On the other hand, small farmers have a close connection to their land, crops, and livestock. They are more likely to care about the well being of their animals and the future productivity of their property. They provide food to their local population, which is important with the high cost of fuel for transporting food. It just makes sense to me that we would want to support our local food system and local economy.

    So if the government offers grants to small farmers, and those farmers choose to apply for the grant money, I am NOT opposed to having some of our tax dollars going to SMALL FARMERS! I feel that these are two very different situations and I firmly and respectively stand by my opinion.

    Reply
    1. Delainie

      And as a last comment to Lisa –
      Either you are for tax money going to “grants” or you are not.. “let your yes be yes, and your no be no – be not a double-minded man”; it matters not what they are used for nor who they are offered to; no matter how one wants to “justify” it.

      Imho, they are definitely NOT two very different situations, and I also, stand firmly by my opinion.

      Reply
  11. Delainie

    I liked your article… but one issue really bothered me… “Because a chunk of our tax money goes to fund big agriculture, rather than small farmers, ,,,” I can’t speak for other small farmers, but I would NEVER take government money to accomplish ANYTHING on my place, and I am a female disabled military retiree who qualifies for plenty of “assistance”. They can keep it! As soon as the gov’t has a “vested interest”, they will dictate what you can and cannot do on your place even more-so than what the blanket laws do now.

    So, yes, gripe about the subsidies and such for the larger farms (good marketing and networking trumps that, anyway), but, for Heaven’s sake don’t gripe that the small farmer isn’t getting tax dollars. Being beholden is NOT self-sufficiency, that is allowing yourself to be enslaved to the government more than what is already imposed.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Lynn Post author

      Well, I wouldn’t call my comment ‘griping’…and personally I would not apply for a grant (mainly because my lifestyle is just that, not a business). However, the government has taken small farmer tax dollars and I see no reason why a small farmer who is starting out, or needs help, should not apply to get some of that money back if it will help them stay in business. Because you would not accept help in the form of government grants is no reason to hold others to the same ideals. And, quite frankly, by the point that the grant is offered, the money has been allocated and WILL go to someone. If it doesn’t go to a small farmer, it will go to a larger farmer who knows how to word their grant application to receive the funds.

      The best solution would be for the government to stop offering funds to large producers and lower our taxes…but that sounds like a pipe dream to me!

      Reply
      1. Delainie

        Well, this brings us back to the original dilemma of not meeting market issues which causes this “funding need”. If what the farmer is growing is not in demand, they have these choices: either create a demand by making a niche market, or find a demand that is not being met, change what they raise and provide to that demand. The idea of whether or not there is a “Wally World”, believe it or not, is moot. Those are the real choices…. not get government “grants” and continue on. Even if these “grants” are used to change-over to this new plan, why use someone else’s money other than the fact the farmer actually has little confidence in what they are doing? Liquidate what you have that is not working and reinvest that money back into the necessary changes and stay within those means in slow growth; it’s the correct way to do business. Believe it or not, there is a huge market for those who do things the “old” right way. The last thing that should be encouraged is the use of government “help” for a “quick fix” or bail out. The “instant gratification” is what has led to the demise of the economy, the corruption of the government, decline in the quality of food, High prices of fuel because of ethanol, disappearance of the small American farms, and the extinction of Heritage Breeds of livestock and Heirloom varieties of vegetables. All at a huge cost, and little or no benefit.

        First you were against government money – ” Big agriculture, farm subsidies, and the ‘low price leaders’ of our day…these are the things that undermine the small farmers’ dreams of self sufficiency. Because a chunk of our tax money goes to fund big agriculture, rather than small farmers, they are able to raise food at a much lower price than the 10 acre farm. They are able to keep their prices low, although if you take into account the tax dollars supporting them, we really aren’t getting any deals. It’s a broken system, but I don’t see any repairs in the works.” before you were in favor of it – “However, the government has taken small farmer tax dollars and I see no reason why a small farmer who is starting out, or needs help, should not apply to get some of that money back if it will help them stay in business. ” You can’t have it both ways. The gov’t doesn’t just take “small farmer tax dollars”, it takes ALL people’s tax dollars, as you said, “a chunk of our tax money”… it isn’t just the small farmer’s money that small farmers would get back. It’s not like the money exclusively from certain farms is put into a trust or account…., it’s money from everyone. Like any business, if the owner/operator grows slowly, and accumulates little or no debt, growing within its means, then there is no need for a “bail out” which is what is being advocated by saying the small farmer should ask for money from the government “program”. Farms that grow too fast, or are poorly managed SHOULD go out of business – it’s stupid to throw good money after bad, especially when it’s someone else’s money (read: grants/”programs”)… has that lesson not been learned already just in “green industries” and GM??? The only reason why that money is “offered” is to justify the action of taking that money from the public in the first place.. not just from the small farmers. So the comment of : “And, quite frankly, by the point that the grant is offered, the money has been allocated and WILL go to someone. If it doesn’t go to a small farmer, it will go to a larger farmer who knows how to word their grant application to receive the funds.” is justification for the gov’t taking the money from the public and offering it “free” just as in the ever-growing Food Stamp program that is being stuck in the Farm Bill….. People can’t be “for” something and be “against” it at the same time, justifying using the very program they are spouting against by saying “well, grab it as long as it’s there before someone else does..”. Those of us with years of small farm experience have learned and have accomplished much, and not by way of government monies via “bailouts” and vested interest control disguised as “grants”. It can be done without the “help” – the local, state and federal regulations are quite enough to deal with.

        I agree that the funds should not be taken from the public and then made available in the first place (re-allocation of wealth)… but until the people, especially small farmers, hold elected officials’ feet to the fire to end all subsidies, these “programs” will continue. Farmers have to stop griping about these things and DO something to end it, not continue to use the programs and then justify their participation.

        Reply
        1. Lisa Lynn Post author

          First, I forgot to say Thank You for your service to our country…I realized that when I read my reply again…so thank you! And I am happy to hear that you are a small farmer and are working on your own without taking tax dollars to subsidize it. I commend you for doing so.

          I will not try to change your mind or answer all of this, because it is obvious that you have your own opinion, and I fully support everyone’s right to think and feel the way they do. I can agree to disagree.

          I would like to point out that I never meant to say that small farmers are paying taxes into the funds used for grants and no one else is. Everyone who works for a living and pays taxes is supporting a great deal of expenditures that I don’t agree with. But I have no control over how that money is spent once it is collected in taxes. I don’t think that any of the candidates running for office in higher levels is really beholden to their constituents like they are to big business and voting new people in doesn’t seem to really change the way politics are done.

          So I know that the money will be taken from our paychecks and it will be allocated to fund projects that I don’t agree with. And I can complain about that on my blog if I want to:)

          I also know that there are tax dollars being offered to help small farmers just starting out, or perhaps they are unable to make an investment in new equipment, promotion, seed, or whatever they might need to make their farm thrive. If they choose to apply for grants, I am not going to hold that against them.

          My article was aimed toward giving some of the information I felt was pertinent to someone thinking about farming, or wondering if they should continue farming on a small scale. I think I would be remiss not to share information that could help them.

          Just because you don’t agree with these grants doesn’t mean that they will go away.

        2. Delainie

          Thank you for your support. My husband is still active duty, so life is still busy to say the least. :o) I too can agree to disagree. I just found it strange for someone to play both sides of the coin… to voice disapproval for something, and then later advocate it.

          I also am convinced that if someone really is against something, and they sit back thinking nothing can be done, they are part of that problem, being no better than a ground tied horse. One thing that is always said in the military: It is one thing to point out a problem, and gripe about it, but unless you are going to make suggestions on how to fix it, and/or intent to DO something about it, then it is best to sit down and shut up, and never gripe about it again.

          We are moving to a new county which is more farmer friendly than the one we are presently in, and, unfortunately (for the county ;o) ), I will have to get more involved with the local politics/government. Not want I want to do, but I, personally, have had enough of the shenanigans, and now that we are staying in this state (we were planning on moving to the midwest, but with funding cuts, military aren’t moving around as much), I now have more of a vested interest. Someone has to do something, and, as you can see, I am not afraid to speak my mind. So we will see how it all plays out. But I do know this: More of the same does not bring about change.

          Happy farming :o)

        3. goldenrodbeenursery

          A word about government subsities..Do you know a lot of it goes to farms not to grow anything.Just let it sit there and grow weeds.I would say dont look to far into why this is.It will only make your head hurt.Bottom line is when you take government money,they will be telling you what you can or cant do.It is a broken system .But it is broken on purpose.One of my neighbors has a dairy.It was started by his grandfather,contiued by his Father and then he inherited it..He got sucked in by the government plan and a large portion of his land he could do nothing with.The government payed him.He did good a couple of years and with his new prosperity he went into debt for new equipment ,tractors .feritlzers etc. Long story short was,one year the bankers were all over him about the money.Late and overdue penalties etc. The government money he had gotten dependant on was now six months over due.The following year he lost it all except for his house wich was luckily seperate from the farm. If you really want to know about things that will break your heart,then research the Iowa hog farmers..Hundreds of farmers lost the farm .Same for poultry farmers.And it is not just government that can do you in ,but large corporations like Tyson.Once they have the hooks into you and the price for your pork just dropped to just enough to survive or maybe less.You can not say ,”well I just wont raise any pork till they offer a reasonable price again”. That is when your farm gets forclosed on.You are out the door and the large corporation now moves in a few migrant workers to run your farm.They ask them selves how did this happen with all the guarantees they were given..Sad truth but those guarantees soon run out if they were any good in the first place..Sorry for my rant folks.

        4. Lisa Lynn Post author

          You have to be very careful about applying for grant money. Read the description through and make sure that you can live with the requirements. I hesitate to make a comment on your friend’s experience, because I didn’t read the grant requirements. But I did work with a group that started a farmers market and we applied for and received a grant for signs, advertising, and such. We only needed to send in a report each month with a detailed list of how the money was spent, then there was a final report at the end of the year. It was a good experience. That was a state grant, perhaps federal grants are a bigger pain in the kiester.

      2. goldenrodbeenurseryBob Fortner

        If you follow the consumer watch groups who follows the money trails of things Like 400 billion allocated to the military to upgrade the Abrams Tank.You say Oh! crap thats a lot of money.Then you find out the Army says ,No we dont need that tank anymore,we dont want it.But The money was allocated anyways..Here is the catch….Allocated does not mean they get it..Example,This week our president in state of the union address stated 2014 the year of action,follow that to S.C.the first of 3 new education hubs..You see our kids need more training for the jobs that are not there..Anyways he says It won’t add to the deficit and no new taxes to pay for it..So where will this money come from you ask your self.Follow that trail you find that they are taking the money from the money that was allocated to the military..The people in S.C. and elswhere are tickled pink.There getting a freebee any way you look at it..This kinda stuff goes on all the time.Sorry to bore you with the politics but overall they toss around money by the trillions..When I was a lad,I remember if the government was caught mis using a million dollars it was a really big scandal……If a small guy wanting to start a farm can get a few bucks out of em,I say God bless them.

        Reply
        1. Lisa Lynn Post author

          Thank you, Bob. The system is so convoluted that it is difficult to really know what is going on. I think our government wants it that way so we are all in the dark. I guess that my biggest issue is that I am not speaking out of two sides of my mouth. I see a very real difference between supporting big ag and supporting small local farmers. Thanks for seeing that difference too!

        2. goldenrodbeenurseryBob Fortner

          Lisa,sometimes it is blissfull to be in the dark…Gov plays on our desires to make our planet a clean and healthy place …For instance, They say Bio fuel made from corn and soy and what we grow,doesnt that sound like the healthy way to go?? Yes it does,till you find out It takes 2 gallons of fozzil fuel to produce 1 gallon of bio fuel…So to make it work Gov has to subsidize a lot of things along the way…They dont tell us these things up front.But if you think about it some you realize that if it could stand on its own and make a profit ,Wall street would be the first ones in there…Sorry for the rant,It’s not the place for it here.You have a nice little site here.and you are trying to reach people to help them become more self sufficiant in these troubles time.Great Job!

      3. Tess

        It is HIGH time the government invested in WE the PEOPLE and not stuff that isn’t in our country’s best interest. I would LOVE for the government to allocate funds to people NOT promoting Monsanto and their INSANITY, and companies LIKE them that are DESTROYING the earth and the population!

        Reply
  12. Meredith

    That is soooo strange that you just posted this, because this is something that’s been running through my mind a lot recently. We’re aching to move out to the country and get our farm started, but since I don’t have a full time job at the moment, it won’t be easy getting a mortgage and land to get started. I’ve been thinking of looking into grants and doing more research, and I think you’ve just convinced me to get started on it already! Thanks! 🙂

    Reply
    1. Lisa Lynn Post author

      Hi Meredith,
      I’m glad to know you are doing your research! I think it is completely possible to do, you just need to do your research and make sure there is a market for what you want to raise and sell! Check your state website for grant information. And if you can do some research into grant writing, it will be very helpful if you do decide to apply for any funds. Having your plan worked out in your head and on paper before you start will allow you to write the grant quickly and submit it before all of the money has been awarded. There are sometimes grants available to women in agriculture, if that helps you out any. 🙂

      Reply
    1. Lisa Lynn Post author

      Thanks, Daddykirbs! You might want to check out a book called ‘How to Make Your Small Farm Profitable’…there is a lot of nuts and bolts information included.

      Hope your farm is doing well!

      Reply
  13. bill cox

    Have you started yet,how are you doing ,always wanted to do ,bought a place and have few animal now .Creating a farm from some places can be what seems impossible in my case.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Lynn Post author

      Hi Bill,
      Location is a huge chunk of the equation. If you aren’t in the right spot, there may be no real chance for a small farm to take off and do well. In those cases it is better to keep working and just raise the animals for your own use. Best wishes!

      Reply
  14. raisingcropsandbabies

    Loved your article! Though we are blessed to be established, I still have visions for the farm. I am particularly intrigued by a pumpkin patch/farm playground during the fall… agri-tourism does pretty well out here. I’m very curious about their insurance costs with liability stuff. Anyway, I enjoyed your thoughts!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Lynn Post author

      I’ve always thought it would be fun to have a pumpkin patch and corn maze in the fall 🙂 You could always call your home insurance company and ask for a quote. Sometimes the cost isn’t as much as you might imagine.

      Reply
      1. tirtzah50

        Hi Lisa:

        Haven’t been able to read any of the completion of any of the articles that you have been writing lately! Looks like they are ALL now accessible via “Twitter”, ONLY! Is that right? I don’t have “Twitter” and know nothing about “Twitter”! So does this mean that I am not going to be able to follow your website anymore then??? Gosh, I sure hope not!!!

        Concerned!
        Tirtzah

        Reply
        1. Lisa Lynn Post author

          Hi Tirtzah,
          No, you should be getting notice of each of my new posts in your email, since you signed up. The articles are shared via twitter, facebook, etc, but they should also come to your inbox too. Write to me through the contact feature at the top of my blog if you are still having trouble.

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