Small Farm Income

mtnrunnerOctober 29, 2008

Is it very feasible to make enough income with a small organic farm to support a family of 5? Could someone do this just selling produce locally through farmers markets, CSA's and local restaurants? It seems like CSA's are getting more popular as well as farmers markets. More people seem to be buying local produce. I'm sure it would be a lot of work and not even sure if it is possible. How much land would one need? We have around 6-7 acres a couple hours from where we live right now. Any advice? Guess I'm getting tired of the rat race and dreaming.

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msmitoagain

My husband grew up truck farming. His parents, their grandfather and the 4 kids all had to work very hard. His mom and dad had full time jobs in addition to working the land which I think he told he they planted 15 acres of peas, tomatoes, squash, peppers and probably some more things.

His father made crafts and his mother started seedlings and sold plants too.

His grandfather went out and sold the vegetables and the boys picked to order what was sold. I know DH says it was hard work and a lot was expected from them.

They lived on the property, had to have a tractor and other equipment and worked very hard during the growing season.

So I guess I'm telling you, that unless you plan to make it a full time commitment and can support yourselves until you get established, it's going to be tough.

I would not give up on the idea, but I don't think that you can go ito it thinking that you'll start out with enough income to support your family.

Another thing, in my opinion, you need to put it down on paper, consult with people who have done what you want to do and also make sure that your entire family is up to the task.

Hope this helps. But, please get other opinions and make your own decision.

Here is a link that might be useful: MY BLOG

    Bookmark   October 30, 2008 at 10:36AM
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marlingardener

We have 9 1/2 acres, and have no intention of making a profit on it. However, by researching the local needs (what restaurant will buy what produce, is there a niche for locally grown herbs, can you get enough people to enroll in a consignment garden, etc.) we found we could help offset some of our costs and keep our agricultural assessment. I would suggest that you do the same. The first few years will be break-even; after that, you might be sustainable.
There are other money-making ways to supplement your income. "Day at the Farm" for garden clubs with a box lunch provided by you for a per head cost; a pond for fishing at a fee; firewood; a pumpkin patch or corn shock sale near Halloween; there are lots of ways to make a little money, and they add up to a living. But it all involves work by everyone in the family. The previous post is absolutely right--get the whole family to agree to the committment and make a plan.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2008 at 2:26PM
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Dibbit(z7b SC)

Look at the books by Elliot Coleman. He makes an awesome profit per acre from 4-season farming in Maine. and has detailed descriptions of how he does it. Granted, he's been doing it for years, starting back when there were NO other commercial sources of good, organic, odd-type veggies, esp in winter and locally. But, it's a place to start.

As said above, it's hard work. Do a business plan first, after you talk to the restaurants to see if they would be interested, and figure out the costs for everything, including your labor, electricity, water (if not on a well), amortizing any equipment needed - at a minimum fencing, washing equipment, packaging, tools, power tools, hoop houses, etc., not forgetting seeds, fertilizer, etc. - and then figure out if you can sell at a price that is competitive and will give a profit. As said above, figure to break even, at best, in the first couple of years. Most of the restaurants around here won't pay above what the wholesalers charge, even if your stuff may be fresher, and they expect to get a consistent supply, so if the deer get in a eat your crop, they won't be happy, and may drop you.

If there are farmer's markets nearby, that's another outlet, and you can take whatever you have, with no-one really expecting something. Of course, if you don't have whatever, and the guy next to you does, they may buy from him in the future. Your best profits there would lie in having something very early, or later than the rest of the growers. Regulations vary from state to state, and from market to market about what processed things - breads, jams, etc., that you can sell, so check into that first also. I do know that unless you pre-package items, you need a certified scale to weigh items at most markets.

You can also check out things on the Market Gardening Forum, as they are doing just what you are wanting to do.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2008 at 3:29PM
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Miss_Kitty(6a KY)

The advice I've always been give was to start small, where ever you are. So if you have a house and a yard, start there. See what you can do and what you like.

I have grown gourds to sell in our lot in a trailer park and made a few bucks on it. I've raised ducks at a barn we rented and made money selling ducklings. We are selling eggs on a very small scale, and getting ready to expand.

So figure out what you like to do, then see if you can make a few bucks on it. That's good practice with.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2008 at 11:35PM
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highdesertwoman(Northern AZ)

Hi Mtnrunner: I've got 80 acres and we're still figuring out how to make it profitable. We've got milk goats, which I use to make soft goat cheeses and I got a couple dozen chickens and sell the cage free eggs when I go to the flea market in town (I have a couple incubators and will sell chicks in the spring). Also, I will raise some extra packs of veggies and flowers to sell next spring as well as packaging the heirloom seeds I saved from my vegatables. I'm still learning what grows well here and am only getting enough for my family, at the moment.

Other neighbors are making goat milk soap and hand lotions that are a big seller at the local craft shows. So don't limit yourself to just growing produce. Maybe even your own web-site selling homemade products might enlarge your customer base. Even if it's just on Ebay, you increase the chances of selling your farm based products. Also a web site called Localharvest helps growers and buyers connect.

Hope I was a help. Good luck! :-)

    Bookmark   November 8, 2008 at 7:59PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Read everything Joel Salatin ever wrote. Start by searching his name on the net (hint: www.acresusa.com). Then find a library that has his books. He never says how much money he makes but by my estimates, it is probably on the order of $350,000 by farming 100 acres in Virginia. But what makes him different is how he rotates and combines crops and animals in a symbiotic relationship.

There are a lot of differences between UT and VA. Salatin gets about 80 inches of rain per year. He lives in a valley with rich soil. He lives an hour away from a market that will buy everything he can grow. You on the other hand, may not be able to pull off his kind of miracle.

Find your market first. Learn which fresh veggies, HERBS, and SPICES the swanky restaurants in your area need. The money is in the fresh herbs and spices. For example three sprigs of fresh rosemary (about 12 total inches) costs $4.00 at Wal-Mart. But if you walk across the Wal-Mart parking lot you can find a rosemary hedge that runs the entire length of the lot. It grows like a pest around here. If you can find something in high demand and low supply, you can fill that niche often on small acreage.

Fresh eggs from insect fed chickens are apparently much better to cook with and command premium prices. If you can provide that product, check with chefs and bakeries in your area and poach an egg for them. They know exactly what they are looking for and they've probably never seen it outside of cooking school. You can't get that egg quality from corn fed chickens. It might require that you raise both chickens and crickets (or whatever is easy).

    Bookmark   November 9, 2008 at 6:12PM
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