How to Start a Hobby Farm
What Is A Hobby Farm?
A "hobby farm" is a farm that isn't necessarily run as an "agribusiness". Hobby farms can, and usually are, self-supporting, and most make a profit. But these are not the commercial farms covering thouands of acres that people think of when they imagine a "farm". Most hobby farms are small--between 40 and 100 acres or so--and are dedicated to sustainable agriculture that is earth friendly, and animal friendly.
Hobby farmers are people who quite simply love being close to the land, being self sufficient, and growing their own food. Most of them are more than willing to work long hours and live a simple lifestyle to accomplish their goal. Many of them home school, and many use agricultural methods that are thousands of years old in one field, and the newest technology a few hundred feet away.
On a well designed hobby farm, you might find ditch irrigation systems that date back to the dawn or agriculture, state of the art aquaponics, french intensive farming, square foot gardening, and an emphasis on heirloom seed varieties and organic practices--not only because they are "green", but because they work. Nature has done a very good job developing the food sources we have now, and there really is no need to try to improve on them.
Hobby farms are rarely dedicated to a single crop or animal, with the exception of alpaca farms. Most hobby farms will include vegetable gardens, chickens and other small livestock, a cow and calf, bees, and occasionally mushrooms or maple trees in the mix. Given a good climate and fertile soil, and proper planning, you can have garden, animals, bees and maple and fruit trees--all on less than 20 acres, with room to spare.
Micro hobby farms, those around 10 to 20 acres, often employ square foot gardening, mushroom farming, small livestock, 5-10 bee hives, and a few acres of fruit and maple trees, with a small aquaponics setup for fish and extra vegetables. People interested in hobby farming on the micro scale usually look for buildings and land that are multipurpose. A small barn, for instance, can have chickens, rabbits and a few alpacas on the bottom floor, and mushrooms in the hayloft.
A small stock tank, with modifications, can become the center of an aquaponics system to grow tilapia and vegetables. Infertile land can be used to hold bee hives or potato boxes, and a mixed apple orchard and sugar maple orchard will provide fruit and syrup. Planting a triple line of poplar around the edges of the property will insure good firewood and furniture wood indefinitely--and you still have room for a small house!
Now that you have an idea of what a hobby farm can be, let's look at how you start a hobby farm!
Finding and Choosing Land For Hobby Farms
There are several things you need to do before you go land shopping, so here is the list:
- Finances--what can you afford to pay while you get started? Land varies wildly in price--and the type of farm you want will dictate where you look for land. If you are planning on growing Pineapples and don't want to spend a fortune on greenhouses--don't move to Michigan.
- Your Farming Plan--What do you want to raise? Do you want to only raise alpacas with a small garden and a few chickens for food? Are you planning on gourmet herbs and mushrooms (saffron crocus, for instance, are highly valuable, as are most restaurant mushrooms)? Are you just looking to be totally off the grid, sustain your family and have enough left over to sell at farmer's markets on the weekend? What you want to do will determine not only the amount of land you need, but the agricultural zone you shop in
- Experience Level--have you ever farmed at all? If not, you might consider buying an already functioning hobby farm, and making arrangements to learn from the owners before you move in--then change things later as you get more experience. In farming, mistakes may not only be expensive--they can result in dead animals and injured or dead people.
- Time-- Farming is a 24 hour, 365 day a year job, in one way or the other. Do you, and your family, have the time to be farmers? Can you change your current careers to allow you to transition to full time farming? Can you work at home?
Once you have discussed all these things, and made a farming plan, then you're ready to think about land.
Land For Your Hobby Farm
If you have land already, then by all means, plan your farm to fit what you have! But be advised--there are a wide variety of zoning laws wherever you are, and land doesn't necessarily come with "all rights". What does that mean? Well, for instance--your land might have mineral rights (you can mine or drill for oil) but not water rights--so the stream going through it can't be harnessed, dammed, or used for power.
If you are buying land from a private owner, make sure that you examine the titles and permits carefully so you know what you are getting. Spending the money to have a lawyer experienced in land law, or a real estate agent who handles only farm land, is well worth the cost. It would be a tragedy to but a piece of land and find you can't get the permits you need to develop it.
In most rural areas, there are real estate agents that specialize in farm land, and they are the first people to talk to. Also talk to the local planning and zoning board, the county agricultural extension, the Grange (if there is one) and all the local farmers you can meet. Once you have narrowed your choices down, then you'll want to make sure the land you are looking at has a clear title, so you don't have any legal hassles to deal with beyond the normal paperwork that accompanies a property purchase.
It may seem a little bit excessive to take all these steps, but not everyone is honest--while farmers are considered the salt of the earth, they are just as capable of taking advantage of someone as anyone else. Better to be safe than sorry!
NOTE: Until you are almost ready to move, don't commit to a land purchase! While it can take months for the paperwork to go through, you don't want to suddenly find yourself making payments on a house or apartment AND a farm--or trying to commute for hours to get to work. Get ready to move first, then start shopping. This is sound advice in any situation--don't go apartment hunting until you are half-packed, either :-).
Some Essential Hobby Farm Information
Some Essential Links For Farmers
- Mother Earth News
Mother Earth News--The Original Guide To Simple Living. I Highly recommend buying the Mother Earth News DVD collection--it has all the Mothers from number one up to last year. Invaluable money making tips, farming,and more
- How to Hobby Farm - Top 10 Tips for Starting Your Hobby Farm
These tips will get you started on your hobby farm.
- Hobby Farms Magazine
Get the latest hobby farm news, livestock tips, and articles from the editors of HOBBY FARMS magazine. See what other hobby farmers are doing on their farms, gain real life stories and advice by joining our forums as well as get bonus editorial for h
Stocking Your Hobby Farm
This will depend largely on what you bought, what you want, and what you already have--and how much money you want to spend. I strongly suggest the following:
- Livestock--Alpacas, and one milk cow and calf. A dozen chickens and a rooster. 6 California Giant rabbits--1 buck, 5 does.
- Aquaponics system--Aquaponics can give a family of four fish and veggies all year in less than 150 square feet, and do it yourself systems (discussed further down) are not all that expensive
- heirloom seeds and potatoes. Potatoes can be grown in boxes made out of pallets, and a potato box can produce up to 150 pounds of potatoes in a 4x4x4 space.
- Build a cold room or root cellar--and learn about storing your food!
Those are the absolute basics. I don't recommend sheep--they are hard to lamb, and hard on a pasture. Horses are nice pets, but unless you are using them to work with (which I firmly believe in), they are very expensive. Goats can be interesting, but not much meat or fiber. get your dairy cow (Jersey or Guernsey--better milk) bred by a beef cow every year, so you can slaughter the calf when it's old enough.
The Difference Between Stock And Pets
If you are a vegetarian, then of course all your animals will be pets--you will love them, name them, and spoil them. But this is the reality of STOCK. Stock are animals you love, care for, and treat well--that produce fiber, produce food, or ARE food. Those California giant bunnies are very cute--they are FOOD. And fur for craft projects or sale (unusual colors can fetch 3.00 per pelt wholesale, and the bones, after being boiled and ground, make good fertilizer).
I grew up on a hobby farm--the rule is very simple. If it has a name, it is not food. If it doesn't have a name, it is food (or potential food). Chickens don't have names. Neither do any sheep, goats, rabbits or alpacas raised for meat, or the calf from your milk cow. Your Cow has a name--fiber alpacas and breeding stock have names. You need to take this rule to heart and teach your children unless you intend to be vegetarians--or buy all your meat at the grocery store, which defeats the purpose of farming the first place.
One of the biggest reasons people are not responsibly green anymore (wind plants, for instance, are NOT green at ALL--but the tree huggers love them--they are feel good green), is because people don't live with their food anymore. When you live with your food from it's birth to it's death, you learn to be very environmentally responsible--to protect and love the earth, and the animals and plants in your care. Some who read this might be horrified, but this is what life IS. Every leather belt you own, every chicken nugget you eat, was a living thing--and unlike the ones on your farm, that will be raised with tenderness, respect and love, those animals lived a life of horror on some huge commercial farm. They were born, lived, and died, in fear.
As a small farmer, it is your responsibility to teach your children and anyone else who will listen that this agribusiness is morally wrong. It is your responsibility to teach your children, friends and extended family the real meaning of animal husbandry--to preserve the all important bond between man and the land--while we still can.
I am sorry for the sermon, but this is something close to my heart--and it should be close to everyone's. Becoming a vegetarian doesn't solve the problem--reviving the meaning of animal husbandry and sustainable, responsible agriculture can.
A Fellow Alpaca Lover Here On Hubpages--Hi, Brie!!
What Do You Think?
How Do You Feel About Hobby farming?
In a nutshell, you have a tank with tilapia growing in it, and the water from that tank circulates through hydroponic beds, where your vegetables grow. The tilapia eat small shrimp or koi food, their waste fertilizes the water, which feeds the veggies. Works very well--in India, they grow shrimp and fish in the rice paddies like this, and have for thousands of years. If you want to know more about aquaponics, which works well in the city, suburbs, or on the farm, I'll write my next hub on the issue. In the meantime, here's some information below.