Technological developments have changed the world in so many ways. They have created more opportunities for farmers to develop a profitable business. Small farms (earning less than $50,000 annually or occupying less than 180 acres) are now considered potentially lucrative as both rural and urban business opportunities, as opposed to the previous emphasis on “economies of scale” and larger acreages.
For example, J.M. Fortier, the “Rockstar gardener” is known for his highly profitable plant micro-farm in Quebec, Canada. He aims for $100,000 per acre with his market gardener small farm business. (Check out his book The Market Gardner: A successful Grower’s Handbook for Small-Scale Organic Farming).
Curtis Stone, author of The Urban Farmer, says you can make $100,000 a year farming just ¼ of an acre of land. You do not even have to live in the country – you can be a market gardener from your home, in your backyard, or an empty lot. Many farmers are successful at making a living on one or two acres, and even less than that. It takes careful planning, creativity, and hard work, but it can be done.
Look at this article from the UK which is typical of a growing trend in encouraging farmers to make small pieces of ground highly productive.
Brainstorm the following ideas for ways in which you personally might make money and support yourself and your family comfortably on a small patch of ground. The internet, magazines and book shops are full of “how to” articles and practical advice on the nitty-gritty of carrying out these ideas but your first step is to think about all the possible ideas out there.
The four main ways in which you can turn your small plot into a money-making concern are:
- growing plants,
- raising livestock,
- providing a service and
- providing a space.
Below you will find a list of ideas to get you started (and yes, they do over-lap and repeat themselves a bit). You and your partner or family members can put together a selection of ideas from the different categories that would make the fullest use of all the potential of your small farm.
But before we turn to the actual ideas it seems crucial to make a couple of important points:
- Make a choice that gets your heart singing, not a choice primarily based on someone’s idea that a certain idea is a “real money-spinner”. There is no point in setting out to breed dogs when you have never really cared for dogs. Some people find the idea of waiting for things to grow as boring as watching paint dry. You have to take into account the tastes, enthusiasms and passions of yourself and your family.
- Make a choice that is realistic about the physical and economic circumstances of the place you are living. You want to do thorough research into how to be aligned with the State and urban area regulations. Be aware not only of the climate of your area but the particular micro-climate of your plot. Understand the markets of your area – there is no point in depending on selling a crop that everyone has growing in their back yard.
A Word on Growing Organically
The lists below are not going to be mentioning the word “organic” very much but are working on the assumption that you will probably want to go the formal “organic” route (with all that might mean in your area by way of certification).
Organic farming is not only good for the health of people and animals and good for the environment as a whole, it is also profitable. Organic farming is said to be 22-35% more profitable than its conventional counterparts. Increasing numbers of people are demanding organically-produced food so restaurants and supermarkets are beginning to sell themselves specifically under an organic banner.
These businesses rely on organic farmers to supply them with organically grown fruits and vegetables and organically raised, or free roaming, livestock. The Organic Trade Association (OTA) has reported a sustained increase in demand for organic produce, and in 2018, recorded more than $50 billion in sales.
A Word on Permaculture
“Permanent-Agriculture” is a method of agriculture and a philosophy based on sustainability and working with nature, moving away from monocultures, annual tilling, use of pesticides and other farming methods that lead to soil erosion and general damage to the environment.
Permaculture harnesses natural systems such as companion planting, deep mulching, natural pest control and water harvesting to create self-sufficient, abundant growth that benefit both people and the planet. Among other things a farm run on permaculture lines is a highly instructive place to visit because of the myriad practical arrangements to make full, respectful use of every part of the farm.
A Word on Forest gardening
Forest gardening is how our ancestors would have farmed in prehistoric times, a type of agro-forestry which integrates the benefits of trees and shrubs with livestock and crops. A forest garden (or food forest) is a low-maintenance and sustainable way to produce food in a woodland ecosystem.
It takes companion planting to its logical extreme and is argued to produce a highly productive, healthy, sustainable, diverse and even more profitable use of land. It incorporates many different types of plants such as nut and fruit trees, herbs, vines, shrubs and perennial vegetables. A seven-layer system is usually at the center of a forest gardening strategy. Forest gardeners have a seven “layer” system at the center of their farming philosophy:
- A canopy with mature trees
- A low tree layer with fruit trees and nuts
- A shrub layer with berries and currants
- A herbaceous layer with perennial herbs and vegetables
- A rhizosphere layer with roots and tubers
- A ground cover layer with plants that grow horizontally
- A vertical layer of climbers and vines.
Breakdown of Money-Making Activities
Specialized Types of Agricultural Activity
- Growing Plant
- Assorted Uses
- Foraged Plants/ Materials
- raising for eating
- for live sale & auxiliary purposes
Selling farm produce & by-products
Value-adding – Combine agricultural produce & skills
Provide Agricultural Services
- using equipment & skills you already have – e.g. Crop planting, pruning
Provide Non-Agricultural Services
- using auxilliary skills – e.g. Boarding kennels, Training dogs
Rent Out Space
- Open Space, e.g. Parking, Storage of large equipment
- Built space, e.g. As a wedding venue, Accommodation
- Day-Trips/Outings, e.g. Picnic site, Private fishing
Share What You Know
- Workshops (online and offline), Blog, YouTube Channel, books, etc.
Some of these topics have already been covered on this website – some we will be exploring in more depth in future articles. Here’s to your profitable small acreage!
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