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Where Are All the Examples of Economic Success?

 
Posts: 96
Location: Rioja, Peru
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I'm a bit discouraged as I go on youtube and see homesteading/permaculture farm channels, and it seems everyone also has some sort of job (usually digital-related, but sometimes a defacto job in town), a wealthy spouse, or they are making their income from youtube, or from hosting workshops, airbnbs etc.

Where are all the examples of people raking in the dough from straight-up farm products? Let's learn from those examples please!
Why so few examples where people are getting into the nitty gritty of the economic aspects of their operation? I saw a good episode on the youtube channel, UpFlip where they analyzed a start-up pastured pork operation in Washington state. Kind of blew me away the amount of overhead $$$ that went into their operation right off the bat. Lots of videos of pastured poultry, but very few getting into the economics. You can't make it by spending $40 per kilo of bird and selling each bird for $40. There's one decent channel from Mexico (I think it's called Hablemos Borregos TV) where he discusses about how it only makes sense if you're not buying feed for the sheep.

There should be more examples of people making ends meet purely from the farming aspect of their operation, not from tours, information products, farm tours, airbnbs, youtube clicks, a spouse's job, etc.
Otherwise, it's not a very good testimonial of permaculture/modern small-scale farming/ homesteading.
 
Scott Obar
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Scott Obar wrote:I'm a bit discouraged as I go on youtube and see homesteading/permaculture farm channels, and it seems everyone also has some sort of job (usually digital-related, but sometimes a defacto job in town), a wealthy spouse, or they are making their income from youtube, or from hosting workshops, airbnbs etc.

Where are all the examples of people raking in the dough from straight-up farm products? Let's learn from those examples please!

Otherwise, it's not a very good testimonial of permaculture/modern small-scale farming/ homesteading.



Bonus question:
Is it even realistic for one or two people to be able to pull off this sort of operation on their own, or should we assume that these operations need to scale with full-time workers?
 
steward
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I think a lot of people follow the Jean-Martin Fortier method.  I'm not sure how many end up profitable from just the market farming.  As I understand it he does more than farming and has interns so his personal journey isn't what you're after but maybe his followers are having success.

I know of one farmer in my area that lives off their veggie farm.  They work many hours and grow a bunch of great food for 3-4 farmers markets in our area.  It's a full time gig for the couple and their kids but it appears it's their sole/main source of income.

I think that to make it work you need to have enough people around to buy the things you grow.  Either people that pay high prices for great food (Jean-Martin's situation) or those who will pay the going rate (for great food) and you produce enough to sell to enough of them that you make enough money.

I think many places get by with a lot of labor from woofers or the equivalent.  So if it wasn't for that labor they might not work out.
 
master steward
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And the bad news is... farms such as you're imagining Scott are having to compete with farms that are either subsidized or are destroying the soil or have at least one family member working off farm subsidizing the farm debt or all three. Cheap food - and specifically the expectation of cheap food - has been part of our mindset ever since some guy promised, "a chicken in every pot".

I'm happy to get more farms at least protecting and building their soil, producing nutritionally dense food, and treating their animals humanely even if it has to be done in a subsidized manner. I do believe we may get there. A webinar I watched recently was with authors of a book which isn't out yet, "What Your Food Ate: How to Heal Our Land and Reclaim Our Health". There's long been a belief that "organic" farming (let alone better than organic) can't "feed the world" and the authors challenge that belief and are doing research to prove it. There book may have the names of farms that would fit your description, but again, so many rely on woofers or similar (although some people I know claim woofers often are more trouble than they're worth).

Small farms used to just feed the farmers and their community. A *huge* percentage of our population used to be involved in growing food 100 years ago, compared to a very small percentage now. And yet, modern farmers want the standard of living society says is required to be happy. Most of them are in debt due to the system despite off-farm income.

So part of the question may need to be, "How do we define "Economic Success"?
 
steward
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Scott said, "Is it even realistic for one or two people to be able to pull off this sort of operation on their own,



Several on the forum that I have read about have profitable chicken and/or egg businesses.

This lady had a profitable market Garden:

https://permies.com/t/120/56720/permaculture-projects/garden-fence-finally-finished-rainbows#498708

Are these good "Examples of Economic Success?"
 
Scott Obar
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Jay Angler wrote:And the bad news is... farms such as you're imagining Scott are having to compete with farms that are either subsidized or are destroying the soil or have at least one family member working off farm subsidizing the farm debt or all three. Cheap food - and specifically the expectation of cheap food - has been part of our mindset ever since some guy promised, "a chicken in every pot".

I'm happy to get more farms at least protecting and building their soil, producing nutritionally dense food, and treating their animals humanely even if it has to be done in a subsidized manner. I do believe we may get there. A webinar I watched recently was with authors of a book which isn't out yet, "What Your Food Ate: How to Heal Our Land and Reclaim Our Health". There's long been a belief that "organic" farming (let alone better than organic) can't "feed the world" and the authors challenge that belief and are doing research to prove it. There book may have the names of farms that would fit your description, but again, so many rely on woofers or similar (although some people I know claim woofers often are more trouble than they're worth).

Small farms used to just feed the farmers and their community. A *huge* percentage of our population used to be involved in growing food 100 years ago, compared to a very small percentage now. And yet, modern farmers want the standard of living society says is required to be happy. Most of them are in debt due to the system despite off-farm income.

So part of the question may need to be, "How do we define "Economic Success"?



Defined as the income column being greater than the expenses column (including personal expenses).
 
gardener
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I've skimmed through some books at my library that highlight farms who seem to fit what you're after. I don't remember the names of the books nor the farms, as I wasn't at a point to do much with the information at the time. But they helped me see that some do exist.

YouTube isn't geared toward the farms that you're looking for. YouTube is often either an advertising tool to bring people to their other products, or it's to bring money directly from the videos. Unless video editing is a favorite hobby, there's not much point in taking time to craft good videos if they're not going to bring in income somehow. At least there wouldn't be for me.
 
Scott Obar
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Nikki Roche wrote:I've skimmed through some books at my library that highlight farms who seem to fit what you're after. I don't remember the names of the books nor the farms, as I wasn't at a point to do much with the information at the time. But they helped me see that some do exist.

YouTube isn't geared toward the farms that you're looking for. YouTube is often either an advertising tool to bring people to their other products, or it's to bring money directly from the videos. Unless video editing is a favorite hobby, there's not much point in taking time to craft good videos if they're not going to bring in income somehow. At least there wouldn't be for me.



I hear you. We sometimes throw videos on youtube, but even with our minimal editing it still takes time away from us to do so, which could be spent on other things. It's not really worth it other than just to create some audio/visual documentation for us to reference later on. Some of the most helpful utube content I've found (relevant to our particular setting) is from African youtubers.

A lot of the american stuff is fluffy content, and I also feel there's a trend (as you say) of people creating a marketing funnel. Should I really learn how to manage all the moving parts of a tropical food forest-based homestead from someone in a temperate climate who is making their money teaching people how to homestead instead of directly making a living from the homesteading?

What I'd really like is a mentor, someone who has been in my shoes before, made things work, and can point to a spreadsheet and say, "see! look at my net farm income!"

Another consideration is the local market factors, which are probably way different here than what one would encounter in the USA.
 
pollinator
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Scott, its called 'market research'.
You need to identify what you think you can do and make cash from it.
Then you need to look at more than You tube for research, you need to speak with people who are doing things as you think you want.
Books such as the urban farmer may help.

Its no good complaining, just find what will work for you.
From my own experience you need;
- product thats different from other sellers
- you dont lower your price to beat somebody else.
- you need exposure
- you need customers
In 50 years I created products or services nobody was doing over time I was copied with some, so I thought of something else.
- gutter cleaning business and used the soil for compost
- earth block machine i am still selling after 50 years
- A specialist wood working tool business
- I saw a market for short fences in suburban areas, I was the most expensive fencer in town, and nobody understood that I made a fortune.
- I have made cheese presses and cutters in a different way.
- I set up a factory to make wire door closers, that was very good financially.
- I saw a market for a fixed price 1 hour handyman service that worked well.
each set up had no competition and helped a place in the market I saw or heard about.
Today a fix flyscreens, but the difference is I travel to distant jobs, I pool work together and reduce travel costs per customer.
 
pollinator
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Jay Angler wrote:And the bad news is... farms such as you're imagining Scott are having to compete with farms that are either subsidized or are destroying the soil or have at least one family member working off farm subsidizing the farm debt or all three. Cheap food - and specifically the expectation of cheap food - has been part of our mindset ever since some guy promised, "a chicken in every pot".




Yup yup yup on cheap. No one around here will pay for organic, sustainable, etc etc. They just want cheap.
 
master steward
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The only times I have up close and personal seen a small homestead type farm in a position to possibly be self sustainable financially is when they were in a geographical pocket with high end restaurants and resorts.  They provided herbs and vegetables year round to a circuit of customers.
 
gardener
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I think Jay's question about defining economic success is important to grapple with.  Is "raking in the dough" as a permaculturalist farmer/homesteader possible? I don't know. It does not seem to be common.  But Paul Wheaton's fable The Story Of Gert seems relevant here.  

In that story Ferd (who is the Goofus of the tale, where Gert is the Gallant) works his ass off with job and commute to rake in the dough.  Gert enjoys a better lifestyle with little income and even less cash.  Which of them is an example of economic success?  That's a question of values; some would say both, some would say neither, and some would pick out one or the other.  

If the challenge is to have Ferd's cash while living Gert's lifestyle, I think that's a hard one.

 
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I have a thought...
If you take the basic principles of permaculture and apply that to the economic side of things, isn't relying only on one system for income akin to creating a monoculture for one type of crop?

For example, using a fruit tree guild as an illustrative, if the straight up farm product business is the apple tree at the center, maybe your nitrogen fixer is a class you teach at the local community center, and your under-layer is an e-book about homesteading that you wrote and sell. Your pollinators are your Youtube videos, and the soil builder is the community building you do on permies. One thing might fail, or might evolve over time, but it's all part of the overall system.

On the other hand, if you have one income source, that's like having just a field of corn. If that one crop fails, you're out of luck. You also have to spend a lot more time and energy working against nature to get that one crop to succeed, which costs more time, labor, and money.  

Having multiple systems working together creates more opportunity for success, and less risk overall. Finding simple ways to bring in small incomes to support the "fruit tree" with little cost and residual income potential is kind of the exact same thing as creating a food forest, if you think about it. Maybe your berries (ie, YouTube channel) really take off this year, but your Apple tree (ie farm products) didn't grow well. The soil building produces a little yield as you get a new opportunity to teach a one-time online class, while your e-book has had a pretty consistent harvest.

Maybe this is why you see that so much as you look around. Maybe not, but it's something to consider.  

 
gardener
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I believe Ashley Cottonwood is doing pretty well with her chickens raised on compost business. There was another, larger chicken and compost business somewhere in the NE that is profitable as well.

Ashley Cottonwood
 
gardener
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I believe the question posed by the original poster is a good one. Financial sustainability is an important part of life. Of course, there exists a real and valid conversation about what our expectations should be, materially and economically. But I think that even having a low-resource life can be expensive these days. Certainly just maintaining my house, even as naturally as possible, is expensive.

I believe Stefan Sobkowiak is an example of someone who is making it off his land. He has a "permaculture orchard" in Quebec and seems very down to earth to me. Other than that, I would say Burnt Ridge and Raintree Nursery are both planted in a way that is fairly "permaculture." I have spent a bit of time at both and have had friends who work at both.
 
pollinator
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Whether or not your economic activity is profitable depends largely on your government tax structure. It's looks like you are in Peru, I would think that the tax structure varies from the US. Personally I avoid taxable income, I prefer side jobs, barter, etc. Given that, I don't like to get into details online. I prefer to look at economic success as what works for you as opposed to a dollar yearly income. To my mind if you are valuing things in a traditional capitalist mindset, you might be in the wrong place, but that's just me. It seems that others here feel differently, maybe their advice would suit you better. Best wishes.
 
gardener
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By some webinars I've attended, I have the impression that successful people using permaculture is avoiding the permaculture label. There seem to be some hippie smell about it, especially of the kind who prefers to get stoned and watch the altered cosmos, holding hands hoola ya (especially where I live), so serious people doing serious farming are afraid to be considered part of that club. They're moving to the 'regenerative farming practices' label instead.

Which comes to the point that permaculture is not farming. Permaculture is a way to design for permanence. You could be a carpenter and practice permaculture in your workshop. Permaculture is in opposition of programmed obsolescence, cheap stuff and just in time processes. You can't maximize resilience and efficiency at the same time, so focusing on resilience comes at a cost of efficiency, meaning less direct profit. Short, you can make money, but don't expect big money.

Other thing to consider: modern farming employs huge amounts of fosil fuels, so this so cheap and profitable farming system is not to last forever. That permaculture farmers are able to make a living against such unfair competition is a testimony itself.
 
pollinator
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Since 1998, with the exception of March 2020 until August 2021, our little farm on less than 1/4 acre has been profitable.

First, we had to spend about 8 years with no farm income developing a wild species into a commercially viable domesticated farm animal and then developing a great niche market.

My wife and I both had off-farm jobs. After the farm started turning a profit we kept our jobs because of the pension plans and insurance and we liked our jobs/careers. The farm/business takes about 12 to 15 hrs a week.

We retired from the farm in Oct. 2021 with a nice residual income from it.


 
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Seems like everytime I get our small farm near to turning a profit on paper which we file taxes on, something strange happens and keeps if from happening. Last spring it was a plague of rats and foxes that darn near wiped out my poultry operation.  This past fall, I did testing on my adult goats and found some diseases that I wanted to remove from my herd.  However, i my animals still manage to bring in enough money to buy all the hay for the horses, goats, pigs, rabbits and chickens.  I buy large round bales and it costs about $2000 to 2500 a year for they hay. Haven't been using as much hay because my animals have been able to graze longer into the fall and sooner in the spring these past years.  We use about 45 round bales each year.  We are in central Ohio.  Some years I bring in enough money to fund projects like building a green house and renting a skid steer to do work on the property. I also use some of the money to buy equipment and fencing and gates and what not. Last year I bought some wire filled gates with goat money to finish my livestock handling system with a tub and sweep that connects to my head gate with chute. i was also able to buy a nice digital scale with easy to see read out so I can gather production information on my goats.  And just so people know, we run about 30 to 35 does, this may go up to 40 does this fall and I keep two or three bucks.  I use the production information to decide which animals to cull and which to keep for breeding. I usually raise 45 to 60 kids each spring and sell goats in the fall and cull does get sold in the spring too. Goat prices are going up. Last year it was $3 a pound live weight, this year it is going higher.  I usually sell about 20 wethers average size 70 lbs. I do okay with the goats, but my eventual hope is that I start selling some goats for breeding stock at $500 to $1000 each.  This is a realistic price for registered Kiko goats which is what I  am raising. We use rotational grazing spring through fall with the goats, steers and horses. Steers are for us, though I sometimes sell one at auction after we butcher ours. This brings in additional money too.  I supplement the pasture with wet spent brewers grains I pick up from a local brewery for free. The brewery keeps brewing a little more each year which has worked well for our farm as we keep feeding more animals each year too. I pick up anywhere from 1 to 3 tons a week.  I feed the spent grains to the goats, pigs, horses, steers and chickens.  

Now, I also sell chickens. I sell replacement pullets and I sell roosters. I live about a 50 minute drive from Columbus Ohio. I often sell my roosters before I can get the pullets sold. I sell the roosters from $10 t0 $15 each depending on the amount each customer wants.  This price may go up as feed prices go up as will prices on pullets. I do not process the roosters for my customers. They like to process their own roosters. Sometimes they kill them and then take them with them.  These roosters are sold to ethnic groups in and around Columbus.   I raise the roosters on pasture or in chicken tractors. These are not cornish rock crosses, they are heavy dual purpose breed chickens that are colorful. Some people want older spent hens. They want real chicken not cornish rock crosses. So, I have kept track of the numbers in the past and when I bought 100 chicks at $1.00 each ( got a deal on them at TSC when they needed to get rid of them) and I kept track of the chick feed I fed them I found that I spent about $400 on the chicks and the feed and sold them at 4 to 5 months of age at an average of $10.00 each and I cleared $600.  I didn't count my equipment because I had all of it already and i use it over and over again.  I didn't count my time,, but it was just filling water and feeders once a day and moving a chicken tractor once a day. Not much time.

I am now also hatching chicks and selling them. If they don't sell as chicks for $5 each (Marans and Bielfelders) I raise them and sell them as adults. I charge more for adult Marans and Bielefelders pullets.  

Now, yes, my husband has a good job, but he travels sometimes. I do almost all the farm stuff myself. My husband does help but he is already working a full time job. Oh, I also sell some rabbits as we have Champagne D Argents.   So I have to handle everything when my husband travels.  I will point out that the farm also provides a nice tax return most years.  If it wasn't for the farm we wouldn't get much back on taxes.

In my voluminous spare time, I plant some fruit trees, bushes and vines and I have a large garden.  

So in addition to selling stuff and bringing in money we get a bigger tax return and we raise nearly all of our own meat (I am not sure how to put that in to actual numbers). People my husband work with are amazed that we eat meat at almost every meal and wonder how we afford it. We butcher our own animals at home, steers, rabbits, pigs, chickens, ducks. I cured my own bacon for the first time this year. I also cured hams for this past Christmas.  
Oh, and we can't sell eggs because every one around here is selling eggs. But we do produce our own eggs and I use excess eggs to make dog food. I also have two milk goats, one is a half Kiko/ half Alpine so we have our own milk and we make cheese and yogurt and I used to make kefir but I dont' have enough time for everything! I don't know how to factor that in either.

My pigs aren't pastured. That didn't work for us. I do however feed them hay in winter. They get brewers grains and mineral. And in the spring summer and fall, I mow the lawn with the bagger on and feed them grass clippings. Since I can't pasture them, I bring the pasture to them.....LOL  

I imagine our small farm is saving us thousands of dollars in food costs each year and I know it is bringing in thousands in cash and brings in a large tax return.  

I keep thinking of things I would like to try and ways to add income to the farm, but truly, I don't have much free time left to spend on other ventures.  I don't know if this all made sense or if it helps someone. gotta go trim weeds of the fence line!
 
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Scott Obar wrote:There should be more examples of people making ends meet purely from the farming aspect of their operation ....



You've got me thinking of something my hubby brings up fairly often. He has never studied permaculture, but he knows how enthusiastic I am about it. But he keeps asking, "How can permaculture feed the world?" Money and income aside (sorry, I know that's the topic here; please redirect me if you know of another more relevant thread), between climate disruption and war impacting two of the world's breadbaskets, what the heck is going to happen when the food insecurity $#!† hits the fan?

I sometimes think that once major developed countries are thrown into chaos (the Arab spring was a result of Russia's summer of deadly heat, wildfires and a 30% loss in grain yields), there will be plenty more "free" labour (work in exchange for food) made up of people who have lost their jobs (because those jobs were carbon intensive, dangerous, or destroyed by weather extremes). But then how are those labourers going to survive labouring outdoors during extreme heat waves?

I want to believe that permaculture can "save the world," but a) we really need to ramp up its adoption and implementation, and b) how do we grow enough food using permaculture ethics, principles and techniques to feed the world population that has grown increasingly used to cheap / subsidized but carbon-intensive corn, soy, rice and meat, etc. -- while also giving the farmer/s a decent income?
 
pollinator
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I've been personally giving this a great deal of thought as we are starting up farming operations.  We are sited very well in that we are within an hour of 2 cities that both have populations with enough expendable income to buy fancy pastured/heritage/regeneratively farmed/grassfed/whatever other marketing term lets us sell for more meat and eggs.  It limits our customer base, but it also removes a significant amount of our competition when it comes down to it.  I think the only way to make something like this work without a youtube/full time job/etc hustle is to focus on low volume, high-profit hustles. I'm not going to pay my bills by selling tomatoes, I'll pay them selling grassfed lamb, tame family milk cows, grassfed beef, and heritage pastured pork.  We are also discussing at some point bringing on VRBO options onto the farm to supplement income.  
 
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Scott Obar wrote:
There should be more examples of people making ends meet purely from the farming aspect of their operation, not from tours, information products, farm tours, airbnbs, youtube clicks, a spouse's job, etc.
Otherwise, it's not a very good testimonial of permaculture/modern small-scale farming/ homesteading.



When measuring the 'value' of Permaculture it could help to think of permaculture as not just a way of farming. Permaculture is a design science. Farming is also not a business, it's a way to create a product. A business is what sells products. If you use permaculture techniques, you could end up with abundance over time, but if you don't have a market or business skills you might not get all that much for your abundance.

The most money-making farms out there are farmers with entrepreneur skills operating in a place where there is a market for their products.

Julie Johnston says:
I want to believe that permaculture can "save the world," but a) we really need to ramp up its adoption and implementation, and b) how do we grow enough food using permaculture ethics, principles and techniques to feed the world population that has grown increasingly used to cheap / subsidized but carbon-intensive corn, soy, rice and meat, etc. -- while also giving the farmer/s a decent income?



I'm a believer permaculture design could absolutely feed the world. Imagine the yields if people simply grew food instead of lawns. That question of how 'we' are going to feed the world seems to me to be more of a problem humans made up like money, government, and war; not a permaculture problem. Using permaculture, genetic-engineering, or even chemical spewing robots, feeding the world will most likely require the creation of opportunity, the reassessment of land access, and a new global thought paradigm around the link between food production and consumption. Change like that historically takes some kind of massive global disturbance. For the humble permaculture practitioner, it's usually much easier to focus on feeding the local community and not the world. Also, my worm bin population grows according to how much food I put in there, there could be a something there...
 
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There are several people around here who do it successfully. Mostly they have a farm, say about an hour or more outside of Portland. Land out there is fairly cheap and they can live cheaply.  They grow almost all of their own stuff, but they specialize in growing and selling something really good.  I used to buy expensive organic Gold Rush apples from a guy because they were so good. He justified it by saying, "well, you could grow your own apples. " I said "I do, but I only get 5 at this point." NOw I get a lot more and I don't buy them.  Now I am semi-retired and doing permaculture.   There are many people who live in the city and make good money, but they work 60-90 hours a week and are trying to raise children too.  They believe in organic/permaculture and are happy to come to the farmer's market, listen to the band, buy your produce and bring their kids. It's cheap entertainment and a fun family outing.  The ones who make money often go to more than one farmer's market, sometimes in different cities.  It's work, but you're living the dream.

John S
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Patrick Johnson runs a farm close to the airport in Richmond, VA. He is still developing the property and makes a small profit each year. He sells his produce at Ashland Farmers Market.
He is developing hugelkultur beds wherever possible in order to keep watering the plants to a minimum. www.rvapermaculture.com.
 
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What an incredibly complex topic! Finances and farming go hand in hand. With money being number one. But that doesn't mean it also can't feel good and be good for the planet. I work and live on two different farms, of which I will give examples and number$ for you.

Business first, Farmer second. Anything else is called Gardening.

I think the only people making the best profit margin in Permaculture are Designers and Consultants. Any service based skill is going to be valued highly.

The profitible farms that I work on and know of are all doing something permaculture-esque, and most without perennial systems. Why? A lot of reasons, which may be a topic for another post. But mostly because there is a ton of money selling people what they want through Farmers Markets in any semi-affluent community in the United states. Thee good money and lower overhead to startup and grow annual vegetables as a business in most markets is very tempting. It's also very difficult and complex to maintain a healthy system of annuals. Not impossible, but a Farmer must behave artfully and skillfully or a pest outbreak is imminent. Nature doesn't like infinite annuals, but She'll allow it.

I live on a farm called Shared Abundance, run by an amazing woman who is turning 75 years in a few months. The farm is 25 years old. It has been increasingly profitable for 25 years, the first 5 years being very very difficult, as for most start-up's. I live in the 14' yurt. I do not work for this farm, I only live here.

Album for Shared Abundance Farms: https://photos.app.goo.gl/BLyXSnCEkpgMQzf29[/img]

From 14 acres of wild permaculture neglect, she grosses about $150k per year (didn't ask her Net). She sells about $100k in kiwi, and the other $50k in berries, grapes, mixed veg and propagated starts of rare herbs and tomatoes. This is not a lot of money farming, at least where we live in the Sacramento region. She has four employees. One bad year and it's usually toast for small farms like hers. But when she was younger, she only needed one employee, as she did the rest. She is facing a very big problem in America: The problem of Aging Farmers.

There is seems to be no current way to sustain oneself in modern America by trying to compete with the mainstream market (ie, where most of the money is).
I believe that most of us are willing to simply drop out of the system if there was a concrete viable way to do so.
Truth is, each person makes their own way.
We must be the Farmer, and then do the Market maybe twice per week, also hire people, and be a good boss for others.

Some people eat it up and love being farmers. I count myself one of them and I know I'm not alone.
There are some freaky wonderful plant people everywhere making money to make end meet and living good enough lives financially but mostly are just happy.

Where I work is different that where I live.

Album for Hillview Farms: https://photos.app.goo.gl/u1UVBrwjF1CZUPB38

I am currently working on a profitable farm called Hillview Farms in the hills of Auburn, CA. Hillview is "Beyond-Organic" and CCOF. We are a wealthy community of the mostly Red persuasion. From here, I see the demand for fresh, beautiful organic food has risen to the point where even grumpy old men like my dad would go to a Farmers Market and happily spend money for vegetables. The awakening is truly upon us! :)

We are no-till, and we only grow annuals.

Mostly lettuce, carrots, and squash and tomatoes as 80% of our income. Then a mix of about 45 other vegetables, with the owner, Michael, really loving to experiment and be open to trying things out.

Growing all annual veg all year long is not very permaculture. I would say the only way we intentionally "incorporate animals" is by adding NPK from Chicken meal/bone. We are quick flip veg all year long, with short rest periods per bed. No cover crops because they drop the profit margin of the businesss to failure. I have yet to see a way it can be done in annual systems, but I'm keeping my eyes open to something we've overlooked. I'd love to hear how others have dealt with Annual production that follows through to a regular profitible customer base. I know it must be being done somewhere!

Yet we use no pesticide chemicals that aren't either 1 Made of plants (ie pyrethrins and Neem) or 2. Good bugs as our IPM (Integrated Pest Management). This earns us a special title in the CCOF as "Beyond Organic".

If you are wondering about labels, it's to make the point that they are simply marketing. It's a way to differentiate yourself at market and have a talking point. Other than that, you still need to farm hard and sell veg/fruit/meat/eggs/etc if you gonna make it as a business.

We still have most Supermarkets that won't play with a small Farmer so alternate markets need be found.

We do 2 Farmers Markets per week, and have wholesale customers in the region. Each is about 50% of the income for the property. Our beds are 100' X 2.5' with 1.5' walkways. We seek to earn $2000/bed/year, but the last few years have been wild weather and nothing is as it was post-covid. Since we have 220 beds we aim for about $200k a year in veggies which pays for farm overhead, 4 full time employees and 2 part time employees, and maybe the Farmer gets paid at the end.

The wholesale redistributors are about 50% of our sales, sometimes more, sometimes less.
For this model, seek first the vegetable hubs in the area that serve to the restaurants as middle men with a more diverse offering than your farm can.
Every city or region has one, and many will pay for "weird things" like duck eggs, or fresh single variety pork, or asparagus. As long as you can provide some kind of supply to them all year long. Most of them aren't going to buy from someone who just has a bunch of tomatoes once a year.
We work with The Food Hub and others that are paying us directly, at a wholesale cost in bulk.
Pro-tip: Set minimums for any order working with Wholesalers and set really good boundaries or you will eventually burn out and die.

From my experience farming/ranching in CA for only the last 5 or 6 years is that most successful, profitable Farmers/Ranchers have NO TIME AT ALL for Social Media.
Some of the better organized ones will hire a company, or they might have a young employee that can use one of the dang cell phone thingies to do some videos for marketing or to teach.

I always like watching  Stefan Sobkowiak videos. His teaching has brought me much joy. But while there are maybe dozens doing similar things, there are too few people like him. Willing to do so much running a business and also running an Orchard/Farm/Ranch etc.

Love to hear all your thoughts on this and more war stories from farmers please!

In kindness, Skot
 
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I think of it as a twin issue - lowering your expenses and boosting your income, and then do something like slowly exchanging your current off-farm income with farm income.

Reading a lot on mrmoneymustache.com has lowered my expectations of how much money I actually need.  

Also understanding that selling fruit or veg is a time sensitive thing, where selling seeds or a plant is not (or something like dried fruit or processed in some way, but I am not really inclined that way).  Plus, you may get $1 or something for your apple or tomato, but if you grow out the tomato seeds you get a lot more than $1.  This is especially true for trees that people use that they would like to buy a lot of, to make a shelter belt, for example.  If you don't sell your seedlings this year, next year they will be worth a lot more, and the extra time you need to keep them alive another year is not a great burden.  I think of selling fruit and veg as a stage in the business, rather than the end goal (or maybe something that gets people to know you.  If they know you grow awesome tomatoes, then next year they might be inclined to buy the tomato plants)

There's a few places that goes into the actual cost of their operations.  Joel Salatin does a lot of money talks. Edible Acres.  Peter Kanaris talks to Jim Kovaleski that does front yard farming and makes enough money (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MSvwN4SlzeQ).  I know Joel's farm is big, but he talks about making money renting land and pasturing pigs (? I think it was pigs, may have been beef, also poultry).  

Generally, I think it depends on how you are inclined.  Do you want to find something that just two people can run forever?  Or do you want to grow into a big farm with employees.  Mostly, the type of place that I gravitate towards is a smaller operation that I can envision doing when I am 80 because I enjoy it so it doesn't have a finite race to get enough money to retire with, but it still needs to make enough money that I can invest in order to travel or stop working if need be - this is where lowering expenditures and knowing tax laws comes in.  I like growing fruit, and really enjoy syntropic growing, so a small nursery operation selling starts or rooted plants is more my style than a CSA style farmers market farm.

I haven't seen anything that tells me that it's not completely do-able, but I see it as a 5 year exchange starting at 100% off farm to eventually 100% on farm.
 
John C Daley
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From; Syntropic Farming
Keep the Soil Covered is done in syntropic farming by growing large amounts of biomass on site, which is regularly pruned or cut to be applied to the soil.
"Syntropic farming seeks to Maximize Photosynthesis by laying out trees rows from North to South.
This is the primary design layout strategy, as opposed to managing for water through exclusively using contour planting.
In addition this is achieved by an extremely high density of planting; 20-40 plants/seeds/cutting per square meter.
These plants are arranged in space based on the principle of Stratification, which refers to where a plant grows in its optimal habitat.
The four stratas typically used are emergent, high, medium, and low, and they mostly refer to the light requirements of the species, but also to species form/habit and leaf structure.
Natural Succession is how these plants are arranged over time, from placenta stage to secondary stage and finally to climax, which are the stages of succession through which a forest matures .
The entire system should be constantly filled with plants of different strata even as the system moves through a managed succession. "
And more
- "North to south rows: There is a clear preference to planting tree rows north to south in order to maximize photosynthesis.
In conjunction with this there was a strong disposition away from planting trees on contour, as it was actually recommended to plant tree rows up and down the slope.
- Direct seeding: Syntropic practitioners prefer direct seeding to transplanting when possible for trees.
This is viewed both as a cost saving measure and as a means to plant huge quantities of species.
- An intensive organization of biomass:
While I have always organized biomass in particular ways, across slope as dead barriers, in half moons under trees, etc; the amount of energy (human and fossil fuel) syntropic farming dedicates to processing biomass in specific ways was huge.
In particular this involves splitting banana trunks in half and bucking and splitting logs into firewood size pieces that are then used as the path lining material.
It does not always have to be done this way, but it appears to be a common practice in syntropic farming.
- Replace weeding with pruning: One of the distinct goals of the management of these systems is to replace all weeding with pruning and the organization of biomass.
- Plant everything at once: Ideally every plant in the system is put in the ground at the exact same time.
This of course works only with a high intensity of management through harvest and pruning.
 
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Syntropic agriculture sounds a lot like permaculture.
John S
PDX OR
 
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John Suavecito wrote:Syntropic agriculture sounds a lot like permaculture.
John S
PDX OR



It probably is.  I am not religious on these things :)  
The thing that I like about syntropic agriculture is that it dovetails really nicely into some other stuff I know already (like how plants actually really like growing together, and our idea of plants competing is wrong - although I am sure there's some exceptions), and other stuff I didn't think about.  After listening to a few lectures, it now strikes me how many trees are growing in full sun that would probably like it better if they were in the understory.  I know in my yard that even the things we think of as wanting full sun seem to be happier in dappled shade.  Plus, I generally gravitate towards trees (fruit) rather than veg, so the idea of growing trees faster and healthier appeals (which again dovetails into the work from John Kempf that shows we really have no idea of how fast trees and plants can really grow if they are in a healthy environment).  

I like the idea of growing a forest fast.  Yes it's a lot of management, and again, I am not religious about these things.  I can grow a syntropic forest until such time as it becomes too much work, and then scale it back to such a place as the work becomes manageable.  
 
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Scott Obar wrote:I'm a bit discouraged as I go on youtube and see homesteading/permaculture farm channels, and it seems everyone also has some sort of job (usually digital-related, but sometimes a defacto job in town), a wealthy spouse, or they are making their income from youtube, or from hosting workshops, airbnbs etc.



Haven't posted for a while, but this one I can empathize with. This answer wont please a lot of people, but so be it.

My short answer is : there are none, it's a sham. You cannot make a (over poverty levels) living, in countries like US/CA/FR/DE/... based only on a basic homesteading/permaculture scheme. Or at least, what most people envision under these terms. At least, I haven't met one in my own country, and I've been working with farmers for almost 30 years.

This leads to the next question : how come so many people "try and sell you permaculture/homesteading" ? Short answer : Because this is a viable business model. Selling dreams is profitable. And there's a shitton of those on youtube. And you know what, I don't even think it's unethical. Those people do good to those who need to dream a little to hold on to what they're doing, and not despair. They can even lead an urbanite to discover agriculture and dig into farming.

Now, that being said, is it a lost cause ? I guess not, but believe it or not, I think we're still too early into this trend as of 2022. We've been too early for decades. The current economic system almost totally prevents small scale farming from being profitable. For starters, because food is too cheap. As traders say, "being right too early is being wrong". Financially speaking. For this type of activity to be viable, we need for de-globalisation to proceed a few steps further. But given the current status of the world, and given our benevolent leaders don't lead us into some totalitarian dystopia, profitability even on small scale could come faster than most think. So I'm a strong advocate of : If you can afford it, farm some, even on a thenth of an acre. Or become friends and give some of your working time to people who farm.

Now there are farmers like Fortier, who live correctly from their enterprise, but he works his ass off, on a very rationalized veggie farm, and he has tons of street smarts. This model works. There are other legit small scale farmers who publish here and there on the internets, but most of the time, they're busy farming.

For the record, I do homestead, I feed my familly 80%, but this only goes so far. I also have a half-time job, and my wife works in town.
 
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I think if you are going to try to get rich from permaculture homesteading without much work, it is unlikely to succeed.  Millions of people are looking for a more meaningful way to get by.   There are a ton of people who want to be part of this transition.  I am one of them.  People have all kinds of different goals, and ways to get there.  I was in the rat race, making a reasonable salary, but I didn't feel I was part of the solution. I felt like I was part of the problem.  I switched to a job that gave me more free time, although less money, and I was able to make my permaculture dream come true. I have a food forest in the same suburb I was living in while working in the rat race.  I just retired technically, but I am substitute teaching as a partial job.  There are millions that have their version of this story.  It does appear to me that we are in the early part of the transition, but look at the Great Resignation.  Many of the people who quit just didn't see continuing in the rat race as a good life.  Some will have income streams on the homestead.  Not everyone wants 40 acres.  Many have found a job that pays less and they are cutting expenses, cooking more, growing more food, and figuring out how to do it in their own way.

John S
PDX OR
 
Steve Mendez
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There are small/tiny farms making tremendous profits. These farms are producing products that others have not been able to figure out how to grow or even thought of growing. These products are not necessarily
food. These farms have developed strong niche markets with loyal customers who gladly pay premium prices because nobody else can reliably provide the product. These farms aren't near their customers; think UPS Next Day Air.
These farms don't have websites and avoid publicity. The last thing they want is competition (business against them).
There are plenty of wild animal and plant species waiting to reward ambition, skill, and hard work with a unique, interesting, sustainable, and lucrative farm business.
 
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I believe Adam Smith described specialization and the division of labor as a "motor for generating prosperity." Unfortunately, permaculture farming tends to be a practice of generalization which tends to not be nearly as profitable. A true polyculture farm has numerous different plants and animals so it unlikely that a single practitioner could ever gain mastery of growing and selling each of the various components. Perhaps  a community of various specialists could run a tremendously successful permaculture farm, but that introduces a whole new set of challenges.
 
John Suavecito
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I agree that it's harder as a single individual.   It seems to me that most of the people I've seen making it are part of a couple or a family with kids.  There is too much work involved for it to be easy for a single person.  

Besides, most of the people I've met like this that are successful enjoy farming, gardening, farmer's markets, talking to people about regenerative agriculture, permaculture, etc., so they'd happily switch from another profession just because they like it more.

John S
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I don't know if you would call him permaculture or not, but Conor Crickmore does pretty good on 1.5 acres.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u5IE6lYKXRw

I get that most people read that question to mean "where are all the farms that make a lot of money?". And there are quite a few that have a large profit. However, as some people have pointed out, what about the savings on food grown yourself. What about the savings on healthcare because you are eating healthier and have a more active lifestyle? I think there are many benefits to a small farm beyond the economic, but permaculture is about permanence. One post I read said something about our world going just a few steps further towards decline in our food systems. How long can it hold out? I don't think the big farms are going to suddenly disappear... but I do think they will struggle as gas and diesel prices rise. I just read an article from a mainstream media site talking about how big farm equipment is causing compaction in the soil. When those companies are struggling, the small farmer who is independent and self sufficient will just keep right on chugging. A farmer who can raise chickens without bringing in food is set for life. The amount of work it takes to grow the food and collect the eggs doesn't change with inflation, but stays the same. It doesn't matter if feed prices rise, or he can't get chicks delivered through the mail for whatever reason. He has a couple roosters and hens and can raise more. Maybe it is economics, maybe it is philosophy, but if a large farm can spring up, make a bunch of money, and then collapse because they used up their resources, I call that an economic failure. If a farm can grow slowly and gradually and become self sustaining indefinitely... I call that an economic success, even if their profit sheet isn't very big.  
 
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Skot Colacicco wrote:
Business first, Farmer second. Anything else is called Gardening.



This is so important it deserves more attention. The whole post was excellent, but this is the critical piece.

A profitable farm needs to be a business first, farm second. It needs as much or more attention to marketing and sales, consumer desires, and potential sales channels than to the actual growing of crops.

My own small business is not farming or farm-related, but the same rule applies. You have to find your customers, not wait for them to find you. You have to identify a product or service that people will pay enough for to earn you a profit.

You have to plan for multiple years of little or no business (i.e., farm) income while you are getting it established. Look at Polyface Farms, which is a multigenerational effort. It's not a criticism of Joel Salatin to point out that his success rests on many years of his father's efforts to get it started, all the while holding an outside job.

You cannot readily sell to customers that are not on the same scale you are operating on. Neighborhood market garden selling to neighborhood, okay. Large scale farm selling to large regional grocery chain, okay. Small neighborhood farm trying to sell to large scale regional grocery chain, unlikely to happen.

Most new businesses fail and disappear without a trace. New farms are not going to be an exception to this.

The vast majority of farm good output in America today comes from large-scale conventional farms, usually growing annual commodity crops (field corn, soybeans, etc.). That means you will not see many models of the type of small profitable farm we are discussing. Each one that does succeed often does in a locally unique way that can't simply be replicated elsewhere.
 
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Well permaculture, and more than my fair share of white privilege, got me to debt free and owning 25acres on a self-sufficient homestead where we do not need an off site income. Its hard to account for how much the hard work, generosity, education, foresight and financial planning of my also white and relatively privileged parents and grandparents played in this (though they did start as working class children of first generation immigrants). Permaculture allowed me to leverage this into a life working to instigate greater and greater biodiversity and abundance. I try to use, refine and share methods that would be applicable for those who start with less than I did, but it still seems only fair to acknowledge that I did not do the impossible by “pulling myself up by my bootstraps” (which is a bullshit term that should make anyone suspect of its proponents).
 
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Scott Obar wrote:I'm a bit discouraged as I go on youtube and see homesteading/permaculture farm channels, and it seems everyone also has some sort of job (usually digital-related, but sometimes a defacto job in town), a wealthy spouse, or they are making their income from youtube, or from hosting workshops, airbnbs etc.

Where are all the examples of people raking in the dough from straight-up farm products? Let's learn from those examples please!
Why so few examples where people are getting into the nitty gritty of the economic aspects of their operation?



I might be mistaken, but I think those people don't have time to make videos about it or run youtube channels.

You occasionally hear about them via interviews on other people's podcasts.  Older podcasts by Diego Footer for example. He used to interview a lot of people who are making it work.
 
John C Daley
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Another acronym " VRBO options " what are they please?
 
If you send it by car it's a shipment, but if by ship it's cargo. This tiny ad told me:
Own 37 Acres in AZ - good water wells - 44% discount, only $22k!
https://permies.com/t/96159/Acre-site-Northwestern-AZ-sale
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