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What is a small farm?  RSS feed

 
Walter Jeffries
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Hmm... New forums. Small Farm vs Large Farm. Where are the boundaries? Fuzzy borders or hard thin lines?

Me? I pick small farm. Others tell me we have a big farm.

In some places they measure by the acres. In some places it is common to have a lot of the acreage in forest which is part of farming but it takes a lot to do much with.
 
Dale Hodgins
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To me, anything under 20 acres is small, up to 500 medium and large is up to 2000. Huge would be corporate farms of up to 10,000. Differences in climate and productivity make a big difference in what I consider large. A 20 acre market garden within view of a large city is pretty large. 500 acres of high desert isn't very large when productivity and price are measured.

Another way of looking at it could be dollar value. Under one million --- small

One to five million --- medium

Over five million --- large

Twenty million or more --- huge

I want to one day control a large farm.
 
Rufus Laggren
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Maybe clear up what is a farm.

I think there is a distinction between 1) growing/providing some food for immediate family living on site (or close); 2) selling a certain amount of product to bring in a subsistence living for said family; 3) Selling moderate to large amount of product to bring in a "living wage" for all members of said family and their employees. Employees may be a key point. #3 would definitely be a farm, #2 is probably a farm, #1 I'm not at all sure about. Presumably you only have to start worrying about how large a small farm can be when you pass well into #3.

IOW. To be a farm an entity must be providing significant food to the larger community and be an integral part of that community. IMHO.

Rufus
 
Mark Thomas
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Location: Cape Town, South Africa
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It all comes down to the size of your tractor...



Over here a farm (any size) is a commercial venture. A small holding and lately a new description 'hobby farm" describes a "farm" but not for real commercial gain. Although size is generally the defining factor, productivity of the land is a huge factor.

But generally over here, "decent land" 10 acres or less is a small holding. In arid conditions 40 acres is a small holding. Up to one acre is a big garden...
 
S Carreg
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Location: De Cymru (West Wales, UK)
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I have no idea, everyone's definitions are different. Here in the UK you can register as a smallholding at any size (you need to get a SH number in order to have any livestock), but it's not until 12 acres that you automatically get certain agricultural rights (like automatic planning permission for agricultural buildings). Where I live if people want to build new homes they have to show that they are 90% self-sufficient from the land, that includes feeding themselves and raising enough of a profit to meet their basic financial needs. So I do know quite a few people who are 'farming' by the previous poster's definition, on just a few acres sometimes. Then again I know a few sheep farmers (the dominant occupation around here) who have many acres (70+) and lots of sheep (500+) but a spouse with a full-time off-farm job for income.

For our own part we have 4.5 acres, at the moment it would best be described as a large vegetable garden with poultry, and I feel silly calling it a smallholding although we do have a number. Eventually our goal is to be producing all/nearly all of our own fruit and vegetables, eggs, a good proportion of meat and dairy, from a variety of animals. This will still not be our source of income, but if we get to the stage of producing nearly all our own food and possibly slight surpluses from time to time, I would happily call it a smallholding/small farm.
 
Dawn Hoff
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I have heard people describe 1 acre as a farm... I grew up on a one acre farm then, my mum currently lives on a one acre farm then - I never considered it a farm, it is a country house with a country garden.

We have recently bought a 6 ha (15 acres) - it is a small farm IMO, in Denmark where farms are small on average it is considered a hobby farm (more than 30 ha ~ 75 acres, is considered a big farm and requires an education in farming).
 
Walter Jeffries
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So if you use the 20 acre definition then factory farms are small farms. After all, they concentrate tens of thousands of animals per acre. My cousin has 500,000 birds per acre. That would work out to be 10,000,000 chickens for 20 acres. So you would define him as a small farm...

No, number of acres is a really bad definition. That's my point.
 
Matu Collins
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For the purpose of this forum, I think the definition needs to be broad. If people have questions or ideas to share about small scale farming practices, this is the place. The other option is big farm.

Let's not get stuck on food. Farms produce other products too. Flowers for essential oils, for example. Some grow food for the farmer's family some farmers eat only from the grocery store.
 
Michael Cox
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The point of this forum as I understood it was that small farms have different concerns from larger commercial establishments, and different again from smaller permaculture gardens (ie growing predominantly for own use rather than sale). Acreage I think is less important than mindset.
 
Craig Dobbson
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I kind of think along these lines:

If your life would be negatively effected by your failure to do the daily chores like milking, feeding, sowing, harvesting, watering, birthing etc... you're farming. For me it's not about land size, equipment or the amount you produce. It's not about dollars and cents either. It's about caring enough to do it right and moving forward even when it doesn't go to plan. If you derive a profit (no matter the form) then you are a good farmer. If you break even... that's ok too.

So I'm just starting out in the "farming" thing. I'm working 2.5 of my 7 acres. I'm putting food on the table, in the freezer, in jars and on shelves. I've had surplus at times that I've either sold, given away or fed back to the animals. Every year I have better soil, more water, better food, more of it and tons more knowledge. If I do the numbers out, then I'm probably making enough to warrant not having a real job. That was not the case last year, so maybe I'm begining to turn the corner to becoming a legit farmer. In that calculation I consider more than just money. So am I a farmer? Is this a farm? If it isn't then I'd like to think that I'm on my way to becoming one.

What do you tell people when they ask what you do for a living? I say, I'm rebuilding an old farm and making new farmers.



 
Walter Jeffries
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Exactly. And some products take a lot more land to produce a living from. For example, to sustainably farm:

an acre might be enough to grow garlic on and make a living;

50 acres to raised pastured pigs;

100 acres to raise pastured cattle;

1,000 acres to raise free range trees;

10,000 acres to make money in commodity grains; etc.

Different crops take different amounts of space and different terrain also changes things. In some parts of the world 1,000 acres might all be monocropped to soybeans but in other places, like our farm, that same 1,000 acres is a mix of forestry, maple sugaring, livestock (pastured pigs, chickens, ducks & geese) and growing winter food for ourselves and said livestock. We don't intensively crop all that land. Rather much of it is steep mountain side, some is marsh, a fair bit is mountain pasture and a little bit is terraces.

Things differ and the acre rule is a poor choice for defining a 'small' vs 'large' farm. That was my point with the original post.

Also be cautious about defining a dollar level.
Are you talking gross income of all sales like the FDA is doing with their new act? In that case the number is $500K/yr of gross sales tips you into their control.
Are you talking net revenue after deducting operating expenses? This is a much more reasonable way of looking at things than the FDA's definition which ignores the high cost of farming.
Are you talking profit (net-net) after deducting capitalization expenses? Startup with a farm is very expensive.
It's complicated and thresholds that work in one place don't make sense in another place. Even just within the USA economies are vastly different between NYC and Vermont for example.

A better way to look at it may be something along the lines of:

1) Backyard garden - raising just for a bit of summer garden with no commercial sales;

2) Homestead - raising food and other things to fill a majority of one's family's needs and maybe a bit of sales;

3) Farmstead - raising food and other things for one's family and doing a significant amount of commercial sales; (This is our level)

4) Farm - focus is really just on the commercial sales and not on raising food and such for one's family; (this level can be done sustainably too)

5) Factory farm - confinement operation farm. (probably outside the scope of Permies).

But there are many other factors such as is it sustainable because all of those levels might be done sustainably or unsustainably. That question is perhaps already defined by the forum goals.

All this begs another question and that is full-time vs part-time. We farm full time. Virtually all of our family's income come's from our land through our forestry and other farm products (primarily pastured pork and pigs). We raise a lot of things besides pigs but it is the pigs that bring home the bacon, that pay the bills, that are the spearhead of our sales. Most everything we do from growing pumpkins to chickens to ducks to geese support the pigs getting to market. We don't sell pumpkins or kale or sunflowers although we grow many acres and many, many tons - all those feed the pigs who do go to customers. It's a system. On the other hand, on some farms they do things in other ways where outside jobs pay for buying feed, insurance, etc so they can farm. Many ways to crack the nut.

I would be curious to know from Paul what he intended with the creation of the Urban, Small Farm and Large Farm forums. What are his thoughts and definitions, what are his goals for discussion here.

Cheers,

-Walter Jeffries
Sugar Mountain Farm
Pastured Pigs, Sheep & Kids
in the mountains of Vermont
http://SugarMtnFarm.com/
 
Craig Dobbson
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To be honest, sometimes I think we divide things up too much. While I understand that large and small farms have different concerns, I also think it's important to have an overlap of those groups. There are small farms who are growing and becoming big farms and big ones that are downsizing. Having them in two different rooms may discourage crossover discussion and thus something get's lost that could be of value.
Since becoming a member on these forums, I've gone from a two-row veggie garden with all the sprays and shit, to a... uh... um well... there's a lot more now. Literally tons more. Pigs, chickens, rabbits, annual, perennial, fruit, veg, nuts, tubers... you get the idea. All done in a permie sort of way.
As Walter points out... How am I supposed to know what room I belong in, if everyone has a different idea of what large and small farm means? Are the differences between these two groups so vast so as to separate them? How does that help them converse more effectively?

 
Matu Collins
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There are vast differences between our farms for so many reasons! This attempt to categorize, I believe, is an attempt to address the differing concerns of the vast and growing community of permies. Really, a small farm is small because the farmer calls it small. A farm is big because the farmer calls it big.

To me, any property with the potential to raise the products of plants or animals, where a person intends to do so is a farm.

Much of the work I'm doing now won't see monetary profit for years. But my father in law bought this land to be a farm, we produce food and other products, we call it a farm. You might call it a homestead. My neighbors have way more property than I, make their living from the meat they raise, and they call it a homestead. They buy their veggies at the store. Our definitions aren't going to match here, this is a worldwide site.

I agree with Craig, we needn't divide ourselves to smithereens. I agree with Paul, some new categories will help people find and share information and questions to the benefit of all.

Abundance to you all!
 
Walter Jeffries
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Matu Collins wrote:There are vast differences between our farms for so many reasons! This attempt to categorize, I believe, is an attempt to address the differing concerns of the vast and growing community of permies. Really, a small farm is small because the farmer calls it small. A farm is big because the farmer calls it big.


So my cousin's factory farm for chickens is a small farm since that is what he calls it. 50,000 birds per 'house'.

Matu Collins wrote:To me, any property with the potential to raise the products of plants or animals, where a person intends to do so is a farm.


That is how the USDA likes to define it. They use a $1,000 threshold. Since any property can raise food (hydroponics anyone) that means that all properties are farms by your definition. A definition that tries to differentiate but is all inclusive isn't very helpful. Better not to bother with the definition in that case.

Matu Collins wrote:Much of the work I'm doing now won't see monetary profit for years.


True of many farms and many other types of businesses too.

Matu Collins wrote:I agree with Craig, we needn't divide ourselves to smithereens.


Agreed. Which is why I raised the question of how one defines large vs small.

Frankly, I'm more interested in discussing topics like chickens, pigs, mushrooms, compost than having a forum for 'small farms' and another for 'large farms'. I consider my place to be a small farm - we only have about 400 pigs, 300 chickens and a few tens of millions of board feet of trees on 1,000 acres.
 
Craig Dobbson
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So Size doesn't matter. Income doesn't matter. Volume doesn't matter. Profit doesn't matter. Time doesn't matter.

Is it possible that what really matters is the well-being of all the organisms involved and the "impact" the farm has on the overall health and well being of those around it?

Can a 5 acre property be "Large" if it does a lot of positive business while improving the quality of life for all involved?

Maybe one way to look at it is the "over-all long-term impact of the farm" determines how big it is.

I don't know...

So you can have a positive farm or negative farm, but you can't have a large or small one. A 100 acres that provides for 100 people is (to me) the same size as a 20 acre farm that provides for 20 people. That's assuming all else is equal. 100 acres that provides for 50 people with no inputs is larger (to me) than 100 acres that provides for 50 people with lots of inputs needed.

AH! What if instead of large or small we use terms like long and short? The size of a farm would be determined by how long it could go on doing it's business without inputs.

ok... now i'm driving myself crazy with this. I'm going out to farm... whatever that means
 
John Polk
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I recently read a USDA statistic that says 80% of all U.S. family farms have one or more person working an off-farm job, to keep the place afloat.

So, technically, 80% of U.S. farms are Hobby Farms, even if they produce 50,000 bushels of corn.

 
Walter Jeffries
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The other part of that off farm job aspect that I've heard is that most of those people have the off farm job not for the income but for the benefits, for the health insurance specifically. Health insurance costs $15K to $25K a year for a family so it is a huge benefit.

(Let's not turn this discussion into a talk about health care please! That was not the point.)
 
Cortland Satsuma
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There is no definition for small versus large. This holds true for many things; not just farms. Most people calling themselves "small" simply mean they are non-commercial. Hence, there is no need to have a separate forum for "small" on an already non-commercial farming site. There could be a section for "backyard or urban farming"; which, is different from those who are on Agriculture zoned land.
 
Walter Jeffries
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Actually, there are definitions. In our state there are specific statuary definitions of Small, Medium and Large farms. Other states have similar definitions. Here in Vermont they do it based on animal units. That is pretty common. It is a little bizarre that the FDA has set the definition based on earning more or less than $500K - well off the beaten path.

A Medium Livestock Operation is defined as:
200 to 699 mature dairy cows, whether milked or dry; 300 to 999 veal calves; 300 to 999 cattle other than mature dairy cows or veal calves.
750 to 2,499 swine each weighing 55 pounds or more; 3,000 to 9,999 swine each weighing less than 55 pounds;
150 to 499 horses;
3,000 to 9,999 sheep or lambs;
16,500 to 54,999 turkeys;
9,000 to 29,999 laying hens or broilers...

http://www.watershedmanagement.vt.gov/stormwater/docs/CAFO/sw_gp_6100_faq.pdf

Small farms are what is below medium (e.g., less than 750 swine finisher pigs) and large is what is above medium (e.g., more than 2,499 swine finisher pigs).

Thus by law there is a definition whether we agree with it or not.

So are we going to use the USDA definition, the FDA definition (>$500,000 gross sales), Vermont (and other state) definition (above) or go with something else?

I notice there are no posts to the Large Farm forum. This raises the question of: Is there anyone on Permies who would consider themselves to be a Large Farm?
 
Craig Dobbson
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What about forums being dedicated to permaculture zones? Not usda climate zones but the zones of influence.

Some people don't have a zone four(barely managed) or five (wild spaces). Some are even more limited than that. Perhaps it would make sense to break it up that way.

Zone 0-2

zone 2-4

zone 4-5


This might help with the overlap that seems to occur when you break it up by any other metric.

Just a thought.

Or ... What about the wheaton eco scale?
that would break it up by level of perceived craziness. Might be more fun that way.

 
Cortland Satsuma
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@ Walter...

Your state and USA federal information is correct. We Americans do have a propensity to see ourselves as the center of the universe, even on the www. Our state and federal definitions are not accepted world wide. If we took every governing standard world wide, the terms would be meaningless. However, one could choose any given standard and make it the standard of the forum. I just do not see that happening here on permies.

@ Craig...

While I see your point as a bit of a stretch on this topic; do think it well deserves its own forum! Our property does have zones 0-5; and, we would be very interested in discussions about each area. Equally, diluting the topic...I would love to see a forum for each agriculture zone! What I "knew as agriculture facts" in Hawaii and California are not always true in Virginia.
 
Matu Collins
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The discussion of zones is very interesting, but it could easily be done under Permaculture design.

My farm is small for sure, 3 acres, but we have a zone 4 and 5
 
Walter Jeffries
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Cortland, that was rather my point, which is why I brought the topic up.
 
Craig Dobbson
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Would it be safe to say that this is a situation which is much akin to relativity? Farm size is determined by the observer and will differ between individual observers based on location and velocity.

From where my suburbanite in-laws stand, I have a big farm. Most other farmers would say I'm a small homestead.

Guess it all depend on how look at it and where you look at it from.

Yay Physics!
 
Terri Matthews
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Well, the tax man says that a farm is an agribusiness that has $1000 in sales, or it was so the last that I heard. I haven't asked for a few years because I was too busy to farm.

I guess that that $1000 could be earned on 1000 acres or on 1/10th of an acre, which would be the difference between a large farm or a small one?

DH would like to sell sweet corn next year and I would like to sell kale seed. We will probably gross well under $1000. Though, personally, if we get the gross over $500 I intend to consider this a "small farm", no matter what the tax man says!

The only real hitch is that I want to permaculture the corn and DH does not. This may take a bit of doing.

We have an acre of land at home, and 5 acres further out.
 
Miles Flansburg
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All ,
Paul has posted some thoughts on this here...

http://www.permies.com/t/22455/tnk/Farmer-Market-Gardener-Commercial-Forum

(scroll down to his post today)

That thread may also help explain why the new forums appeared.
 
bemith wurz
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A small farm means just enough for you to manage. Especially if you are beginner in the said farming industry. It is basic to start by having a small farm first and let it grow with your hard work.
 
Jay Hayes
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Walter,

That is the first time I've heard the term free range trees. I got a good chuckle on that one.

Thanks

J
 
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