My wife and I are planning to begin our new small scale farm and we are interested in permaculture. I am looking for advice and direction on ideas, business plan, equipment, grants, etc . . . We will have about $20K-$25K in cash in to begin and another $4-6K saved up by March-April and $20K in Sept. We have to use about $12K soon to dig a well. She will still counsel for a high school; so, we'll have somewhat of an income stream. We'll have about 3 acres to work and would like a perspective on whether I can work this most by myself. I'm 42 and not afraid of hard work . . . The Texas football coach in me . . . We are mainly interested in CSA.
If we can get some direction and encouragement, we sure appreciate it.
Where are you located? Do you know what climate zone you are in? Are you close in proximity to a city? Do you think you have a community ready to buy enough shares of your CSA or does the community need education? Are there well-functioning CSAs in your area with waiting lists? (This is a good sign) Have you farmed before?
We will be located just north-northwest of Fort Worth about 20-25 minutes in a small town. All I can say is it's H-O-T during the summers, lol. We are in between a few town of similar size as the one we're in, and a bit larger, within about 10-20 minutes each way. There are a few CSA's in some neighboring towns. There have been a few in our town; however, they have either been inconsist-tent or fallen by the wayside. The market supports a local CSA, and I believe, is ready for education and loac commitment. We have strong support through my wife's family with the school distr-ict and our families live within 5 minutes of town. In all, we will have approx. 10-15 acres. I believe this town, the neighboring towns (with I have had a prominent business in a few years back) and folks in between are hungry for someone solid and local to consistently pro-vide food and education. People fight over free cafe free eggs around here and there are several farmers markets in and around FTW and neighboring towns.
I grew up in and around farming and ranching. My granddaddy ran cattle and farmed cotton down here and potatoes in Idaho for many many years. I do not have experience as a farmer by myself; however, I'm not a stranger to the expectations and hours. He farmed differently and on a larger scale. Being a researcher by nat-ure, I have come to the conclusion I have found permaculture very appealing and necessary. I would like to become AGA Certified and then organically certified within 3-5 years. I would like to intercrop and rotate to avoid the use of chemicals and such. I am also looking into grants to help with our well and courses and books to educate myself. I am 42 and have no illusions or grandure about an easier life, lol. This lifestyle has only been a dream of mine; unt-il I have realized it doesn't have to be any longer.
I think it's definitely a great idea of resorting into this type of business. But I guess one of you could study permaculture or livestock seminars will do to help you with do's and dont's. Since it's an investment, money and resources are at stake thus, it requires focus and knowledge.
Absolutely . . . Very good points. I am on the lookout for seminars and courses to take. I am pricing equipment; at the behest of The Market Gardener, and I am seeing I'll be looking for used to begin with. Super excited, super nervous and want to provide a good life for me and mine.
I don't think it's a question of CAN you work it yourself but what will you be making yourself do. Can you work 3 acres, yes, if you don't overload it. If you have so much going on on that 3 acres that some things are getting neglected, then you can't. That's up to you and what you do though. I'd start a bit at a time and add on as I felt comfortable.
Cory Moreno: Good for you! I operated under the CSA model for a while, and I hated it because I was in debt to my customers... I know that the CSA contract implies that you get what the farmer can produce when he can produce it, but crop failures really really sucked for me. These days I do the farmer's market and find it much more enjoyable. If I was living at the farm, I would operate an honor system produce stand. I started growing my own seeds, so that I don't have huge expenses early in the season when I'm the poorest. That pretty much eliminated any desire for up-front payment via CSA subscribers.
The past 7 years I have grown vegetables on anywhere from 0.75 to 4 acres. My limit on being able to take care of a vegetable farm mostly by myself is 3 acres... That was commuting 25 miles to the farm. Someone living on the farm could likely handle more.
Elle, thanks for the response. That answers my question . . . Yes, it is possible, but only for someone who is willing to work it and isn't covering themselves up with too many obligations. Have I understood this correctly? If so, that is the info I've been looking for.
Joseph, and thank YOU for your post and info. I am starting to feel more confident in managing 3 acres; although, I will more than likely start out with managing only 2. I am in the middle of the GREAT BOOK The Market Gardener . . . Which, I cam quite sure everyone here is familiar with.
Anyone else who has ANY advice in ANY way on ANY thing concerning preparing my fields, to preparing my beds, to black plastic mulch, tools and/or efficiency . . . I AM ALL EARS!
Thank you all so much for your advice and wisdom thus far!
author & steward
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
I have lived under a vow of poverty for 16 years now, so at my farm I choose to do subsistence level farming. What that means in practical terms is that I don't buy things to use in my garden. I don't buy seeds. I don't buy plastic. I don't buy compost, fertilizer, or poisons. I don't heat the greenhouse (except for one or two extremely cold nights when spring is well upon us). I don't install tomato cages. If I use bean poles, they are coppiced from the orchard. As a corollary of that, I don't keep many records of what I plant or what I harvest.... I'll plant a crop of okra, or of yellow tomatoes just because I know they will please one particular customer or other. The cost of producing okra in my climate is much higher than I could recover at the farmer's market. Some years I miss planting a few species or other because the seeds weren't with me on planting day, or I spaced them off, or I missed my planting window. I pretty much have turned my attention to plant breeding to develop varieties that thrive here in spite of the growing conditions and the farmer. I focus on growing staple crops like beans, corn, and squash, even though they are not the most popular things that I could take to market. They are big, fast growing plants that can thrive with only one weeding during the summer, and they produce a lot of calories.
There are other farmer's at market that count every vegetable that they sell, and they wash things, and sell them in fancy containers, and they air-condition their greenhouses during the summer and heat them all winter and plant things under row covers so that they can sell out-of-season vegetables. And they pick vegetables all week long and store them in refrigerators. They sell a lot of vegetables, but they also have a lot of costs. It's easy to throw infrastructure at a garden... It's much harder to do a proper return on investment calculation about whether that infrastructure is actually paying for itself. I pretty much have to have irrigation, a couple of hoes, a saw and pair of loppers, some baskets, a rototiller, and containers to store seeds in. It's really nice to borrow my daddy's tractor a couple times per year.
The first few years I farmed for market, I'd say thing to myself like, "There are 8 weeks of market left, and I have 80 row feet of carrots, so I can take 10 row-feet to market per week". Then I'd try to pay attention to how many $ a row-foot could be expected to produce. These days I grow what pleases me. I grow muskmelons instead of cantaloupes, because I love the taste and smell and soft texture. I grow old fashioned sweet corn that is chewy and doesn't have very much sugar because I like that old corny taste and the reliability. Most people want sickly sweet mushy corn, and bland as can be hard cantaloupes... Sorry, they won't get them from me. Those people that like non-industrialized food come back to me week after week. I take medicinal herbs to market with me, even though only a few people know what they are or how to use them. I think that the people that buy them are the most clever people at market, and the ones that I'd most like to associate with. So I choose who I want to feed, and I learn what they like, and provide it for them, even if i'm the only farmer at market with mullein.
I highly recommend saving your own seeds. If you grow on plastic, then select for plants that thrive with plastic because their ancestors for years have been growing on plastic.
The one thing that I don't do, that I wish I did was I haven't incorporated animals onto my farm. I'm commuting to the farm, and I feel like I aught to be living with any animals that I'm raising. I tend to think that pigs, chickens, and goats could help clean up the perennial rhizome weeds which are such a profound nuisance in my fields.
I started with 3/4 acre. Here's what that field looked like during my second growing season with it.
Regarding tools and efficiency... I have invented or modified tools that allow me to do just about all of my planting and weeding while standing up. I made hoes with specialty shapes, and gave them extra long handles so that I don't have to stoop in the slightest. I can transplant tomatoes while walking down the row without bending. Each plant gets a few seconds of my time. I am developing my own variety of sweet corn in which the cobs are above waist height, so that I don't have to bend over to pick them. I space rows 6 inches wider apart than the cultivator, so I can weed with a cultivator. Then I only have to weed 6" of row... And if I space my seeds precisely, then I have exactly enough space between plants to run a narrow hoe.
I pay attention to my muscles... What gets sore? Why? What part of what tool is causing blisters or calluses or soreness. Then I modify either the tool, or my technique or both... I watch other people work. I steal memes from people that get a lot done. I avoid mimicking people that don't get much done. I grow 1" cherry tomatoes instead of 1/3 inch tomatoes... That lessens my workload for picking cherry tomatoes by 90%. I love being among the fittest men my age in my village. It comes from doing lots of manual labor. It also generates a lot of aches and pains. A good massage therapist really helps. I am super aware of equipment, and of situations that could cause damage to my ability to work. Other farmers hire young kids to do the manual labor. That's not my style.
The best technique I ever learned for dealing with annual weeds is that weed seeds mostly only germinate if they are within about 1.5 inches from the surface of the ground. So I limit my cultivation to no more than about an inch deep. That way I don't stir up weed seeds from deep within the ground. Also, once I get a 'closed canopy' weeds pretty much stop being a problem. I can get by on most crops with only one or two weedings during a growing season. Since I weed so little, I have had to select for crops that can out-compete the weeds.