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Need advice on starting small farm/homestead

 
Joe Walker
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Ok a recent turn of events has allowed me to realistically think about starting my own small farm/homestead. But I'd like as much advice as i can get. If I were considering buying land anywhere between applachian mountains and rockies. How much money would I need to start a small farm. Say small house or cabin preferably off grid, barn, on up to 50 acres. I come from real estate market. But understanding real estate values does not mean I've got good grasp on farm start up costs. I'd like to get any and all advice and input. Don't hold back Lay it on me.
 
Sean Banks
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I would look into old hunting camps.......these places are often remote and forgotten about...they usually come with a small cabin......local governments will not care what you do so going off grid is a possibility there. Moneywise figure between $100,000-200,000 for land (check out landwatch.com for listings). Also best to look in states and counties with small populations this is another indication of cheaper land.
Farming costs depends on what your growing/raising. Animals are going to cost you more. You should consider doing specially products...things that you can't get anywhere else.....like certain mushrooms, herbs, fruits, medicinal plants, rare plants for nursery trade, etc.
 
Joe Walker
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Thank you for that input. Please keep it coming. Any advice on dvd's to watch or books to read about permaculture/small farm start up?
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9453
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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If you subscribe to geoff lawton's website you can watch his free video about what to look for in a property. Subscription is free. http://geofflawton.com/

Keep in mind land may be cheaper the further West you go, but you'll need to buy more acres because in most cases the carrying capacity is less. For instance, here in my part of Central Texas carrying capacity is one animal unit (cow and calf) per 25 - 50 acres, versus the Eastern US where carrying capacity may be one animal unit per acre. Unless you want the land for privacy, don't buy more than you need or can care for. I consider 20 acres the minimum for privacy, but it is more than I can care for.
 
John Polk
steward
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Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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I would look into old hunting camps....

I have seen some pretty good deals on hunting cabins.
(As in 5-10 acres w/cabin for $40-60,000.)
They are usually quite remote, and quite often a require 4x4 for year-round access.

They are often a one room cabin with a wood burning stove.
Usually quite primitive.

They should offer good privacy except during hunting season, when you may need a bullet-proof vest.
 
Thekla McDaniels
gardener
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Location: Grand Valley of Colorado's Western Slope
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If you are from the west, you already know this, but it is not how people from anywhere else think about it: the further west you go, the dryer it gets. Make sure you consider water. Remember that though there may be a stream crossing the property, the water may already be 100% allocated. -- or 135 % allocated! People have been killed in the west over water, and there are huge problems afoot for the whole Colorado River basin.

Also consider that though historical claims can be overturned. We are starting to hear about "appropriate" use, meaning that for example, if I am not using "my" water the way the majority of people consider "appropriate", I can lose the right to it. Do you see that this is a political consideration? The cities of LA, Phoenix and Las Vegas depend on the Colorado river. Conventional farmers are being sold the idea that drip irrigation is the only "appropriate" use of agricultural water. Even on NPR, commentators are talking about the "wastefulness" of growing alfalfa, as if it is the crop itself that uses lots of water. So, when large numbers of people begin to believe that drip is all there is, and alfalfa is "bad", and financial resources of metropolitan areas can be pooled, "non-compliant" water uses can be banned. I could lose the right to use water that is historically "mine". This would free the water for use by metropolitan areas from Denver to Los Angeles, to continue the growth trends of subdivisions, or for energy development.

Typically, permaculture practices are not what most people understand as "appropriate". Doesn't mean permaculture practices aren't appropriate. To me, permaculture practices are by definition appropriate to the conditions in which they are applied, but we are all aware that the misapplication and mis use of practices someone learns in a permaculture setting are rampant, feeding the nonacceptance of permaculture. The problem I'm trying to describe is that small holders doing other than mainstream are likely to be judged "inappropriate" by millions of folks interested in other things, who are in no way qualified to judge. And being deemed "inappropriate" is about to
qualify a person to lose their private property, when the private property is an historical claim on water in the west.


There may be plenty of funny business around the use of water in the west, in the very near future!

Just look into water before you buy what ever you decide to buy.

Thekla
 
Jim Thomas
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Location: SC; Zone 7B
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Thekla McDaniels wrote:Even on NPR, commentators are talking about the "wastefulness" of growing alfalfa, as if it is the crop itself that uses lots of water.

Thekla


I'm not sure what else you would expect from NPR. That sounds right in their wheelhouse, calling for government to step in and regulate those evil, wasteful property owners.

As for the government taking your water rights, sure. If they can seize ALL of your land through eminent domain, why can't they take just the water rights? They are required to pay you whatever they are worth, though that may be small comfort.
 
Thekla McDaniels
gardener
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Location: Grand Valley of Colorado's Western Slope
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Therefore, in arid lands, be sure about your water.
 
Ryan Ramsay
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Location: Willamette Valley
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Ooh this sounds fun - you've got a long ways to go!

I'll skip the land acquisition stuff and mention a few things about start-up costs.

A farm start-up can actually be a fairly inexpensive business to start. A lot of the small scale farmers will tell you that it takes around $30-40k to start a diversified vegetable market farm. This is somewhat independent of scale as a lot of the major fixed costs do not fluctuate (much) with the size of the farm until you reach a certain point. For example, a $2,000 walk-in cooler may be enough to service a farm up to 5 acres (just an example). Personally, I don't think the $30-40k number is too unrealistic, especially if you want intend to do things right the first time and you're not planning on purchasing any big equipment (rent or borrow tractors if you can). I however, managed to start a 1 acre market garden for around $10k. This took considerable effort - tons of wheelin' and dealin', horse trading, salvaging, building projects into the middle of the night, coming up with homespun designs for implements, etc. If you are creative and savvy with craigslist you can save a ton of money. Of course the trade off is always the cost of time and effort.

For vegetable farming I can not recommend Elliot Coleman's ,"The New Organic Grower", highly enough. Fantastic book. A book by Richard Wiswall, "The Organic Farmer's Business Handbook" is also super useful. It focuses on financial considerations of farming and doesn't really touch on cultural practices.
 
Thekla McDaniels
gardener
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Location: Grand Valley of Colorado's Western Slope
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Joe,
What do you want to do with your farm? Ryan is talking about market vegetables. There is a lot going on there and you can get good information from the spin model if you want to grow vegetables. With 50 acres, you could do a lot more than vegetables.

If you have not read Mark Shepard's book something like "restoration agriculture", I suggest you hie yourself down to the library and request it. He started with 200+ acres of spent corn ground, and has now accomplished the stuff of legends. Vegetables are only part of what he did. There are you tube videos of Mark speaking, too.

Surely you've heard of Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm. There is another model and set of methods worth studying. Grow as much pasture as you can and get as many animals on the pasture as the pasture will carry!

Tell us more about what you want to do and what your interests are! Dairy, meat production, managing a woodland for wildcrafting, pastured egg and poultry, you could do ALL of these. And I think you'll get more input if you can be more specific!

Thekla
 
Raine Hogan
Posts: 28
Location: Salt Lake City
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If you're looking at land between Appalachia and the Rockies, you may want to consider weather as well as other things. As a matter of fact, that's on the top 5 of my list.
Why?
TORNADOES - sat through many in the school halls as a kid and had one go over my 3 acre homestead and take out a brick storage building on a cattle ranch less than 3 miles down the road from me.

There's also the other weather constraints - winter lows and polar vortex dipping down out of the artic (fall is harvest and winter prep time, and will you go out in minus temps to take care of things); annual rainfall and water catchment laws (plants do better with rain water than well water - Ph balance); summer heat and length of time between rain during your growing season (sucks to lose plants to heat and drought after all of the initial planting and optimism). Have you looked at these and started contengency plans?

Granted a cabin in the middle of nowhere sounds great, but what about wildfires? And where's your market located for your products/services; how far away is it; transportation and time costs; potable water with well testing if required in that area; other logistical considerations ? My husband wanted the cabin in BFE until I pointed out that the mountain man/lone wolf from the movies does not work for farming, and besides how many of those mountain men/lone wolves died without anyone even knowing they had existed out there? (I worked in movies & TV for several years - 200+ people to make a show about 3 people. Now figure how many people will it take for your farm to break even?)

Unless you're independently wealthy, farming is a community activity and a real business that can go broke way too fast and easy. If you're planning a permaculture training and retreat - check local agritourism & hospitality laws; also liability insurance.

Also look at the way local and state government treat agricultural businesses and farmers in the area you're looking to move to. Most municipalities want businesses, homes and industries - not farms, for tax revenue. Farms are lower income for towns and counties and so they can have more restrictions in some areas than others.

Just realize that there is more to finding the right property than cost per acre. Up front, a property may seem a deal, but it's the residual and back end costs that you need to keep in mind.

Good luck on your dreams and goals
R
 
Alder Burns
pollinator
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Location: northern California
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A rough template that I heard years ago and has proved true in my own startups is to take the total available for investing in the project and parse it into thirds....one third for the land (assuming it's raw land), one third for buildings, and the last third for whatever else. If there's a building on site that doesn't need extensive work, adjust accordingly.
Too many startup homesteaders end up "land poor" by blowing too much on more land and not having enough left to develop it adequately.......
 
Joe Walker
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Thank you to everyone that responded I highly appreciate the information and discussion. I apologize that it has taken me so long to respond yet I am unfortunately still immersed in mainstream rat race culture and working on a huge commercial ranch therefore been extremely busy. I will respond more in depth when it's not so late and I am not falling asleep. But the time is getting closer for me to finally make a move toward buying land and doing whatever I can to successfully create a homestead on the property. In process of liquidating my former home and free up vested equity just going thru required snail pace steps. Everyone have a good evening. And look forward to speaking further on the matter.
 
F. Anton
Posts: 4
Location: Thailand
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Never to late to contribute, I think.
I own 10 ha of land that I can't manage on my own and I'm looking for sell it as soon I find someone to pay what I'm asking for.
Besides I have another property, small, only 1 acre in size, where right now I'm planing to develop my homestead with my family.
The best advice I can give you, go small for it, then you can manage the land properly, remember that in this specific issue, quality speaks higher than quantity. 50 acres is a lot of land to whom willing to live out in the boonies.
Anyway good luck and my best wishes with your decision.
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