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How to set up a farm in 9 steps  RSS feed

 
William Horvath
Posts: 31
Location: Melbourne
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I heard a lot of people struggle with how to get started once they have land and a farm.

It is the easiest when it's done in stages which build upon each other. That’s why I have created a multi-stage plan based upon the components of the ‘keyline scale of permanence’ and added few other notable additions.

Here are the steps so you don't have to read the whole guide.

1. Start with Good Maps and an Understanding of Your Local Climate

The most permanent agricultural factor is climate, and it is fundamental to every aspect of your farm. Temperature, insolation, wind, the annual distribution of humidity and rainfall – these are essentially ‘the rules of the game’, as Darren Doherty would put it.

Geography concerns the location of your farm within the region, shape and form of the land, along with underlying rocks and your proximity to potential markets. If climate sets rules for the game, geography is the board on which you play.

These two factors form the environment into which you must place your farm. These are your design parameters – study them, gather the historical information, produce new data, observe, consider your local geography and geology and study its influence on your farm. Most importantly, obtain good maps depicting your property.

2. Develop Water Supply First

In essence, water and rainfall will determine your farm’s development. The harvesting, storage and distribution of water form the foundation upon which you will build, because all the water lines: diversions, swales, terraces, dams/ponds, channels, will become permanent land features that other infrastructure components will follow.

When developing your water systems you will need to consider the storage, harvesting and reticulation of the available water.

3. Define Access Points

The location of the access points is influenced by climate, land shape and the water supply network you developed in the previous step. On gentler slopes the location of the permanent farm roads is more subjective. However, as soon as you get into steeper terrain, the siting of the farm roads is heavily dependant on climate and land shape.

The best location for the main road is on the ridge crests, which divide watersheds – this road will be high and dry, and, most importantly, easy to maintain. Some other potential road locations are along boundary lines and by water channels such as diversion channels, irrigation channels, and irrigation areas.

4. Restore Existing Buildings and Introduce New Structures

You should always look after what you start with, then restore what you can, finally introducing new elements into the systems. You can start slowly from your house and work outwards – renovate the house first, perhaps extend it with a greenhouse, introduce plant nursery and keep on expanding…

Your buildings shouldn’t be overly exposed and they should have good solar access and protection from the winds, ideally on a slope. If you’re building sheds or other structures, try to position them higher than the house in order to utilize their water tanks for a gravity-fed water source for your home.

5. Subdivide Your Farm With Fencing

The easiest way to subdivide your farm is to work in accordance with more permanent infrastructure elements. All such factors will clearly indicate the pattern of the subdivision. Your main fences will generally be closely associated with the roads and follow their pattern, enclosing the paddocks and planting areas. Your farm zones can also offer useful guidance for subdividing your property.

6. Improve Your Soil

When developing a farm, you should be building your soil as soon as you are able. The goal is to improve the fertility of the soil in order for it to provide the maximum benefits when first planting your crops.

Simple techniques can be used to build soil and you can begin the soil conditioning in the earthworks (infrastructure) stage. This can include keyline ploughing, cover cropping, mulching, erosion control, and even the starting of microbial inoculation through biofertilizers and compost teas.

7. Plant Trees and Crops

In this step you look at establishment of the main systems of the farm – savannahs, orchards, woodlots, farm forestry, pastures, market gardens etc.

In most cases you should begin by establishing windbreaks for the protection of your plantings. Once you have this ready you can start planting trees, woody crops, and annual and perennial plants. In doing so, you might wish to focus on establishing pastures and annual crop lands prior to planting tree-based systems. This will provide a source of income and a quick return on your investment in time and money.

8. Introduce Animals

The natural progression is to introduce your animals once you have established your seedling trees. Nonetheless, animals can be introduced at the same time as your plants, although this will place additional pressure on your funds.

When starting out, consider pigs and chickens. They are easier to care for, have a quick turnaround to get your cash flow going and they are omnivores – giving you more feeding options. Temporary fencing will give you the flexibility to move them around, to protect your trees and other plants, and you can also use them for animal tractoring for an additional boost to the fertility.

9. Develop Farm Economy

Once you got your farm up and running you need to consider the financial aspects and expand your influence in the local community.

Making your farm financially sustainable is entirely dependant on your ability to create a narrative about your farm. You should always aim at developing a personal relationship with your customers.

The markets are very dynamic, and are constantly changing and evolving over time. However, the good news is that market analysis, and your access to these markets, are also only a few clicks away. Setting up an e-commerce site such as Shopify and selling directly to a consumer really changes the approach to selling.

****

If you found this useful I also created a checklist to aid you in the process of the farm establishment. You can download it in the post itself, I'm not sure if I can link it here.
 
Su Ba
pollinator
Posts: 989
Location: Big Island, Hawaii (2300' elevation, 60" avg. annual rainfall, temp range 55-80 degrees F)
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Ok, let's explore how I did. I dove into creating a homestead farm 15 years ago on 20 neglected acres that had once been used for horses, then cattle....but decades earlier. So the entire 20 acres had gone back to regrowth woods. Fencing was completely rotted away.

1. "Good maps" Yes, we purchased a geological survey map for our area and studied it intently. We also asked the neighbors about the "little valley" (thin blue line on our map) that ran across the land. Found out that it was an old seasonal river that had since died when someone bulldozed the land way above us. We also found out that the bottom land drained during heavy rainfall via subterranean lava tubes. Another thing learned was that the bottom land was an old pahoehoe lava flow, the upper land was an old aa flow. We were able to pinpoint all this on our map.
"Local climate" We already were aware that this spot got extra rain, because we could see that it stayed green even when areas a mile away went brown during drought. But we had no way of getting more detailed information. Neighbor info was vague. So I set about recording daily sun duration, high and low temperatures, rainfall amounts and time, wind. Thus we didn't have any of this detailed info prior to moving here.
2. "Water supply first". We knew the land had no water other than rainfall. It already had water storage tanks to hold 12,000 gallons. We learned quickly that we needed far more for food production and have since added considerably more storage.
3. "Access points". Due to prior owners, we already had a "road" to where the residential area would be. Additional roads to back pastures were added by hiring an excavator to create them. The land was reasonably flat and well drained, so situating roads was not a complicated issue for us. We lucked out in thus one.
4. "Buildings" We started out with a rough two room framed structure, just enough to keep the wind and rain out. Thus we went about building our house and storage buildings. We knew what we were getting into even though we didn't know exactly how to do it. We learned, sometimes the hard way. But we have built our house, a barn, and several small sheds, livestock housing, and fencing. It just took time because we did it ourselves . The rooves were intentionally designed for water collection which goes to each building's own storage tanks. We took into consideration wind protection and sun angle. But failed when it came to the danger than our eucalyptus trees posed to the barn, ag catchment tanks, tool sheds, and livestock buildings. After a windstorm disaster last year, we have since been working to rectify that problem. So I think we've done fairly well on this category. We had set a 10 year time frame in completing the house and missed it by 6 years. We hope to have the house completed by next year.
5. "Fences". A major expense and effort for us. Perimeter fence was first. Then a single large pasture fence. Then we talked with the USDA folks who drew up cross fencing designs for us and gave us info about government assistance on the fencing. We could have saved a bundle going that way but we didn't have the chunk of cash upfront nor were we completely happy with the requirements. So we eventually did it ourselves bit by bit as we had the cash.
6. "Improve soil". From day one I started making debris piles so that they could decompose into compost. So I've been improving soil every since.
7. "Trees and crops". That was a primary goal. As soon as I had a 3'x3' area cleared and dug, I planted something in it. I'm constantly expanding. Every day I aim to get some little patch either cleared or planted, or a hold dug or filled. Hardly a day goes by where I don't plant one little plant or poke a seed into the ground. Some days it's just one seed, but that's ok.
8. "Animals". I waited a year before adding animals because we didn't have fencing ready for large livestock, nor enclosures for small. I tried having unprotected free range chickens, but they just became targets for hawks, mongooses, and stray dogs. But as soon as some basics were in place I added a couple chickens, a goat, a sheep, a horse. Additions were made along the years as infrastructure got built.
9. "Income" we ended up going with off farm income initially. It has taken me 15 years to get this homestead to the point of self sufficiency and ready to make a liveable income.

Yes, 15 years. Why so long? Because we did it ourselves. We did not throw a lot of money into this project up front. Instead, we threw a lot of personal time and labor. As we earned money, we invested it in the farm. One step at a time. Often times by baby steps. If we had had a major chunk of money up front to throw at it, we could have gotten all the infrastructure in place in a year and then could have focused on developing an income steam. But we didn't.

I think all 9 points are well made. And I think hubby and I unknowingly addressed them fairly well in our own way. But I'd like to add a point 10....... Be prepared to make a major investment of either money or time/labor into creating a farm (or a healthy combo of both). In my own experience, I'd say that the more money invested upfront will cut down the amount of time and personal labor needed to reach the goal. But a farm can need be created on limited funds as long as one is willing to be devoted to to the work and the lifestyle.
 
William Horvath
Posts: 31
Location: Melbourne
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Thanks Su Ba, your 10th point is spot on and comes from real life experience.

You guys were pretty dedicated and what lots of people don't understand is that this kind of dedication is necessary if you want to succeed in this game.

What enterprises have you stacked to eventually end up with the livable income?





 
Su Ba
pollinator
Posts: 989
Location: Big Island, Hawaii (2300' elevation, 60" avg. annual rainfall, temp range 55-80 degrees F)
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Per livable income, we're not there yet. But I do want to point out that the farm gives us plenty that we would otherwise have to pay cash for......
....food. We derive over 90% of our food via what the farm generates, either by directly producing it or giving us stuff we can use for trading. We could be at 100% but by choice we eat out 2 (sometimes 3) meals per week. Plus we also buy hubby his apples, grapes, and occasional goodies. In a crunch, those could be eliminated.
....firewood.
....resources such as sand, cinder, wood, compost material, manure, etc
....our utilities. Although there are initial infrastructure costs and sone maintenance , we have no monthly bills for water, electricity, sewerage. Phone/Internet of course is not farm produced and thus is a monthly expense.
....wood for crafting and building : for furniture, picture frames, towel racks, door handles, home decorations, trellises, livestock enclosures, fence posts, etc.
....items for gifts : macnuts, honey, bamboo crafts, dried fruits, etc

This year sees the challenge of developing income means. Initially I will be focusing on sales of produce, meat, livestock, young potted trees, veggie and flower transplants, compost & manure, mulch, and materials to supply local crafters. I don't want to charge for my current weekly gardening classes, but I am considering charging for the occasional specialized workshop. I'm also considering some custom work, such as setting up people's grow boxes, doing the initial planting of people's small home gardens, rototillering service, building chicken and rabbit hutches for homeowners. This year will be a case of testing the waters to see what works for me, what I'm comfortable with and capable of doing without it taking too much time away from my homestead schedule. There are other options I'm considering, but am not ready to take those steps, such as apprentice training, farm vacation retreats, that sort of thing.
 
William Horvath
Posts: 31
Location: Melbourne
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Great response!

You have plenty of ideas what to do for an income just beware of falling into a trap of doing too many things at once. If you had to choose only one what would it be?



 
Su Ba
pollinator
Posts: 989
Location: Big Island, Hawaii (2300' elevation, 60" avg. annual rainfall, temp range 55-80 degrees F)
124
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First if all, I forgot to list that the farm produces a major savings in livestock feed. If I had the purchase all my feed, I'd could easily be looking at $300 a week.

I've gotten pretty good at running my schedule "piecemeal" style. One hour on this project. One hour on that. I call it my time budget. It's the only way I can get things done on time on the farm. Otherwise I'm awfully good at getting sucked into one project while neglecting the others. Because I've mastered the concept of time budgeting, I feel that I could also eventually master handling multiple small income projects.

Next point...... Before retiring I used the manage a small, successful business. I learned to diversify in order to survive in a competitive market. I also saw some of my competitors fail because they were too specialized and did not change their business strategy. I know that there are certain advantages to specializing and certain pitfalls to diversity. Like everything else in life, it's a balancing act to survive.

In my own particular situation, I think that I need to be diversified in order to successfully compete. There is no need for another produce retailer in my area. So I plan to offer items that are different in some fashion.....natural grown, organic, unique items along with recipes to use them (yacon, Okinawan spinach, etc), unusual variations on the common items (such as purple carrots, conical cabbage, etc), currently not offered items, again with recipe ideas (kohlrabi, rutabaga, etc). Potted herbs, vegetable starts, flower starts. Farm fresh seeds for gardeners. And plenty of other items in small quantities. I'm also thinking along the lines of eggs and certain meat sold from the farm. I've sold some things at farm markets in the past, so I'm familiar about how it works. But back then it was specialty coffee. My gut feeling is that I won't earn enough by limiting sales to the local farmers markets. Thus I'm looking into other projects to earn a bit additional income. The whole trick, as I see it, will be to budget my time efficiently. I think I will need to upgrade to some time-saving machinery in order to accomplish it.......or break down and bring in a wwoofer.
 
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