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Feeling nervous - about to rent a smallholding  RSS feed

 
Posts: 28
Location: Limpopo, South Africa. Sub-tropical, summer rainfall, 1200m.
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So we have been searching for a piece of land or smallholding to buy but every time something promising came along, we either couldn't afford it, or it wasn't the right fit for us, or there was too much investment required to make it work. This has been going on for about 18 months and in the meantime we have been renting a small house in a small town, and our savings have dwindled. We now have an opportunity to rent a 5 acre smallholding - it has a house, workshop, 30x8m tunnel with working aquaponics setup, 2 chicken houses, biogas digester, a small dam fed by a spring and 200 blueberry bushes. So much potential! I feel we can pretty much move in and be self-sufficient in terms of food within a few months. The rent is steep though and after having done a detailed budget, I'm concerned about blowing the rest of our savings in the next 18 months, even though we are hard workers and will do what we can to cover our costs. But we need to earn about $2500 per month to cover all costs - rent, bills, groceries, animal feed, diesel, insurance, etc. That's a lot of money! We haven't signed the lease agreement yet because I'm torn between taking advantage of this amazing opportunity on one hand and going broke on the other. How I wish I owned my own piece of land :(

Anyway, just thought I'd share my story and see what comments folks have.
 
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Joe Black wrote: So much potential! I feel we can pretty much move in and be self-sufficient in terms of food within a few months.  ... Anyway, just thought I'd share my story and see what comments folks have.



This does sound like a dream come true for someone.  What about the prospects of making money?  Having a market garden and/or a U=Pick-it?  If this is possible it might help pay the rent.
 
master pollinator
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I agree with Anne. I think a good step for deciding if this is a good fit for you is to see what you can identify as potential income streams or direct supplementation of items you would otherwise need to purchase.

Where are you situated, and how far from the nearest city or large town that would have a farmers' market?

Also, what is available in your area in terms of raw organic resources for things like compost?

I am assuming that the two chicken houses are important to you for egg or meat reasons, or both. If it were possible to either contact the local grocers to see if you could take their expired produce or dumpster-dive for it, you could feed your chooks for free. If this worked well, you could also keep rabbits, for meat and fur or for fibre. They do have high feed to meat conversion rates.

There's also the road protein route. I am not joking when I suggest you pick up fresh roadkill (even not so fresh can be good) and toss it to your chickens. You could even upcycle the proteins and some of the organic scraps you feed them by making a Black Soldier Fly Larvae bin. You just toss your scraps into the bin, the BSFL eat everything and try to crawl out, which sends them down a chute to your chooks.

Incidentally, red worms love the bacteria that eat the enzymes left behind by the BSFLs, so a vermicomposting stage is a natural next step, which could yield you anything from greatly improved soil to chicken feed to a source of income (selling the worms themselves, or their castings, if you produce more than you can use on the farm).

I would look at the aquaponics setup. I would get the fish part of that system working really well, and while I was doing that, I would be checking out the farmers markets I would have access to, seeing what microgreens sell for, or if that market was already saturated. I would choose something that sells well but is underrepresented, and I would see how best to fit it into an aquaponic system.

I would keep in mind that there are costs associated with running around with produce to farmers' markets, and that if there weren't any aquaponics-related niches to fill there, it might be cheaper to grow duckweed and other aquatic plants that could feed chickens than to try to produce another crop, and to try and market it.

Not having to pay for feed for all your chickens isn't going to pay your rent outright, but it is an achievable goal that will cut your necessary expenditures.

Depending on your skills and on the markets around you, it could be possible to develop a private client list for sales of farm produced goods. There are models that exist that have customers visiting the farm, which I would prefer personally, both because I am lazy, and because I don't want a job as a delivery boy, nor do I want to hire one.

I would also look into getting bees, but that isn't for everyone. Every person I have ever talked to, though, that keeps bees and produces honey for sale tells me that they have had waiting lists for $20+/kilo jars of honey since they first started telling people about it.

With the blueberries, I would slowly augment the plantings with an herbaceous supportive understory, and then I would add to the diversity of the space by introducing raspberries and blackberries, several different types of each, such that the bloomings and fruitings would be staggered, providing both constant pollinator food and a spread-out source of income through berries, whether you do a U-pick model, or whether you are in a position to harvest them yourself and add/or value through preservation or baking.

I would also add mulberries, because they bloom over a three-month period, feeding the bees. Incidentally, mulberries are apparently preferred by winged pests over other berries and fruit, and so are popular in some areas as trap crops for migratory welfare fowl. Also, the fresh leaves and the fallen fruit can and will be devoured by most chooks, and rabbits love fresh mulberry twigs, as well as to chew on thicker pieces of branch.

I don't know what the blueberry space looks like, but you could start converting it to a food forest simply by filling in the trophic niches. I would look to cane berries, as some species will bear fruit after one growing season, meaning that you could get a return on those in your second season. I would also keep strawberries and currants in mind.

As you are looking to do this on a budget, I would look at nurseries at the end of the fruit tree season for anything living you want to get, or start from seed, though the cane berries are still the first real production you are likely to see in either event.

It depends largely on what you want to do. I think that if you look at it on its face without brainstorming a lot of permacultural ways to generate income streams, you might be hard-pressed to make it work. If you can make the land work for you, though, you could end up with it paying your rent for you and then some.

It sounds daunting, but I suggest you start brainstorming all the things you could do on that five acres. Cost out the options most within your reach and that of reality, and decide which options use the existing infrastructure best, require the least effort and money to get going, and do those.

I think that you could make this work, but it will only work for you if you figure out how to derive income streams off of the land and infrastructure you're paying for.

But keep us posted, and good luck.

-CK
 
Joe Black
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Location: Limpopo, South Africa. Sub-tropical, summer rainfall, 1200m.
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Wow, Chris, thank you for taking the time to give me such a well thought out reply, I really appreciate it.

I will go through your comments again this evening and post the ideas that we have for earning an income. We do have a general business and financial plan (drafted and amended several times over the 18 months we've been searching for a property) and now that we have a specific property to work around, we are fine-tuning the plan.
 
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This place sounds like a wonderful place. Truely. So, if indeed it is so wonderful, why are the owners willing to abandon it? Did they discover that there was no demand for the products? Or did they fail at marketing? Illness?

If they could not make a go of their investment in time and infrastructure, what will you do differently?

With that caution out of the way, I hope ya'll do fabulously!
 
Joe Black
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Location: Limpopo, South Africa. Sub-tropical, summer rainfall, 1200m.
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Thanks for your input Joylynn. The owner had bought another bigger 50 acre farm because he is a pig farmer at heart and this place was not big enough to keep pigs. He was doing really well with his aquaponics, chickens, eggs, veg and blueberries but he just could not manage to be on both farms at once and he was getting very stressed driving back and forth between the two. He has put so much time and effort into this place and does not want to sell. He has been looking for the right people for quite a long time to rent the smaller place and he seems to think we fit his requirements.
 
Joe Black
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Location: Limpopo, South Africa. Sub-tropical, summer rainfall, 1200m.
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Chris Kott wrote:
Where are you situated, and how far from the nearest city or large town that would have a farmers' market?


We are in a mountainous area in Limpopo province in South Africa. The nearest large town is about 60km away. We already grow microgreens and deliver locally and once a week to Polokwane, the nearest large town.

Chris Kott wrote:Also, what is available in your area in terms of raw organic resources for things like compost?


There are large pine plantations all around here and several sawmills so plenty of woodchips and sawdust.

Chris Kott wrote:I am assuming that the two chicken houses are important to you for egg or meat reasons, or both. If it were possible to either contact the local grocers to see if you could take their expired produce or dumpster-dive for it, you could feed your chooks for free. If this worked well, you could also keep rabbits, for meat and fur or for fibre. They do have high feed to meat conversion rates.


Yes we intend utilising chickens and ducks for producing meat and eggs. Feeding our birds for free or almost free is one of my goals. Rabbits are on the list for next year after a bit more research and once we're happy with raising chickens and ducks.

Chris Kott wrote:I would look at the aquaponics setup. I would get the fish part of that system working really well, and while I was doing that, I would be checking out the farmers markets I would have access to, seeing what microgreens sell for, or if that market was already saturated. I would choose something that sells well but is underrepresented, and I would see how best to fit it into an aquaponic system.


The aquaponics is working and the owner has stocked it with Tilapia and is growing a variety of vegetables and herbs in the system. So it's really just a case of learning on the job. The one issue is the cycling of the water - the pump runs for 15 minutes  and cycles 2 cubic metres every 45 minutes. As a result the electricity bill is pretty high so I'm trying to find out if I can maybe switch the pump to solar and battery. I have been growing microgreens for 4 months and it's going quite well so I'll see how best to integrate that into the aquaponics and tunnel.

Chris Kott wrote:I would also look into getting bees, but that isn't for everyone. Every person I have ever talked to, though, that keeps bees and produces honey for sale tells me that they have had waiting lists for $20+/kilo jars of honey since they first started telling people about it.


There are two bee hives at the bottom of the plot near the dam but the owner is highly allergic to bees so I don't know what condition the hives or bees are in. I'm very keen to learn beekeeping so am looking for someone to teach me.

Chris Kott wrote:With the blueberries, I would slowly augment the plantings with an herbaceous supportive understory, and then I would add to the diversity of the space by introducing raspberries and blackberries, several different types of each, such that the bloomings and fruitings would be staggered, providing both constant pollinator food and a spread-out source of income through berries, whether you do a U-pick model, or whether you are in a position to harvest them yourself and add/or value through preservation or baking.


This is great advice. Can you expand a little on the herbaceous supportive understory? This is something I'm very interested in but I've read that blueberries have quite a fragile root system and planting a guild or polyculture may impact negatively on them.

Chris Kott wrote:I would also add mulberries, because they bloom over a three-month period, feeding the bees. Incidentally, mulberries are apparently preferred by winged pests over other berries and fruit, and so are popular in some areas as trap crops for migratory welfare fowl. Also, the fresh leaves and the fallen fruit can and will be devoured by most chooks, and rabbits love fresh mulberry twigs, as well as to chew on thicker pieces of branch.


I would love to grow mulberries but I've got a feeling what we call mulberry and what you call mulberry are two different plants. Although you will see mulberry trees in people's gardens they are actually considered invasive aliens here :(

Chris Kott wrote:I don't know what the blueberry space looks like, but you could start converting it to a food forest simply by filling in the trophic niches. I would look to cane berries, as some species will bear fruit after one growing season, meaning that you could get a return on those in your second season. I would also keep strawberries and currants in mind.


It's a very ordered space - neat rows (luckily on contour, I don't think deliberately) with micro-sprinkler irrigation. He had also planted blackberries which are doing well and raspberries which failed for some reason but these are in another area. I would love to convert the blueberry space to a food forest but am not sure what the owner would think. I will prepare a proposal for him with some nice diagrams maybe...

Chris Kott wrote:It depends largely on what you want to do. I think that if you look at it on its face without brainstorming a lot of permacultural ways to generate income streams, you might be hard-pressed to make it work. If you can make the land work for you, though, you could end up with it paying your rent for you and then some. It sounds daunting, but I suggest you start brainstorming all the things you could do on that five acres. Cost out the options most within your reach and that of reality, and decide which options use the existing infrastructure best, require the least effort and money to get going, and do those.


We have a list of income generating ideas that's been on the boil for the past couple of years. Strangely enough we had planned to do our brainstorming session tomorrow so I'll let you know what we come up with!

Chris Kott wrote:I think that you could make this work, but it will only work for you if you figure out how to derive income streams off of the land and infrastructure you're paying for.


I totally agree. The main reason I posted this on Permies was because I was feeling kind of isolated and not sure where to turn for some reassurance that this is the right step to take. Your feedback has really helped me. Thank you again.
I'll post more updates here as things progress.
 
Joylynn Hardesty
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Joe Black wrote:...The owner had bought another bigger 50 acre farm because he is a pig farmer at heart and this place was not big enough to keep pigs...He has been looking for the right people for quite a long time to rent the smaller place and he seems to think we fit his requirements.



Wow, that is awesome! What a grand adventure for you. I sure didn't want to throw that wet blanket on your plans. I'm ever so glad it missed!
 
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