Can I start a farm business on 1.5 acres?

by Kristi
(Chilliwack BC)

I have been reading much of your website as well as related articles about your farming experience. Sounds very interesting and satisfying.

My husband and I along with our two teenagers live on a 2 acre parcel of land in Chilliwack, British Columbia which is about an hour East of Vancouver. We have been here a few years and currently lease our land back to the farmer we purchased it from.

My husband is a nurse as well as a woodworker/carver which led us to moving to a location that could provide a shop for his work. We have about 1.3-1.5 acres of usable land for gardening or?...I am very interested in the possibility of trying to duplicate your very successful business of CSA...although I don't have anywhere the amount of land you do and none of the direct experience.

I do love good, fresh, high quality food, though, and am always experimenting with cooking. We actually are self-proclaimed food snobs, but everyone always wants to eat at our house so it must be a good thing. Currently, the only thing I have really grown is herbs and flowers which has been fun.


Since we have moved I have been trying to come up with a business plan/idea that would get me out of the office job I hold, allow for creativity and flexibility and also help our property to pay for itself...if the side benefits are healthy food, some fitness and wholesome hard work I like it even better.

I think the mini farm concept you have describe is very viable and exciting. I know many people who would be excited about eating better foods that are local and organic as well as delivered etc. The few I have mentioned this idea to immediately said, "sign me up as a buyer!"

I guess I am writing you to share a bit about me/my situation and see if, in your opinion, it is realistic to do a garden for say 10 families when I don't have any experience and it would be on the side of another job....



ANSWER:

Hi Kristi,

small world, I lived in Chilliwack many years ago. Beautiful country around there. re practical uses of a small plot of land, I believe it's absolutely possible to tranistion to gardening/farming on a small scale.

My garden that provided veggies to 90 families was about 1 acre; gross income from the garden plus sales of meat chickens and pastured pork was over $55k. We rotated the pigs and meat birds through the same space as the garden, which worked very well.

This year we are adding honeybees, for pollination as well as eventually another cash crop, and we are experimenting with serious season extension (an unheated 'high tunnel' poly greenhouse and row cover) to see if a 'winter share' is feasible. And, we are looking at some perenniel/permaculture type additions like tree fruit, which can add income without too much increasing the workload, or needing more space (trees grow 'up').

Most of this will occur on the same small patch of land and could potentially double that $55k figure (not to mention adding herbs, value-added products, bedding plants etc etc etc).without needing more land. I think the only two limits to what is possible is your imagination and your ability to manage multiple enterprises.

How to get there? You have the right idea, start small and learn as you go. Check out this post on my forum from another new grower http://www.new-terra-natural-food.com/how-to-start-market-gardening-if-you-are-an-absolute-beginner.html

Joel Salatin (author of 'You Can Farm', 'Salad Bar Beef', Pastured Poultry Profits') likes the idea of a 'centrepiece' operation on your farm; this would be the main enterprise. In our case it's our veggie home delivery program.

Then once you've set that up,you can add little 'supplementary' businesses; these little businesses by themselves won't support you, but if you create 4 or 5 little income streams that are compatible with the CSA, you could do very well. And obviously your CSA customers are the best source for customers for your other goodies (not to mention a showcase for your husband's carvings)

You mention people always want to eat at your house (it's the same here, I do most of the cooking),so perhaps some cooking classes featuring clean, local natural ingredients is a possibility, or a 'gourmet to go' delivery of home-made meals featuring veggies and meats raised by you.

Some of the chefs in the small town near me offer cooking classes at a local natural food store that has a commercial kitchen - it's win-win-win, the chef makes a little cash, the store sells ingredients, the students get some great food.

And if you have friends and neighbours that also produce things, you could offer their products to your customers (with a little 'cut' for you); or create a CSA with more diversity,with the neighbours growing some things e.g. small fruit, and you growing some others, and you share the customer base. Create a formal or informal co-op of growers to deliver more to the same customers.

And (just to be complete) there is also the possibility of creating an on-line business to supplement your income; there are many possibilities for a good e-commerce site related to your interests, passions, or expertise.

Since a website is a good way to promote yourself anyway (e.g. you found me) It's not that much more effort to design a site that will also create some income in and of itself. I go on a bit about that here http://www.new-terra-natural-food.com/best-online-business-ideas.html

Which is a long-winded way to say, 'yes', you can transition. If you follow the suggestion that's in the first post above, the garden would be easily manageable with only part-time regular effort. And you would learn the ropes with little risk.

Of course all of the above is overwhelming, and way too much to start all at once (we've been here 10 years and we're still learning). The key is to start something, no matter how small, and give it a chance to grow. I would suggest, only do the things you really enjoy and get satisfaction from. You don't want to create a 'job' you don't really like just for the money.

The country really needs more small, local, committed growers, so I salute you for wanting to become one of them.

Cheers,

Scott

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The time is now
by: Sherri

Kristi,
We are in the same boat. 6 acres of land (tad bigger) and looking to start a farm business that not only will we enjoy but will be able to part support our family so that I can step away from my spirit draining office job. (one shouldn't spend hours on end in an 8x8 basement cell staring into a monitor, it just isn't humane)

Keep working towards your goal, I have little gardening experience and last year grew 15 types of heirloom tomatoes all grown from seed! we raised meat birds and laying hens last summer and LOVED IT.

I can't wait for this spring and already have big plans!!. Keep reading this site and anything Scott writes the man knows what he is talking about! His market garden ebook is the most valuable book I have read and I have now read more than I can count.

Knowledge is power, and that knowledge will translate into the soil, just you wait!! Good luck, I hope to hear more from you.

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