It's no secret that I believe the future of food lies with small family farms. But how small can a farm be and still produce income? With that question in mind, here's my plan for a quarter acre farm.
The centerpiece of the farm will of course be an organic Bootstrap Market Garden The Bootstrap approach gives you a guaranteed cash flow; essentially all your produce is sold before it is grown. Your Bootstrap Market Garden will occupy half of your quarter acre farm, or 5,000 square feet.
The next component of your quarter-acre farm is pastured poultry
You will be raising 75 meat chickens on the other half of your quarter acre farm.
The meat chickens will be followed in rotation by pigs on pasture
You will raise 4 pigs using electric mesh fencing and a portable hut for shelter.
Rotating pigs and chickens through your growing area will help maintain soil fertility and control bugs and weeds.
The final component of your quarter acre farm is a small greenhouse
The greenhouse (really a high poly tunnel) will produce early and late direct-seeded crops, transplants for your garden, and also bedding plants for sale.
That's the pieces of your mini-farm, now lets put it together.
You will start seeds indoors early in the year, using grow lights. We built simple and cheap plant stands using 2 x 2 limber and florescent shop lights.
Each stand cost us about $120 including the lights, and could hold 16 trays of plants at a time. You will probably need 2 of these for your own transplants and to start bedding plants.
Your poly tunnel can be tilled up as soon as the ground can be worked; last season, I tilled our greenhouse at the end of February; the first direct-seeded crops went in the ground the first week of March. There was still snow on the ground outside, as you can see in the picture.
When things warmed up a bit, I moved transplants and bedding plants out to the poly tunnel to grow them up some more until planting or sale. I put the trays along the side walls and in the paths of the poly tunnel
Now let's look at the outdoor garden. For ease of management, let's divide your market garden area into 100 beds each 50 square feet in size. In practice, this might consist of 32-inch wide beds with a 16" path between. The growing area of each bed would be 12 feet long with a 1-foot path at the end.
Here's an idea of what a bed this size will grow:
4 beds would make up a 50-foot length; this could be irrigated with a single drip hose.
Here's a starting point for planning the quantities to grow, assuming you start with 100 beds:
Of course, most beds can produce more than one crop i.e when when one crop is finished another can be planted.
Your meat chickens are housed in a
Movable Coop and protected by electric mesh fencing. The 75 chickens and their portable pen will move 3 or 4 times until they are ready for the freezer.
The pigs are also contained by electromesh fence. They will move 4 or 5 times before they reach slaughter weight. Since the portable electric mesh pen is about 1,600 square feet,This means they will move into the garden area on their last move or two.
This will happen late in the fall; the secret here is to move the piggies into an area of the garden you have already finished harvesting. This takes some planning, but its what we do every year to clean up our fall garden
in 2006, our first market garden was about the size I've described here; our sales from it were $8,900 dollars to 16 CSA customers.
I sold my organic free-range meat chickens for $4.00/lb. They usually average about 5 lbs, so gross sales for 75 birds would be about $1,500.
I sold my piggies for $4.50/lbs when sold by the whole or half-carcass. This results in gross sales of about $1800. And last season, my bedding plant sales amounted to about $1,500.
So the total from all that is $13,700; this would make a pretty good 'part-time job' for someone who wanted to work on their farm, perhaps while her partner worked off-farm. This size of enterprise is manageable by one person, using mainly hand tools, although you might need some part-time help on harvest days.
Net income from this quarter acre farm could be as high as $10,000, depending on how good you are at 'scrounging' the necessary equipment and materials, and how much of the work you do yourself.
This is not the upper limit of possible income by the way; in future seasons you could add bee hives, fall-planted garlic, small fruit or even a mini-orchard. Then you have the possibility of value-added farm products as well - e.g. I have a friend that makes his own honey-garlic sauce.
Of course, you have to take these estimates with a dose of common sense; there is no guarantee your quarter acre farm will achieve this your first year. I have been gardening and raising pigs and chickens for a number of years, and there is a 'learning curve'. Spend some time researching and planning before you launch an enterprise like this.
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